7-10 Split: A win and (maybe) Iowa dances

By Todd Brommelkamp/1600 ESPN

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

Most of us have used that line from “Dumb and Dumber” at some point in the last 30 years.

Yes, there’s a chance the Iowa men’s basketball team can still reach the NCAA tournament.

Even after a 73-61 Senior Night loss to Illinois last Sunday, Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes enter Big Ten tournament play tomorrow with an opportunity to sneak into the Field of 68. The Hawkeyes wear the No. 7 seed at the Target Center as they square off with No. 10 seed Ohio State in the Twin Cities.

Iowa slipped past the Buckeyes, 79-77, in the only meeting of the year between the two squads when they faced one another in Iowa City on Feb. 2.

A lot has changed since then, first and foremost on the Ohio State sideline. Head coach Chris Holtmann was relieved of his duties in mid-February after the Buckeyes fell to 14-11 overall and 4-10 in Big Ten play.

The post-Holtmann Buckeyes are 5-1 since the coaching change was announced. Their only loss in that 6-game stretch came in Minneapolis on Feb. 22 when Minnesota held serve at Williams Arena for a 88-79 victory.

Despite being the higher seed, I’d expect Ohio State to be a slight betting favorite by the time the game tips off Thursday night at 5:30. Artificial Intelligence program Data Skrive projects the final score tomorrow night to be 77-76 in favor of the lower-seeded Buckeyes.

But enough about Ohio State.

The fact we’re even still talking about Iowa as a team within striking distance of an NCAA tourney berth is pretty remarkable. As of this writing, the Hawkeyes are ranked 61st in the NET and 52 by KenPom.

If you’re looking for a favorable metric when it comes to Iowa’s current resume, look no further than a Strength of Schedule that ranks 19th. Iowa’s 18-13 overall record has come at the hands of quality opponents, mostly during conference action. Just two of Iowa’s Quad 1 contests have come outside Big Ten play – early season losses to Creighton and Iowa State.

The Hawkeyes seemed to be carrying some momentum with them late in the season, earning hard-fought wins on the road over Michigan State and Northwestern in East Lansing and Evanston and had won three of their last four games before dropping the regular season finale to the Illini.

Iowa will take the court Thursday at the Target Center with the pressure of knowing it needs a victory to boost its tourney credentials. There are a lot of other teams across the country in the same position. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Hawkeyes among his ‘Next Four Out’ Wednesday morning when his NCAA tourney projections were updated in Bristol. Texas A & M, New Mexico, Wake Forest, Villanova and Pittsburgh were the six schools separating the Hawkeyes from Indiana State, Lunardi’s final team in the current field of 68.

Wake, Villanova and New Mexico began their respective conference tourneys on Wednesday. Pitt and A & M, like Iowa, don’t play until Thursday.

Spending too much time looking at the big picture is pointless if you’re an Iowa fan. With so many moving parts over the next day and a half it’s impossible to predict what will happen in terms of wins and losses.

A win against Ohio State and the Hawkeyes will have kept hope alive heading into a Friday rematch with the Fighting Illini. Illinois, holder of one of four coveted double-bye bids, is the Big Ten tourney’s No. 2 seed.

A loss means figuring out the logistics of an NIT bid that appears to conflict with the Iowa women hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA women’s tourney next week at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The first round of the men’s NIT is scheduled for March 19 and 20 with the first round of the women’s NCAA tourney not tipping off until the 22nd. However, a second round NIT game would land on the 23rd or 24th of March and the second round the women’s NCAA tourney begins on the 24th.

Iowa, in theory, could host a first round NIT game then play the second round on the road if it were to advance. That’s not ideal but when your season ends in the NIT, you don’t get to complain about the who, why, where and when.

No matter what happens this week in the Twin Cities, it’s hard not to appreciate what the Hawkeyes accomplished during what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Owen Freeman was named Big Ten co-Freshman of the Year, Payton Sandfort emerged as a game-changing scorer and young players like Brock Harding, Dasonte Bowen, Josh Dix showed glimpses of promising futures.

Does Iowa really deserve an NCAA tourney berth?

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

That one’s from “Unforgiven.”

Todd Brommelkamp is the host of “The Todd Brommelkamp Show” and can be heard weekday mornings on 1600 ESPN from 6:30-9:00 AM.