With one game to go, Hawkeyes could vault to No. 4 Big Ten seed or fall to No. 8

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

If there was despair felt Tuesday night from Iowa’s humbling home loss to Purdue, it was replaced by at least some Hawkeye hope Thursday night after Ohio State’s second-half rally to beat Illinois.

With Illinois’ loss, the Hawkeyes were granted new life to achieve the double bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

If Iowa wins at Illinois in Sunday’s 6 p.m. season finale, it’ll be the No. 4 seed and play Friday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

If Iowa loses, it’ll be relegated to a Thursday game in Indy and will almost certainly face a quality opponent, with a win needed just to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. Winning two tough games in two days is a tall ask for a team with a limited bench as it aims to reach its first Big Ten Tournament semifinal since 2006.

So with every Big Ten team having just one game left in the rugged 20-game conference schedule, let’s look as many of the various possibilities as we can for Iowa’s Big Ten draw.

No. 4 seed

Iowa (20-10 overall, 11-8 Big Ten) cannot climb higher than the 4. But the 4 would be considered a huge success. The highest Big Ten seed in any of Fran McCaffery’s previous nine seasons as head coach is 5 (twice).

KenPom.com's analytics give Iowa a 41% chance to steal one in Champaign and earn the 4; ESPN.com gives Iowa a 38.5% shot.

The 4 seed plays the winner of No. 5 vs. No. 12 Minnesota (13-16, 7-12), the only team out of 14 to be locked into his seed. The most likely 5 seed under the “Iowa wins” scenario is Penn State (21-9, 11-8), although Ohio State (21-9, 11-8) could fetch the 5 if it were to win Sunday at Michigan State (21-9, 13-6).

It’s worth noting that no matter who gets the 4 seed, Wisconsin (20-10, 13-6) would probably earn the 1 seed with a Saturday win at Indiana (19-11, 9-10). Talk about unlikely; the Badgers were once 6-6 in Big Ten play. If the Badgers lose, Michigan State would likely be the 1.

CJ Fredrick and the Hawkeyes dispatched Illinois, 72-65, in the teams' only meeting this season, on Feb. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

No. 5 seed

If you believe KenPom’s 41% Iowa win probability against Illinois (20-10, 12-7), then the Hawkeyes’ likelihood of playing a Thursday game at the Big Ten Tournament is 59%.

If Iowa loses Sunday, it has a slim shot of still earning a 5 seed. Every such scenario involves a Penn State loss at Northwestern (7-22, 2-17), which has only beaten Nebraska (7-23, 2-17) in Big Ten play. Again, the 5 seed is guaranteed to play Minnesota, at around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

No. 6 seed

That’s where the Hawkeyes are now, and they are most likely to stay there even with a loss Sunday. A 6 seed would mean playing the last game Thursday (approximately 8 p.m., although it never seems to start that early) against the winner of Wednesday’s No. 11 vs. No. 14 matchup.

There are only two remaining options to be the 11: Indiana or Purdue (16-14, 9-10), the team that has given the Hawkeyes the most fits this season.

The scenarios here are very clear: If Indiana beats Wisconsin and Purdue loses at home to Rutgers (19-11, 10-9), then the 11 is Purdue. If not, it’s Indiana.

We know Purdue is a bad matchup for Iowa.

The Hoosiers wouldn’t be a picnic, either. They’d be playing a virtual home game. They’d be likely playing with some NCAA Tournament desperation. And they had an easy time with Iowa, 89-77, in the teams’ only meeting this year in Bloomington.

If Iowa is the 6, the most likely 3 seed awaiting them on Friday would be Illinois, although Maryland (23-7, 13-6), Michigan State and Wisconsin would be in play, as well.

No. 7 seed

Although the scenario for Iowa to drop to a 7 is less likely, the scenario is clear: Losing to Illinois and Ohio State winning at Michigan State, unless … chaos. We'll address that briefly in the 8 seed scenario.

A 7 seed plays at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against the 10 seed. If Iowa is the 7, the most likely 10 seed would be Rutgers or Purdue, although Michigan (19-11, 10-9) and Indiana are possibilities.

If Iowa is the 7, there are only two teams that would be the awaiting 2 seed on Friday: Maryland or Michigan State. That doesn't seem like a good draw.

No. 8 seed

There is less than a 2% chance that Iowa drops all the way to 8, but it’s worth mentioning. This would happen if Iowa loses at Illinois coupled with road wins by Michigan (at Maryland), Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. Under this unlikely scenario, Iowa would be pitted against 9-seed Rutgers at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Remaining Big Ten schedule (times CST)

Saturday's games

11 a.m. — Wisconsin at Indiana, ESPN

1 p.m. — Rutgers at Purdue, BTN

3 p.m. — Penn State at Northwestern, BTN

Sunday's games

11 a.m. — Michigan at Maryland, Fox

Noon — Nebraska at Minnesota, BTN

3:30 p.m. — Ohio State at Michigan State, CBS

6 p.m. — Iowa at Illinois, BTN