The Big Ten is one of the nation's best conferences. With Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue almost guaranteed an at-large bid, some teams are overlooked. Northwestern, Minnesota and Illinois remain "on the bubble" despite 6-9 and 5-10 respective conference records. Northwestern is eighth, with Minnesota and Illinois tied for ninth.
Iowa is seventh. Why aren't the Hawkeyes on the bubble?
The reason Iowa isn't close to the bubble is because of bad losses. Losses against Campbell, Northern Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern plague the Hawkeyes. Campbell plays in the Big South. Northern Iowa is decent, but an early loss to a mid-major team is always ugly. Penn State and Nebraska are in the cellar of the Big Ten, and Northwestern is a team Iowa needs to beat.
All of these losses pile up, one by one. However, with a 7-8 record in The Big Ten, and a 15-13 showing overall, Iowa still has a chance.
12/31 @. No.11 Wisconsin- W 72-65
1/14 vs. No.13 Michigan- W 75-59
2/19 vs. No.20 Indiana- W 78-66
2/23 vs. No.15 Wisconsin- W 67-66
Granted, all four of these wins are at home or in the Big Ten. However, when you beat four ranked opponents, you get noticed. Wisconsin fell twice to the Hawkeyes, as senior guard Matt Gatens scored 33 points on Iowa's recent victory over the Badgers. All four teams are quality, NCAA-bound teams. These victories are the reason why Iowa is still alive.
11/23 vs. Campbell- L 77-61
12/6 @ Northern Iowa- L 80-60
1/26 vs. Nebraska- L 79-73
2/9 @ Northwestern- L 83-64
2/16 @ Penn State- L 69-64
Some losses are ugly, while others are just frowned upon. Campbell and UNI are obviously ugly, as both teams are in the middle of their weak conferences. Big Ten losses happen, but losing to Penn State AND Nebraska is just plain ugly. The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions have a combined record of 8-22 in Big Ten play. Because of its hostile environment, the Northwestern game is only frowned upon. Iowa needed that win, but playing in Evanston is hard enough.
Down the Stretch
2/26 @ Illinois
2/29 @ Nebraska
3/3 vs. Northwestern
Let's be honest, Iowa's remaining three games are fairly easy. Believe it or not, that may not be a good thing. Yes, the Hawkeyes will finish 10-8 with a three-game sweep and improve their seeding for the Big Ten tournament. However, Iowa still needs to add a fifth game to its signature wins. A road victory over Illinois or Nebraska does not cut it in late February. I like to call it "Last Minute."
Playing at Assembly Hall is never easy, even when Illinois is barely on the bubble with a 5-10 Big Ten record. But Nebraska is usually half-empty, and Northwestern is a home game. Iowa will need a sweep to have any shot in playing in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
2/26 @ Illinois: W 67-60
Iowa loves to run and make basketball a fast-paced game. So does Illinois. Like I said, Assembly Hall isn't the friendliest arena in College Basketball. Gatens will have another outstanding game, and the Hawkeyes will win their hardest game down the stretch.
2/29 @ Nebraska: W 77-58
Where is Iowa Playing In March?
Bob Devaney is not intimidating, first off. Nebraska is struggling in its inaugural season in the Big Ten. Bo Spencer is really the only threat, and he's a senior. I like Iowa to roll after its big win over Illinois.
3/3 vs. Northwestern: W 70-62
Northwestern is dangerous. Like Bo Spencer, John Shurna is one of the best in Big Ten. The problem is that Northwestern cannot rebound and defend. Iowa doesn't necessarily roll, but a significant win sets Iowa up with a solid seed for the Big Ten tournament.
Teddy Bailey is a college basketball writer for B/R. Follow him on Twitter @Teddy_Bailey