Iowa women have a lot to gain at Big Ten Tournament

Ryan Murken
Iowa's Bethany Doolittle (51), Kali Peschel (25) and Kathryn Reynolds (33) cheer after a mad three-pointer against Minnesota during the second half of play on senior day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, March 1, 2015. The Hawkeyes beat the Gophers 92-76.

Prior to Sunday's regular-season finale at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa guard Samantha Logic offered a promise for Iowa fans.

"We are planning to come back here," Logic said. "We don't think we're done playing at home this year."

This weekend, Logic and her teammates will try to make sure to deliver on that promise.

The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes head to this week's Big Ten Tournament, which opens Wednesday, in a position to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament by earning a top-four seed.

Conventional wisdom says a strong performance at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill. could lock the Hawkeyes into a host spot.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder believes her Hawkeyes, which boast a 23-6 record and finished second to No. 4 Maryland in the Big Ten standings at 14-4, have already done more than enough to play their opening-round NCAA Tournament game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

"I believe that we are in the NCAA Tournament and I believe wholeheartedly that we deserve to be a top-four seed," Bluder said. "I think you should base that primarily on the 29 games we have played up to this point."

Bluder makes a strong point with what the Hawkeyes have done over the past three months.

Iowa has three wins over teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and boasts an RPI rating of 7.

The Hawkeyes have only one loss, to Illinois, against an opponent outside of the top 50 in the RPI rankings and has eight wins over RPI top-50 teams.

Even without a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa certainly could earn a host spot and a top-four seed.

"It always kind of flabbergasts me a little bit how much weight is put on the conference tournament at the end of the year, when you are just talking about a couple of games when people have performed for months," Bluder said. "To me, the body of work should be more important. That is my opinion, I'm not on the selection committee so I don't get to control those things but I feel like there is a little too much weight on the conference tournament at the end of the year."

Then there is the added incentive of claiming a Big Ten title that has narrowly evaded the Hawkeyes the past several seasons.

Iowa won three games in three days to reach the tournament title game a year ago before falling to Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes could face Nebraska (20-9, 10-8) for a third time this season and a fourth straight year in the conference tournament if the seventh-seeded Cornhuskers can get past tenth-seeded Illinois (15-15, 6-12) on Thursday.

Iowa earned the second seed and will face the winner of that game in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Friday.

Illinois defeated Iowa in Champaign in January. Iowa has posted back-to-back wins over Nebraska, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers in the process.

Nebraska has defeated Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament all three years they have been in the conference.

"Illinois beat us early in the year, and we swept Nebraska, they've kind of been our nemesis in the Big Ten Tournament," Bluder said. "So this is our chance to turn that around."

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PAST FIVE CHAMPIONS: 2014—Nebraska; 2013—Purdue; 2012—Purdue; 2011—Ohio State; 2010—Ohio State;

• POSSIBLE UPSET: Most assume Iowa will get a third matchup with nemesis Nebraska in the quarterfinals, but Illinois is more than capable of pulling the upset.

The Illini won three of their final five games after enduring a seven-game Big Ten losing streak.

Nebraska defeated Illinois twice this season, by five points in Champaign and by two in Lincoln, but had junior point guard Rachel Theriot in both of those wins.

The Cornhuskers will be without Theriot for the rest of the season while Illinois will have the services of Ivory Crawford, who missed both of the regular-season meetings with Nebraska.

In the quarterfinals keep an eye on a potential matchup between sixth-seeded Minnesota and No. 3 seed Ohio State.

• MOST TO LOSE: It sounds a little crazy, but undefeated regular-season champion Maryland is in a little bit of a tough spot.

In Charlie Creme's latest bracketology on, the Terrapins are a one seed and should earn one of the top-four overall seeds by adding a Big Ten Tournament title this weekend.

However, Maryland is going to get everyone's best shot at Hoffman Estates. With teams like Baylor, Tennessee and Florida State waiting in the wings for a shot at a one seed, a tournament slip could cost Maryland a top -our spot.

• MOST TO GAIN : It probably needs an upset of top-seeded Maryland, but Michigan is still alive and kicking for an NCAA Tournament spot.

At 16-13 and 8-10 in Big Ten play, Michigan is listed as one of the first four out in Creme's latest bracket.

That could change with two wins this weekend, and getting rival Michigan State in Thursday's opener doesn't hurt the Wolverines' motivation.

SIZING UP IOWA: Iowa is a lock to make its eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and appears to be well positioned to earn a top-four seed and host the first two rounds.

That's quite an advantage for Iowa, considering the Hawkeyes are 16-0 this season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The question remaining for Iowa is how high of a seed the Hawkeyes can get.

Iowa has built an impressive resume.

The Hawkeyes finished second in a conference that should send half of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament, are 14th in the latest Associated Press Poll and are seventh in the RPI ratings.

Half of Iowa's six losses are to teams currently ranked in the Top 16 and Iowa has eight wins against teams in the RPI top 50.

Anything other than a one-and-done could leave Iowa with a three seed, where it currently sits in Creme's latest bracket.

A two seed is a long shot, even with a Big Ten Tournament title, but three wins this weekend could improve Iowa's overall seeding, which would keep them away from the top one or two seeds.