The Iowa Hawkeyes Men's Basketball team travels to Madison tonight to take on Bo Ryan's Wisconsin squad.
Over the last couple seasons these two teams have been involved in some intense, defensive-minded games. Tonight may be the most important of those meetings from Iowa's standpoint.
Some are calling this a "must-win" for the Hawkeyes. But is this truly a game the Hawkeyes must have to have any chance of being on the bubble come March?
Let's examine the remaining schedule before looking at tonight's matchup.
Including Wisconsin, the Hawks have nine games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.
They have five games at home in Carver Hawkeye Arena, where they have played very well this year, only losing two close games to Indiana and Michigan State. The five remaining home games are against Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska.
I think it is realistic to think Iowa can, and should win at least four of those games. There is no excuse to lose to Northwestern, Purdue and Nebraska at home.
Illinois, with their outside shooting that comes and goes, could cause problems. The last couple times the two teams have met, outside of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last year, the shots have been falling for the Illini. While they are on a downward trend right now, they are still a team rich with talent.
Minnesota is another toss up. I felt that Iowa did not play particularly well last Sunday in Minnesota and still had a two-point lead with under 15 seconds left in the game. If Iowa can duplicate that effort, and get anything from Roy Devyn Marble, this is a very winnable game against a ranked opponent.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Iowa splits with Illinois and Minnesota and goes 4-1 at home. That leaves four road games. At Wisconsin, at Penn State, at Nebraska and at Indiana.
Indiana is a likely loss. I know the score was close at Carver on New Year's Eve, but everybody knows that Indiana is a different team in Bloomington. Penn State should be a victory. Iowa played bad for long stretches last week against Penn State, including falling behind 10-3 to start the game, but still had the game in control the entire second half.
Nebraska is a game the Hawks should win, but may not. I have a gut feeling that much like last year against the Cornhuskers, it may be a big let down game on the road. Again, for the sake of argument, let's say Iowa goes 1-2 in those three games away from home.
That leaves tonight against Bo Ryan's Badgers.
Iowa beat Wisconsin a couple weeks ago in Iowa City. However, a few things worked in the Hawks favor in that meeting. One, Carver was as raucous as ever. It was a Saturday night, and more importantly, it was Chris Street night. If anybody saw the Chris Street segment on Big Ten Network's, "The Journey," they know that Iowa wasn't losing that game on that night.
How many of the remaining nine games will Iowa win?
Second, Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky was not playing but will be available tonight. And third, and most importantly perhaps, is that the game was in Iowa City. Bo Ryan-coached Wisconsin teams are incredibly tough at home. Bo Ryan's career record at the Kohl Center in Madison is 177-17 while at Wisconsin.
Unless Roy Devyn Marble breaks out of his slump in a big way, as in 20 or more points against the stingy Wisconsin defense, I really don't see the Hawks pulling this one out tonight, as much as I would like them to.
But, hey, the Hawks did it last year in Madison, so who really knows? Of course, Matt Gatens isn't coming off the bench to pick up Josh Oglesby's slack beyond the arch tonight.
So assuming Iowa goes 4-1 at home and 1-3 on the road, which I don't think is too much to expect at all, they would finish the season at 8-10 in the Big Ten and 19-12 overall.
Let's go one step further. If Iowa wins eight Big Ten games, they will likely face either Northwestern, Penn State or Nebraska again in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Assuming they win that one, they would be sitting at 20 wins for the first time since Steve Alford roamed the sidelines.
Would the committee really keep a 20-win team from the nation's toughest conference out of the Dance? I really believe Iowa would be dancing.
So is tonight a "must win"? I truly don't think so. It sure would be a nice resume builder, but Iowa fans, don't panic if they don't pull it off tonight in Madison. There is still hope.