The Big Ten tournament starts Thursday in Chicago. The four day event means different things for different teams, with some fighting to get in to the NCAA tournament, some fighting over seeding in the tournament and others just finishing off their season.
For Iowa, this is an absolute must win. Right now the Hawkeyes are on the bubble, but on the outside looking in. Opinions differ on how much more they have to do to get selected, but in every scenario Iowa must beat Northwestern. At 20-11 (9-9 in the Big Ten), and with an RPI of 76 and strength of schedule at 127, I believe the Hawkeyes must at least make it to the semi-finals of the Big Ten tourney to have a shot, but more likely to the championship game to get a bid.
Iowa has had their way with Northwestern this season, sweeping the two game series by margins of victory of 20 and 14 points. In the most recent match-up, Iowa’s Roy Devyn-Marble went off for 21 points and the Hawkeyes held Northwestern to just 35 percent from the field. If that happens again this should be a cakewalk for Iowa. There should be a real sense of urgency, as Iowa’s hopes of an NCAA tournament bid will sit on one game elimination games.
The same cannot be said for Northwestern. They have nothing tangible to play for, just pride. The big storyline for the Wildcats is the future of head coach Bill Carmody. This is his 13 season as the head coach in Evanston, yet they still have never gone to the NCAA tournament. Once again, their season will end in disappointment. With a record of 13-18 and with just four conference wins, this will go down as one of Carmody’s worst years at the school, with the fewest wins since 2008. The Chicago Tribune has already ran a story about a list of replacements for the possibly lame-duck coach.
Though I don’t expect Northwestern to just phone this game in, they still play hard for Carmody, Iowa just has so much more to play for. Conference tournaments are often the host of shockers, but I just don’t see that happening when Iowa and Northwestern meet for the third time this season.
The game is at 9 EST on ESPN2, and the winner will play Michigan State Friday night at the same time on BTN.