Wrapping up the weekend that was in the Land of 10 …
The Point After
Since Jan. 10, they’ve picked up four victories against teams in the Ratings Percentage Index top 50, the most of any Big Ten school over that seven-week span. And two of those wins have come on the road.
Since Feb. 2, they’re 2-2 against the RPI top 50 away from home.
Since Feb. 20, they’re 4-0. And 4-0 against teams with an average record of 19.5 wins and 11.5 losses. And 4-0 against schools that finished the regular season with an average KenPom.com ranking of 47.
Illinois? Not a chance.
As the Big Ten Tournament looms this week, the hottest team in the circuit — the team you really, really don’t want to draw in D.C. — is Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes (18-13, 10-8 conference).
A retooling — and young — roster that was expected to get better as the season went on found its feet a lot quicker than most pundits figured. Iowa shifted to another gear in February, winning seven of its last 10 while perennials such as Indiana and Ohio State — the Buckeyes are the 11 seed in Wednesday’s first play-in round — fell off the map.
At one point, the Hawkeyes were 11-10, 3-5 in the league, only to close out the regular season with head-turning, season-changing road victories at Maryland (RPI: 25) and at Wisconsin (RPI: 38).
Senior guard Peter Jok is Peter Jok (20.2 points per game), the Big Ten’s take on James Harden, a scoring and shooting machine. But the Hawkeyes’ last eight contests have been especially notable for the emergence of forward Nicholas Baer and guard Jordan Bohannon. The former is 19-for-38 (.500) from the 3-point arc since Feb. 1, the latter 23-for-51 (.451) over that same span, giving the Hawkeyes a nightmare triple threat on the wings.
Iowa woke up Monday morning as one of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out,” giving the Hawkeyes’ late charge up the Big Ten standings its due. The Fighting Frans will need help to emerge from a crowded bubble field in order to warrant serious NCAA Tournament consideration, though, given that the Hawkeyes’ road/neutral record on the whole isn’t spectacular (4-9), and neither is their non-conference strength of schedule rank (143). Plus, getting swept by fellow bracket-chaser Illinois isn’t the healthiest cross to bear at this stage of the March resume game.
But the Hawkeyes’ biggest lift can come from their own hands, having drawn the more manageable side of the Big Ten bracket, away from top-seeded Purdue (and Minnesota and Michigan State). As a 7 seed, the path starts with Indiana and could include a group of good-but-flawed matchups in Wisconsin (the 2 seed) and possibly either Maryland (3) or Northwestern (6) after that.
Iowa picked up a glut of curious losses before Christmas, getting hammered by Virginia and Notre Dame and dropping a neutral-court test to a Memphis team that didn’t live up to its name brand. But over the last month-and-a-half the script got flipped, and a roster that found a way to lose at home to the University of Omaha has grown up in a hurry.
Who’s dancing in the NCAA tourney this week, according to BracketMatrix.com
As of March 5:
Purdue (25-6) — 4 seed
Minnesota (23-8) — 5 seed
Maryland (24-7) — 7 seed
Wisconsin (23-8) — 7 seed
Northwestern (21-10) — 8 seed
Michigan (20-11) — 9 seed
Michigan State (18-13) — 10 seed
On the bubble:
Illinois (18-13) — listed on 30 of 113 mock brackets
Iowa (18-13) — listed on 4 of 113 mock brackets
Noses pressed against the bubble:
Ohio State (17-14) — listed on 1 of 113 mock brackets
One man’s rolling Big Ten Player of the Year ballot
- Caleb Swanigan, F, Purdue (18.7 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 6.0 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
- Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin (13.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 5.5 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
- Derrick Walton Jr., G, Michigan (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 5.4 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
We’re still not sure why 6-1 Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. was the last line of defense against 6-8 Northwestern center Derek Pardon on “The Pass,” but this was amusing
— #B1GCats (@NU_Sports) March 2, 2017
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week (We’ve Been There Edition)
We are getting close to that point in Duke-Carolina where we hope for ways both teams can lose
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) March 5, 2017
The Hot Seat
John Groce, Illinois
Rutgers? Seriously? Rutgers? Now?
The Big Orange bandwagon for the Illini (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten) dropped a wheel — or three — with a stunner of a loss at Piscataway, N.J., this past Saturday. Illinois probably needs at least two victories in D.C. now, and probably three, to resuscitate any hope of a ticket to Bracketville.
More salt on an open wound: The Illini drew a hot-shooting Michigan team in their league tourney opener, with the winner getting top-seeded Purdue. Maybe it’s just as well, given that some Illinois faithful would just as soon see the season over and done with if it means the end of Groce’s five years at the controls.
3 games coming up we’d absolutely pay to watch
- Michigan (8 seed) vs. Illinois (9) (Thursday, noon ET, BTN). The Wolverines are probably in the Big Dance already. The Fighting Illini are teetering on the wrong end of the bubble and that stumble at Rutgers has Groce’s future teetering on the brink of oblivion.
- Iowa (7) vs. Indiana (10) (Thursday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers produced a wild one the last time they met, combining for 186 points and a whopping 55 free-throw makes — 22 of those by Iowa’s Peter Jok alone (on 23 attempts) — in Iowa City back on Feb. 24. The Hawkeyes might need to make it to Saturday’s semis to make the other teams on the Bracketville fence really sweat.
- The winner of Iowa/Indiana vs. Wisconsin (2) (Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET, BTN). Because the three meetings between the Badgers, Hawkeyes and Hoosiers — Iowa won two of them, head-to-head — were decided by an average of five points. The Badgers are as postseason-tested as they come, but the Hoosiers have talent and the charging Hawkeyes now have a serious purpose.
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week (But A Smooth Surface Sure Helps With Stamps Edition)
FYI you shouldn’t shave your chest in your kitchen with a steak knife iespecially when your kitchen is actually the post office
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) March 5, 2017
The takeaway number(s)
As in, the average age of the Hawkeyes’ men’s basketball roster at the start of the season, making it the second-youngest group in the Big Ten, according to CBSSports.com, and the eighth-youngest of any Power 5 program. Did we just see McCaffery crack a little smile?