The bracket for the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament was unveiled on ESPN tonight -- and it was pretty good news for the Iowa ladies. As fully expected (and deserved), Iowa got a top-4 seed -- #3 to be exact. That means Iowa City will play host to the first and second round games in the tournament this weekend.
Iowa will play #14 seed American on Friday at 1:30 PM CT, with TV coverage form ESPN2. Ticket information is available here.
If Iowa wins that game, they'll play the winner of the #6 Washington vs #11 Miami (FL) game on Sunday at a time TBA. If Iowa wins both of those games, they'll move on to Oklahoma City and the Sweet 16. Their most likely opponent in the Sweet 16 would be #2 seed Baylor; if they can get by the Bears, they'd likely get either #1 seed Notre Dame or #4 seed Stanford in the regional final. That's a pretty formidable collection of teams -- Baylor went 30-3 and won the Big 12, Notre Dame went 31-2 and won the ACC, and Stanford went 24-9 and won the Pac-12 tournament (and also handed UConn their only loss of the season).
But any concerns about those teams are well in the future -- for now, Iowa needs to be focused on beating American and Washington/Miami and finally making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since Lisa Bluder arrived in Iowa City in 2000 (and the first time overall since 1996). This team has the talent to make that happen -- and now they finally have the seed and the schedule to do it, too. For once, Iowa doesn't have to play a top 10-15 team in the second round -- because this time they are the top 10-15 team.
Iowa's first round opponent, American, went 24-8 overall and won the Patriot League with a 16-2 record. Iowa and American had two common opponents this year -- Maryland and Gonzaga. Both lost to Maryland and beat Gonzaga. Iowa narrowly lost to the Terps (93-88), while American got thumped (94-50). Iowa also had the more impressive win over Gonzaga (winning 79-67 versus American's 59-56). Iowa and American actually both beat Gonzaga at the same neutral court event, the South Point Thanksgiving Classic, though they (obviously) did not play each other there.
American enters the game on an 11-game winning streak -- they haven't dropped a game since a 67-61 loss to Holy Cross on January 31. The Eagles figure to be a contrast in styles to the high-flying, high-scoring Hawkeyes -- American averages just 63.3 ppg and allows just 57.2 ppg (Iowa averages 79.8 ppg and allows 72.2 ppg) and plays at a much slower pace than the Hawkeyes. They have been pretty stingy about allowing opponents to make 3s -- opponents are making just 31% of their 3s against the Eagles -- but that 3-point defense will be sorely tested by an Iowa team that converts 39% of their own 3s.
American's star player is senior guard Jen Dumiak, averaging a team best 16.9 ppg (on 52% FG shooting) and 6.2 apg and 5.0 rpg (also team bests); Dumiak sounds like their version of Iowa's superstar point guard, Samantha Logic. American has two other players scoring in double figures, forwards Michelle Holmes (11.0 ppg on 51% FG shooting) and Arron Zimmerman (10.0 ppg on 41% FG shooting). American doesn't have a lot of size -- Holmes and Zimmerman are 6-1 and 6-0, respectively, and the tallest woman on the lineup is Lauren Crisler, 6-2. Iowa's Bethany Doolitte, at 6-4, should have a nice height advantage to exploit in this game.
If Iowa can play the game at their preferred tempo and connect early and often from deep, this game could easily be an Iowa rout. American just doesn't appear to have the firepower to keep up with Iowa's potent offense. But if the Eagles are able to slow the game down, play at their preferred tempo, and keep Iowa from making a ton of 3s, then this game could be uncomfortably close at the end. Still, Iowa has advantages across the board -- talent, size, home court, NCAA tournament experience -- so they should be a clear favorite heading into this game.
#6 seed Washington went 23-9 overall and 11-7 in the Pac-12. #11 seed MIami (FL) went 19-12 overall and 8-8 in the ACC. Per the Sagarin ratings, Washington and Miami are fairly evenly matched -- Washington is #34 and Miami is #39. (For the record, Iowa is #18 in those rankings and American is #88.) But there's no need to focus too much on Washington or MIami now -- Iowa needs to beat American and then we can worry about the second round.
VIDEO: Check out the Hawkeyes Reaction and Comments on Earning a #3 Seed in NCAA Tournament http://t.co/53VLNH256H— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) March 17, 2015
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Meanwhile, I'd be remiss if I didn't give some congratulations to Iowa players for the postseason honors that they've received lately:
Samantha Logic was named a second-team All-American by espnW:
Logic was also named one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the country's top point guard:
Logic was also named first-team All-Big Ten; Melissa Dixon, Bethany Doolittle, and Ally Disterhoft were named second-team All-Big Ten:
Congrats to all four ladies for their contributions to what's already been a tremendous season for Iowa -- here's to hoping they can add even more good memories for Iowa this weekend.