Stretch runs are defined by good wins and bad losses. A string of unlikely wins can boost your seeding in ways that December upset victories can't. A February swoon, as we saw from the last Iowa team to scale the polls like this one has, can leave you facing a legitimate first-round opponent just days after that top-five seeding seemed locked away. Games mean more in late February and early March, and nothing means more in that context than the good win or the bad loss.
There might not be a loss on the season, let alone in the stretch run, as bad as Oklahoma's defeat at Kansas State Tuesday night. The Sooners were already lagging in the bracket projections, as analysts stopped to take a closer look at their resume and the NCAA NET rankings panned their performance. Losing to K-State will only solidify the belief that the Sooners have no clothes. The Wildcats were ranked No. 187 by Kenpom entering Tuesday night's contest, having lost 13 consecutive Big 12 games before last week's duel with TCU. They lost to UNLV and Fort Hays State in the non-conference, and held exactly two wins over Power 5 opponents: TCU and Iowa State. For Oklahoma to lose to that team? Yikes.
There is one potential bad loss left on Iowa's schedule before the Big Ten Tournament: Nebraska. But not even the lowly Cornhuskers have the same poor resume as Kansas State. Frankly, there's not a team in the Big Ten who does. Iowa enters the next 10 days with a bunch of opportunity for the "good win" and just one potential "bad loss." The schedule might look daunting -- it is -- but it's a good place to be.
ESPN (Joe Lunardi) (update 2/23 morning): 2 seed, Region 1, vs. Siena
Most of the projections haven't updated for Tuesday's games, meaning the OU loss, as well as Illinois' defeat at Michigan State and any effect from Texas' overtime win against Kansas, aren't priced in. Keep that in mind.
Lunardi moves Iowa down one spot on the S-curve, making the Hawkeyes the lowest 2 seed and moving Villanova up. He keeps that storyline matchup with Siena in place and bumps Drake onto the 10 line opposite the Hawkeyes just to keep everyone up at night. Lunardi has Illinois as the third two-seed before the loss to Sparty, but that probably isn't a function of skepticism; the fact is that, with two Big Ten teams as 1 seeds and two more as 2 seeds, Iowa and Illinois will almost certainly be matched up with Gonzaga and Baylor in some order. If everything were to hold, I wouldn't be stunned if Iowa moves into the Baylor bracket to avoid a rematch with the Zags, but that's pick-your-poison content.
CBS (Jerry Palm) (update 2/22 morning): 3 seed, Region 1, vs. South Dakota State
Palm continues to place Iowa as the top 3 seed, though the bottom 2 seed in his bracket is Oklahoma. That's likely changing in the next update, and the Hawkeyes would presumably be in line to move into the top eight overall. His other 3 seeds -- Florida State, West Virginia and Houston -- have all maintained the status quo by not playing or beating overmatched opponents in recent days.
If Iowa is going to be a 3 seed, sign me up for the pure entertainment of that game against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are one of just two potential tournament teams -- the other being Baylor -- who shoot threes at a higher percentage than the Hawkeyes. SDSU is also abysmal defensively. That game would go absolutely nuclear. Iowa might score 200 and not beat the spread.
SB Nation (Chris Dobbertean) (update 2/23 noon): 2 seed, Region 1, vs. UNC-Greensboro
Our good friend Dobber comes through again, bumping Iowa back up to the last 2 seed in his Wednesday projection (Houston drops to a 3 seed). Like Lunardi, he's moving Illinois into Baylor's bracket, presumably for internal consistency. Like everyone, he's not yet factored in Illinois' loss to Michigan State.
Fox Sports (update 2/22 noon): 2 seed, Region 1, vs. James Madison
No change from Fox. The Father of the Constitution is gonna get yammed on by Luka Garza.
The Bracket Matrix: 2 seed, Region 1
Iowa is still the last 2 seed to most Bracket Bros, but their seeding is solidifying: The Hawkeyes' average seed is down to 2.35, meaning that a solid majority of the analysts have them on the 2 line. That is especially true of brackets updated on 2/23, in which 36 of 49 have the Hawkeyes as a 2 seed. There's still a Pittsburgh Steelers blogger who puts Iowa on a 4 line but, at least according to his reasoning, he's still projecting the 2019-20 field. There's a solidifying consensus on the top eight seeds at the moment, and Iowa is among them.
NCAA NET rankings: No. 5
No change in the NET for the Hawkeyes. This has now been updated for Tuesday's games, and Illinois is still ahead of Iowa despite the loss. Oklahoma dropped from 19th to 28th. Guh.
GAMES OF NOTE:
NC State at Virginia (5:30, ACC): Probably not much here, as NC State is horrendous, but I said the same about OU-KSU so let's keep the magic going.
Florida State at Miami (7:30, ACC): Boy, what happened to Miami basketball? Larranaga had them in the NCAAs three years in a row, and then it was just gone.
Alabama at Arkansas (8:00, ESPN2): This might be the last chance at an Alabama regular-season slip-up, with only struggling Mississippi State and Auburn left to play.
DePaul at Creighton (8:00, CBSSN): Might just want to take Wednesday night off.
West Virginia at Baylor (4:00, ESPN): Time to practice your Sneaking Out of Work to Watch Hoops on a Thursday Afternoon routine for mid-March.
Iowa at Michigan (6:00, ESPN): Duh.
Western Kentucky at Houston (6:00, ESPN2): One potential 2 seed plays a lock No. 1. The other plays the Directional Kentucky that beat Bama earlier.
USC at Colorado (8:00, ESPN2): Kenpom Game of the Year in the Conference of Champions. My how the mighty have fallen.
Ohio State at Michigan State (8:00, ESPN): Spoiler Sparty tries for two in a row.
Horizon Conference Tournament (All night, ESPN Plus): Let's dance.
Hang out with your kids. The best game is Purdue at Penn State, and not even Purdue fans want to watch that.
Michigan at Indiana (11:00, TBD): Will Michigan be able to rebound from their 62-point home loss to Iowa?
Texas at Texas Tech (11:00, CBS): Keep an eye on Texas, who has some resume chops and could still rack up some wins against Name Programs in the Big 12.
Tennessee at Auburn (11:00, TBD): This feels like that game that Bruce Pearl wins every year, doesn't it?
Illinois at Wisconsin (1:00, TBD): Alonzo Mourning dot gif.
LSU at Arkansas (1:00, TBD): This game gets relevant if the Razorbacks beat Bama. Their resume isn't much, but they're undefeated in February.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (2:00, TBD): Feels like we already have OU's trump card, but they're still in the conversation with Iowa, so there's Bedlam.
Florida State at North Carolina (3:00, ESPN): We're about two Bracketwatches away from me ranting about how Duke and UNC beat a couple of scrubs and are suddenly in the field, but for now, YAY SCHEDULE STRENGTH.
Baylor at Kansas (7:00, TBD): Kansas is Secret Junk, but it's still Kansas and Baylor is only barely recovered from a Covid break. Bears damn near lost to Iowa State Tuesday night.
USC at Utah (7:00, TBD): If USC gets by Colorado, they're probably regular season Pac-12 champs and in play for a 2 seed by virtue of that alone, so keep an eye on this Hot Ute Action.