IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa is likely just days away from its first NCAA tournament berth in eight years, but that's about the last thing on the mind of its fan base.
They're wondering what happened to their beloved Hawkeyes.
Iowa (20-11, 9-9 Big Ten) finished the regular season in a freefall hardly anyone saw coming.
The Hawkeyes have lost five of their last six games — all after a postponement at Indiana altered their schedule — and closed with a brutal home loss to Illinois, 66-63, on Saturday night.
Iowa, once a trendy pick for a long run through the postseason, somehow managed to finish with the exact same regular season record as it had a year ago when it went to the NIT.
The Hawkeyes hope to start fresh on Thursday against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
"We've got to get back to playing hard defensively. Get back to making the game fun," Iowa forward Aaron White said. "We lost our swag, lost how we were playing, lost our confidence. And when you lose that, it's not as fun. We had a phenomenal practice (Monday) and really got after it. I kind of look at this as a new season. It really doesn't matter what happened. Clean slate and start over."
The Hawkeyes probably won't have to sweat out an NCAA tournament bid. They've played a strong schedule that features seven road/neutral wins and five victories over teams in the top 50 of the RPI as of Tuesday.
But there's a big difference between making the NCAA tournament and doing something once you get there.
It's not a good sign when your own coach describes you as "fragile" following the regular season finale, which Fran McCaffery did after the Illini stunned the Hawkeyes on a 3 just before the buzzer.