With Iowa football getting back to spring practice this week, we took a way too early look at what to expect from the Hawkeyes this fall. If we’re going to be looking ahead, we figured why not REALLY look ahead? So throughout the week, we’re taking a way too early look at each of Iowa’s major programs for next season. After football, we took a way too early look at what to expect from the men’s basketball team on Wednesday. Up next: the women’s basketball team.
So we are a few days from Iowa’s season coming to an end against the powerful UCONN Huskies. Was it a bummer to have the season end? Yes. Each postseason victory brings a tougher opponent and a buildup in excitement. Was it an excellent season? Heck yes! B1G rivals Indiana, as a 4 seed, beat 1 seed NC State to get to the Elite 8. Maryland, a 2 seed, surprisingly lost to 6-seeded Texas to fall short of the Elite 8. Rutgers, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Michigan State all return nice squads. Here’s a Way-Too-Early Look at Lisa Bluder’s team for 2021-22.
A Young Hawkeye Team Returns Almost Everyone
The thing that stood out to me so many different times this season was that this was a young Hawkeye team. Iowa’s starting lineup for the entire season (w/ Alexis Sevillian starting one game) was the following:
Caitlin Clark (freshman), McKenna Warnock (sophomore), Kate Martin (RS sophomore), Gabbie Marshall (sophomore), and Monika Czinano (junior). The Hawkeyes averaged 86.1 points per game this year. They return all but 2.3 points per game. I doubt there is another team in the country that could match that. With this being a Covid year (players don’t lose a year of eligibility), it’s not certain which players across the country will move on, but it appears that the Hawkeyes will only lose Alexis Sevillian and Zion Sanders.
The Hawkeyes signed three players for next season’s recruiting class (2021). The group of Sydney Affolter, AJ Ediger, and Addison O’Grady is ranked in the top 20 in the country.
This, along with the 2020 recruiting class, makes two consecutive top-20 recruiting classes by Coach Bluder and associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Jan Jensen. That folks, is how you play the college basketball game. It’s recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting. Iowa also does a terrific job of developing post players. Good things on the horizon, Hawk fans.
Iowa already has three verbal commitments from next year’s (2022) class of Taylor McCabe, Jada Gyamfi, and Hannah Stuelke. I also would be surprised if Iowa’s positive showing in the NCAA tournament and the press that Caitlin Clark received didn’t give the Hawkeyes a boost in recruiting. If I’m a big-time player I would love the opportunity to play alongside this group of players. The Hawkeyes play very complementary basketball. They run a nice inside/out game, they run an excellent fast break, and the best player on the team led the country in assists. Sign me up.
What Does Next Year Look Like? Taking the Next Step
The number one priority is defense. I would not characterize Iowa’s defense as bad. They gave up quite a few points, but a great deal of that was because Iowa had such a high-scoring offense. The Hawkeyes played good defense in the tournament against Central Michigan and Kentucky. The Hawks competed against UCONN, pulling within 8 and 9 points respectively at two separate times in the second half.
Going hand-in-hand with this next step is improving skill, technique, and even athleticism. The Hawkeyes had a great season and competed at a very high level. The highest level of college basketball is all about athleticism. UCONN can bring athletes off the bench who would start for 90% of the teams in the country. That’s quite a luxury.
The Hawkeyes’ roster is tremendous and we have excellent recruits coming in. My guess is that this will be an aggressive offseason(fingers crossed for fewer Covid issues) for the Hawkeyes and they will work on quickness and explosiveness. The first half against UCONN showed the difference between the two teams. The Huskies had some nice height. Most notably in the form of a 6’5” center, but they also were better leapers and quicker leapers. Boxing out is one thing. Boxing out quick, athletic, aggressive jumpers? That’s a tall order (pun intended).
Offensively the Hawks were excellent this year. They shot the three ball at a high level (40.8%). They were also an excellent free throw shooting team (80%). Those are two incredible statistics.
Caitlin Clark did incredible, almost unprecedented for a freshman, things this year. Two areas she can improve upon are limiting turnovers and defensive positioning. You don’t want to slow Clark down too much, but she will have a better understanding of when to go and when to slow things down. Her knowledge of the game and athleticism/body control will allow her to make a jump defensively from year one to year two.
Iowa’s trio of McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin, and Gabbie Marshall all had very productive seasons. Building consistency is always a natural progression in the maturation of basketball players. Speaking of consistency, Monika Czinano was money around the basket. A progression for her may be to average two more rebounds a game (5.8) and to become a better passer out of the post. She is not really asked to take her game away from the low block, but that is certainly something she will work on this offseason.
Finally, Tomi Taiwo came off the bench to provide some nice defense and a change-of-pace. An offseason where she can work with her teammates will help not only her but the other perimeter players as well. Backup post Sharon Goodman’s progression will be a key as she stepped in at times this year for Czinano and made some plays. Also, Iowa’s program is predicated on having a low-post presence so that will be an area of emphasis. This will be a very difficult rotation to crack, but you never know if a player already in the program makes significant strides and/or an incoming freshman steps up. All fun things to follow in the offseason.
It was a very fun season for fans of the Iowa women’s basketball team. When you think that everyone returns, one can’t help but wonder about a run at a Big Ten championship and an Elite 8 / Final 4 run. Go Hawks!