While there is plenty of justifiable reason to be excited for Iowa Men’s Basketball this year, there’s plenty to be excited for with Lisa Bluder’s squad as well. Last season the big question was how the team would respond to losing all-around super-star and Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson — and it resulted in Kathleen Doyle taking over as Big Ten Player of the Year in her senior season before being drafted by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Draft.
This year, there are questions again about Bluder’s squad, but plenty of talent remaining on the roster, despite Doyle and Makenzie Meyer’s departure. This year, in steps center Monica Czinano, who was named Preseason All-Big Ten by the conference’s coaches and media members.
As a sophomore, Czinano averaged 16 points and 5 rebounds per game, which earned her a spot on the First Team All-Big Ten media list. She scored in double-digits 25 times, and led the conference in shooting percentage with 67 percent.
Already a dominant force for the team, Czinano is expected to be a focal point of Lisa Bluder’s offense this season — and we know Bluder and co. can coach a center to success.
The announcement was made as part of Big Ten Media Days earlier this week. You can check out the full transcript from Bluder here. A few highlights below...
Q. Talk about [Czinano’s] budding leadership, and as you look at her career she kind of had the ability to learn early and watch Megan and then have a bigger role last year and then now it’s kind of her team in a sense in terms of what you count on. Just in terms of molding her into that leader, that person that you hear the most, how has she transitioned into that role among other things?
LISA BLUDER: ...I don’t want to say this is her team. I don’t think anybody ever feels that way with our basketball teams. We try to be really balanced. But certainly having a great inside attack like Monika opens up things for our three-point shooting. We still want to play the same style. We want to get up and down and run, and she does a great job with that in the inside position, but also we want to pass the ball really well. She’s a wonderful target to pass the ball to. She’s got great hands.
Hard to blame Bluder for continuing this strategy with Czinano and the shooters around her — it has worked for many years. This year it’s just a new cast.
Q. You mentioned this is the third year in a row you’re coming to this press conference and you’ve lost the Big Ten Player of the Year. Do you think that there might be a player on this roster, maybe a couple options who could be in competition to make it a fourth straight Iowa women’s basketball player as Big Ten Player of the Year?
LISA BLUDER: I don’t know about fourth straight, but I think ultimately we could have one of those players in an Iowa jersey this year. I don’t know if it’s going to happen this year but I think ultimately it could. We’re a young team, and we’re optimistic but we also realize that what other people in the Big Ten have returning, and they’re very senior dominated teams, and we’re not. We could possibly start not have any seniors in our starting lineup.
A lot to break down here from Bluder — she knows she has a lot of talent in Czinano and incoming freshman Caitlin Cook, a five-star recruit at guard who will replace Doyle - potentially immediately in the starting lineup. Bluder’s team will compete, but I think it’s also telling that they were not picked by the coaches or media to finish in the top five in the conference. Bluder knows she has a young team, albeit with talent. It might be a “down” year for the team, but maybe that’s ok if it means strong development for the future.
Also, the Bluder Bunch never truly has “down” years. That’s a testament to her program.
“Caitlin is coming here expecting to contribute right away, and she will be contributing right away,” Bluder said. “We’re excited to have that next point guard. We’ve had so many great point guards come through our system, and excited about this one.”
There’s a lot of good tidbits in there about Clark, but here are my top two:
Q. You’ve not had somebody come in with her credentials right away and expecting big things from Game 1. As you’ve gotten to see her mental makeup more up close and how she’s handled all that came in high school and will here, as well, what has impressed you the most from that aspect of her?
LISA BLUDER: I love how coachable she is. She really wants to learn. She wants to get better. She asks questions. She comes in and watches film. I’ve been very, very pleased with how coachable she is and how much she understands she still has to learn.
Sometimes people can come in with that kind of accolades and think they know it all, and that’s not at all how Caitlin acts.
The exact prototype of a future Bluder success.
Q. What was the sales pitch you think you sold her on?
LISA BLUDER: Taking us back to the Final Four. That’s really something that we want to do. We want to get back to the Final Four, and it hasn’t been done since we’ve been here. We were one game shy a couple years ago.
And finally, while Bluder’s program welcomed the No. 17 ranked class in the country heading into this season, the focus is already on next season, with Bluder and staff getting dry ink class of 2021-22 yesterday.
Three new Hawkeyes will don the black and gold next season: , AJ Ediger, Addison O’Grady and Sydney Affolter. The class is ranked No. 20 in the nation espnW.
“This makes back-to-back top-20 ranked recruiting classes, and that bodes very well for the future of Iowa basketball,” Bluder said in a release. “These three women will make great Hawkeyes in every realm — athletically, academically and socially.”