There still might be lots of basketball left to be played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this year.
Iowa's men's team essentially already has its NIT ticket booked. And ever since its loss to Indiana — and especially its first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament — Iowa women's fringe chances for the NCAA Tournament have dwindled, while its chances for a No. 1 or 2 seed in the WNIT have skyrocketed.
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme discussed the Hawkeyes' slim odds Friday evening with HawkCentral. He pegged Iowa (17-13), which finished the regular season ninth in the Big Ten at 8-8, as the fourth of the "First Four Out" and George Washington as the "last team in" early Sunday morning.
"I'd be very surprised if Iowa made the field," Creme said. "For argument’s sake, let’s say that Iowa got in and George Washington didn’t. That would surprise me. George Washington not making it wouldn’t surprise me; Iowa being the choice to replace them would.
"My burning question isn’t, ‘Will Iowa make it?’ It’s really more, ‘Is George Washington really going to make it?’ And I think, if they don’t, the options will be more in the vein of Auburn or Cal and probably not Iowa."
Makes sense. Iowa's RPI has slipped to 64 in the tournament season — the seventh-best mark in an off year for the Big Ten. Auburn's at 44; Cal's at 56. Both have better wins than the Hawkeyes, Creme said, and they sit above Iowa in the first four out, along with Indiana.
Here's more of why Creme thinks Iowa will miss the Big Dance for the second straight season:
Quality of the Big Ten
Iowa didn't get any help from the Big Ten this year, Creme said. It's just been a bizarre season for the league, with Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin and Rutgers dragging their feet at the bottom.
Five of Iowa's eight conference wins (and one of its losses) came against those four teams.
"How many good wins within the Big Ten are even available?" Creme said. "The Big Ten teams — the ones that are in the mix — are being hurt by the fact that the bottom half of that league is really bad. That sounds harsh to say, but when’s the last time a Big Ten schedule included three teams that are below 200 in the RPI? I honestly can’t remember.
"It’s a killer when they’re on your schedule — even if you’re beating them."
Cal and Auburn don't have that problem. Creme projects seven of 14 SEC teams and six Pac-12 teams will make the Big Dance, compared to just five of 14 from the Big Ten — the least of the Power 5 conferences.
Saving grace? Maybe not.
Strength of schedule is the only thread holding up Iowa's hopes. It entered conference tournament season with the country's No. 25 strength of schedule and the No. 4 nonconference strength of schedule. When you play Notre Dame, UCLA, Maryland and Ohio State, that counts for something.
But only so much, Creme said. Sure, Iowa played 12 games against teams in the RPI top 50. But it won just three of those and lost all eight against top-40 teams.
"Usually you’ve got to win one of them," Creme said. "At least. Like, ‘Hey, we scheduled and were close against all five of them that we scheduled that were tough.’ But they’re 0-5. Well, again, how much does that mean? It doesn’t mean much if you can’t win one.
"(Maryland's schedule) can only take them so far because the schedule was bad. Iowa, you flip it around: The schedule could only take them so far because they didn’t actually beat anybody, or they beat very few teams within that schedule."
Right now Iowa's best wins are against James Madison, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Michigan State. Three bubble teams and one solid tournament team.
But what about the Cy-Hawk win?
The Selection Monday show airs on ESPN at 6 p.m. And when it's done, Iowa fans probably won't be too happy for two reasons:
- Iowa likely won't make it. Honestly, a WNIT run might be better for a young, developing team like the Hawkeyes, though. So that won't be too rough.
- Much worse: Iowa State will probably make it.
Iowa's decisive, 88-76 win over the Cyclones (58 RPI) in early December doesn't carry much weight anymore, Creme said. Iowa State's impressive wins against Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia do.
"The way Iowa State finished the season, having that win over Texas at the end of the season, and Iowa’s not having a very good finish would trump the head-to-head meeting that they had earlier in the year since it was so long ago," Creme said. " ... Iowa State doesn’t have a boatload of (big) wins either, but they have a couple more, and one of them is at Texas — huge difference winning at Texas or winning against Michigan State.
"Big, big difference."
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.