The Iowa women’s basketball team could be in for an historic season. The Hawkeyes scored a major victory earlier this week over a top-ten Virginia Tech team that made the Final Four last year, a significant victory that shows Iowa’s ability to defeat opponents with elite size and post presence even with the departure of star center Monika Czinano to the professional ranks. After Sunday’s win over UNI and losses by UConn and LSU this week, the Hawkeyes will likely be ranked as the number one team in the country this week, an honor which may be official by the time this article runs.
The Iowa women have continued their spectacular play from last season, and Caitlin Clark is the runaway favorite to repeat as the national player of the year. Remarkably, however, this team is likely not playing its best basketball yet. Caitlin Clark was inefficient in her game against Virginia Tech (13-31 shooting and 5-16 from three), yet still managed to score 44 points in a winning effort, begging the question of what the transcendent superstar might be capable of when shooting at that volume and scoring with her usual level of efficiency.
Iowa also has not solidified a core starting lineup at this stage of the season. Whether the Hawkeyes stick with their small-ball lineup and continue playing Hannah Stuelke at center and Kate Martin at power forward or put either Addison O’Grady or Sharon Goodman into the starting five could have a huge impact on the composition of the team going forward, though one could also see the Hawkeyes continuing to rotate their lineup based on their opponents. Meanwhile, junior Sydney Affolter has been a revelation off the bench, averaging nearly ten rebounds a game despite standing at only 5’11 and making the kind of winning basketball plays McKenna Warnock was able to make for them last season. With all these pieces beginning to round into place and Gabbie Marshall finally breaking out of her shooting slump against UNI by draining five baskets from beyond the arc, Iowa’s performance against Virginia Tech may just be scratching the surface of what they can accomplish by season’s end.
Hawkeye fans knew the women’s team would be elite this season and arguably the most exciting ticket in town. However, early returns on the men’s basketball team suggest Fran McCaffery’s squad could be a fascinating follow this year, as well. While the Hawkeyes’ first two opponents were not exactly elite competition there were plenty of encouraging takeaways that suggest the 2023-24 squad contend for another NCAA berth. Iowa lost four starters from last season’s squad but is returning a solid two-way player in guard Tony Perkins, a flame-throwing sharpshooter in Payton Sandfort who appears to have leveled up his game, and a versatile veteran in Patrick McCaffery who finally seems to have built some upper body strength after years of struggling to gain muscle mass as a byproduct of his adolescent health problems.
But perhaps the most exciting element to this season’s team is its newcomers. Valparaiso transfer Ben Krikke seems capable of picking up the offensive production at center lost from the departure of Filip Rebraca, and Iowa’s four freshmen (Brock Harding, Owen Freeman, Pryce Sandfort, and Ladji Dembele) give the Hawkeyes tremendous upside if they can manage to develop quickly over the coming months. While Iowa’s youth and lack of size (Freeman is the only Hawkeye in the regular rotation standing 6’10 or taller and weighs only 230 pounds) could present problems throughout the year, the team’s young core could also unlock several traits in the team that would make them a dangerous opponent. Point guards Dasonte Bowen and Brock Harding have tremendous quickness on the perimeter and have shown excellent passing acumen thus far, opening up interesting possibilities for drive and kick action that Iowa’s recent point men have not been able to deliver. Meanwhile, Iowa’s underclassmen have looked tenacious on defense through the first two games, harassing opponents both in the half court and on the press. The Hawkeyes will have to prove they can play disciplined yet disruptive defense against a quality opponent after nearly a decade of futility on that end of the court, but team’s energy level through the first two games suggests a willingness to compete on defense that can at least serve as a building block as it goes forward.
Finally, the team is loaded with three-point shooters and should be able to stress defenses with their ability to attack offensively either from beyond the arc or off the dribble. Iowa may struggle in its upcoming game against Creighton, as 7’1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner could expose Iowa’s weaknesses at rebounding and interior defense. However, a competitive showing against the Bluejays would be a positive sign that the Hawkeyes can develop into a team capable of making some noise in the Big Ten this year.
Between the generational talent of Caitlin Clark and the women’s team and the excitement and potential of a young and hungry men’s squad, Iowa basketball promises to offer plenty of excitement for Hawkeye fans this year. If the first week of play is any indication, Carver-Hawkeye Arena may be in for another run of excellent basketball between now and the end of March.