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Penn St Iowa Basketball

Tyler Cook, left, and Jordan Bohannon are two of the Hawkeyes' primary leaders as just sophomores.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team’s final regular-season game Sunday that he thinks his team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament.

Then again, what was he supposed to say? No, we’re not worthy?

The leading bracketologists don’t’ think the Hawkeyes are. Not yet. Neither does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi nor CBS’ Jerry Palm currently projects them to be part of the 68-team field although Lunardi lists them as one of the top four teams to be left out.

But plenty of McCaffery’s coaching peers in the Big Ten offered ringing endorsements of his team, which enters this week’s Big Ten tournament with the No. 7 seed and a four-game winning streak, including a pair of road victories over ranked teams.

One of those singing Iowa’s praises on a Monday morning teleconference was Indiana’s Tom Crean, whose team plays the Hawkeyes on Thursday. The coach of the upcoming opponent always is going to say nice things, and Crean didn’t disappoint.

“We’re going to be playing one of the most dangerous teams not only in the Big Ten but in the country,’’ Crean said.

But other coaches who are nowhere near Iowa in the tournament bracket also feel it has done enough to catch the eye of the NCAA selection committee.

“They’ve been the best team in our league the last five, six games,’’ Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “They’re on a roll. I think the committee likes that. I don’t even know who they play because I haven’t even looked at the bracket, but I think they’re right there. They’ve got a chance.’’

Michigan coach John Beilein, whose No. 8-seeded team opens tournament play Thursday against No. 9 Illinois, said he thinks late-season winning streaks by both the Hawkeyes and Illini will carry a great deal of weight in the selection process.

“I think what the committee does consider is improvement as the year goes on …’’ Beilein said. “Iowa is a great example. You have a bunch of young guys who all are trying to figure it out early. They’re going to have some big wins early, but they may drop a couple as they learn what college basketball is about …

“Iowa and Illinois, these teams just improved during the season. Good coaches get their teams to improve as the year goes on. Iowa is a perfect example of that, as is Illinois. They just keep getting better and better.’’

Most of the latest bracket projections have seven Big Ten teams making the NCAA field: Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan.

Iowa tied for fifth in the regular-season standings with three of those teams — Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan — at 10-8 and even has the same overall record (18-13) as the Spartans. Its RPI of 72 is much lower than those other teams, though.

Teams above .500 in the Big Ten almost always make the NCAA tournament. The last one to miss was Illinois in 2010.

But some of the coaches said they feel the Big Ten is not as highly regarded this season because there has been so much parity in the league.

“I think for whatever reason we’ve been very undersold during the season,’’ Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I think this is a really good league. I think what you’re going to see is once we get on the national stage and the teams that have the opportunity to play, when it’s all said and done, are going to do very well.

“Look at Iowa, look at Illinois the way they played down the stretch. I can go down the line … I just think there are many teams in this league that are built to win in the postseason.’’

Bohannon honored: Iowa freshman Jordan Bohannon won the Big Ten freshman of the week award for the second time this season after he sank a game-winning 3-point field goal against Wisconsin last Thursday.

Bohannon, who also won the honor on Feb. 6, averaged 11 points and 5 assists during the week, breaking Iowa’s freshman single-season assist record on Sunday.

Jones unsure: Dale Jones went through Senior Day ceremonies prior to Iowa’s 90-79 victory over Penn State on Sunday, which implies that he will not be back with the Hawkeyes next season even though he has been granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

But the 6-foot-8 forward from Waterloo West said he hasn’t made a definite decision yet.

“I’ve got to sit down and talk to the coaching staff,’’ Jones said following the game. “Those guys have been nothing but great to me. The team has been nothing but great to me. If the opportunity presents itself, it’s an option. Right now, I will graduate in May and I’ll have the option to stay or try other things.’’

Jones started and played four minutes Sunday, and has played only 15 minutes all season. The 3-point field goal he made about a minute into the game are his only points of the season.

He missed most of last season with a knee injury, broke his hand early this season and has had lingering issues with the knee, but said “I’ve got a lot of basketball left.’’ However, he knows the prospects for increased playing time at Iowa next season are slim. As a graduate transfer, he could go elsewhere and play right away without sitting out.

“I know Fran has two guys coming in and the team is pretty stacked, and most of the guys are young ...’’ Jones said. “If he needs somebody to come back and score the ball, I would be willing to do that. It’s not going to stop here whether I stay here or go somewhere else. I’m probably going to ride it out until the doctors say I can’t play any more.’’

Cloudy mood: While almost all the Big Ten coaches were optimistic and upbeat about the conference tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles reflected a much different tone Monday.

After his Cornhuskers were blasted at home by Michigan on Sunday, Miles announced that he planned to meet with all is players Monday and try to get them straightened out.

“We have to get rid of this defeatist attitude,’’ he said. “I think it was obvious to everyone who watched us that this is a team that’s walking around with a cloud over our head waiting for lightning to strike.’’