Chad Leistikow looks at how Iowa is finishing off the regular-season schedule in strong fashion. Rodney White/The Register
For the first time in nine years, Iowa basketball fans can rest comfortably as Selection Sunday approaches.
The Hawkeyes' fifth consecutive win — their longest streak in Big Ten Conference play in (no kidding) 18 seasons — has them firmly entrenched in every bracketologist's NCAA Tournament projection.
Now that Iowa has put itself in position of knowing that it'll see its name on a line for the first time since the 2006 team earned a No. 3 seed, the question is how high can it go? Obviously, beating Northwestern at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Hawkeyes' home finale would help make a solid case for a No. 7. Iowa is ranked No. 22 in Ken Pomeroy's national ratings, up 25 spots since the start of February, and has an RPI of 36, according to ESPN.com.
How things pan out at the Big Ten Tournament could go a long way in where Iowa ends up dancing. By the way, if you're starting to consider trip-planning with hopes of seeing Iowa's first NCAA Tournament win since 2001, the eight early-round sites are:
•Thursday/Saturday games: Veterans Memorial Arena (Jacksonville, Fla.), KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.), Consol Energy Center (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and the Rose Garden (Portland, Ore.).
•Friday/Sunday games: Time Warner Cable Arena (Charlotte, N.C.), Nationwide Arena (Columbus, Ohio), CenturyLink Center (Omaha, Neb.), KeyArena (Seattle).
So, back to the Big Tens. Iowa could earn a coveted "double bye" in the first year of the 14-team Big Ten Tournament under several scenarios. In most of those cases, Iowa ends up as the No. 4 seed, which would mean opening in the quarterfinals around 1:30 p.m. CT on Friday, March 13, at the United Center in Chicago. Win that, and Iowa would likely reach a semifinal showdown against sixth-ranked Wisconsin.
Of course, beating Northwestern — which is no slouch, having won five of six in a streak that began against Iowa in Evanston on Feb. 15 — is paramount for the Hawkeyes.
HawkeyeNation.com's Jon Miller did a great job outlining all the possibilities here, but in a nutshell, Iowa fans should root for Michigan State to lose one of its final two games — home against Purdue on Wednesday or at Indiana on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes (at 11-6 in the Big Ten) own a half-game lead over Michigan State (10-6), but Sparty has the tiebreaker by virtue of its 75-61 win in Iowa City on Jan. 8.
Another possible path is for Purdue (11-5) to "lose out" — at Michigan State and home Saturday against Illinois. Purdue also has the tiebreaker from the 67-63 win in West Lafayette, the game in which Aaron White suffered a stinger before the first TV timeout. So Iowa needs to finish a game clear of the Boilermakers to get the higher seed.
Iowa owns the tiebreaker over Ohio State (10-6) because it swept the Buckeyes. So as long as the Hawkeyes beat Northwestern, they'll do no worse than a No. 5 seed at next week's five-day tournament at the United Center in Chicago. The No. 5 plays the No. 12/No. 13 winner — currently Nebraska vs. Penn State — around 1:30 p.m. that Thursday.
For Iowa to launch its way to the No. 3 seed, it would need Purdue to go loss-loss and Michigan State to fall at Indiana. That would be an approximate 8 p.m.. tip-off.
If Iowa loses to the Wildcats (6-11), then the No. 6 seed becomes a possibility. Also an 8 p.m. tip. Let's try to not think about that.