The Hawkeyes fell 67-58 to Penn State.
CHICAGO – Now that Thursday night has passed and Iowa players (and fans) have had some time to move on from the unsettling loss to Penn State, there's still room for positive thinking.
The Hawkeyes will be part of the NCAA Tournament field when the brackets are unveiled at 5 p.m. Sunday on CBS. And we're not talking First Four in Dayton, Ohio. The Hawkeyes are solidly in.
"This team deserves it," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "It'll be an exciting day for all of us."
And here's another silver lining:
"We'll have fresh legs, I guess, now for the tournament," point guard Mike Gesell said, a slight chuckle breaking through the disappointment of not making a Big Ten Tournament run into the weekend at the United Center.
The guard spoke about Iowa's 67-58 loss to Penn State.
So with a loss to the Big Ten's 13th seed being flushed further down the drain as each minute passes, let's look big-picture here.
The Hawkeyes were projected as a No. 6 or 7 seed in The Big Dance before blowing an 11-point second-half lead in Thursday's 67-58 defeat. The question now is: Can they hang on to the 7, or do they fall into a No. 8 or 9?
The 8/9 spot is generally a rotten draw for teams that want to make a deep run — although Kentucky reached the national championship game a year ago as an 8. But it's a sound strategy to avoid No. 1 seeds for as long as possible. The 8/9 winner has always faced the 1; a No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1.
The 7/10 winner would face a 2 seed in the second round, or possibly a 15 seed.
As of Friday morning, the experts thought this year's 1 seeds were lining up to be Kentucky, Duke, Villanova and Virginia. The 2s were Arizona, Gonzaga, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Iowa shot 26.3 percent and gave up 48 second-half points to Penn State.
Iowa's resume is filled with positives: The Hawkeyes went 7-3 in true road games. They beat three teams in nonconference play that are NCAA Tournament qualifiers: North Carolina (in Chapel Hill), North Dakota State and North Florida. They also went 3-0 against Ohio State and Maryland — two NCAA locks — and walloped Indiana, which figures to squeak into the field as well.
Among Iowa's negatives are a 0-4 record on neutral courts and three bad losses (against teams with RPIs of 90 or worse) in the season's final nine games — to Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State.
CBS Sports bracket expert Jerry Palm bumped Iowa down to his 7 line (from 6) Friday morning. ESPN's Joe Lunardi had Iowa as a 7 even before Thursday.
To be a 7 seed, Iowa would need to be in the Nos. 25-28 slots nationally in the eyes of the tournament Selection Committee. Iowa's RPI, according to NCAA.com, slipped from 37 to 45 after the Penn State loss.
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The Hawkeyes shouldn't dive-bomb to 10, so the key is to stay ahead of the 8 or 9. If you buy into the brackets of Lunardi and Palm, there are eight teams jockeying for No. 7 seeds — Iowa's resume would need to beat four of these:
Cincinnati: The Bearcats (RPI 34) have good nonconference wins over San Diego State and North Carolina State.
Michigan State: The Spartans (RPI 27) matched Iowa's 12-6 Big Ten record but beat the Hawkeyes by 13 in Iowa City.
Ohio State: Iowa swept the Buckeyes (RPI 36), and experts had them on the 8 line entering the Big Ten Tournament.
Oregon: The Dana Altman-coached Ducks (RPI 29) ended the season on a hot streak that included their best win, over Utah.
St. Johns: Like Iowa, the Red Storm (RPI 44) laid a conference-tourney egg. Their best attribute is 2-0 marks against Providence and Xavier.
VCU: The Commodores (RPI 21) handed Northern Iowa one of its two losses but have slipped since losing point guard Briante Weber to a knee injury.
Xavier: The Musketeers (RPI 30) beat Georgetown and Butler twice each but were looking for more shine at the Big East Tournament.
No matter where Iowa sees its name Sunday, senior Aaron White said the Hawkeyes are hungry to prove they are, in his words, one of the better teams in the country.
"Obviously we have two postseason tournaments," White said. "This one didn't turn out how we wanted to. We're going to try to turn it around and make a run (in the NCAAs)."