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Monday, February 25, 2008

Iowa playing for their Big Ten Tourney seed

With Iowa’s loss at Michigan State and Michigan’s win over Illinois this weekend, it appears that the Hawkeyes will be in a fight with Michigan for the 7-seed in the Big Ten Tournament at season’s end. After the weekend, both teams are currently tied for 7th in the Big Ten with 3 games remaining for each. Here is a more in depth look at what is left on the schedule for both squads.

The Hawkeyes will travel to Penn State on Wednesday night to face a Nittany Lions team that Iowa beat 64-49 at home back in late January. Penn State has dropped two straight games away from home to Michigan State and Minnesota, but in the Lions last two home games they have beaten Illinois and those same Spartans.

On Sunday Iowa will face off with rival Illinois in this years home finale. Sunday will mark the first and only time the Hawkeyes meet the Illini in the 2007-08 season. Illinois has been the most disappointing team in the conference this year and currently sit in 10th place in the Big Ten with a 3-13 conference record. The Illini’s only road win this year came on February 12th at Minnesota.

The regular season comes to a close for Iowa next Wednesday, March 5th on the road at Northwestern. The Hawkeyes just recently squeaked by Northwestern 53-51 at home to pick up their 5th Big Ten win. The Wildcats loss to Indiana on Saturday dropped them to 0-14 in Big Ten play this year and barring a miracle assures Northwestern the 11-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Evanston has been a house of horrors for Iowa in recent years and it may be the Wildcat’s last realistic chance at a conference win this year when the Hawkeyes come to town.

Iowa could realistically win out, based solely on the poor quality of their remaining opponents, and finish the season with an 8-10 conference record. However, the Hawkeyes have been extremely inconsistent this season and have yet to put together back-to-back wins in Big Ten play, so a 2-1 finish and a 7-11 conference record would be more likely.

If Iowa does indeed go 2-1 in their final 3 games to finish the season at 7-11 in Big Ten play, that would mean that Michigan would need to run the table to take the 7-seed away from the Hawkeyes. The upstart Wolverines have won 4 of their last 5 games and have winnable games against Northwestern and at Penn State up next before their season home finale against a Purdue team that may very well be playing for a regular season conference title.

The good news for Iowa fans hoping that the Hawks can hang onto 7th in the Big Ten is the fact that barring a Michigan upset win over Purdue, Iowa will most likely hold the tiebreaker over the Wolverines. Tiebreaker procedures for a two-team tie are to first look at the results of head-to-head competition. Of course, Iowa and Michigan split their regular season series with the Hawkeyes winning by 8 in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines beating Iowa by 8 in Iowa City. Since that is a wash, we then move to each team’s record against the team occupying the highest position in the final standings continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage. Iowa’s best win on the season is their 43-36 upset of Michigan State back on January 12th. As long as Michigan does not upset Purdue in their final game, the Wolverine’s best win would be their 80-70 victory over Ohio State earlier this month. That would mean that as long as the Spartans finish above the Buckeyes in the final regular season Big Ten Standings, Iowa would take the tiebreaker over Michigan and be playing in the 7-10 matchup of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.

With all that being said, there is still a small possibility of Iowa moving up to capture the 6-seed from Minnesota. If the Hawkeyes win out and the Gophers lose their remaining four games (at Purdue, vs Ohio State, at Indiana, at Illinois), then Iowa would finish 1 game ahead of Minnesota and finish 6th in the Big Ten.