Iowa Hawkeyes Likely to Bow Out Early

There is a strong chance that we will see the Iowa Hawkeyes bow out early this season despite the return of  Luka Garza. The return of presumed Preseason National Player of the Year, Garza, has raised expectations for a Hawkeye basketball program that is normally overshadowed by the school’s more successful football program.  This news established Iowa as a borderline top 10 team in 2020-21.  The Hawkeyes odds to win the NCAA Tournament currently sit at 25-1 (10th best nationally). Iowa has more pizzazz than just about any Big Ten team in recent memory, ranking 3rd nationally in offensive efficiency last year and averaging 77.7 points per game. Even with this firepower, I am hesitant to anoint them as a true National Championship contender.

NCAA Tournament Futures: Iowa Hawkeyes Likely to Bow Out Early

In Defense of Defense

Iowa’s fatal flaw looks to be on the defensive end of the court, where they ranked 97th nationally last year. This is not a problem that is likely to be remedied this season, either.  Coach Fran McCaffrey‘s teams have ranked outside of the top 90 defensively for four consecutive seasons and return largely the same roster as last season. These types of drastic offensive and defensive splits have historically been a kiss of death for teams in the tournament.  In fact, let’s do a quick case study on how teams that have finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and outside the top 90 in defensive efficiency have done in the tournament in recent years:

  • 2018: (4) Wichita St lost in 1st round, (6) TCU lost in 1st round, (7) Nevada lost in Sweet 16
  • 2017: (10) Oklahoma St. lost in 1st round, (10) Marquette lost in 1st round, (11) Wake Forest Lost in 1st round
  • 2016: (6) Notre Dame lost in Elite 8, (4) Iowa St lost in Sweet 16
  • 2015: (3) Notre Dame lost in Elite 8, (11) BYU lost in 1st round, (10) Davidson lost in 1st round, (10) Indiana lost in 1st round

What Does it Mean?

The data suggests that teams fitting Iowa’s profile are more likely to bow out in the first round than to even make the Final Four, let alone win the whole thing.  Also, notice the seeding of these teams.  None of them even came in on the top two seed lines. However,  the odds imply that the Hawkeyes are projected to enter the tournament as a two or three seed. Something doesn’t add up here.  The only conclusion I can come up with is that Iowa’s offensive prowess and that appeal of Luka Garza could drive casual bettors to like Iowa.

Iowa Hawkeye Road Woes

Additionally, the Hawkeyes have performed poorly in the road and neutral-site games under McCaffrey.  The Hawkeyes have won just 8 true road games over the past three seasons.  They failed to cover the spread by an average of 3.6 points in road games last year.  Also, the best road win on the Hawkeye’s resume was against Minnesota, who wouldn’t have even qualified for the Big Dance.  To win an NCAA Tournament, it is mandatory that a team is able to perform when outside of friendly confines and the Hawkeyes haven’t shown the ability to do that in recent years.

Analysis: Iowa Hawkeyes Bow Out Early

The odds on the Hawkeyes look more like that of a proven team with postseason experience, which they are not. The lack of defensive prowess and the inability to win in hostile environments are the two factors that will hold this team back in March. The Hawkeyes should light up the scoreboard and provide plenty of entertainment this season.  Unfortunately, this won’t culminate in Garza cutting down the nets in Indianapolis as there is too much working towards the Iowa Hawkeyes bowing out early.

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