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Rick Heller on third paid assistant not passing: Disappointing for all baseball people Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — After reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2017 because of a riveting Big Ten Tournament run, the Iowa baseball program has come up painfully short of a regional return the past two seasons. At-large hopes seemed cemented before fluttering away.

Whether the Hawkeyes can get back to the NCAA Tournament this spring remains to be determined, but the schedule presents plenty of chances for an at-large route. Iowa released its full 2020 slate Wednesday afternoon. Numerous opportunities pop.

Iowa beefed up its nonconference slate, particularly with two tough February trips. The Hawkeyes will play in the Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament from Feb. 21-23 in San Diego, as well as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge from Feb. 28-March 1 in Minneapolis.

The six teams Iowa will face those weekends all finished in the RPI’s top 100 last year: San Diego State (80), Arizona (49), San Diego (94), North Carolina State (18), North Carolina (12) and Duke (44). The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are coming off Super Regional seasons.

Six other nonconference matchups feature top-70 RPI foes from 2019. Iowa’s Division-I home opener comes with a two-game midweek showdown against Kansas (67) on March 10-11. One week later (March 18), the Hawkeyes take an intriguing road trip to Missouri (31). Iowa’s home-opening weekend arrives March 20-22 against Saint Mary’s (63).

Now, there’s still the usual batch of RPI detractors. Iowa’s two Florida trips don’t feature any foes that finished inside the RPI’s top 140 last season. The usual mid-major suspects are on the midweek slate as well. The Hawkeyes have learned the past two years how costly some of those games can be if they are dropped.

As for the Big Ten schedule, it’ll just be a wait-and-see approach. Of Iowa’s eight conference weekends, only one is against a 2019 NCAA Tournament team. However, it’s often a new group of Big Ten teams each year that make regional pushes. Series such as Maryland, Minnesota and others could end up tougher than believed.

One interesting note. The biggest component of Iowa’s past two late-season sputters has been dropping bad series late in the year when the schedule theoretically eases up. Not the case in 2020. The Hawkeyes end the regular season with three at national runner-up Michigan, which should be hungry for more elite success. If Iowa finds itself on the bubble again, perhaps a series win in Ann Arbor could be the final push.

Iowa’s good schedule only carries value if the Hawkeyes can take advantage with wins. The foes must hold up their end with solid seasons, as well. But there’s no denying a regional route is definitely in play.                        

Iowa baseball: 2020 schedule

Feb. 14 — Kent State (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)

Feb. 15 — Saint Joseph's (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)

Feb. 16 — Pittsburgh (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)  

Feb. 21 — San Diego State (Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament in San Diego)

Feb. 22 — Arizona (Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament in San Diego)

Feb. 23 — San Diego (Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament in San Diego)

Feb. 28 — North Carolina State (B1G/ACC Challenge in Minneapolis) 

Feb. 29 — North Carolina (B1G/ACC Challenge in Minneapolis) 

March 1 — Duke (B1G/ACC Challenge in Minneapolis) 

March 3 — Grand View 

March 6 — Western Michigan (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)  

March 7 — Georgetown (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)  

March 8 — Army (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)  

March 8 — Georgetown (Snowbird Baseball Classic in Punta Gorda, Fla.)  

March 10-11 — Kansas

March 13-15 — @ Cal State-Northridge

March 18 — @ Missouri

March 20-22 — Saint Mary's

March 24 — Milwaukee  

March 27-29 — @ Penn State

April 1 — @ Bradley

April 3-5 — Purdue

April 8 — South Dakota State

April 10-12 — @ Rutgers

April 15 — Northern Illinois

April 17-19 — Maryland

April 22 — Bradley

April 24-26 — @ Michigan State

April 28 — Western Illinois

May 1-3 — Minnesota

May 5 — @ Illinois-Chicago

May 8-10 — Northwestern

May 14-16 — @ Michigan

May 20-24 — Big Ten Tournament (Omaha)

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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