A week ago I wrote that it wasn’t yet time for Iowa basketball fans to give up on their team’s chances at a Big Ten regular season title. While I acknowledged the fact that the Hawkeyes needed a whole lot of help to make a run at first place, I never could have foreseen the carnage that ensued this past weekend in arguably the toughest basketball conference in America.
Iowa took to the floor on Saturday, and despite a sluggish opening half, rebounded in time to pull out an 82-70 road win against a dangerous Penn State team. By the time they arrived back in Iowa City, coach Fran McCaffery’s squad was still two games back of Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten standings.
A wild Sunday would prove to shake things up a little bit.
The previously 15th ranked Wolverines dropped a game in Ann Arbor to a Wisconsin team they had beaten on the road in mid-January, but the real surprise took place down the road in East Lansing. No. 9 Michigan State took the floor at home against perpetual Big Ten bottom dweller Nebraska, and lost.
As shocking as the win must have been for the Cornhuskers, it could be argued that the outcome was even bigger for the Hawkeyes. Michigan State had a few opportunities to lose games against their remaining schedule, but to Nebraska? Even I was never that hopeful.
Iowa is still the hunter in this championship chase, but suddenly the hunted have become slightly less daunting to chase down.
The Hawkeyes are still far from in the driver’s seat, and can’t afford any more slip-ups. However, coach McCaffery now has a little bone that he can dangle in front of his team when a lull in practice occurs, or an opponent goes on a run during a game. A conference title.
Iowa has a real, plausible opportunity to grab at least a piece of the Big Ten regular season crown if it can take the momentum from a recent two game winning streak and carry it through the final third of conference play.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they won’t get the chance to continue their winning ways as soon as previously expected. While tonight’s postponement at Indiana is less than ideal, the Iowa coaching staff will surely use it as more fodder to emphasize overcoming all types of adversity as the Big Ten schedule comes to a close.
All current signs point to Iowa’s next game coming this Saturday against a 16th ranked Wisconsin squad that has seemingly found its footing after struggling for a few weeks. The chance is there for the Hawkeyes to grab another win over a ranked opponent, and effectively lock up their chances of going dancing come Selection Sunday.
Should Iowa take care of business against the Badgers, much of the attention will turn towards a crucial Sunday showdown between Michigan and Michigan State. With a clash against the Spartans still left on the docket for March 6, the Hawkeyes will undoubtedly be pulling for MSU. Of course with the ways things have played out in the Big Ten thus far, it seems as though “expecting the unexpected” should probably be the mantra for fans everywhere to live by.
The bottom line is that Iowa is no longer observing the Big Ten title race from a distance. By some unlikely circumstance or another, the Hawkeyes are right back in the thick of things.