Despite an up and down season, the Iowa Hawkeyes (13-9), still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. After beginning conference play 0-3, the Hawkeyes have won five of last eight games to give their fans some optimism heading into the season's final stretch.
Five out of Iowa's final nine games are against teams ranked in Quadrant 1 of the NET rankings, so there are plenty of opportunities ahead for Iowa. The Hawkeyes currently are ranked 60 in the NET and 52 in KenPom, which aren't horrible spots to be in for a bubble team, but they need to improve in order for Iowa to feel good about its tournament hopes. Here's a look at what the Hawkeyes need to do in these final nine games to have a chance to make the Big Dance.
Win their next three games
Iowa's next three games are road contests against Penn State and Maryland, and a home date with Minnesota on Super Bowl Sunday. All three teams have NET rankings below 70, and though they might not be the best opponents left on the schedule, it will be crucial for the Hawkeyes to take care of business here.
Iowa beat Minnesota back on Jan 15, and though they suffered a home loss to Maryland, the Hawks controlled most of the game and will be seeking revenge when they meet on Feb 14. Despite an 11-11 record on the season, Penn State has been competitive all year long, and defeated Indiana and Rutgers on the road by double-digit margins. Iowa will be favored in at least two of the matchups, but expect each game to be a battle.
Beat Wisconsin at home
After missing the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Badgers have rebounded and currently are \ 16-6 and 8-3 in the Big Ten. With a NET ranking of 13, Wisconsin presents a major opportunity for a desperate Iowa team playing on its home floor. With a win, the Hawkeyes would secure their first Quad 1 victory of the season and further put themselves in the tournament picture. In their first meeting, Wisconsin beat Iowa 83-72, but the Hawkeyes were in it until the end. I like their chances this time in front of a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Split road games against Illinois and Michigan State
Obviously, two Iowa wins would be the most ideal outcome here, but the Hawkeyes need to at least split these two matchups. Both are major Quad 1 opportunities and with both games on the road, they will most likely remain Quad 1 wins for the rest of the season. Iowa hasn't faced either team yet, but both teams are playing good basketball and present difficult challenges for the Hawkeyes. But, Iowa has the talent to win one or both games and earn quality victories to bolster its resume.
Beat Penn State at home
Simply put, Iowa has to win this one on its home floor. A loss here would essentially end any at-large hopes for the Hawkeyes.
Split against Northwestern and Illinois
To close out the regular season, Iowa travels to the suddenly hostile Welsh-Ryan Arena to take on a tough Northwestern team, and return home to take on heated rival Illinois to finish the season. Both games present immense challenges, with stars such as Boo Buie and Terrence Shannon Jr. on either side. The Hawkeyes will be underdogs in both matchups, but their best chance at a win will come at home against the Fighting Illini, and I don't see Iowa winning both matchups. Both contests are Quad 1 games, so Iowa has two great tries to improve its resume ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.
Win some games in the Big Ten Tournament
Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament just two seasons ago, so it's not completely out of the question, though that team did have the services of Keegan Murray and Jordan Bohannon. Regardless, Iowa's upperclassman have been here before, and they need to win a couple of games in Minneapolis to feel even better about their chances on Selection Sunday.
If somehow all of these results hold up, than Iowa would be 20-11 with 3-4 Quad 1 wins heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A good performance there would leave the Hawkeyes with 22-23 victories going into Selection Sunday. Now, this doesn't guarantee an at-large bid by any means, but it's the most realistic path for Iowa to make the NCAA Tournament for the sixth year in a row.