That’s right, it’s “what does my favorite mid-major team need to do to get an at-large bid” season. Every few days, we’ll take a different team and dissect its resume to see what it needs to do to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
On Wednesday, we took at a look at East Tennessee State. Today we’ll check in with Northern Iowa, the Missouri Valley’s best team.
The Panthers have been one of the best mid-majors in the country this season, and their track record to date puts them in the mix for a solid NCAA Tournament seed. But do they have enough wiggle room to survive a slip up between now and Selection Sunday?
Record: 20-3 (9-2 Missouri Valley)
vs. Quad 1: 1-1
vs. Quad 2: 2-0
Good Wins: at Colorado, vs. South Carolina (neutral)
Bad Losses: at Southern Illinois (Q3), at Illinois State (Q3)
Biggest remaining games: at Loyola University Chicago (Feb. 15), at Indiana State (Feb. 20)
Northern Iowa is another example of that resume we all know and love: the mid-major team that rates well in every available metric but doesn’t have nearly as many quality opportunities as a similarly rated team from a high-major conference.
The Panthers are good. There isn’t any denying that. However, their tournament resume is a little bit light. As of Feb. 4, Bracket Matrix has Northern Iowa as the top No. 12 seed. Its seeding across the bracketology spectrum ranges from as high as a 6 seed to as low as a 13 seed and almost every seed line in between.
Their win in Boulder against Colorado is going to hold up as one of the best wins of any mid-major team in the at-large mix. A neutral court win over South Carolina isn’t flashy, but it’s a solid Q2 win.
However, it’s entirely possible that Northern Iowa ends up kicking itself for blowing its matchup with West Virginia in the Cancun Challenge. The Panthers blew a 15-point second half lead before ultimately falling to the Mountaineers. Had Northern Iowa held on to win that game, it would have had another Q1 win in its pocket (a GREAT one, by the way) and a shot at another one against Wichita State. It’s one of the best bracketology “what ifs” in mid-major basketball this season.
Instead, the Panthers left Cancun with only the South Carolina win in tow. Ho hum.
The Missouri Valley isn’t doing Northern Iowa any favors, either. The Panthers have only logged one Q2 win (at Bradley), and every other game that they’ve played so far is on the resume under Q3. Contrast this with a Big Ten schedule, for example, in which nearly every game is a Q1 opportunity. Such is life in the Valley.
As it currently stands, Northern Iowa has three Q2 games left on the docket: at Loyola University Chicago (99 in the NET), at Indiana State (85), and at Drake (138). Both KenPom and T-Rank project the Panthers to be the favorites in those games as well as every other remaining game.
Using T-Ranketology, Northern Iowa has an estimated 56.7 percent chance of an at-large bid. It is not a lock by any means and T-Ranketology is not the end-all-be-all on its case, but Northern Iowa should feel good about its position with a month to go in the season.
Verdict: Northern Iowa has laid the groundwork of a resume that should be able to withstand a hiccup or two before Selection Sunday. Barring a major collapse down the stretch, Northern Iowa’s chances of being in the NCAA Tournament are as good as almost any mid-major in the country.