A tough loss to Illinois darkens Iowa's NCAA Tournament hopes

Iowa struggled to find the bottom of the basket against the No. 12 Illini, putting all of the pressure on a strong Big Ten Tournament performance to extend the season.
Iowa v Minnesota
Iowa v Minnesota / David Berding/GettyImages

As one of the first four teams on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament, the Iowa Hawkeyes desperately needed a win over No. 12 Illinois. Unfortunately, a strong offensive display down the stretch of the regular season was nearly non-existent on Senior Night at Carver as the Hawkeyes fell 73-61.

While Illinois was explosive in its own right, Iowa had solid scoring opportunities that just didn't fall their way. Shooting 35% from the field is uncharacteristic for this team, but now was a poor time for such an outlier.

One positive to take away from the loss is that despite the pressure and early deficit, Iowa protected the ball and forced turnovers. Creating extra opportunities and preserving your own will often lead to the extra points necessary to overcome a more talented team.

The Hawkeyes will need that to carry over into the Big Ten Tournament. They'll head to Minneapolis desperately needing to make a deep run to make up for the late-season losses to Illinois.

What's Next for the Hakweyes?

Iowa will be the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, matching them up with the 10-seed, Ohio State. That game will take place on Thursday, March 14 at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Should they beat the Buckeyes, Iowa will face Illinois once again in the quarterfinals.

The Hawkeyes beat Ohio State in their regular season matchup 79-77 in early February. The Hawkeyes shot 54% from the field in that game. Since that game, Ohio State is 6-3, including an upset win over Purdue and a four-game winning streak to close the season.

The Hawkeyes have a tough road ahead to make it five straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament, though it's certainly doable. Leaning on strong passing and sound defense will give them every opportunity to make some noise next week. They'll just need the shots to fall in their favor as they have against every other Big Ten team not named Illinois since mid-February.

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