The Iowa Hawkeyes have much to be excited about as they begin their NCAA tournament run.
After a season of tremendous possibility and uncertainty due to COVID cancellations and late season injuries to key talent, the Hawkeyes are at the right place at the right time to truly pull off something special in one of the most memorable seasons in their history.
They are riding high on a seven-game winning streak that included capturing the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships, officially cementing their status as a new perennial force in women’s college basketball. For Coach Lisa Bluder, this is her 16th appearance in the tournament and 20th postseason appearance during her tenure at Iowa City.
On Selection Sunday, Iowa received a surprising No. 2 seed in the Greensboro Region — when most projected that the team would land on the No. 3 line — and will play host to No. 15 Illinois State at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday at 3 p.m. CST. The game will air on ESPN.
The question for the Hawkeyes is are they able to maintain this momentum now that it is crunch time?
Throughout the season, Iowa has demonstrated that it has one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation. Shooting guard Caitlin Clark has become a sensation for her playmaking skills, her trademark three-point shot from the center logo, and shattering record after record. This year she is averaging 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 7.9 assists a game. She is one of the finalists for Naismith Player of the Year, and is the only player in Division I history to lead the country in both scoring and assists.
Even with Clark’s profile rising, other players have garnered much attention for their attributes that helped to get the team to where they are now. Monika Czinano has been on a roll during this seven-game winning streak, scoring 168 points and grabbing 44 rebounds. During the Big Ten tournament, Kate Martin also scored a total of 37 points, grabbed 20 rebounds, and dished out 19 assists over three games.
The Hawkeyes’ high-caliber offense certainly works in their favor, and they have had a solid pressure defense that does wonders for them in crucial moments. But their biggest Achilles heel has probably been their bench. Even as Tomi Taiwo, Kylie Feuerbach, and Addison O’Grady have put in some consequential performances, the Iowa bench is scarce for the most part, therefore rendering the starters with little rest. If the bench players can contribute at both ends of the floor and give the starters some relief, then Iowa should be in good standing.
Overall, the Hawkeyes should make it out of the first and second rounds, defeating No. 15 Illinois State and possibly No. 7 Colorado/No. 10 Creighton on Sunday with homecourt advantage. But the real test for them will be whether they can sustain taking on other high-profile teams, particularly with No. 1 South Carolina in their region.
We shall see.
But whatever happens from this point on, the Iowa Hawkeyes have made it on the national scene and if all goes well, it’s only up from here.