The NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament announced the bracket for the 2016 tournament last night and as expected/feared, Iowa was not one of the 64 teams announced for the tournament field. Iowa's absence from the field ends an 8-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances for the Hawkeyes, the longest such active streak among Big Ten teams. It also means that the NCAA Tournament won't have any Iowa flavor to it this year, which is a rare thing indeed, as Hawk Central's Ryan Murken noted:
With the Hawkeyes' near miss the state of Iowa had a string of 12 consecutive seasons with at least one team in the tournament snapped.
This year's tournament will mark the first time since 2003 that one of the state's four Division I programs hasn't appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
The state of Iowa had at least two teams 10 times during that 12-year string and had at least one team in the field in 29 of the last 30 NCAA Tournaments.
Per Chris Dawson, the chair of the NCAA Women's Basketball Selection Committee, Iowa narrowly missed out on the NCAA Tournament -- Iowa, North Carolina State, Ohio, and UTEP were the final four teams left out of the field. Purdue was among the last four teams into the field; once again, OMHR strikes at Iowa. Dastardly rogues.
A 19-13 overall record and an 8-10 Big Ten record (good for 9th place in the league) weren't great, but Iowa had an RPI of 58 and played the 31rd toughest schedule and those numbers kept them in the mix for an at-large selection. Unfortunately, just playing tough opponents isn't really enough -- you need to beat a few of them, too, and Iowa didn't do enough of that. They had just one win over a Top 50 RPI opponent (Indiana). You also need to avoid bad losses and Iowa wasn't able to do that, dropping a pair of late season games to Penn State (12-19 overall, 6-12 in the Big Ten). Flip those results and Iowa is 21-11 and 10-8 in the Big Ten -- and almost certainly in the NCAA Tournament. Hell, even just splitting those games might have been enough to get into the field at 20-12 and 9-9. That said, if Iowa's NCAA Tournament odds would have also been much better if they'd been able to win one of the many games where they had second-half leads that they ended up blowing, as The Gazette's Jeff Linder explained:
But what hurt the Hawkeyes most was a chain of Big Ten losses in which they surrendered double-digit second-half leads, at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota. Had Iowa won just one of those four games, they likely would have been on the other side of the bubble.
While Iowa's NCAA Tournament streak is over, they'll still get to experience some postseason hoops -- they're hosting Ball State in a first round game in the WNIT on Thursday, March 17.
Iowa last made the WNIT in 2005, when they made a run all the way to the WNIT Semifinals before lost to Missouri State. A deep tournament run could be beneficial for this year's team, too, given its considerable youth: Iowa's top six players in terms of minutes played and points scored are all slated to return next year. A deep WNIT run could springboard them to a successful year next season, much like a deep run in the NIT did for the Iowa men a few years ago.
The full WNIT bracket is available here -- Iowa is one of six Big Ten teams in the field, including Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern, and Rutgers. Unlike the men's NIT, the WNIT isn't precisely seeded and uses geography as a key factor in deciding the overall regions and first-round match-ups. If Iowa beats Ball State, they'll play the winner of the Saint Louis-Little Rock game sometime between March 19-22.
Ball State went 21-9 overall, 13-5 in the MAC, losing in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament last week. The Cardinals are led by 6-2 senior guard Nathalie Fontaine, who averaged 20.7 ppg on 50.4% shooting and 10.2 rpg this year. Fontaine was also named the MAC Player of the Year this season. Slowing her down will be a big ask for the Hawkeye defense.