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No. 6 Iowa at critical juncture with big game against No. 2 Indiana Sunday

The Iowa Hawkeyes missed out on repeating as Big Ten regular season champs, but they have a chance to make their biggest statement when it counts most.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Big Ten Women’s Tournament - Indiana v Iowa Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whatever happens from here on out, it can be established that this has been another memorable year for the No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes. They have soared into the national conversation as one of the most talked about teams in college basketball stemming from their Big Ten championship-winning season a year ago. Propelled by the sustained excellence of their junior phenom Caitlin Clark, the Hawkeyes are looking to go into tournament season on a high note Sunday against No. 2 Indiana before a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hoosiers have already claimed the outright Big Ten regular-season title, but Sunday will be an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to reinvigorate their momentum after a loss to No. 7 Maryland on Tuesday, 96-68. The loss put them at 22-6 overall and 14-3 in the Big Ten, which equals them with the Terrapins and puts them two games behind the Hoosiers. The last time they played the Hoosiers was on Feb. 9 in Bloomington; they came up short, 87-78.

A win for the Hawkeyes on Sunday would carry much significance as they would secure a No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament which is scheduled for March 1-5 in Minneapolis. A loss plus a Maryland win against No. 16 Ohio State on Friday would put them at the No. 3 seed.

In regards to the NCAA tournament, the Hawkeyes are, according to both ESPN and CBS Sports, still projected to notch a No. 2 seed in the Seattle region, which will enable them to play host to the first and second rounds for the second year in a row. Those games are scheduled for March 17-20.

Either way, the Hawkeyes are expected to be a major contender this March due to a real team effort.

The exploits of Clark are a matter of public record, as she has continued to amass additional hardware. She is considered a frontrunner for the National Player of the Year along with South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and LSU’s Angel Reese. She’s currently third in the nation in scoring average at 27 and first in assists at 8.1 per game.

Meanwhile, outgoing fifth-year center Monika Czinano remains a standard-bearer for consistency from the field. She is currently leading the team in field goal percentage at 66.9 percent, which places her fifth in the nation.

Venerable talents Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock have also been major factors at both ends of the floor.

Marshall has had some periodic shooting struggles this year, but against Maryland she scored a season-high 15 points while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range, demonstrating herself to be someone who can score when needed.

Martin has often been seen as the workhorse of the team because of her tenacious style of play. Having wrestled with early- to mid-season injuries, she has persevered to be able to do it all. She is averaging 6.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Warnock echoes Martin in terms of being a workhorse. She is averaging 11 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. She achieved double-doubles in scoring and rebounding against Minnesota, Penn State and Indiana.

Unlike Martin and Marshall, who have both committed to returning next season, Warnock has opted to pursue dental school, but has left her mark on the program.

The future of the program looks bright due to the significant gifts provided by freshman Hannah Stuelke and Molly Davis off the bench. Compared to last year, when the Hawkeyes had a dearth of a bench presence due to injury, Stuelke and Davis have stepped up. Stuelke has become a fan favorite who is known for her exciting play, which includes effective rebounding, scoring inside and running the floor.

Stuelke has so far averaged 7.4 points and totaled 121 rebounds, which places her fourth behind Warnock, Czinano and Clark. She is also fourth in minutes per game at 13. Her coming out party came on Jan. 11 against Northwestern, when she scored a career-high 17 points and notched nine rebounds.

Davis is a playmaker in the making. Her vision of the court, ball movement and sharpshooting have produced some memorable moments, the biggest of which came against Rutgers on Feb. 12 when she scored 17 points, went 5-of-7 from the field and was a perfect 5-of-5 at the free throw line.

The Hawkeyes have all the elements needed to carry them far in the NCAA Tournament. They just have to want it. On Sunday they have to want it more than ever.

Iowa will take on Indiana (26-1, 16-1 Big Ten) on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. The pregame show will be featured on ESPN’s College GameDay.