Iowa MBB And The Brackets That Could Have Been

By RossWB on March 17, 2020 at 12:16 pm
go hawks go
© Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the week when we should be hurriedly -- and excitedly -- filling out brackets. Arguing over who got a good draw and who got a difficult draw. Debating who's going to make the Final Four and who's going to be an early upset victim. With the world grinding to a halt, though, BRACKET SZN, like so many other things, is cancelled. 

In the immediate aftermath of the NCAA's decision to cancel the NCAA Tournament(s), there was some chatter that the Selection Committee might still release a final, "official" bracket anyway. Why? Well, a few reasons, potentially. One, so teams for whom making the Field of 64 68 would be a very big deal -- like, say, Rutgers -- would get the official acknowledgement of that accomplishment, even if the pandemic would rob them of any opportunity to play actual tournament games. Two, so coaches could get their contractually-guaranteed bonuses for making the NCAA Tournament field. 

That said, the NCAA ultimately decided against releasing any sort of "official" final bracket because it was simply too difficult -- and too unfair -- to do it with the incomplete season data we had, given the abrupt cancellation of the season. Several leagues had completed their conference tournaments and determined automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Tournament -- but many others hadn't (including all of the major leagues). The winners of those tournaments would have a ripple effect on the tournament field, given that surprise winners could push some teams onto the bubble -- and others off the bubble entirely. Without knowing what was going to happen over the final four days of the conference tournaments, it simply didn't seem fair to release a bracket officially recognized by the NCAA.

That's certainly a reasonable stance for the NCAA to take -- but that doesn't have to stop Ye Olde Mock Bracketologists from doing their thing one last time and giving us a look at what this year's bracket might have looked like. In some cases, they've even mocked out how the games might have played out in those brackets. So, since we have nothing else to watch or talk about, let's take a look at those brackets. 

ESPN: Let's begin with ol' Joey Brackets. Lunardi released his final seed list on Sunday: 

He has Iowa #22 on that list, which puts them firmly into the 6-seed line. That seems like a pretty fair result; it would also be Iowa's best NCAA Tourney seed of the Fran Era and their best seed overall since 2006 (a year in which the NCAA Tournament field was set, but the tournament itself was mysterious cancelled, wow, very strange, do not research this further). 

Lunardi puts Iowa as a 6-seed in the Midwest bracket, against 11-seed East Tennessee State: 

ETSU, coached by Iowa native Steve Forbes, had an excellent season -- they went 30-4 and won the Southern Conference by a nose over Furman (16-2 versus 15-3). They also won the SoCon conference tournament with ease, going 3-0 with a trio of double-digit wins. They finished the season #56 in the KenPom rankings and would have been an intriguing R1 test for Iowa -- which is reflected in the projected line of Iowa -1.5. If Iowa got by the Buccaneers, they would have faced the winner of #3 Duke and #14 Belmont for a spot in the Sweet 16. BRING ON DOOK. 

Here are Lunardi's brackets for the East, West, and South. And here's the full-on bracket: 

@NCAAsim2020 decided to take Lunardi's bracket and simulate the entire tournament, using "advanced statistical algorithms" to determine the winners for each game. So far we like the cut of these algorithims' jibs. 



CBS also produced a final bracket, as well as a simulation (via Sportsline) of the entire tournament. Congratulations... Dayton? A Flyers title would have been quite a wild ride, that's for sure. Iowa slots in as a #7 seed in this bracket, facing #10 seed Xavier. 

CBS bracket

The 7/10 game is a familiar one for Iowa fans in the Fran Era -- Iowa's been in that spot each of the last three times they've made the Big Dance (as a #7 in 2015 and 2016 and a #10 last year). On the bright side, it's a spot where they've had success, too -- they're 3-0 in their last three appearances in the 7/10 game. 

Iowa's projected opponent here is Xavier, who finished the season at 19-13 and 45th in the KenPom standings. The Musketeers skidded into the postseason, losing their final two games of the regular season (and three of their last five overall), as well as losing to DePaul in their Big East Tournament opener. If Iowa had gotten by the X-Men, they would have faced the winner of #2 San Diego State and #15 Eastern Washington (so they would have faced SDSU). SDSU was one of the stories of the season in 2020 for college basketball, opening the year 26-0 and finishing it at 30-2 after a late season loss to UNLV and a conference tournament title game buzzer-beating defeat to Utah State. This game also would have been a rematch, given that Iowa and SDSU tussled back in November in Las Vegas; the Aztecs used a monster 51-point second half in that game to erase a 9-point halftime deficit and ended up beating the Hawkeyes by 10 points. That game also happened to be Luka Garza's worst game of the regular season; he had just 9 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes of work. It would've been fun to see Iowa get another crack at the Aztecs. 

Our old pals at SB Nation also have a final bracket, with projected winners: 

Friend of the blog Chris Dobbertean has been higher on the Hawkeyes than most bracketologists all year and that is true again here, as Iowa sits at a #5 seed in the West region, against #12 Liberty. The Flames went 30-4 and won the Atlantic Sun regular season and conference tournament titles this season, finishing #79 in the final KenPom rankings. They also don't play anyone taller than 6'8", so Luka Garza could absolutely feast in that game. If Iowa got by the Flames, they'd face the winner of #4 Oregon and #13 Belmont for a spot in the Sweet 16. 

Finally, used the consensus seed projections to make their bracket, which looks like this bracket

Once again, Iowa is a #6 seed here, facing the winner of the play-in game between #11 seeds Richmond and... UCLA. That potential Iowa-UCLA round one game would have been a whole lot spicier if a certain someone was still coaching the Bruins, but alas, he's taken his hair gel elsewhere these days. Richmond ended the year 24-7 and ranked #46 in the final KenPom rankings; UCLA went 19-12 and was just 78th in the final KenPom rankings. If Iowa escaped the Spiders/Bruins, they'd face the winner of the #3 Seton Hall vs #14 Belmont (these brackets really like putting Iowa and Belmont in the same pod) game for a spot in the Sweet 16. A game between Iowa and Seton Hall, featuring two high-powered offenses and two National Player of the Year contenders in Garza and Seton Hall's Myles Powell could have been a hell of a game.

Alas, that game, like the entire 2020 NCAA Tournament, will have to endure in our dreams and fantasies. We miss you, March Madness. 

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