Despite the college basketball season coming to a strange ending last season, there is plenty to be excited about around the Iowa basketball program this season.
According to VegasInsider, Iowa Basketball is listed at 10:1 to bring win the NCAA tournament in 2021 listed at just 10:1. Baylor and Gonzaga are co-favorites at 8:1, followed by Villanova and Virginia at 9:1 and then the Hawkeyes alone at 10:1.
Can you remember the last time Iowa was 10:1 to win the national championship at the beginning of the season in any sport (besides wrestling)? It’s had to have been over a decade, probably since the Tom Davis era in basketball? Or 1985 in football? The point being, it’s been a while since Iowa fans had this much to be excited about.
With the (likely) return of preseason National Player of the Year Luka Garza, as well as returning experience with Joe Weiskamp, CJ Fredrick, and Connor McCaffery. As well as adding Jordan Bohannon, Jack Nunge and Patrick McCaffery back to the lineup after all three were plagued with season-ending injuries last season.
One thing is clear this is the best team Fran McCaffery has ever had, at least on paper. But if there’s one thing this Iowa team hasn’t dealt with, it’s high expectations. Last season was written off by many Hawkeye fans early after Iowa was dismantled by Depaul, falling behind 19-2 before the first TV timeout. Iowa would go on to lose 93-78 to a Depaul team that wasn’t even competitive in the Big East at the end of the last season.
Things turned around and Iowa went onto have an unbiasedly good season, but it didn’t receive national attention until midway through Big Ten play. And only after Luka Garza gained national traction for dominating the best defensives the Big Ten had to offer.
The difference this year? There can be no eggs laid.
When it comes to top seeding in the NCAA, blowout losses to an average Purdue team doesn’t fly. Being outhustled, outcoached and outplayed at home to an abysmal Depaul team that would have missed the tournament last season is a big enough loss to drop you a seedline in March.
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The line between a two seed and a four seed is razor-thin, but the difference is massive when it comes to success in the NCAA tournament. If Iowa wants to make a run at an elite eight, final four, or even championship it needs to take care of business, night in and night out starting right away.
As of now, Iowa has just two notable non-conference games; a neutral site game vs Oklahoma State in South Dakota and at home vs Iowa State. Granted, the Hawks will likely add one of the top teams from the ACC and Big East for our conference challenges. With so few chances for solid non-conference wins, all of them become exceedingly important.
However, any discussions of a cupcake non-conference schedule will be silenced when Iowa enters Big Ten play; that assuming the Big Ten is at least half as competitive as it was last year. There is no such thing as a free win in the Big Ten and Iowa will need to come out to play every night.
But this Hawkeye team has the pieces make a deep run and if they can continue to improve on the defensive end as we saw last year, this Iowa team has the chance to have a special season; at least the Vegas oddsmakers believe so.