Commentary: Iowa back on Tourney Track after big win over Badgers

BY TOM CLOS | JANUARY 21, 2013 6:30 AM

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If the Hawkeye basketball men wind up making the cut for the 68-team NCAA Tournament 55 days from now, they should look no further than their 70-66 victory over Wisconsin as the season’s turning point.

Not only did Fran McCaffery’s bunch shake up the Big Ten race, which now sees its third different leader in fewer than seven days, the Hawkeyes also propelled themselves back into the March Madness discussion after such a disheartening 0-3 start to league play.

A closer look at the numbers reveals just how big the Jan. 19 victory was.

According to CBSsports.com, Iowa currently owns an RPI of 64. For those who aren’t aware, a school’s RPI is the combination of its winning percentage and strength of schedule, which is then entered into a complex equation and represented by a single number. The NCAA established the process to find some way of separating teams for tournament selection, and the lower the number, the better a school’s chances of making the tournament field.

Since possessing a low RPI is favorable, beating a team with a lower RPI will do nothing but boost tourney hopes. The Hawkeyes are currently 4-4 against teams that own top-100 RPIs with wins over Iowa State (36), Wisconsin (51), Northern Iowa (87) and Northwestern (97) and losses to Michigan (5), Wichita State (14), Indiana (15), and Michigan State (16).

Simply put, beating a team with a RPI of 51 like the Badgers was a huge résumé booster for the Black and Gold and more wins like this usually lead to good things in the springtime. Luckily and unluckily for the Hawkeyes, many more top-100 RPI teams await them.

Opportunities Await

With a 2-3 league record in tow, Iowa’s schedule will get as light as it possibly can get in the Big Ten over the next three games. A tough date with inconsistent but ranked Ohio State on Tuesday is followed up by a trip to Purdue on Jan. 27. The Hawkeyes will then return home to host Penn State on Jan 31.

The clash with the Buckeyes, who own an RPI of 27, presents yet another opportunity to get a standout win, and a victory would not only push the Black and Gold in the NCAA Tournament for the time being, but also toward being ranked in the top-25. But thanks to the victory over Wisconsin, this game moved out of the “must-win” category and back to a game the Hawkeyes can afford to lose.

The following pair of games, however, are must-wins.

Iowa cannot afford to lose to either the Boilermakers or Nittany Lions — two teams with 100-plus RPIs. Though it’s a road game, Purdue’s RPI of 119 can be an absolute résumé killer, while a loss to Penn State and its 184 rating would probably keep the Hawkeyes out of March Madness barring some huge upsets down the road.

A 7-9 and even in some cases 6-10 league record has generally been regarded as good enough for selection by the NCAA Tournament, thanks to the overall strength of the Big Ten.

If the Black and Gold can at least close out January 2-1 in their final trio of contests and enter the last full month of the regular season with a 4-4 record in league play, Iowa will be in very good shape to make the jump off the bubble and into the field of 68.

Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, on the other hand, doesn’t need to see any more from the Hawkeyes to figure out whether they should make the grade in March. He witnessed enough this past weekend.

“Iowa is as good as any team that we’ve played.” he said after his squad’s loss to the Hawkeyes. “Where’s all the talk about how good Iowa was earlier?”

Thanks to a big win over his Badgers, it’s here now — better sooner, rather than later.

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