It has been six years since any team made the NCAA basketball tournament as an at-large team with 14 losses.
It almost certainly is going to happen Sunday when the NCAA basketball committee unveils the 68-team bracket for this year’s tournament at 4:30 p.m. on CBS. Michigan State should make it with 14 blemishes on its record. So should Vanderbilt. Some believe Syracuse will, too.
Probably not Iowa.
It’s possible, but the Hawkeyes’ hopes for a fourth straight NCAA berth and what would be the 27th in their history probably slithered away Thursday with a 95-73 loss to Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.
At 18-14, with a Ratings Percentage Index of 81, they are not projected to make the tournament by any of the leading bracketologists. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the top four teams not in the field prior to the Indiana loss, but doesn't even mention them now. CBS’ Jerry Palm still has them in his first four out. No one has the Hawkeyes in the field at this point.
If they aren’t included in the NCAA field, they have a good chance of being invited to be part of the 32-team field for the NIT.
A few weeks ago, even that seemed as though it might not be within reach. After a Feb. 18 loss to Illinois, they were only 14-13. They then put together a four-game winning streak that included road wins against two nationally-ranked teams (Maryland and Wisconsin) to make the NCAA a possibility and the NIT a probability.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admitted that turnaround — whether it brings an NCAA berth or not — brought a great deal of satisfaction.
“I know how hard I've worked, but my staff has really worked,’’ McCaffery said following a victory over Penn State in the final game of the regular season. “These kids have really put the time in. You would expect that, I suppose. To a man, they come early. They watch film. They stay positive. We stay positive with them. We just kept teaching. They just kept getting better.’’
The late surge allowed the Hawkeyes to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten and tie for fifth place with three teams that are expected to be part of the NCAA bracket today — Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State.
What is likely to keep them out of the NCAA tournament is an 8-5 pre-conference record, especially a Dec. 3 loss to Nebraska-Omaha, which ended up winning 18 games itself but is only 140th in the RPI. The Hawkeyes also lost to another team that is not in the RPI top 100, Memphis, and to probable NCAA at-large invitees Virginia, Notre Dame and Seton Hall.
“It didn’t start out the way we hoped the first 10 games or so,’’ McCaffery said. “I say this all the time and it’s part of the journey, you’ve got to experience it. That’s why we put that schedule together the way we did …
“We didn’t take care of business with Omaha. We didn’t play particularly well in Florida (against Virginia and Memphis). But that’s part of the growth process. We learned a lot down there … Obviously, we look back and wish we had played a little bit better in November, but that’s part of the reason we’re playing better now.’’
Iowa has played in the NIT seven times previously, including twice under McCaffery. They advanced to the second round of the tournament in 2012 and made it all the way to the title game in 2013 before losing to Baylor.