Elite offense and average defense.
That’s the simplest way to assess Iowa’s season through three-quarters of the schedule.
Those traits have produced a 19-5 record helping the Hawkeyes bounce back after arguably the worst season in Fran McCaffery’s tenure. The redemption tour will likely include a berth in the NCAA Tournament, making this year a success any way you slice it.
But Iowa’s only advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the past 30 years – a sore spot for even the most die-hard fans – making the prospects of another quick exit almost as frustrating as not being selected.
Judging by Iowa’s statistical profile at KenPom.com, the Hawks second-weekend potential is contingent on securing a seven seed or better to have a legitimate shot at advancing.
The Hawkeyes are seventh in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO) rating of 119.3, but No. 115 in adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD) at 100.7 in the KenPom stats through games played on February 13.
Both of those ratings are based on a points-per-possession rating of 100 for an “average” Division-I team. How does the Hawkeyes profile compare in those categories to NCAA tournament teams since the field expanded to 68 in 2011?
There have been 25 teams with similar efficiencies on both offense and defense. The tournament record of the teams was 22-25, and none of them made the Final Four in their respective seasons.
Eight teams did advance to the Sweet 16 or beyond, but more than half (14) of the squads lost their first NCAA tournament game, including the Hawkeyes team that didn’t make it out of Dayton in 2014.
That Iowa team is actually McCaffery’s most similar to this year’s team in terms of AdjO and AdjD. The team also started its season 19-6 heading into mid-February, but … yeah, let’s not go there.
Digging deeper into the seed of each team, 16 of the statistically similar teams were seeded between No. 2 and No. 7, while the other nine were slotted eighth or below.
Exactly half of the 16 teams with a top-seven seed made the second weekend. Three of them advanced to the Elite Eight, including sixth-seeded Notre Dame in 2016.
But for the teams slotted No. 8 or below, only ninth-seeded Butler in 2016 managed to win a single game in the tournament. The other eight teams all dropped their first-round matchups, surrendering more than 86 points per game in the losses.
This trend only magnifies the importance of Iowa’s final seven games.
For the Hawkeyes to guarantee a No. 7 seed or better, they’ll have to finish inside the Big Ten’s top-five. That will take at least four victories, if not five, meaning a win at Rutgers on Saturday is crucial with just three games remaining at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
A slip-up against the Scarlet Knights, or a loss to Nebraska or Indiana, would not only diminish the Hawks overall NCAA Tournament resume, it would also seal their fate in this year’s Big Dance.
The same fate that only the 1999 team has overcome during the past three decades of Iowa basketball.