Iowa Men's Basketball

Hlas: Big Ten will mow through (most of) NCAA tourney

One of its teams will win the NIT, too

Iowa’s Tyler Cook (5), Luka Garza (55) and Nicholas Baer (51) defend against Michigan guard Charles Matthews (1) during the Wolverines’ overtime Big Ten tournament win over the Hawkeyes on March 1 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. (Nicole Sweet/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa’s Tyler Cook (5), Luka Garza (55) and Nicholas Baer (51) defend against Michigan guard Charles Matthews (1) during the Wolverines’ overtime Big Ten tournament win over the Hawkeyes on March 1 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. (Nicole Sweet/USA TODAY Sports)

Were it up to me channel my inner Russian and meddle with the results, I’d have Iowa playing Drake in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament championship game.

If either still is playing a week from today, it will be the basketball story of the year in the state. Frankly, Iowa’s Megan Gustafson already is that.

For a sports writer in a college-dominated market, it feels empty to be watching the first week of the NCAA men’s tourney at home. Just how do we do this, anyway? Where does one go in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area to see multiple screens at once and be around other people who care about this silliness?

In the meantime, what a weird men’s college season this was in Iowa City and the Big Ten.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how bad Iowa’s season was. We’ve been over that a time or 50. But note a couple of curiosities.

Such as: Just nine of Iowa’s 33 games were against NCAA tournament teams. That’s not very many. The Hawkeyes lost all nine (three to Michigan, two to Ohio State, one apiece to South Dakota State, Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Purdue).

Yet, Iowa (14-19) took Michigan to overtime in the Big Ten tournament in the Hawkeyes’ final game of the season. In successive days after that, the Wolverines beat Nebraska by 19 points, Michigan State by 11, and Purdue by nine to win the thing, and may win six more times.

The Big Ten has just four teams in the NCAA, its fewest since 2008 when it was an 11-team league. But all four are seeded fourth or higher. Only two of the other 10 league clubs (Penn State and Nebraska) made it into the NIT, and neither is seeded higher than fourth.


In the Things I Never Thought I’d See Dept., which isn’t an actual department and never will be: Nebraska went 13-5 in the Big Ten and not only was denied an NCAA tourney berth, but is a No. 5 seed in the NIT.

Almost incredibly, just seven of the Huskers’ 32 games were against NCAA tourney teams. They won one.

In most years, going 9-9 in the Big Ten and 21-13 overall gets you in the NCAAs. Iowa was 9-9, 20-12 when it got into the 2014 tourney. For Penn State this season, 9-9 and 21-13 meant a No. 4 seed in the NIT. That’s a team that beat Ohio State three times!

By the way, I’m picking Penn State to beat St. Mary’s in the NIT title game, so use that in your NIT brackets if you’re in my cult. Which, by the way, currently consists of two old sparrows and a 2004 Toyota Corolla.

Also by the way, I watched Tuesday night’s UNC-Asheville-USC NIT game purely because the announcing team was Dave Pasch and Bill Walton. Their bickering and Bill’s insistence of going off on tangents are my cup of tea. But the darnedest thing happened. It was a heck of a game, with USC winning in double-overtime.

In another unrelated matter, I saw two 2019 NBA mock drafts this week. Yes, 2019. I always think it’s optimistic to discuss anything that’s more than a year in the distance. Anyway, both of those mock drafts named three players in the top four who are high school seniors. All will play at Duke next season. Ugh.

Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton was in the second half of the first round in both. The only Big Ten player in the first rounds of either were Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Kevin Huerter.

What do you want to bet Iowa plays Maryland twice next season?

Then I saw a 2018 list of the top 100 NBA draft candidates. Only three Big Ten guys (Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop) were in the top 30, the first round. Three more were in the second 30. Six more were between Nos. 61 and 100. None were Iowa’s Tyler Cook.


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For Hawkeye fans who hope Cook isn’t an NBA draftee and returns to Iowa, are you all confident he would do just that? I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Here’s what we do know. The NBA is a really tough nut to crack. Just ask Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok.

There were 137 early-entries from U.S. colleges and universities last year. Purdue’s Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas were two of them. Michigan’s Moritz Wagner and Ohio State’s Kam Williams did the same.

OK, so who wins this NCAA tournament, this Grande Danse, this Igbay Anceday?

Heck if I know. If I had my druthers, the Final Four would be Loyola, South Dakota State, Long Island-Brooklyn and the Quakers of Penn. But I don’t have my druthers, or I’d be watching the tourney from a tiki bar in Hawaii. Although, the Oklahoma-Rhode Island game at 6:15 a.m., Hawaii Standard Time, probably wouldn’t be played at optimal tiki time.

For what absolutely little it’s worth, I’m picking Villanova to win its second championship in three years. It’s not at all a bold choice, and it’s nothing to brag about if it comes true.

So scratch that. I’m going with ga-ga for Gonzaga. The Zags win it all, my babies!

l’ll say Gonzaga nips Ohio State in double-overtime in a second-round classic, and the other three Big Ten teams get at least as far as the Elite Eight. Because the top four/fourteenths of the Big Ten is really good.


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