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