With that being the amazing challenge that awaits the Hawkeyes, it's our duty to inform you of what that road might look like.
This article is speculative in nature, being that there are some results of future games that we are going to have to predict. But as it sits, this cloudy pool has a few pockets of clearer water as we try to project Iowa's seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament.
The first premise that we are going to operate under is that Iowa will win its remaining two games against Ohio State (in Iowa City on Wednesday) and at Michigan on Saturday. I know, that is a slippery premise with which to work, but humor us. That leaves Iowa with a record of 7-9 in league play.
Now, the next items are not far fetched, but everything has to go according to ‘plan':
Ohio State is presently 7-7 in Big Ten play. They travel to Iowa on Wednesday and host top-ranked Illinois to close out the season. For the sake of this projection, let's say the Buckeyes lose both games to close the year and finish with a record of 7-9 in league play, tied with Iowa.
The next premise is that Northwestern loses its final two games against Michigan State at home and at Indiana to close the season, leaving them 6-10 in the league.
So we have Iowa and Ohio State tied for 6th place in the Big Ten.
You know what folks? We've got ourselves a tiebreaker!
The first criterion for a two-team tiebreaker is head to head results. Iowa and Ohio State would have split the home and home series in our hypothetical scenario, so we have to go to the next tiebreaker.
Here is how that tiebreaker reads, per the Big Ten:
Each team's record vs. the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings (or in the case of a tie for the championship, the next highest position in the regular season standings) continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.
That means that you compare Iowa and Ohio State's record against the top team in the standing, moving down from first place until you find a team where Iowa or Ohio State gains an advantage.
Let's assume that Illinois and Michigan State finish 1-2. We are already assuming that Ohio State will lose to Illinois on Saturday, so that means that neither Ohio State or Iowa beat those teams. The third, fourth and fifth places are still pretty much up in the air, as Indiana's upset of Michigan State. The Hoosiers and Badgers are tied for third with identical 9-5 records. Wisconsin hosts Indiana and Purdue the rest of the way and will be favored to win both games. However, Indiana beat Wisconsin earlier in the year. The Hoosiers will also host Northwestern to close the season, so a 10-6 finish seems likely.
Another team that is in the running for third place is Minnesota, who sits at 9-6 with one more game left to play, and that is against hapless Penn State. That should be good enough for a fourth place finish, at worst.
Wisconsin beat both Iowa and Ohio State this year. Where Iowa gains an advantage over the Buckeyes for the 6th seed is in both Indiana and Minnesota. Iowa is 1-0 against Indiana, while Ohio State is 1-1. 1-0 is better than 1-1 in the Big Ten's eyes, even if you don't play a team the same number of times. If it's Minnesota, Iowa split with them while the Buckeyes did not win a game against the Gophers.
So if Iowa can beat Ohio State on Wednesday and win at Michigan on Saturday, I feel that the odds are very, very good that they will get the important 6th seed. Well, it's an important seed if you can't get to seeds 1-5, which Iowa cannot.
Why is it important?
For starters, it means that Iowa would get Penn State in round one. Next, it means that the Hawks would not have to play Illinois in the Big Ten tourney until the championship round.
Right now, we feel that Wisconsin has the inside track on the #3 seed, and Iowa gave the Badgers all they could handle in Madison earlier this month without Pierre Pierce.
At some point, Iowa will need some help; from themselves and from someone else, because Michigan State has the #2 seed all but locked up, and that would mean a possible match up with them in the semifinals. The Spartans will be playing the winner of Ohio State-Michigan/Purdue in their opener.
(NOTE: MSU and Wisconsin could tie for 2nd place, then we have the same tiebreaker. Neither team beat Illinois, then you drop down to fourth place. If Wisconsin beats Indiana this week, then we drop down to Minnesota, and MSU has the advantage there. If MSU beats Northwestern this week, they are pretty much guaranteed the #2 seed)
It might be too much to hope that Iowa could beat Michigan State in this tournament. If they got to that round in this hypothetical, it means they would be 21-10. If they could somehow make it to the title game, they would be 22-10 in this hypothetical.
On the surface of things, it's hard to imagine a team from the Big Ten being left out of the NCAA tourney with a record of 22-11 (should Iowa lose the title game to Illinois or whomever).
What would also be an interesting dilemma is what would face Bob Bowlsby; 21 wins is nothing to sneeze at, to be honest. I said before the year that if Iowa did not make it to the Big Dance, then I felt it would be time for a coaching change. I still feel that way.
However, 21 wins might make Bowlsby's decision a little bit harder, on the surface. Then again, if this hypothetical plays out, 21 wins would still have yielded the lowest home attendance average in Iowa history. Which dog barks louder?
Iowa got some help in the 2000-2001 Big Ten tourney when top seeds Illinois and Michigan State were upset in the earlier rounds. They would likely need some similar help this year.
Getting the #6 seed is something to play for I guess, as it means avoiding the Illini and Spartans until at least the third game of the tournament.