Iowa knocked off Northwestern Saturday, 71-57, keeping them alive in their quest for a bid for the NCAA Tournament. Roy Devyn Marble finally returned to his early season form, scoring 21 points as the Hawkeyes pulled away mid-way through the second half.
For Iowa, this was a win that they desperately needed. It moves them up to 4-7 in the Big Ten, with a sliver of hope that a great stretch through their final seven games and a strong Big Ten Tournament showing can propel the Hawkeyes in to the dance. Iowa has been by far the most snake-bitten team in the conference this year. In their last three losses, all on the road, Iowa has been outscored by just a combined three points. They have had five of their seven conference conference losses decided by four points or fewer, which is evidence of just how close they are to being in the top half of the Big Ten, and a sure-fire March Madness team.
Instead, they need a remarkable stretch to get in to the tournament. My guess is that Iowa needs to win six more games this season to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament, and that is including the Big Ten tourney. Luckily for Iowa, the remainder of their schedule is relatively easy, especially after the gauntlet that was their first 11 conference games. They have played seven ranked teams (assuming Wisconsin is ranked on Monday after their win over Michigan) in their first eleven games. In their final seven games, Iowa has just two games against ranked teams.
The bad news for Iowa is that their RPI and strength of schedule are less than impressive. Iowa is no. 93 in the RPI, five spots behind Nebraska. Their SOS is no. 90 in the country. Before the season, I questioned why Iowa had such a weak non-conference schedule. They played nobody and traveled nowhere, when other teams made names for themselves by challenging themselves before conference play. This will really hurt Iowa when the selection committee looks at their resume. Their only win over a ranked team was when they beat Wisconsin at home, and Iowa also had zero wins away from home until they beat Northwestern on January 13.
Considering the fact that they are from the best conference in America, and have been able to stick with some of the best teams in the land, I think the selection committee would look favorably upon Iowa. The unfortunate aspect for Iowa is that close losses do not count for anything to the selection committee. To even have the opportunity to get real consideration for the NCAA Tourney, Iowa has to start winning games.
Iowa are more than capable of winning six more games this season, but they must now make it happen.