When talking about any sport, you'll often hear people say things like "they're getting hot at the right time" or "they're playing well at the right time". Well, when we're talking about college basketball, usually the end of February and into March is the perfect time to start playing your best basketball of the year.
That is exactly what the Iowa Hawkeyes are doing right now as we approach this week's Big Ten tournament. But it is too little, too late?
The Hawkeyes have been up and down throughout the Big Ten conference slate, winning three of four, losing three, winning three, losing three, and then ultimately finding themselves on a four game winning streak headed into the postseason.
The winning streak secured Fran McCaffery's third straight season above a .500 record in Big Ten play and his fifth straight of .500 or better. Those are pretty numbers for a guy coaching basketball for Iowa, who isn't your traditional powerhouse and is bound to be up and down.
The streak also landed Iowa as a 7-seed in this week's conference tournament in Washington D.C. when a few weeks ago we were just talking about them getting that bye onto Thursday and not having to play on Wednesday.
The most impressive part about the streak is who the wins have come against and where they've come at. The battled to win an OT thriller over Indiana to start the winning streak and then went on to blow Maryland out inside the XFINITY Center. They followed it with a 2-point win over Wisconsin on a Jordan Bohannon 3-pointer with less that 10 seconds remaining and then rounded it out with a blowout win over Penn State, who can be tough with their young core talent.
The last two weeks we've seen Iowa go from tournament afterthought to one of the first four teams out of the "BIg Dance". They've secured a couple of RPI top 50 wins in the last couple of weeks and "bracketologists" everywhere (along with the committee) are looking at the Hawkeyes very closely as we head into the conference tournaments.
It's been play from guys like Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon, Nicholas Baer, Peter Jok, and Cordell Pemsl that have the Hawkeyes buzzing heading into the spring.
Cook seems to have found a gear that we haven't seen from him much this year. He was an absolute beast in the win over Maryland, notching his first double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He had 9 points and 8 rebounds in the low scoring affair against Wisconsin and then followed that with another double-double recording 11 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Penn State.
I've been clamoring for a more active Cook on the glass and it looks like we're seeing that finally take shape at the right time.
Bohannon has been solid all year long, but his best game probably came against Maryland when he drilled 8-of-10 3-pointers to lead his team over the Terrapins on the road. Oh, and he also made a pretty big basket against the Badgers if you hadn't heard yet.
Baer might be the most impressive of this bunch over the last four games. He, like Cook, seems to have found a different gear. He notched a career high 20 points against Penn State while shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 4-of-4 from behind the arc. And he also threw in 10 rebounds in just 23 minutes. That kind of efficiency is just incredible.
He's been in double figures over the last four games and is shooting 13-of-19 from three during that stretch as well.
Jok has been in double figures in 3 of the wins, but he's really let the young talent that surrounds him take charge - with the exception of the Indiana game when Jok scored 35 total points and 15 in the overtime - and help lead this team.
Is Iowa destine for the NCAA Tournament this year? I'm not sure. If I had to take a guess right now, I'd say no, but it is much more likely now that it was in the middle of February. And just to see the fight this team possesses has been impressive and fun to watch over the course of the last couple of weeks for me. It's amazing how much a young team grows up over the course of a season.
They enter as the 7th seed in a Big Ten Tournament that is completely wide open this year. I could honestly see 8 different teams winning it, with the Hawkeyes being one of them.
Iowa will look to build upon their winning streak and their tournament resume on Thursday evening when they take on the 10th seeded Indiana Hoosiers. If they get past Tom Crean's team, a rematch with the 2nd seeded Wisconsin Badgers awaits.
Iowa and Indiana tip things off on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT inside the Verizon Center.