Well folks, we’ve made it.
It seems like it was just yesterday my now-fiancé and I were pounding drinks steps away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis upon learning that the 2020 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament (and subsequent NCAA Tournament) had been cancelled. Nevertheless here we are one year later: the world is (sort of) starting to return to something resembling normalcy and the Big Ten Tournament is back.
In case you’ve been living underground in a bunker somewhere outside of Muscatine for the past few weeks, Iowa enters this weekend’s event as the #3 seed thanks to its 77-73 victory over Wisconsin last Sunday. In finishing third, the Hawkeyes received a comfy bye all the way to the tournament quarterfinals where they will meet either the #6 seed Badgers Friday night. It’s Iowa’s highest seed in the event since 2006 and the first time the program has received a coveted double-bye since the conference expanded to a 14-team field in 2015.
For the Hawkeye program the Big Ten Tournament has been a bit of a mixed bag. Iowa has won the title twice, but hasn't reached the semifinals in 15 years. The Hawkeyes have made the tournament final three times, cutting down the nets in 2001 and 2006. Despite a magical weekend by Luke Recker, Iowa fell to Ohio State as a #9 seed in the 2002 title game.
Luke Recker (@lukerecker24) hit one of the most iconic shots in Big Ten Tournament history in 2002.— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) February 22, 2019
The former @IowaHoops star hadn't even watched the replay until three years ago, but today he reflected on the dramatic win over his former team: pic.twitter.com/XSap20xfwP
So as the Hawkeyes prepare to embark on what we hope is a month-long journey to a national title, let's keep the positive vibes rolling by looking back at the program's pair of Big Ten Tournament Championship runs.
Twenty years ago, the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes entered the United Center in need of several victories just to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Losers of seven of their last eight games, Iowa 18-11 (7-9 B1G) was in a tailspin and rode a three-game losing streak into the 2001 Big Ten Tournament. The mere thought that the Hawkeyes could win two games, let alone four in one weekend was preposterous.
Little did we know, however, that [REDACTED] happened to be one of the better coaches the conference tourney has ever seen.
Following a 72-55 victory over 11th-seeded Northwestern in the first round, the Hawkeyes upset third-seeded Ohio State in the quarterfinals, 75-66, thanks to 18 points from Glen Worley and 16 points, six assists, and four rebounds from Dean Oliver.
Eventual Tournament Most Outstanding Player Reggie Evans dropped 30 points and 18 rebounds as Iowa put an end to seventh-seeded Penn State’s cinderella tournament run with a 94-74 blowout win in the semis, setting up a date with fourth-seeded Indiana in the tournament championship game.
By the time Sunday rolled around, the Hawkeyes were likely NCAA Tournament bound thanks to three straight wins in Chicago, but with a chance to become the first Big Ten team to win four games in four days Iowa wouldn’t disappoint.
Led by Brody Boyd’s 22 points, Oliver’s 12 points and Evans’ eight-point, 11 rebound effort, the Hawkeyes became the first six seed to win the Big Ten Tournament with a 63-61 triumph over the Hoosiers. Iowa battled back from a six-point halftime deficit, shot 52% in the second half, and survived a late Indiana charge to capture the conference’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Evans secured the game and the title with a block on Kirk Haston in the final seconds.
The Hawkeyes ended up receiving a seven seed in the following week’s NCAA Tournament where they defeated the #10 seed Creighton before losing to second-seeded Kentucky in the second round. The 2000-01 Hawkeyes started 17-5, ended the regular season 18-11, but somehow ended up with 23 wins and were just one game from the Sweet Sixteen. Most college basketball seasons are a roller coaster, but that Iowa season was an absolute circus.
#TBT This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 2001 Big Ten Tournament Championship. Here's a look back at Iowa's run, winning four games in four days to lift the trophy. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/vti2mmIJcX— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) March 11, 2021
Iowa’s best seeding in the Big Ten Tournament was also the last time the program cut down the nets in the postseason. The 2005-06 Hawkeyes finished one game back of Ohio State for the regular season crown and entered Indianapolis as the second seed in the 11-team field.
Iowa followed up a 67-57 quarterfinal win over 10th-seeded Minnesota with a 53-48 defensive triumph over sixth-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals. The Hawkeyes won despite posting just a 36.6% field goal percentage thanks to forcing 18 turnovers and holding the Spartans to an absurd 17/53 (28.3%) shooting performance. Jeff Horner (14), Greg Brunner (12), and Mike Henderson (11) combined for 37 of Iowa’s 53 points.
On Selection Sunday, the Hawkeyes held the Big Ten Champion Buckeyes to just 23 second half points and beat Ohio State for a second time that season with a 67-60 title-clinching win. All eight Iowa players scored at least one point, led by Horner’s double-double on 16 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds. The most memorable moment of the day however was bench-player Alex Thompson's three-pointer (his only attempt of the game) with 3:00 left that nearly blew the roof off of the Fieldhouse.
Brunner and Adam Haluska also combined for 25 points and 16 boards and the Hawkeyes’ defense once again locked down an opponent, holding the Buckeyes to just seven field goals in the second half. Following the game, Horner was named the Big Ten Tournament’s MOP.
Following the championship run, the Hawkeyes were rewarded with a #3 seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament where, unfortunately, the Big Dance was abruptly cancelled with 14.6 seconds left in Iowa’s first round matchup with some Demon team from Louisiana.
That’s what happened and we just have to live with it.
For These Hawkeyes, To Weez or Not To Weez?
The 2001 and 2006 Hawkeyes both entered the Big Ten Tournament with quite a bit to play for. The same can't necessarily be said for this year's team. Heading to Indianapolis, Iowa’s NCAA Tournament profile is pretty sound: A 20-7 overall record with a NET rating of 5 along with 12 wins against Quads 1 and 2 opponents. The Hawkeyes are also one of the hottest teams in the country right now with wins in seven of their last eight games.
In the win over Wisconsin, it looked like Joe Wieskamp was on pace for about 50 points when he came down on the foot of a Badger player and had to leave the game with what was later called a “sprained ankle.” Depending on who you talk to, it seems Wieskamp may or may not be healthy enough to play Friday. In averaging 15 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, it’s no secret that the Hawkeyes need a somewhat healthy Wieskamp if they are to have a good chance at making a run to the Final Four later this month.
Joe Wieskamp went 51-for-103 from three-point range in Big Ten Play.— David Eickholt (@DavidEickholt) March 10, 2021
The sport’s two most prominent Bracketologists, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS’ Jerry Palm, both have the Hawkeyes as a solid #2 seed if today were Selection Sunday. BracketMatrix lists Iowa as averaging a 2.03 seed in brackets at outlets across the nation and it's evident that by every metric and outlet, this team will receive a two-seed in the Big Dance.
In taking all of this into consideration, it begs the question: If Wieskamp isn't 100 percent, should Fran McCaffery rush him back for the Big Ten Tournament?
I want to be clear, I’m not advocating for punting on the event. In fact, Iowa still has a shot (albeit very small) at nabbing the last #1 seed in the Big Dance. It seems Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, and (ugh) Illinois have secured three of the spots on the top-line, but Iowa could potentially play and beat both the Illini and Wolverines en route to winning this weekend’s tournament. Would that be enough to push them into the last #1 seed? That’s unclear.
What is clear is that these Hawkeyes, even with a loss on Friday, are pretty solidly entrenched as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It would be pretty surprising to see them dropped a seed-line as a result of anything that could happen in the Big Ten Tournament. It’s also clear that, while we all want to win trophies and Iowa is heading to Indianapolis this weekend trying to capture the program’s first conference tourney crown in 15 years, this weekend is not the ultimate goal.
If Friday's quarterfinal rolls around and Wieskamp is fully-healthy and "good to go," then play him and go win three games in three days. But if he's not 100%, is it really worth it for Iowa to have him hobble around the court against Wisconsin and risk re-aggravating his ankle injury for a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal?
I think not.
Cutting down the nets in Indianapolis Sunday would be a great moment for the players and this program, but it would pale in comparison to climbing the same ladders 22 days later.
How does one pack for a 29 day trip? Asking for a friend— Jordan Bohannon (@JordanBo_3) March 10, 2021