Darren Miller (Hawkeye Sports)
Bluder's Bunch is really ballin'.
The Iowa men's basketball team has garnered significant amounts of (deserved) attention for their hot start to the 2012-13 season... but as it happens, they're not the only Iowa basketball team off to a hot start this year. The Iowa women are also off to an excellent start, going 11-3 in non-conference action. Their non-conference exploits were capped off this past weekend by a championship in the Surf 'N Slam Classic in San Diego, where they beat #20 Texas and host San Diego.
In the first game, Iowa blew #20 Texas out of the water with a 41-21 first half on the way to a 86-63 blowout win. Iowa shot just 4/13 from long range in that half, but made 13/22 from 2-point range. They were even better in the second half, going 18/32 from the field (15/24 from 2-point range). Texas had no answer for sharpshooting like that. Iowa had three scorers over 20 points in that game: Melissa Dixon (23), Jamie Printy (21), and Morgan Johnson (20), but the most impressive stat line may have come from sophomore point guard Samantha Logic, who had a double-double on 15 rebounds and a school record 14 assists. (She actually broke the record of 12 that she had tied earlier in the season.) Had Logic attempted a few more shots (she went 1/3), she probably would have had a triple double.
Iowa's torrid shooting form continued on Sunday against the Toreros, as they shot 29.53 (54.7%) for the game. Despite shooting 15/28 (53/6%) in the first half, Iowa trailed for most of the half, thanks to a flurry of turnovers (13 in 13 minutes). Once Iowa stopped turning the ball over on just about every other possession, though, things settled down and they were able to take control of the game, thanks mostly to Jamie Printy's career-high 33 points on 7/12 3-point shooting. Morgan Johnson chipped in 20 points (on highly efficient 8/10 shooting), while Samantha Logic had to settle for "only" 10 assists (to go with 7 points and 2 rebounds). Johnson's efforts earned her tournament MVP honors, ahead of Printy's prolific scoring and Logic's all-around brilliance.
As noted, those wins pushed Iowa's record this year to 11-3. It's Iowa's best non-conference mark since a 12-1 record in 2010-11 and easily their second-best record in the past six years:
After that 12-1 start in 2010-11, Iowa went on to finish 23-9, earning a 6-seed. (Unfortunately, that was also the year they were sent out to Spokane, Washingon to face host team Gonzaga, who was preposterously under-seeded (11). A start that strong isn't necessarily required for an NCAA tournament bid; despite the middling non-conference records in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011, Iowa still earned NCAA bids in all of those years. Still, Iowa's strong start (which includes two other wins over ranked opponents, then-#12 West Virginia and then-#22 Iowa State... maybe Iowa should lobby to join the Big XII this year) is great since it gives Iowa a little breathing room if they stumble in the Big Ten and gives them a better resume to obtain a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
ESPN's Bracketology feature currently has Iowa slotted in as a 5-seed, which would be their highest seed in several years. Iowa City is already slated to host a pair of first round games and a second round in the 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and given how the NCAA operates in this regard (read: anything for ticket sales), Iowa will get a chance to have a pair of home games this year if they're selected to be in the tourney. Home game(s) plus a high seed could be exactly what Iowa needs to put together a run in the NCAA Tournament. Lisa Bluder has recruited pretty well in recent years, but this still looks like a team designed to make a run this year -- two of its three best players are seniors in Johnson and Printy (Logic is a sophomore).
Iowa opens Big Ten play with a pair of home games, first against longtime nemesis Ohio State on Thursday and then against Michigan on Sunday. Just like the men, the women's Big Ten looks pretty strong this year -- their 7 projected teams in the NCAA Tournament is second-best in the nation, behind only the SEC's 9 teams. Unlike the men, that strength isn't reflected very well in the rankings -- just three teams are currently ranked, #9 Penn State, #14 Purdue, and #25 Nebraska. Don't ask me why 12-1 Michigan State isn't ranked. Despite their three wins over ranked teams, Iowa is currently lurking in the "also receiving votes" portion of the poll.
Still, rankings don't mean much at this early stage of the season; if Iowa can keep up their winning ways in Big Ten play, they'll be in position to claim not just an NCAA Tournament bid, but a higher seed as well. They're off to an excellent start this season, which had unfortunately been somewhat overlooked by us. So let's take this moment to commend them on their success so far -- and root for more to come as they tip off Big Ten play.