Iowa's Big Ten tourney really started on Feb. 21

That's when the Hawkeyes started a crucial 4-game winning streak to get into NCAA conversation

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IOWA CITY — The Iowa Hawkeyes are finding out now that all the world is a bracketologist.

“It’s pretty difficult,” freshman guard Jordan Bohannon said about avoiding the NCAA tournament talk, “especially when you hear it from your own family members.”

Bohannon had three brothers who went through the process of sweating out an NCAA tournament bid. His dad, Gordy, is quite the interested party, too.

“My dad gets in there quite a bit,” Jordan said Tuesday. “He thinks he knows more than my brothers sometimes. I hear (tourney talk) mostly from my family. I try not to look at Twitter and other social media. It’s hard not to notice it in the first place, but we know where we are right now and we know where we want to go.”

While you and Mr. Bohannon dig up the most favorable NCAA tourney projection for Iowa, the Hawkeyes (18-13) aren’t taking their eyes off Indiana (17-14). The two teams meet Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Iowa won the lone meeting between the two teams this season, 96-90 in overtime on Feb. 21 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I don’t overstate it, I don’t understate it,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Everyone knows what’s at stake. We know where we sit, what opportunities are out there for this team. You don’t have to remind them and get in their face every minute.”

They know and there’s really only one answer to the question “What do the Hawkeyes need to make the NCAA tournament?”

“We don’t talk much about it at all,” freshman forward Tyler Cook said. “We just know if we keep winning, this all will take care of itself. That’s all we can control right now.”

You could argue that Iowa’s NCAA tournament began with the victory over Indiana. The Hawkeyes were coming off a painful 70-66 loss to Illinois, also 18-13 and a bubble team. It was the Hoosiers, who’ll also be playing for their tournament life Thursday, road games with Maryland and Wisconsin (both ranked teams) before a season finale against Penn State.

Iowa came through in all four and now has won seven of its last 10.

“In a lot of ways it’s been do-or-die for a while now, understanding where we’ve been since that Illinois loss,” forward Nicholas Baer said. “I think we’ve kind of had that mindset, every game we play next is our biggest game. Understanding that as far as it translates to the Big Ten tournament, we’re just continuing that mindset that’s been successful for us recently.”

McCaffery called this season in the Big Ten the most balanced league he’s ever been in. The four-way tie for fifth place the Hawkeyes found themselves in screams balance and really should make every game a do-or-die situation.

The Hawkeyes are acutely aware of that. Some of them Tuesday pointed to a couple of painful losses during the league season that landed Iowa as the No. 7 seed in the tourney. A win over Illinois or, ahem, that Minnesota game, would’ve put Iowa against a team that opened tourney play on Wednesday.

That’s neither here or there right now. You don’t have to get in their face every minute, bracketologists. They know.

“It’s do-or-die now,” senior Peter Jok said. “It’s survive and advance. If you lose, you go home. Everybody is hungry.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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