After a 65-62 overtime road loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, opportunities for the Iowa Hawkeyes to impress the selection committee and make the NCAA Tournament are running out.
The Hawkeyes, now 2-5 in the Big Ten and 13-7 overall, still have 11 games left in the conference before the Big Ten Tournament. Nevertheless, Iowa failed to win another close game and their RPI ranking of 76th will certainly take a hit after this loss (Purdue was ranked 122nd before the game).
After the Iowa football team had a rough 2012 season in missing a bowl game for only the second time since 2000, Hawkeye fans are eager for their basketball team to return to the dance. This Iowa team has great potential, but their resume is missing some key elements to get them on the correct side of the bubble.
This is what Iowa needs to do before Selection Sunday.
The one key that will help the Hawkeyes out in the selection process is the power of the Big Ten. The conference is ranked at the top with six teams in the top 30, and while Iowa's strength of schedule is only currently listed at 78th, that will improve over the next month.
It's important to remember that, in recent years, the selection committees have had a history of showing respect to the top conferences on Selection Sunday.
The Big East has been regarded as one of the top conferences the last few seasons. Last year, West Virginia finished 9-9 in conference play and earned a 10th seed, while Connecticut finished 8-10 and was still seeded 9th.
Two years ago, Villanova and Marquette both finished the season at 9-9 and earned a ninth and 11th seed respectively. The Wildcats still managed their seed by ending the Big East regular season with four straight losses, followed by an opening-round Big East Tournament loss to South Florida.
Still, finishing with a 9-9 record alone will by no means guarantee the Hawkeyes a bid to the dance. Although if they accomplish a few more things on top of that, nine wins should be enough.
Iowa had a daunting opening to their Big Ten schedule, beginning with Indiana, Michigan on the road and Michigan State.
The Hawkeyes were within three points against the Hoosiers with under a minute left, but couldn't hit their three-pointers at the end to get the win. After losing to Michigan, Iowa blew a three-point lead against Michigan State with just over a minute left in the game and lost by three.
After victories over Northwestern and Wisconsin, Iowa almost pulled off a remarkable 24-point comeback in Columbus against Ohio State, but missed several key free throws down the stretch and couldn't finish it off.
Therefore, the Hawkeyes only have two wins in the RPI top 60 (Iowa State 43rd, Wisconsin 58th) and they will need three more impressive wins. Iowa still has two meetings left with Minnesota and another at home with Illinois, but both of those teams are off to a combined 5-9 record in conference play. Iowa also has tough road tests at Wisconsin and Indiana.
Iowa's best chance at gaining three quality wins will be at home against Minnesota and Illinois, while stealing one on the road in the three remaining chances. While the Hawkeyes will need victories over the Golden Gophers and the Fighting Illini, Minnesota and Illinois must pick up the pace in their other games to ensure they remain statistical, quality wins.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they won't have a second chance against Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State, unless it comes in the Big Ten Tournament.
If Iowa can get those three wins, five total victories against the RPI top 60 should stack up well against the other bubble teams.
While the Hawkeyes haven't defeated many noteworthy teams up to this point, Iowa has kept the damage relatively low. With only two losses outside the RPI top 30 (at Purdue 122nd, at Virginia Tech 140th), the Hawkeyes need to take care of business against the bottom half of the conference.
This was one significant element that hurt Iowa's chances of being on the bubble last season. Even though the Hawkeyes picked up four top-25 wins in the Big Ten, they suffered four Big Ten losses against Northwestern (twice), Nebraska and Penn State.
In 2013, Iowa must be able to travel to Lincoln and State College and take care of Nebraska and Penn State, just like they did in Evanston against Northwestern two weeks ago. Otherwise, they will find themselves locked in for the NIT a second year in a row.
Best case scenario, the Hawkeyes have room for one more loss of that nature and that is really testing the bubble.
With the exception of Michigan pulling away in the second half, Iowa has been in every single game until the final minute in all of their Big Ten losses. Why haven't the Hawkeyes been able to pull out some of these games?
Let's go back to one of the basics, free throw shooting. In Iowa's losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue, the Hawkeyes have shot a horrific seven for 18 from the line in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime.
Interestingly enough, this is not a trend that has been happening in the previous 38 minutes of each game. Iowa ranks second in the Big Ten in free throw attempts at 488 and fifth in free-throw percentage at 70.3. Furthermore, while this team is young, the Hawkeyes didn't have trouble closing out four of their wins against top-25 teams last season.
Nonetheless, the Hawkeyes won't be able to reach nine conference wins if they don't make their free throws when it counts. It's tough to simulate pressure in practice, but Iowa needs to correct this before their next thriller in the final minutes.
With more than half of the Big Ten season remaining, making predictions on seeding for the Big Ten Tournament is premature. However, with a 2-5 conference record, there is a great chance that Iowa will have to play on Thursday and not receive a first-round bye.
The last step on ensuring the bubble doesn't burst is to make a last strong impression. The Hawkeyes will need to win their opening-round game and winning a second against a top-four team in the conference would certainly go a long way with the committee.
Something that could also help Iowa when the regular season is wrapped up is the relocation of the Big Ten Tournament. After playing the event five straight seasons in Indianapolis, the Big Ten Tournament has returned to Chicago for 2013. This will allow Iowa fans to make the short drive on Interstate 80 from Iowa City and join the other numerous Hawkeye fans that live in the Chicago area.
With their first chance at making the NCAA Tournament in seven years, expect a lot of black and gold in the United Center.
Head coach Fran McCaffery has put the pieces in place for the Iowa Hawkeyes to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa can go anywhere from nine to 11 guys deep and they rarely give a lackluster effort. While the unit is young, the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in assists at 16 a game and the chemistry in their motion offense and set plays is fluid. Starting Anthony Clemmons at the point guard position and having Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell play the other two guard spots has allowed more fire power and speed for Iowa on the perimeter.
The Hawkeyes' defense is much improved from the start of the season, as they cause several turnovers with their full-court pressure. Even if Iowa doesn't force the turnover, they make opponents start their half-court offense late in the shot clock, which is part of the reason why the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in three-point defense at 28.9 percent a game.
If Iowa can check these five things off the list, they will be dancing for the first time since 2006.