The anticipation surrounding the Iowa Hawkeyes is palpable. The defending national runner ups are coming into the season ranked No. 3 in the nation, hoping that they return to the Final Four and potentially win the national championship. They already made a big splash with the historic Crossover at Kinnick exhibition in October that drew over 55,000 fans, the largest crowd to watch a women’s basketball game.
The Hawkeyes certainly have many of the tangibles that can help continue their run of success, starting with, obviously, Caitlin Clark. To round out the starting rotation, Iowa has the sharp-shooting Gabbie Marshall at the two guard, the scrappy Kate Martin at the small forward, the agile Hannah Stuelke at the power forward and the tenacious Addison O’Grady in the paint. All five have come to fruition in a program that prioritizes versatility and quickness. In the case of Stuelke and O’Grady, more is to be expected of them this season.
But perhaps, the biggest upgrade from last year is the team’s depth.
A deeper Iowa is a more dangerous Iowa
Even though they made it all the way to the national title game, the Hawkeyes only had a handful of contributors coming off the bench. They finished the season in a four-way tie with Eastern Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Dakota State for 158th in the nation in bench points per game (18.0).
Last year, Stuelke, O’Grady, Molly Davis and Sydney Affolter made up the bulk of the bench, playing in nearly every game and averaging a combined 10.75 minutes per game. In comparison, the starters averaged a combined 142 minutes per game. That discrepancy speaks for itself. Part of the extreme disparity was attributable to some bench players being underutilized, such as AJ Ediger, Taylor McCabe, Kylie Feuerbach and Sharon Goodman. But even with that, they did show signs of potential.
Ediger did have some considerable moments, playing in 17 games for a total of 54 minutes. She showed that she could score at a high percentage, shooting over 60 percent from the field. All the while, she grabbed 18 total rebounds. She experienced some reserve minutes during the Crossover against DePaul, but sat out the following exhibition against Clarke due to injury. Her status remains unknown, but, if she returns healthy, she has shown that she can be a factor from the field and on the glass.
McCabe played in 18 games and averaged only seven minutes. But she did have a memorable four 3-pointer performance in a blowout win against Rutgers last February. She will be counted on to contribute some additional points from the beyond arc while playing more minutes. Feuerbach sat out last season due to a torn ACL. She played 13 minutes against DePaul and 19 minutes against Clarke. In the latter game, she scored eight points and grabbed a rebound.
Last season, Goodman still was recovering from the torn ACL she sustained in her freshman year. She played in 13 games for a total of 42 minutes. She played eight minutes and scored five points against DePaul and had a great performance against Clarke, scoring 14 points and snatching nine rebounds.
Bluder boosts her team’s depth
All in all, the depth is looking really good. It is something that gives head coach Lisa Bluder plenty to look forward to as they head into yet another hectic schedule. “I feel like we got a lot of depth right now” she said after the game against Clarke. “It is so important to have that depth. The season is so long and so difficult. There were times in November where we played four games in a week, so we have to have that kind of depth.”
It has been said before that if the Hawkeyes could go all the way to the national title game with a thin bench, imagine what they could do with what they got now.
Iowa’s season officially begins when they take on Fairleigh Dickinson University at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. CT.