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Iowa's best shot at the NCAA Tournament next season is if Tyler Cook returns.

3 ways Iowa can return to NCAA Tournament in 2018-19

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How does Iowa get back into the NCAA tournament?

The NCAA tournament tips off on Thursday. For the second straight season, the Hawkeyes aren’t in it. Until the inevitable roster turnover concludes, it’s impossible to give a complete list of how Iowa can reverse its recent basketball fortunes.

Still, some things stand out. Here are three ways the Hawkeyes can help ensure they’re in the NCAA Tournament next season.

Bring back Tyler Cook

This one is obvious. Cook declared for the NBA draft last Friday. He isn’t a likely first-round pick, but his return is far from a guarantee.

Cook is Iowa’s top player. He led the team in scoring (15.3 points) and rebounds (6.8). Replacing his production and level of play would be tough. Cook’s departure wouldn’t end Iowa’s tournament hopes before the season even begins, but it would significantly decrease the odds of getting in.

The easiest path for Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament is with guard Jordan Bohannon and Cook leading the way.

Defense, defense, defense

The biggest reason Iowa underperformed is its defense. Improving is catalyst to any type of bounce-back in 2018-19.

The Hawkeyes were bad defensively, really, in every single facet. But how bad were they?

Let’s compare Iowa’s adjusted offensive and defensive national rankings to those of the No. 1-11 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

The comparison is limited to the top 11 seed lines because every at-large selection is a No. 11 seed or higher. These are teams Iowa is competing with for an NCAA tournament spot, not squads from one-bid leagues.

Team Offense Defense
Iowa 20 245
Avg. No. 1-11 seed 36.6 45.7

That’s not just a gap. It’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap. Iowa will need to make up 200 spots in the adjusted defensive metric to become average.

Iowa’s offense is elite and is the strength of the team. The Hawkeyes can get away with a little below-average defensive rating, but only five teams were seeded No. 1-11 with an adjusted defensive rating of 100 or worse.

The Hawkeyes will likely need a top-100 adjusted defensive figure, at a minimum, to have a legitimate shot at the tournament.

Back-court athleticism

What the Hawkeyes need is an athletic combo or point guard, ideally as a graduate transfer or from junior college.

Iowa lacked point guard depth, capable ball handlers and a shutdown perimeter defender. The Hawkeyes can address each issue by bringing in one player. An athletic guard can help negate one of Iowa’s biggest weaknesses — perimeter defense.

A second ball handler will give the Hawkeyes a safety value when opponents pressure Bohannon and may force some to abandon that game plan. Iowa could use another player capable of breaking down a defense on the dribble. Plus, an additional ball handler gives Iowa the option to utilize Bohannon off the ball in ways it couldn’t last season.

Point guard Connor McCaffery is coming off a redshirt and will help with some of the ball handling issues, but another combo or point guard is the only type of player capable of helping the team in so many areas in which it struggled last season.

Read more Question of the Day answers about the Iowa Hawkeyes here.