Bubble Watch: Iowa takes 4-game streak to Big Ten tourney


IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — For most of the season, Iowa seemed destined for the NIT.

A fantastic February has the Hawkeyes hoping to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Iowa (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten) put itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion by closing the year with a flourish. The Hawkeyes have won four straight and finished two games above .500 in a Big Ten that, while down from years past, is still among the nation's toughest leagues.

"I think we deserve to be in," coach Fran McCaffery said after Sunday's win over Penn State.

Iowa opens Big Ten tournament play on Thursday against Indiana knowing that it'll likely need at least one more win to boost its chances. But if the Hawkeyes play like they did down the stretch, the Hoosiers might be in trouble.

"Their maturity and their desire to be good sort of never wavered," McCaffery said. "When it's all said and done, you want your team to play with confidence."

Iowa's resume is that of a classic bubble team. It ranks just 72nd in RPI, and gave up 98 points in losing to Nebraska-Omaha at home. It started the season 3-5 with the youngest lineup in school history and started four freshmen for much of the season. The non-conference schedule included Virginia, Notre Dame and Seton Hall.

The Hawkeyes began turning things around with a five-game winning streak highlighted by a big win over rival Iowa State. A victory over Purdue, the eventual league champion, pushed Iowa over .500 in the Big Ten — but the Hawkeyes followed that with a three-game skid.

Since then, Iowa has been one of the best teams in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have won seven of their last 10 games, including upset road wins over Maryland and Wisconsin, and they closed the regular season with a blowout win over the Nittany Lions.

"I always kind of had a feeling we'd be playing our best basketball in March, with a younger group and guys coming along later in the season," sophomore forward Nicholas Baer said.

Freshman guard Jordan Bohannon, who made the game-winning 3 with nine seconds left to beat the Badgers, is the only rookie in the country with at least 140 assists and 70 3-pointers. Bohannon and forward Tyler Cook, who scored at least 10 points in eight of his last 10 games, were named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman team on Monday.

Baer, a sophomore, was 13 of 19 from 3-point range during Iowa's current streak and was also honored Monday as the league's Sixth Man of the Year.

Senior Peter Jok, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 20.2 points per game and a member of the AP's all-league first team , is peaking as well. After battling a back issue during conference play, Jok responded with a 35-point effort in a win over the Hoosiers in late February.

Jok also scored 20 points in the second half on Sunday.

"We just know if we keep winning, it'll take care of itself," Cook said.