Although the Iowa basketball team got back to its winning ways this past Sunday, things have been pretty rocky as of late for coach Fran McCaffery and his players.
The 24th ranked Hawkeyes endured their first losing “streak” (before February 25 they had yet to lose back-to-back games) of the season, dropping three consecutive contests over the course of six days. Previously in a position to control their own destiny for a high seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament, the team instead seemed to be plummeting towards obscurity in the conference standings.
Fortunately for Iowa (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten), it has received some help from its Big Ten brethren that has miraculously left the Hawkeyes slotted to receive the fourth and final bye when the conference converges on Indianapolis next week to battle for the tournament championship.
At the moment Iowa finds itself even in the loss column with Nebraska (18-11, 10-7 Big Ten). However, Iowa owns the tiebreaker over the Cornhuskers, winning their only meeting back on December 31. With a game left on Sunday at home against 9th ranked Wisconsin, there’s a decent chance that Nebraska drops its final contest before tournament play begins.
Should the two teams finish out the regular season with identical records the Hawkeyes would take fourth place and the final coveted first round bye. Simple enough right?
Unfortunately, things could get a little bit trickier due to the sixth place team trying to chase down the Hawkeyes and Huskers.
Ohio State is laying in the weeds at 9-8, waiting to take advantage should either of the teams ahead of it falter. The Buckeyes split with both Iowa and Nebraska, so breaking a tie with either school is slightly more complicated. However, OSU has lost two straight, and closes out their conference schedule at home against a Michigan State team that’s finally getting all of its primary pieces back healthy. The Buckeyes need to win that game, and then get some help in order to jump back in the battle for fourth.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes are in the enviable position of controlling their own destiny. If Iowa wins its last two games it locks up fourth place.
A trip to East Lansing to take on no. 22 Michigan State, and senior night at home against Illinois are all that’s left on the docket for the Hawkeyes. Now I personally can’t see them losing the season finale in Carver Hawkeye Arena to the Fighting Illini, which means that tomorrow night’s match-up with the Spartans looms astronomically large for Iowa.
Should Fran McCaffery and Co. win at a hostile Breslin Arena, the team’s recent slide would in large part be forgiven. On the other hand, a loss puts them right back in the precarious situation of needing things to break their way to snatch up fourth.
Without going through the trouble of explaining the rather complicated Big Ten stipulated tiebreakers, here’s a nitty gritty summary of the circumstances in which the Hawkeyes, as well as the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes can finish fourth:
A head-t0-head tiebreaker with either Nebraska or Ohio State is won by the Hawkeyes. Iowa also claims the final tournament bye should the three teams all finish out the conference schedule tied at 10-8.
The ‘Huskers only path to fourth is by taking it outright. Any tie with the Hawkeyes, Buckeyes, or both does not result in a favorable outcome for Big Red.
The Buckeyes’ only hope is to win their final game, and for both Nebraska and Iowa to lose out. Doing so would create a two way tie between OSU and Nebraska that after some sorting out falls in favor of the Buckeyes.
At the end of the day, Iowa fans mostly need to remember that as long as their team keeps winning everything will be just fine. However, lose once and any help that Nebraska can provide by losing will be necessary (and much appreciated in Hawkeye country).