One of the more interesting things the NCAA has done with the women's tournament recently is to start teasing the bracket by revealing where teams would be seeded if the season ended now. It gives a snapshot of the teams at the top of the bracket and cuts through the speculation and guesswork that characterizes bracketology. When the NCAA made their first Top 16 release a few weeks ago, Iowa was 10th overall and a #3 seed.
The NCAA released an updated Top 16 on Monday night -- and the outlook looks even sunnier for the Hawkeyes. Here's a breakdown of the NCAA's Top 16 teams as of now:
Iowa's moved up two spots, from 10th overall to 8th overall, in large part because of their head-to-head win over Maryland last month. Maryland ended up winning the war for the conference title, but conference titles don't really factor into the selection committee's decisions; wins and losses do, though, and Iowa recorded a massive win with their victory over the Terps.
Being #8 overall also moves Iowa up a line in terms of seeding, from a #3 seed to a #2 seed. Here's where the NCAA would put Iowa as of now:
— NCAA WBB (@ncaawbb) March 5, 2019
That's Iowa as a #2 seed in the Greensboro region with Baylor (#1 seed), NC State (#3 seed), and Texas A&M (#4 seed). Let's start with the bad news first: Baylor would be a damn tough draw as the #1 seed in Iowa's region. The Bears are 27-1 so far this year and the overall #1 seed in the entire bracket.
The good news: Iowa is firmly on the 2/3 line according to the selection committee. Right now they're on the #2 seed side of that line, as the last #2 seed in the bracket. As ESPN's Charlie Creme notes, the differences between Iowa (#8), NC State (#9), and Maryland (#10) are small:
Iowa (No. 8 overall), NC State (No. 9) and Maryland (No. 10) all had comparable résumés. The Hawkeyes got the committee's nod Monday as the final No. 2 seed and were placed in the Greensboro Regional with Baylor.
The number of data points to consider is what makes this compelling. NC State has the best RPI of the group but is 4-4 in its past eight games. Iowa has a win over Maryland, but the Terps won the Big Ten regular-season title, and the Hawkeyes were second. Iowa has the most losses of the group but played the best schedule.
The NCAA's write-up hints that conference tournament results could impact the final seeds as well:
If the last three weeks taught us anything, it's that these seeings can and will change. The ACC has three teams in the top 10, the Pac-12 has three in the top 11 and a Maryland win against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament could lead to some changes in that order.
If Iowa falls in the Big Ten Tournament (particularly to Maryland), they would almost certainly fall behind the Terps in the seeding pecking order. Even if Iowa is able to beat Maryland again and win the Big Ten Tournament, their grip on a #2 seed wouldn't be entirely assured -- NC State is nipping at their heels at #9 in the Top 16 and could have the opportunity to pick up signature wins over Louisville and/or Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament (and both Louisville and Notre Dame can likely weather a loss like that without falling out of the Top 8), which could bump them over Iowa.
That said, there isn't a whole lot of difference between being a #2 seed or a #3 seed and either would be good for a few reasons. The first, of course, is home court advantage. The top four seeds in each region host the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, a significant advantage for those teams (and one Iowa in particular should be eager to access, considering that the Hawkeyes went 15-0 at CHA this year). Based on this release from the NCAA, it looks unlikely that Iowa could fall below a #3 seed, let alone outside a #4 seed, which means the odds of Iowa hosting NCAA Tournament games are very, very, very good. Nothing is official until the bracket is finally revealed (which will happen in just under two weeks, on March 18), but Iowa is in great shape to host NCAA Tournament games.
The other reason being a #2 or #3 seed would be advantageous is because it would keep Iowa on the other side of the bracket from the #1 seed in their region (whoever that winds up being). Even if Baylor winds up being the threat looming as the #1 seed, a #2 or #3 seed means Iowa wouldn't need to worry about them until the Elite 8. And if Iowa is able to make it that far... well, that will be one hell of a season, no matter what happens in that hypothetical Elite 8 game. Lisa Bluder has never gone beyond the Sweet 16 at Iowa and the Iowa program hasn't played in the Elite 8 since 1993 (when they made the Final Four). Getting that far this year would be a tremendous accomplishment for this team and solidify their status as an all-time great Iowa team.
Iowa has already had a terrific season, of course, and just getting to watch Megan Gustafson do her thing on a regular basis and witness a legend in the making has been spectacular. But March could take things to an even higher level for Bluder's bunch.