Right now, NIT is hard for Hawkeyes to reach

Iowa needs three more wins, perhaps more

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No one clamors for NIT bracketology. Anywhere. Ever.

For a lot of teams, the NIT is a letdown. It’s filler programming for ESPN on nights without NCAA tourney games. No one other than the participants remember anything about it. Quick, who won last year’s NIT?

If you said “George Washington,” you win a cookie. I just channeled my inner Don Rickles there.

But like in 2012 and 2013 when Iowa went to the National Invitation Tournament, going to this year’s NIT might be fairly useful for the Hawkeyes. Seven of the 11 players Fran McCaffery used last Saturday haven’t played in the postseason, and the experience of an extended season with a single-game elimination couldn’t hurt.

Here’s the rub: It’s going to be hard for Iowa to get there.

The Hawkeyes are 14-13 with games left at home against Indiana, at Maryland and Wisconsin, at home against Penn State, and with at least one contest in the Big Ten tournament.

How many do they need to win to get an NIT berth? At least three, and that may not be enough. It partly depends on how many of the 32 NIT teams are automatic qualifiers. Those are Division I regular-season conference champions who didn’t get NCAA tourney spots.

Last year, there were 15 automatic qualifiers, so 18-14 was the worst record of an at-large team. But in 2013 only 10 regular-season champs failed to qualify for the NCAAs, so 16-15 St. John’s was in the NIT field.

Iowa had the worst record in the 2012 NIT at 17-16. Just 11 automatic qualifiers were in the field that year. There were 13 in 2014, 12 in 2015.

The Hawkeyes’ 2013 NIT run ended with a title-game loss to Baylor in Madison Square Garden. Who’s to say what that five-game experience did for the program and its players? But it couldn’t have hurt.

Let’s look at what’s on the current Hawkeyes’ plate realistically, though. If they won at either Maryland or Wisconsin, it would be an enormous upset. Tuesday’s home game against Indiana is a virtual coin flip according to oddsmakers. And beating Penn State at home is no certainty, nor is winning a game at the Big Ten tourney against, say, a Penn State or a Nebraska or an Indiana.

In fact, the more important thing for Iowa is to win enough of its final four conference games to avoid falling to the bottom four in the standings and playing a Wednesday game in the five-day league tournament in Washington, D.C.

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