NCAA basketball countdown: No. 23 Iowa
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Ask Indiana coach Tom Crean which team he’s least looking forward to playing on a gauntlet Big Ten Conference schedule this season and the two sure-to-be top 10 Michigan schools are the second and third teams that roll off his tongue.
The first school he’s dreading to facing is Iowa.
Iowa? That’s right.
The Hawkeyes barely missed the field of 68 last season but return virtually every player on a team that reached the NIT final. If there was ever a formula for a breakout campaign, Iowa exudes it with nine of the team’s top 10 contributors coming back, including explosive scorers Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White.
Iowa fell victim to a demanding Big Ten schedule last season — losing the first three league games and twice losing back-to-back contests — and ultimately slipped off the NCAA tournament bubble. The knock on the Hawkeyes’ NCAA tournament résumé was a non-conference strength of schedule in the 300s and subsequently zero noteworthy victories other than beating middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams. They also were miserable on the road, with 18 of the 25 victories coming at home.
This year Iowa has winnable résumé-boosting games slated against Notre Dame, Xavier and Iowa State. But the solution should be simpler this time around with an abundance of depth and experience on this team. Iowa will need to beat the Big Ten powers — Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State — to avoid a snub similar to last season’s. If Crean’s intuition tells us anything, it’s that this team deserves to be in the conversation as more than a sleeper team.
2012-13 in review: 25-13 overall (9-9 Big Ten Conference), lost in NIT title game.
Tournament projection: No. 6 seed, at-large bid.
Coach’s corner: “If we win one extra game last year, we’re in (the NCAA tournament). For us this year, it’s about mental toughness and an understanding of what it takes to win all of those close games. I think we’re ready. There’s a definite love and bond with this team that sets them apart.” — Fourth-year Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who improved … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 23 Iowa, click here.]