Things like your RPI rating begin to take shape right about now, because most teams have played more regular season games than they have remaining. That is the case for Iowa, which has played 16 games with 14 left to go.
If you have put together a good body of work by this point in time, and you play in a rough and tumble conference, your chances are fairly good to very good of receiving an NCAA tournament bid if you play .500 ball in your league.
www.kenpom.com is a very good site to analyze things such as RPI and in depth offensive and defensive statistics. It is compiled by Ken Pomeroy, a man whose computer formula is a part of college football BCS compilation.
As of Sunday, Pomeroy had Iowa's RPI at 14 with a strength of schedule of eight. That was the fifth best RPI rating among Big Ten teams and the best strength of schedule among league foes.
It should come as no surprise that Pomeroy rates the Big Ten as the best conference in the nation at the midway point of the season.
It also means, as I outlined above, that if the Iowa Hawkeyes can finish 8-8, they pretty much punch their dance card. That is of course unless the overwhelming majority of those eight losses come in the final 10 games of the season and Iowa would go one and done in the Big Ten tournament along with missing a key player due to injury of what have you.
Iowa's 63-48 win against then sixth-ranked Illinois will certainly be a win that keeps on giving this year. Their early season win against Kentucky is not doing them many favors right now, as the Wildcats were run out of Lawrence, Kansas on Sunday in a 27-point defeat. That is in addition to their 26-point loss against Indiana earlier this year, both losses being the worst in the Tubby Smith era at Kentucky. Expect more of the same from Kentucky along the way this year.
However, with Iowa's strength of schedule being so strong, and the Big Ten being so strong, that rating is not likely to fall below a Top 25 schedule, at worst. It might wind up in the Top 15 at season's end.
Should Iowa finish 9-7 on the regular season in league play, which means going 8-6 the rest of the way, it will have a record of 20-10 entering the league tournament. That should be enough to make it to the Big Dance. A 7-7 mark the rest of the way should be good enough, too.
Of course, Iowa wants to do better than that, but if you work yourself up from what you feel will be the minimum level of success Iowa needs to have in order to make it to the only tournament that matters, you can see an attainable path.
Iowa's next game is against Penn State on the road, and they will be prohibitive favorites. Then it's on the road to face a struggling Minnesota team. That is also a game they have to win. Later in the year, they play at Purdue and also host Minnesota and Penn State.
Right there you have five games that Iowa will be favored to win and games they must win. Should they do that, the Hawks would have six Big Ten wins.
The rest of the schedule, or roughly 57 percent of Iowa's remaining games, are going to be tough outs.
Iowa has to travel to Illinois and has home and home series with Indiana and Michigan State. They host Ohio State and Michigan, playing those teams just once. It's very good that Iowa gets those games at home. They also have to travel to Evanston, Illinois, a place where they are just 1-3 in their last four trips. Iowa also closes out the Big Ten season with a home game against Wisconsin, a team they are 2-8 against in their last 10 regular season meetings. The two teams are 1-1 in Big Ten tournament action during that time.
The Ohio State and Michigan games are very important; holding serve on your home court has never been more significant in the Big Ten, as the league is as balanced as it has been since the 1980's.
Iowa has to shake its funk in Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, too. That is a must-win road game for the Hawks.
I believe the Big Ten champ is going to be 12-4 this year, 13-3 at best. There are going to be a lot of teams around the 8-8 to 10-6 mark. The seventh seed in this year's Big Ten tournament is likely going to have its NCAA dance card punched by the time everyone makes it to Indianapolis.
The only thing that seems likely right now is that Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota are going to be the 11, 10, 9 and 8 seeds, in no order. It's a good bet that Penn State and Purdue will hold down the 11 & 10 spots.
Then again, don't look now, but Northwestern is 2-0 in league play, having beaten Purdue and Minnesota; they have Penn State up next, so you can move that to 3-0. However, the party ends after that with road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan followed by a home game against Illinois.
IOWA'S TOUGH DEFENSE
More interesting stats from Ken Pomeroy's website…
We all know that Iowa has been holding teams to low field goal percentages and low point totals.
Iowa is holding teams to 55.4 points per game on .365 shooting from the floor. Iowa's field goal percentage defense numbers are two-tenths of a point better than Illinois, which is second in the league.
However, when you look at the number of field goals Iowa's opponents have attempted for the Hawks to earn such lofty numbers, it tells an even greater story.
Iowa foes have hoisted 923 shots, second most of any Big Ten team behind the 935 shots Michigan State opponents have taken.
Per Pomeroy's website, he has offensive and defensive stats based on possessions per game.
Here is his explanation as to why these are superior to just the raw field goal percentage numbers:
The reason these stats are superior is because they remove pace of play from the equation. The philosophy here is that a team's style shouldn't impact how we view their ability to consistently score or prevent scores (or perform any other skill).
Northwestern is holding teams to fewer points than the Hawkeyes are on this season, barely. The Cats are also holding teams to .399 shooting from the floor.
However, when you analyze both teams performances using ‘per possession' analysis, or points/points allowed per 100 possessions, a different story is painted because you take away Northwestern's style that tends to pad their stats.
Iowa is #1 in the nation in allowing just 75.4 points per possession. An ESPN.com writer, citing this stat in an article late last week, called Iowa's points per possession number ‘a staggeringly low number'. That means real good. The next best total is 79.2.
Now, the flip side; Iowa's offensive production per 100 possessions. Iowa is scoring just 97.4 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 189th in the nation.
What's it all mean?
It means the picture I painted in the previous second about the Big Ten being wide open and Iowa finishing somewhere near .500 in Big Ten play is a pretty good bet.
Here are more stats for you, courtesey of Pomeroy's website.
IOWA SCORES FROM
In this case, the lower the ranking, the worse that is for Iowa, with the caveat that its debatable if you want your team to score most of its point from three-point range yet don't do much of anything from the line.
21.8% of Iowa's points come from free throws (89th in the nation) 29.2% is #1.
54.3% come from two-point field goals (115 in the nation) 67% is #1
23.9 percent come from three-point field goals (245th in the nation) 56.5% is #1
WHERE IOWA'S OPPONENTS SCORE FROM
In this case, the lower the ranking, the better that is for Iowa. So Iowa's being 325th in opponents points from the free throw line is fantastic.
14.4% of Iowa opponents points come from the line (325th, which is great)
57.1% come from two-point field goals (38th in the nation)
28.4% come from three-point shots (139th in the nation, a good number)
Oh and by the way, Pomeroy has Iowa with the 15th best Pythagorean percentage in the nation. That is a good thing. You'll just have to trust me. If you want an explanation for it, CLICK HERE
What does all of this really mean? It means that for a stat geek like me, I have more to wade through this year.