Double bye at the 2022 Big Ten tournament within Iowa basketball's grasp

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The best February of the Fran McCaffery era is in the books. The Iowa men's basketball team completed a 7-1 month with Monday's 82-61 whipping of Northwestern, with all seven wins coming by double digits.

You'd have to go back to January of 2016 to find a comparable month of Big Ten Conference success. Iowa completed sweeps of Purdue and Michigan State in that 7-1 month and eventually rose to No. 3 in the national rankings. 

The fruits of Iowa's February surge has meant a steady climb up the Big Ten standings. In a month, the Hawkeyes have gone from 10th place to a tie for fourth. Ohio State's back-to-back losses to bottom-dwellers Maryland and Nebraska have put the Hawkeyes (21-8 overall) and Buckeyes tied for fourth at 11-7 in Big Ten play. 

Keegan Murray averaged 25.9 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 58.3% from the floor in the month of February.

And because Iowa won the lone head-to-head meeting, it owns the tiebreaker over Ohio State. So if the season ended Wednesday morning, Iowa would be the No. 4 seed at next week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. A top-four seed means a coveted "double bye" — a fast pass to Friday's Big Ten quarterfinals — that comes with a lot of other benefits like fresher legs, more preparation time and, yeah, an easier path to the conference-title game. All that bodes well for the subsequent NCAA Tournament.

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The Hawkeyes have two regular-season games left — at Michigan on Thursday (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1) and at second-place Illinois on Sunday (6:30 p.m., FS1).

Win both, and they're guaranteed a double bye at the Big Ten tournament as the No. 4 seed. The No. 4 seed would await the No. 5 seed vs. No. 12/13 winner next Friday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Wisconsin is the likely No. 1 seed on the top side of the bracket after Tuesday's last-second win against Purdue.

Lose both this week and the Hawkeyes could slip all the way to the eighth seed at 11-9. That's because three teams entered Wednesday one game back of the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes, at 10-8.

So there's a lot on the line over the next four days for all five teams. Let's take a look at the remaining schedules for each:

  • Iowa (11-7): at Michigan, at Illinois
  • Ohio State (11-7): vs. Michigan State, vs. Michigan
  • Michigan State (10-8): at Ohio State, vs. Maryland
  • Michigan (10-8): vs. Iowa, at Ohio State
  • Rutgers (10-8): at Indiana, vs. Penn State

The Hawkeyes can still achieve a double bye with a split over the next four days, but they would need help.

If they're going to go 1-1, it's better to win Thursday's game at Michigan. That would keep the Wolverines definitively below Iowa in the standings. If Michigan beats Iowa, it would own a season sweep and the head-to-head tiebreaker.

So, let's look quickly at each "split" scenario.

If Iowa beats Michigan and loses to Illinois.

The Hawkeyes would be 12-8 and still need one loss each from Ohio State and Rutgers to secure a top-four seed. Pretty simple. (Rutgers owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Iowa by virtue of its controversial 48-46 win in Piscataway.)

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If Iowa loses to Michigan and beats Illinois.

Again, the Hawkeyes would be 12-8 and would still need a loss from Rutgers. But additionally, they would need Michigan State to beat Ohio State; then for Ohio State to beat Michigan. That would put Iowa into a fourth-place tie with Michigan State and Ohio State … and by virtue of head-to-head wins over both, the Hawkeyes would get the No. 4 nod.

Unfortunately, Iowa might be without starting forward and third-leading scorer Patrick McCaffery on Thursday. Coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday morning that the 6-foot-9 sophomore was "day-to-day" and has been limited in practice. McCaffery, who averages 10.7 points per game, suffered a hip injury in last Friday's 88-78 win at Nebraska.

"We'll see (Thursday) how he feels," Fran McCaffery said. "We don't want him to have this thing linger the rest of the way."