Until now, digging through the brackets was an academic exercise. Selection Sunday was more than a month away, and there were so many games to be played that any projection was purely theoretical. But now that we're in the last week of February, things are getting real. Iowa has five games remaining, plus the Big Ten Tournament; three of the five are against teams in the Top 20, and losses in the other two would be catastrophic. Every game matters, quite literally, from now on.
Waiting for Iowa games, and then the results of those games to filter through the various bracketmakers' projections, is simply too slow and difficult now, and games outside Iowa's orbit will mean as much to the Hawkeyes' seeding as their own. As a result, we're going to do two BRACKETWATCHes a week -- Sunday and Wednesday -- for the rest of the season. Watch this page.
Here's where Iowa sits as we enter the final stretch:
ESPN (Joe Lunardi) (update 2/19 morning): 2 seed, Region 2, vs. Siena
Lunardi had previously held Iowa at a 3 -- or lower -- since that late January slump. But, as of Sunday morning, the Hawkeyes are not only a two seed, but not even the worst two seed (Villanova is paired with top seed Gonzaga). If you think the difference between a two and a three is immaterial: Two seeds have historically won 94% of their opening games and make the second weekend 63% of the time. Three seeds win 85% of their opening games and make the Sweet Sixteen barely more than half the time. If your baseline level of success for this season is the second weekend, having a two seed changes things considerably.
Lunardi's projection also creates an interesting storyline matchup in the first round: Fran McCaffery against his former school. Siena has played just eleven games and holds an 8-3 record, but that's enough to lead the Metro Atlantic right now.
CBS (Jerry Palm) (update 2/19 morning): 3 seed, Region 1, vs. Liberty
Palm isn't as rosy on the Hawkeyes as Lunardi, making Iowa the top three seed. And if you want an illustration of what that means: Instead of 8-3 Siena who hasn't played a team in the Kenpom Top 175 all year, Iowa would face a 17-5 Liberty squad that beat Mississippi State and South Carolina, and stayed within single digits of Missouri, early in the season. I want nothing to do with that team. Give me the two seed.
One note: All of the two seeds on Palm's board won this weekend, but Alabama struggled through a home game against Vanderbilt. Probably not enough to shift things, but that's the biggest weakness among those teams this week.
SB Nation (Chris Dobbertean) (update 2/20 morning): 3 seed, Region 1, vs. UNC-Greensboro
Like Palm, Dobbertean has Iowa as the top 3 seed, only with Houston as the corresponding two (notably even after Houston's loss to Wichita State earlier in the week). Like Lunardi, he has Fran McCaffery against a former program, though Fran is 16 years removed from his time at UNC-Greensboro. And boy howdy, if there's a 14 seed Iowa would want to see, it's UNC-Greensboro: 28% from three in an isolation offense.
Fox Sports (update 2/19 noon): 2 seed, Region 1, vs. Siena
Fox's tweeted bracket matches Lunardi's projection: 2 seed against Siena. Fox does have Iowa one spot lower on the S-curve, placing the Hawkeyes in Gonzaga's region.
The Bracket Matrix: 2 seed, Region 1
It's pretty clear that the top five -- Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, OSU and Illinois -- are pretty well locked, and Iowa's primary competition is Alabama, Oklahoma, Villanova, Houston and possibly Florida State or Virginia.
Most of the self-stylized bracketologists releasing brackets over the weekend have moved Iowa into the two seeds, over Houston (again, lost to Wichita State this week) and Oklahoma. I think the Oklahoma downgrade might be misplaced. Many of these guys, like yours truly, are Kenpom addicts, and OU is merely No. 27 in Kenpom. But the Sooners have five losses, all in the Kenpom top 60 (four in the top 25), wins over Alabama, West Virginia, Kansas and Texas, and the inside track on a conference regular season runner-up finish. Yes, their offense isn't great, but the results are going to be more compelling to the selection committee than efficiency stats. Iowa could overtake them, but at the moment, I think OU's resume looks marginally better.
NCAA NET rankings: No. 5
After the February Fade fake-out, the resurgence, and chaos elsewhere, Iowa is exactly where it was a month ago: Fifth in the NCAA's preferred metric. Since 2018, this has replaced the RPI as the selection committee's cheat sheet; if it holds undue influence, Iowa's in great shape. Five "Quad 1" wins, and nine in the top two quadrants, certainly help. Of note: Oklahoma isn't much liked here, either, ranking 18th overall and fourth in their own conference. So maybe that resume isn't as good as I thought.
GAMES OF NOTE:
Michigan at Ohio State: Noon CT, CBS, obviously.
Cincinnati at Houston: Noon, ESPN, Cincinnati's struggling, and a Houston loss is light's out.
Penn State at Iowa: 4:00, FS1
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: 8:00, ESPN, Tech's quite a ways out, but their NET puts them in play.
Illinois at Michigan State: 6:00, TBD, Illinois looks like a ball of knives at the moment, and a loss probably wouldn't even matter much here.
St. John's at Villanova: 7:00, CBSSN, The Johnnies already beat Nova once this year. Let's hope for twice. Villanova gets eight days off after this one, too.
Iowa State at Baylor: 7:00, TBD, You guys wanna see a dead body?
Kansas at Texas: 8:00, ESPN, Same goes for both of these teams; second place in the Big 12 is probably enough for a top 10 seed this year.
Oklahoma at Kansas State: 8:00, TBD, Obviously OU needs to win everything going forward but KSU hasn't beaten a Top 100 team this season and lost to Fort Hays State.