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Iowa women's basketball: The remaining schedule and the pursuit of a double-bye
IOWA CITY — A couple weeks ago, it seemed impossible.
The Iowa Hawkeyes were mired in a three-game losing streak. They were stuck in the bottom division of the Big Ten. Their NCAA tournament hopes were beginning to flicker.
Thoughts of a top-four Big Ten finish — and the acompanying reward of a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament — were absurd.
Four consecutive wins later, there's nothing absurd about it. Iowa (20-6, 8-5) has climbed to sixth in the league standings, just a half-game out of fourth place.
If the Hawkeyes win out — a challenging task, but certainly not impossible — they could be sitting with a favorable draw in Indianapolis in two weeks.
The 14-team, five-day tournament works like this: Seeds 11-14 play on the first day (Feb. 28), with the winners advancing to the next day's second round, along with seeds 5-10.
The top four seeds don't play until the third round (quarterfinals) March 2, and thus the term 'double-bye.'
Iowa's remaining schedule consists of two home games, against Wisconsin on Saturday and the regular-season finale against Indiana on Feb. 24. A road trip to Rutgers Feb. 21 looms in the middle.
Wisconsin (9-17, 2-11) should be a gimme. Rutgers (18-9, 6-7) has lost six of seven after a 5-1 Big Ten start. Indiana (14-12, 7-6), on the other hand, is surging with six straight wins and looks like the toughest remaining test.
If Iowa runs the table and gets to 11-5, what else needs to fall into place to push the Hawkeyes into the top four?
• Purdue (16-10, 7-5) needs to lose at least one game. This is likely, because the Boilermakers' next two games are at Maryland and at Ohio State.
• Minnesota (19-6, 8-4) has to lose once more OR Ohio State (20-6, 9-3) needs to lose twice OR Nebraska (18-7, 9-3) needs to drop three of its last four.
Of those three scenarios, forget about Ohio State losing twice. That's not going to happen. The Buckeyes face Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State. They probably won't drop one more game, let alone two.
Minnesota plays three of its last four games at home, but one of them is against Maryland (22-3, 11-1), which is on its way to the Big Ten title.
If Iowa and Minnesota both finish 11-5 (assuming the Gophers lose to Maryland and win the other three) Iowa would own the tiebreaker over the Gophers because of its win over Ohio State, which would be the highest opponent beaten by either team.
That leaves Nebraska, which leads Iowa by two games and owns the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes. The Huskers play three of their last four on the road, and all of them could be a handful.
What about Michigan (20-7, 9-5), you ask? If Iowa wins its last three, it will finish ahead of the Wolverines via tiebreaker, even if UM wins its last two.
If Iowa drops a game, the Hawkeyes probably will be a 5 or 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament. If they drop at least two, they're looking at an 8 or 9 seed.
Here is the remaining schedule for teams currently in places 2 through 9 in the Big Ten:
2. Ohio State (20-6, 9-3) — Illinois (A, 2/13), Purdue (H, 2/18), Northwestern (H, 2/21), Penn State (A, 2/25).
3. Nebraska (18-7, 9-3) — Michigan State (A, 2/14), Indiana (A, 2/17), Penn State (H, 2/22), at Maryland (A, 2/25).
4. Minnesota (19-6, 8-4) — Michigan (H, 2/14), Maryland (H, 2/18), Indiana (H, 2/20), Illinois (A, 2/25).
5. Michigan (20-7, 9-5) — Minnesota (A, 2/14), Maryland (H, 2/22).
6. Iowa (20-6, 8-5) — Wisconsin (H, 2/18), Rutgers (A, 2/21), Indiana (H, 2/24).
7. Purdue (16-10, 7-5) — Maryland (A, 2/15), Ohio State (A, 2/18), Illinois (H, 2/21), Michigan State (H, 2/24).
8. Indiana (14-12, 7-6) — Nebraska (H, 2/17), Minnesota (A, 2/20), Iowa (A, 2/24).
9. Rutgers (18-9, 6-7) — Wisconsin (H, 2/15), Iowa (H, 2/21), Northwestern (A, 2/25).
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