What are the 'Magic Numbers' for Iowa?

February has not been a kind month to Steve Alford since he was named Iowa's head coach in 1999. The month has been more notale for hoops swoon's than boon's. Yet, Marty Gallagher believes he has figured out the correct quotient that can find Iowa back in the field of 65 in the only post season acronym that matters: the N-C-A-A Tournament.

Five regular-season games remain for the 13-9 Hawkeyes. Or maybe it's more important to think of them as the 6-5 Hawkeyes. I'm not sure.

But, I think the "magic numbers" for Iowa are FOUR more regular-season victories…and ONE Big Ten Tournament win. This would give the Hawks a 10-6 mark in the Big Ten, likely good enough for fourth place in the conference. And it would mean an overall record of 18-11, which would at least give Iowa some serious consideration for an invite to The Dance.

Two victories in the Big Ten Tourney would probably guarantee the invitation, but one just might do it.

Big wins? The Louisville victory has to help. So do wins against Purdue and Indiana.

None of this is easy, of course. And the Hawkeyes start this "final five" stretch with a game at Ohio State, clearly a game that Iowa SHOULD win. The Buckeyes are 3-7 in the Big Ten and 11-12 overall. But, you know as well as I do that these are EXACTLY the games that have tripped up the Hawks in the last few seasons. On paper, you're thinking it's a victory…and you've got the confidence of a good win in your system…when all of a sudden…CLANK!

For the Hawks to have serious hopes for the NCAA Tournament bid, they MUST beat Ohio State this week. No ifs, ands or buts about it. By the way, if Iowa does beat the Buckeyes, it will mark the first two-game winning streak for the Hawks since early December. Hard to believe, but it's true.

Then, the team returns to Iowa City, where it will host Illinois and Minnesota next week. Again, these are games that Iowa SHOULD win.

A 3-0 mark in these three games would give the Hawkeyes a 16-9 overall record and a 9-5 showing in the Big Ten. Plus, it would give Coach Steve Alford his FIRST winning record in the conference in his fifth season at Iowa, which right now is a pretty big monkey on his back.

Anything less than a 3-0 run in the next 12 days will be pretty difficult to overcome in the eyes of the Selection Committee, I think.

IF the Hawks can make that run, then they will be looking at needing a split out of their final two games of the regular season: at Northwestern and at Purdue. I would hate to believe Iowa could lose TWICE in one year to the Wildcats, but I suppose it could happen. And the Boilers certainly don't look as good as they did a couple of months ago. In fact, Purdue has only won two out of its last six games…including a 40-39 loss at home to Northwestern in a game that I believe they actually used peach baskets instead of hoops and Gene Keady had to climb a ladder to get the ball each time there a bucket was scored.

Predictions for the conclusion of the Big Ten race…

Michigan State (8-3)

  • 2/17 Purdue (W)
  • 2/21 Northwestern (W)
  • 2/24 at Michigan (W)
  • 2/28 at Penn State (W)
  • 3/2 Wisconsin (W)
    Final Record: 13-3, First

    Wisconsin (8-2)

    • 2/18 at Illinois (L)
    • 2/22 at Michigan (W)
    • 2/25 Penn State (W)
    • 2/29 Purdue (W)
    • 3/2 at Michigan State (L)
    • 3/6 at Indiana (L)

    Final Record: 11-5, Tie for Second

    Illinois (7-3)

    • 2/18 Wisconsin (W)
    • 2/21 at Penn State (W)
    • 2/25 at Iowa (L)
    • 2/28 Northwestern (W)
    • 3/2 at Purdue (L)
    • 3/6 at Ohio State (W)

    Final Record: 11-5, Tie for Second

    Iowa (6-5)

    • 2/18 at Ohio State (W)
    • 2/25 Illinois (W)
    • 2/28 Minnesota (W)
    • 3/3 at Northwestern (W)
    • 3/6 at Purdue (L)

    Final Record: 10-6, Tie for Fourth

    Indiana (6-5)

    • 2/18 Minnesota (W)
    • 2/21 Ohio State (W)
    • 2/25 at Northwestern (L)
    • 3/2 Michigan (W)
    • 3/6 Wisconsin (W)

    Final Record: 10-6, Tie for Fourth

    Purdue (6-5)

    • 2/17 at Michigan State (L)
    • 2/21 at Minnesota (W)
    • 2/29 at Wisconsin (L)
    • 3/2 Illinois (W)
    • 3/6 Iowa (W)

    Final Record: 9-7, Sixth

    Northwestern (6-5)

    • 2/21 at Michigan State (L)
    • 2/25 Indiana (W)
    • 2/28 at Illinois (L)
    • 3/3 Iowa (L)
    • 3/6 Michigan (W)

    Final Record: 8-8, Seventh

    If this is how it plays out, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois will all be locks for the NCAA Tournament. Then, it would probably come down to Iowa or Indiana for one of the final invitations. One thing in the Hawkeyes' favor is the victory on the Hoosiers' floor in February. That HAS to help.

    In the end, it may come down to which team fares better in the Big Ten Conference Tourney…Iowa or Indiana.

    It's always fun to look ahead and see what MIGHT happen…it's one of the fun things about being a sports fan. However, if the Hawkeyes don't take care of business at Ohio State this week, you can pretty much toss all these scenarios out the window.

    Before you overlook the Buckeyes, keep in mind that they are 2-2 in their last four Big Ten games, including a six-point victory at Purdue and an eight-point win against Northwestern.

    (Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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