Grant Hall, Sports Reporter

The Iowa Hawkeyes will not make the NCAA tournament this March.

Although current projections anticipate the Hawkeyes earning a 7-seed in the Big Dance, I’m predicting a small dip in production on the tail end of an Iowa four-game win streak.

Despite four straight Big Ten wins after an 0-3 start to the conference slate, Iowa may not be able to overcome some of its abysmal losses suffered during the end of December and into the new year. The Hawkeyes dropped a “buy game” to a 7-13 Eastern Illinois squad at home as 30-point favorites, as well as a pair of Ls to Nebraska and Penn State, which are both sub-.500 in the conference.

Perhaps most significant is the loss of redshirt junior Patrick McCaffery. His length and versatility in the frontcourt have been missed as of late, and although his leave of absence is not expected to extend into the postseason, Filip Rebraca won’t be able to hold down the fort inside alone.

Young big man Riley Mulvey showed promise in an overtime win over Michigan, but he will struggle in two-big sets as opposing teams throw bigger, stronger opponents at him.

Iowa’s guard play is a question mark as well. Although both Tony Perkins and Payton Sandfort have started to heat up, their inconsistencies this season cannot be ignored.

Over the course of the next month-plus, the Hawkeyes will play 13 games against their Big Ten brethren before the conference tournament. It’s not implausible that Iowa could drop six or seven of those games.

A talented Ohio State program, which stands 11-8 after starting the season 10-3, showed up for a losing streak-snapping 15-point victory over the Hawkeyes on Saturday, and the two teams will face off again on Feb. 16. No. 3 Purdue and No. 23 Rutgers are on the slate, too. Nebraska, which handed the Hawkeyes a 16-point loss earlier in the season, could sweep the season series, and always-tough Wisconsin and Indiana host the Hawkeyes within a week of one another toward the end of February.

Even if the Hawkeyes manage to split the season series with Ohio State and Nebraska, every game will be a dogfight, and without defensive help inside, there’s a good chance Iowa will lose big games thanks to contributions from opponents’ big men. Purdue’s Zach Edey, Ohio State’s Zed Key, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Wisconsin’s Steven Crowl all present significant interior threats that usually would have been addressed by Patrick McCaffery when Rebraca requires a breather.

Therefore, I think the Hawkeyes will lose six of the next 13, drop to 11-9 in the conference, and miss the NCAA tournament. They’ll be a high seed in the NIT.

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