Outside looking in

Back before pre-NCAA Tournament talk was fixated on RPI, BPI, Bracketology and tracking Joe Lunardi’s every tweet, a relatively simple checklist almost always determined a team’s fate for the Big Dance.

If a Big Ten team won at least 20 regular-season games and finished .500 or better in the Big Ten, they’d be standing on pretty solid ground.

Does Iowa have 20 wins? Check. Did Iowa finish 9-9 in a conference that was arguably as deep and talented it’s been in years and hands-down the best in the country? Check.

So is Iowa in the field of 68 for 2013? Far from it. Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes aren’t even in the conversation according to the experts. Lunardi, ESPN’s go-to guru for all things tourney-related, lists Iowa as the seventh – that’s right, seventh – bubble team that will come up short on Selection Sunday.

Confused by this logic? Wondering why the Hawks aren’t even a remote NCAA possibility at this point? Me too.

I started crunching the numbers to see what didn’t fit. I know Iowa’s non-conference schedule was soft. I know the Hawks didn’t have any marquee victories. I know the losses at Purdue and Nebraska – especially the latter – will probably be what keeps them from getting in, barring a serious run at this week’s Big Ten tournament.

Lunardi currently lists Iowa behind – by rank – Tennessee (19-11), Middle Tennessee State (27-5), Mississippi (23-8), Baylor (18-13), Southern Miss (23-8) and Alabama (20-11) in the pecking order.

The Vols placed sixth in a mediocre SEC that currently boasts a grand total of one ranked team. MTSU played five games against the RPI Top-100 and won two; Iowa faced 13 and beat five.

Ole Miss, like Tennessee, is a member of the lukewarm SEC and defeated just one Top-50 RPI foe. Baylor is a suspect 18-13 overall and 3-10 against Top-50 RPI opponents.

Southern Miss is from Conference USA – like the SEC, the league has only one rated squad – and zero Top-50 victories. Alabama’s BPI is 17 spots below Iowa’s. Another SEC darling with all bark and no bite.

Stop me at any time.

Even comparing other Big Ten resumes is confusing. Minnesota (20-11, 8-10) is comfortably in according to Lunardi, as is Illinois (21-11, 8-10). Iowa had a better league record than both and went a combined 2-1 head-to-head against them this season. The Hawks are 6-2 in their last eight games; the Gophers are 3-6 in their last nine, and the Illini dropped three of four to close the regular season.

Six of Iowa’s 11 losses are by four points or less. Five are to programs currently ranked in the Top-10: No. 3 Indiana (twice), No. 6 Michigan, No. 8 Michigan State and No. 10 Ohio State.

Do the Hawks have a better case than the aforementioned teams? I’m not necessarily arguing that. But shouldn’t they be in the same end of the pool?

I appreciate most of the impartial technology that goes into picking at-large qualifiers these days; after all, it tends to take the potential for human error and bias out of the equation.

What happens, though, when the opposite is true? When a little common sense is maybe needed to override what the computers are spitting out?

Iowa fans better hope for an injection of the former rather than a total reliance on the latter when the selection committee convenes this weekend. The Hawks are just trying to become a long shot now, which is better than having no shot at all.

As it stands today, I suppose it’s best to make plans for another NIT home opener. Iowa may certainly be one of the best 68 squads in the country in what is undoubtedly the game’s best conference, but the numbers say otherwise – and I’ve been told they never lie.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net