Iowa's 77-70 win over Northwestern on Sunday night not only ended their six-game losing streak, it was also the final game of the Big Ten season and finalized the seeds for the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa needed to win to avoid the ignominy of a last-place finish in the league and the #14 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Happily, they got that win and in so doing preserved another hallowed Big Ten Tournament streak.
Rutgers has been the No. 14 seed in the last three Big Ten men's basketball tournaments. Iowa must defeat Northwestern tonight to keep the Scarlet Knights' streak alive.— Mike Hlas (@Hlas) February 26, 2018
Long may Rutgers' spot in the Big Ten cellar continue.
Iowa's win clinched the #12 seed for them and a first-round game against #13 seed Illinois on Wednesday at 4:30 PM Central time on BTN. If they can manage to secure that most elusive of outcomes (a Big Ten Tournament victory), they would play #5 seed Michigan on Thursday at approximately 1:30 PM Central on BTN. If they managed to upset Michigan, they'd face #4 seed Nebraska at approximately 1:30 PM Central on BTN. The top team on Iowa's half of the bracket is #1 seed Michigan State, but getting to that game would require winning three Big Ten games in a row; Iowa hasn't won consecutive Big Ten games all season. Here's the full Big Ten Tournament bracket:
This will the first time Iowa has played on Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament since the tournament expanded to a five-day format with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland in 2014-15. Hopefully it's also the last time Iowa plays on Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament for a good long while, but that's an issue for the future. Illinois, Iowa's first round opponent, was one of the Hawkeyes' four Big Ten wins this season, so that's nice. Of course, that win didn't come easily, either -- they had to crawl back from a 20-point first half deficit to beat Illinois in OT, 104-97.
Iowa has played Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament twice during the Fran Era, with two very different results. The first of those meetings was an all-too-rare Big Ten Tournament win, a 64-61 victory over the Illini in 2012. That game was so long ago Matt Gatens was Iowa's leading scorer, with 20 points. The second meeting was one of the more dispiriting Big Ten Tournament losses under Fran, as Iowa suffered a 68-66 loss to the Illini despite being #5 seed. Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff combined for 50 points in that one, but they got no help from anyone else.
The Big Ten Tournament has been a cursed environment for Iowa over the last decade -- Iowa's just 2-10 since 2008, with no wins at all since 2013. That record includes five losses as the higher-seeded team, too. Every game Iowa plays from this point forward is an elimination game. As soon as they lose, their season will be over -- at 13-18 overall, they aren't getting at-large consideration for any postseason tournaments. They have precisely one avenue available for playing postseason basketball beyond the Big Ten Tournament: win the damn thing.
Obviously, that doesn't exactly look likely -- they'd have to win five Big Ten games (they only won four all season), they'd have to do it in five days, and they'd have to beat some good teams (including Michigan and likely Michigan State and Purdue or Ohio State). Iowa has made history in the Big Ten Tournament before -- they were the first team to win four games in four days to win the tournament back in 2001 -- but a win this year would be even more improbable.
This season has been so lousy that there's certainly a desire to just get the season over with and move on to hoping that the future will bring happier times for Iowa hoops. That's understandable -- it certainly hasn't been much fun to watch Iowa get hamblasted in game after game this year. But wins like Sunday night's victory over Northwestern provide a reminder of what we'll miss when Iowa hoops closes up shop until next winter: no more thunderous Tyler Cook dunks, no more Jordan Bohannon 3-point scoring binges, no more high-energy displays of post game prowess from Luka Garza. This season will be over soon enough in all likelihood; it wouldn't be so bad if they managed to get another win or two before that ending came.