Michigan State at Iowa: Let's see, things to do on a Saturday when Iowa visiting East Lansing:
1. Go sledding with my daughter. Yup, did that.
2. Play some Uno with my daughter. Yup, did that.
3. Watch the first 8 minutes of the Iowa-MSU game. Yup, did that.
4. Tell the wife, "no, we don't need to wait until its over. We can go to the dog show at the State Fairgrounds now. Check.
Folks, when the Hawks play at the Breslin Center, you had better plan on another activity handy, just in case things get ugly…in the first 10 minutes.
A few weeks back, when laying out Iowa's path to a possible NCAA bubble bid, I had them losing two games down the stretch; at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. I outlined how poorly Iowa has played at the Breslin Center, and basically gave Iowa no chance for a win.
I hate it when I am right in instances where its bad for Iowa, but a blind man saw this one coming, especially since Iowa had one day in between this game and Thursday night's game at home against Northwestern. You could also see it coming just by looking into the history book.
Here are the margins of defeat for Iowa in their last six trips to East Lansing:
That's an average margin of defeat of 24.16
The funny thing this time around; Iowa entered the game having won four of the last five meetings between the two teams, with two of the games being in Big Ten tourney settings.
But if there was ever a House of Pain for the Hawks, it's the Breslin Center. Iowa has only won their twice since it opened in 1989, and the last win was in 1993.
OK, enough about that.
Again, I never gave Iowa much a chance to win this game, and had it as an ‘L' as I looked down the pike at the rest of the season. The problem I see with this loss is that Michigan State is an NCAA bubble team right now, with an RPI in the mid 30's prior to the start of the game. This loss, this 32 point loss, will be a part of Iowa's last 10 game resume that the NCAA would look at should Iowa win its next three games against Purdue, at Penn State and home against Illinois.
Make no mistake about it; Iowa's only chance to get into the Big Dance this year means finishing the rest of the regular season 3-0, then winning at least one game in the Big Ten tournament. Of course, it could win the Big Ten tourney to qualify, but that isn't likely.
Even if Iowa did win four in a row after today, the selection committee is going to look at a 32 point loss at Michigan State with some raised eyebrows, because this isn't a strong MSU team. It's one of Tom Izzo's ‘weaker' teams in the last eight years or so.
It's time for Iowa to regroup for Purdue on Wednesday. No one in the Big Ten is playing better than the Boilermakers right now.
Northwestern at Iowa
Phew. I am glad that is over with. Northwestern can uglify a game like no other team in America. Rather, they can make their opponent look ugly. They have done that to Iowa too many times in the last three years, having won four of the last five meetings against the Hawks prior to Thursday's game.
There are Rec League teams in America that look more athletic than Northwestern, and truth be told, there are probably some Rec League teams in America that could beat Northwestern every now and then.
Before you send me an email or post a message about respecting your opponent, I have a few names for you: Cornell, Tennessee Tech and Wheaton College.
The first two teams beat Northwestern this year, while Wheaton College, that's Division III Wheaton College, nearly beat the Wildcats this year, falling 41-39 in Evanston back on December 14th.
That being said, Northwestern's slow it down Princeton style of play has given teams better than Iowa reason to worry this year. They lost at home to Wisconsin by six points, and Iowa lost to the Badgers by double digits in both of their meetings this year. They recently lost to Ohio State by nine, and the Buckeyes beat the Hawks by 19. And in both of those close losses, the Wildcats held the two best teams in the Big Ten to under 60 points.
So Iowa's 66-58 win over the Cats isn't as ugly as it might have appeared. And as Steve Alford said in his post game interview, Big Ten wins in February are never to be taken for granted.
Speaking of Big Ten wins in February, Iowa has three of them this year to one loss, that loss being at Wisconsin.
Here are a few other ‘milestones' this year's team, and some of its players, are hitting, if you will allow me to use that word to describe them:
In a year where nearly every preseason basketball magazine picked Iowa to finish 9th or worse in the Big Ten, Iowa is guaranteed to finish no worse than a tie for 9th with four games remaining. The Hawks are 7-5, while Minnesota is 3-9. The Gophers are currently in 9th. If they win their last four games against Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and Purdue, they could tie Iowa if the Hawkeyes lost their last four games. Minnesota will not win all of their remaining games, and I don't think Iowa will lose all of its remaining games. So the Hawks are going to finish better than 9th place this year. By the way, Marty Gallagher picked Iowa to finish 6th in the Big Ten this year in his column in Hawkeye Nation magazine before the season began.
If Iowa gets one more conference win in its last four games, it will finish no worse than .500 in league play this year. That would be a significant mark for this year's team, which is full of young and or inexperienced players.
At 15-11, Iowa is guaranteed to finish no worse than .500 for the regular season. One more win guarantees that the Hawks would finish no worse than .500 after its post-season games are completed. If Iowa would win one more, then lose the rest in the regular season, that's 16-14. If it lost its first round game in the Big Ten's, that's 16-15 at worst. If it then made it to the NIT and lost the opening round game, that's 16-16 at worst.
Now that is not the finish that the Iowa coaches, players or fans are hoping for, and I think they will do better than that. But again, in this season and with this team, based on what we all thought it would look like before the season began, I believe those things are noteworthy.
Adam Haluska scored 29 points against Northwestern, including 16 points from the free throw line. That's the fourth highest free throw total in Hawkeye history. Those 29 points raised Haluska's Big Ten conference leading scoring average from 21.7 to 23.3. He also kept pace with Alando Tucker's 29 points from Wednesday night. Each player has four conference games remaining, and Haluska has scored 29 more points than Tucker through 12 games. Tucker would have to outscore Haluska by an average of 7.25 points per game over the final four games to overtake him for the scoring title. Barring an injury to Haluska, that's probably not going to happen.
The last few weeks, we have all been going over scenarios in how Iowa can make it into the NCAA tournament. After Iowa beat Indiana, which was the first game of the second half of the Big Ten season for Iowa, I felt Iowa needed to at least finish 5-2 the rest of the regular season. I had the two losses being at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. Iowa plays at MSU on Saturday.
Purdue will visit Iowa next week, and the Boilermakers are playing as good as any team in the league right now.
Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that Iowa loses on Saturday, and wins its last three games against Purdue, Penn State and Illinois.
That would get Iowa to 18-12 overall and 10-6 in league play.
With Indiana losing on Thursday, they fell to 7-4 in Big Ten play. Iowa is 7-5, just a half game out of third place.
A third place finish is of major importance to Iowa, and something I hadn't given thought to until Indiana's loss at Purdue.
Third place gets a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament, and it plays the winner of the 6 vs 11 seed game on the Friday of the tournament. It also means avoiding the #1 seed until the title game.
I think Ohio State will beat Wisconsin on 2/25, and I don't see anyone beating the Buckeyes the rest of the way.
If the Hawks can get that 3 seed, and win their first game, against using the hypothetical 18-12/10-6 finish, that would get them to 19-12 overall, and a possible rematch against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament's Saturday games. For some crazy reason, I like Iowa's chances against the Badgers in a neutral court setting and in a tournament where Steve Alford has done some great work.
19-13 at least has Iowa in the bubble conversations. But a win against the Badgers in the Big Ten Tourney would likely punch their ticket to the NCAA's, like their tourney win against Michigan State did two years ago when the Hawks finished 7-9 in the Big Ten regular season.
But such scenarios are a long way off, and there are several quality teams left on Iowa's schedule between now and then.
However, it's at least fun to speculate while we can here in mid February, something I didn't think would be possible before the season began.