Iowa's NCAA tournament hopes are still barely alive. Their NIT tournament hopes may be getting better by the minute.
The University of Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team held off rival University of Illinois 64-61 to win the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Iowa will go on to play number one seed Michigan State at 11:00 a.m. CST Friday on ESPN.
In a strange game, Iowa stormed back using a strong play to begin the half to build a seven point lead after trailing most of the first half. Then, Iowa managed to hold Illinois off the rest of the game despite not making a field goal over most of the last half of the second half.
Matt Gatens, who had 20 points, sealed off a late charging Illinois rally with two clutch free-throws, building the Iowa lead to three, and Illinois proceeded to miss the final shot. The Illini, despite their large size advantage, did not attempt a free throw in the game.
The Hawkeyes are attempting to keep their slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and this would certainly be bolstered by a win over nationally ranked Michigan State tomorrow, although the best chance the Hawkeyes have to make the tournament would be to win four games in four days in Indy to get an automatic bid.
The win today did increase Iowa's chance at making the NIT Tournament, though, which though a step down from the main tournament, is a higher profile tournament than it once was.