Big Ten Women's Basketball Preview: No. 3 Iowa
Year two of Caitlin Clark should lead to something special
This is the 10th of an ongoing series of previews for all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-22 season. This is the eighth full preview of one team, and focuses on my projected No. 3 team in the conference.
Last year’s record: 11-8 Big Ten | 20-10 Overall
Halfway through last season, Iowa looked like it could miss the NCAA Tournament entirely. The Hawkeyes sat at 10-6, with all six of their losses coming against Big Ten opponents.
Instead, Iowa came out of the rough start and became one of the best teams in the conference late in the season, only marginally improving in record (10-4 in last 14 games), but while making runs to the Big Ten tournament final, and then to the Sweet 16. The team’s only losses after those first six were to UConn, Maryland (twice) and Indiana: a No. 1 seed, a No. 2 seed and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawkeyes managed to make this turnaround without playing a lick of defense. Iowa scored 86.1 points per game, second best in the NCAA. Iowa allowed 80.3 points per game, the most of any team in the NCAA.
This team knew it could score more than you, and that knowledge meant, to them, that defense was simply time wasted in order to get the ball back and score points again. It is a dynamic that allowed for them to put up 93 points on the Terrapins and still lose by 18.
Iowa’s success last year lived or dive behind the arc, something that might not be considered as sustainable at the college level. If the Hawkeyes were a good, not great three-point shooting team, I think this could be the case. Say they shot 35 percent from three, tied for No. 46 in the NCAA. That feels like a number you can’t consistently rely on.
What about 36 percent? Maybe 37 percent? How about 40.8 percent from three on 23.6 attempts per game, the most efficient three-point shooting team in college basketball. Iowa scored so much because it was nearly impossible to stop them from chucking away at will. Now, I must introduce you to who was the main culprit.
Caitlin Clark was my personal vote for Big Ten Player of the Year. Naz Hillmon is exceptional at what she does, but Clark’s monstrous performance as a true freshman was jaw dropping.
Paige Bueckers stole all the headlines in her freshman season, and understandably so. First off, Bueckers is on perennial powerhouse UConn and was one of the most talked about high school prospects in recent memory. But further than that, she was dominant, averaging 20.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while being remarkably efficient (52.4 FG%, 46.4 3PT%, 86.9 FT%) in every phase of the game.
But for everything that Bueckers did for the No. 1 overall team in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament, Clark topped for a team scrapping to simply get a decent seed in the tournament.
Clark led the country in points per game and was third in assists per game. She finished with 116 three-pointers made, most in the NCAA, and shot 40.6 percent from deep. She put up highlight after highlight after highlight and is the closest thing women’s college basketball has to Stephen Curry.
Before I move on, let me just drop the Kentucky highlight tape. I recommend you watch.
Clark, however, is not alone on this team in the slightest. Monika Czinano is the perfect pairing for Clark as a terrific post player that can work it inside for two at an incredibly consistent clip.
Czinano is a lot like Hillmon: At 6-3, she is taller, but not a towering presence, yet she finds open space and is one of the most efficient players in the country around the rim, with her 66.8 field goal percentage ranking sixth in the NCAA.
Past those two, I think McKenna Warnock might be the most underrated player in the Big Ten. She is the third option behind Clark and Czinano, but was a lockdown three-point shooter, hitting 45.1 percent of her 113 attempts. She is also a tremendous rebounder, leading the team with 8.0 per game and is a more-than-capable passer with 3.1 assists per contest.
This is one of, if not the best big three in the conference, and are still bolstered by other returners Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin. Those five started every game they played in, and all of them are back for another year. Forward Sharon Goodman and guard Tomi Taiwo, the team’s top two scorers off the bench, are also both back.
Iowa should be a terror to stop, as its losses were not major ones.
There is some depth lost, sure, and Megan Meyer was another capable three-point shooter, but for the Hawkeyes to retain basically every significant piece off their production from 2020-21 is remarkable.
They are also bringing in some added help.
Iowa is getting Kylie Feuerbach from across the Iowa State rivalry, and she brings some added experience as a consistent starter for the Cyclones last season. Her rebounding should also be a boost, as the Hawkeyes were not especially good in that category last season (10th in Big Ten in rebounds per game).
Adding two top 100 forwards should also help with that. A.J. Ediger averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds in her junior season, while Addison O’Grady tallied 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a night for her state champion high school team.
Sydney Affolter can help with what Iowa has already done well: shoot. She was a two-time qualifier for her state’s three-point contest, and the more the Hawkeyes can find volume shooters to help Clark get even more space, the higher this team’s ceiling gets.
Speaking of ceiling, it’s hard to put one on Iowa this year. If Clark improves at all, if Czinano or Warnock improve at all, Iowa should be back in the Sweet 16 without question.
This is a team that no one should want to face, as it has the weapons to shoot you out of the gym at moment’s notice. I can’t wait to watch.
Two. More. Next week, we will look at the No. 2 ranked team for the Big Ten preview. Before that, I will have a new post on a random topic for you on Thursday.
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