Iowa City, Iowa – Flashback to 2014 when the Iowa Women’s Basketball team opened Big Ten play ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Then, it was 23rd with two losses. Now, 25th and a single loss to a ranked Florida State team in November.
There is no saying how successful the season could end up being for the Hawkeyes. Past years have begun with few losses in the non-conference. With wins over Quinnipiac and Western Kentucky, who both rank in the RPI’s 20 to 30 range, Iowa’s resume speaks for itself. This season has very special potential.
“You always are optimistic, hoping you’re going to be 12-1 at this point,” Head Coach Lisa Bluder said. “We knew the Florida State game was definitely going to be a challenge. We knew Iowa State there was definitely going to be a challenge. We thought the rest of our games were very winnable.”
“I’m really happy that we are 12-1. These guys have worked really hard.”
None has a bigger impact than junior Megan Gustafson thus far. Ranking eight nationally in both points-per-game and rebounds-per-game, she is averaging a double-double on the season. Her 22.2 point average trails only national leader, Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, in the Big Ten.
Gustafson has recorded twelve double-doubles in 13 games, numbers matched by only one other player. Coming up one rebound short, the loss to Florida State is the only game without one.
B1G Play Opens This Week
Behind Gustafson, the Big Ten season presents promising opportunities for the Hawkeyes.
Thursday marks the Big Ten opener in Madison against conference rival Wisconsin (7-6). Iowa won their only matchup a year ago by 11 in Iowa City. The Badgers, currently ranked 140th in the RPI, are exactly the team to start a conference season with.
Wisconsin averages just under 67 point-per-game while giving up slightly above 64 points. It’s safe to say the Badgers score will be somewhere in that range. On the flip side, Iowa averages 83 points-per-game and has scored over 80 in their three games against the RPI Top-40.
The plan, post-holiday season, is to start practice back the day following Christmas before hitting the road bound for Madison. It will be a quick turn around to squeeze an extra conference game in before the new year. A ranked Michigan squad will come to Iowa City on New Year’s Eve with tip-off at 3pm.
What’s to Come for Iowa
Only three teams remain on the schedule that have appeared in the AP Top-25, Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan. It isn’t completely crazy to think that Iowa could finish the year with 25 wins. That would mean a high seed, possibly top-three, in the NCAA Tournament as well.
The first three conference games will be a testament to where the season can go. After Wisconsin, a ranked Michigan and Maryland are on the docket. The season is essentially brand new at this point, everyone in the Big Ten starts with a clean conference slate and a chance at the regular season title. Iowa can be in that conversation. It’s something Iowa hasn’t won since 2008.
Wait a few weeks and talk of a run for a conference tournament title might be in order. 2001 was the last Hawkeye conference tournament title. That might be premature talk but in complete honesty, anything is possible with this group.