Down the stretch they come.
It's hard to believe that we are headed into the final week of the Big Ten regular season. While we can look back at a few missed opportunities for the Hawkeye Basketball team, particularly in the Big Ten season, they have a good chance to reach 20 wins for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
That's a step in the right direction. The question is will they take the step that every Iowa player, coach, and fan wants them to take, to the NCAA Tournament.
We will dive into that topic and a lot more in a few weekend thoughts on hoops, football, and wrestling.
1. I think it's pretty clear that the game on Tuesday night against Illinois is huge for a lot of reasons. Win and the NCAA dreams still stay alive and it also probably keeps Iowa out of the 8/9 game in the Big Ten Tournament (more on that in a minute). Iowa needs quality wins and give who Illinois has beat and the fact that they are probably an NCAA Tournament team, Iowa needs signature wins down the stretch and this is their last regular season opportunity to get one. Lose and the only way the Hawkeyes get to the Big Dance is by winning four in four days in Chicago.
2. I think I would be missing the boat if I didn't point out that Iowa also needs to beat Nebraska on Saturday. After that bitter defeat in Lincoln, you have to believe that the Hawkeyes motivation won't be a problem.
3. Speaking of Saturday, it will be Senior Day for Eric May. While he doesn't have the family ties like Matt Gatens did last year, but it will be a special day for May and his family. Two years ago there were more than a few fans clamoring for May to hang up the high tops for a pair of football cleats, but he kept working. Last year May was hobbled for most of the second half of the season with a bad back and coming into this year, there were some (myself included) that wondered if the influx of talent into the program would lead to a very limited role. A funny thing happened, May was healthy and he has become one of Iowa's most consistent players this year. The game has slowed down for May and more importantly, he's doesn't feel like he has to be a big scorer and is taking better shots and making them. He is shooting nearly 48% from the field in his senior year and that is the best among Iowa's guards. May is also shooting 34% from three, which is best on the team among players with more than 20 attempts. Hats off to Eric May for his leadership and play the past four years.
4. I think seeding will be very important for this Iowa team when it comes to the Big Ten Tournament. I also think who they play in the first and potentially second round will also be very important. First the seeding and this is all about avoiding the dreaded 8/9 game. Right now there is a group of four teams with a chance to get the 6th seed next week in Chicago. There is pretty decent chance that we will have to go to tiebreakers to determine who gets the 6th, 7th, and 8th seed. If Iowa wins out and gets to 9-9, which would also include a win over Illinois, then more than likely Iowa is at least the 7th seed. Purdue could get to 9-9 thanks to their win on Sunday in Madison and they have a tiebreaker over Iowa because they only faced the Badgers once and won. The Boilers have two games at home and they would have to beat Michigan and Minnesota to do it. That's an uphill climb for sure. To get to the 6th seed, Iowa needs lose at least once. If it's head to head with the Hawkeyes and Gophers for the 6th seed, it goes to Minnesota. Ideally, Iowa would like to see a three way tie at 9-9 between Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois because the Hawkeyes would win that tiebreaker based on head to head record with both those schools.
5. Who do the Hawkeyes want to play in Chicago out of the gate? Penn State is out. They are locked into the 12th spot and Iowa can't get to the fifth spot in the conference. The 8/9 will be between the four schools currently at either 8-8 or 7-9. Iowa could fall to this game, especially if they lose one this week and if you are in that game, you get Indiana on Friday. No thanks. If Iowa can get to the 6th or 7th seed, they will play either Nebraska or Northwestern, who are both currently 4-12 in league play. I think Iowa fans would like to see Northwestern on Thursday given their recent struggles, losing six straight. If Iowa can get by Thursday as a 6 or 7 seed, they would face the 2nd or 3rd seed. Again, it's a jumbled mess at the top beyond Indiana and a lot can (and will happen) this week. Michigan State hosts Wisconsin and that will go a long way to give one of those schools an upper hand in the seeding process. Of the four schools currently sitting at 11-5, I think if you asked Iowa fans to rank them in terms of preferred opponents, it would be Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and then Michigan.
6. I still don't think the Hawkeyes have been eliminated from at-large consideration. I'm looking at you Jerry Palm, who seems to shoot down the Hawkeyes name every time it's brought up. ESPN's Joe Lunardi isn't giving Iowa a great chance right now, but he has their just outside his first eight out as of this weekend. CBS Sports Doug Gottlieb, who is a fan of Fran McCaffery going back to the Notre Dame days went on air this weekend to campaign for the Hawkeyes saying 9-9 and a win in Chicago should be good enough. Somewhere between Gottlieb and Palm lies the truth. The official RPI will be released on Monday afternoon, but the best guess right now is Iowa is in the high 80's. Now, it should be noted that the RPI is a tool that the selection committee uses, but it's not as influential as some in the media believe. Having said that, Iowa isn't getting in with an RPI in the 80's. Here's my thought. Iowa needs to win the last two regular season games. They need to win on Thursday and Friday in Chicago. Get to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday and I think Iowa's in the discussion. I don't know if they get in, but they are being tossed out there. At that point Iowa would have 22 wins, including 11 against Big Ten teams. If Iowa makes it to Sunday in Chicago, I think they are in. Win it and well, we don't have to sweat it out late on Sunday afternoon. It won't be an easy task by any stretch, but there is still a path to thread the needle and put on the dancing shoes.
7. I think one of the bigger stories in the next two weeks will be the status of Mike Gesell. When we spoke with Gesell last Monday he pronounced himself healthy and there was no indication that he was having foot problems. Then on Wednesday night he's in a suit and tie wearing a walking boot thanks a diagnosed stress reaction in his foot. I won't pretend to be a medical doctor, but Fran McCaffery is still holding out hope that Gesell will return for the Big Ten Tournament. McCaffery says that Gesell will have an MRI prior to the Big Ten Tournament and that will be the determining factor as far as his return this season. While I hope Gesell gets back on the court soon, I also hope everyone is very careful with a young and talented player. I know this, Gesell is one of toughest kids I've been around and if he can play, he will play.
8. I think I'll bring up Josh Oglesby. Every year there seems to be a player that is a lightning rod for fans. This sort of stuff happens in college football and basketball everywhere, so it's not unique to Hawkeye fans. Let me get this out of the way early in the discussion, Oglesby has not shot the ball well this year. With the exception of a couple of games, he has not found the range with the three ball all season. Oglesby is currently shooting just 26% from three (33-127) and that's not good. Having said that, I will say this, every other aspect of his game has improved. He's a better defensive player. He's a better rebounder and he's cut down on bad turnovers. Let me say this, to those who proclaim Oglesby is just a bad shooter, I think you are missing the mark. Last season he shot 37% from three (45-121). If you look at the numbers, if Oglesby made one more three out of every ten shots, he would be in the good graces of Iowa fans. The numbers from 2011-12 suggest, he's not a bad shooter. What it suggests, and this is based on the good old eyeball test this season, is that he's in a slump. He's thinking too much, he's floating on this shot too much, and he's lost confidence. McCaffery has pushed just about every button and now it's all on Oglesby to find his shot this year on a consistent basis.
9. I think the Iowa Women's hoops team has punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes are probably getting a little home cooking and won't have to sweat it out on Selection Monday thanks to being a host site for the Women's NCAA Tournament in the first two rounds. After losing six of seven, Iowa has won their last two, including a win on Sunday over Northwestern and have gotten to 19 wins. They should get their 20th win on Thursday when they play Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa would then play Nebraska on Friday and see if they can pull off another win over a ranked opponent. The big question will be seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The feeling right now is Iowa might end up as a ten seed and a potential two seed like California or Kentucky could be headed to Iowa City.
10. I think the Iowa wrestling room would not have been a fun place to be in the last week. After a pair of losses at the National Duals, Tom Brands probably isn't a happy camper. Brands likes to see his squad peaking this time of year and it's fair to say they are probably going into the opposite direction with the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament coming up this weekend in Champaign. He's probably particularly concerned about potential national champions Matt McDonough and Derek St. John, who were defeated in the dual against Missouri. I know this, if there is one coach who is going to get this team back on track, its Tom Brands.
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