Right now, the name most synonymous to Big Ten women's basketball is the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Caitlin Clark, and for good reason. The dynamic guard is outstanding and led the Hawkeyes to a regular season co-championship and conference tournament title. Now they’re ranked in the top-5 to start the 2022-23 season.
To help preview teams across the conference, Land-Grant Holy Land’s talking with folks who cover Ohio State women’s basketball’s biggest opponents to see what this season holds. Bartt Pierce writes for Black Heart Gold Pants on SB Nation. Pierce discusses the aforementioned Clark, if their early NCAA Tournament exit was a fluke and where he sees the team in the standings at the end of the season.
Land-Grant Holy Land: The Hawkeyes had a big 2021-22 season. They won a share of the regular season title and swept Indiana in three games, including in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament. Is the Creighton NCAA Tournament upset a fluke, or is there a way to stop the Hawkeyes from repeating?
Black Heart Gold Pants: It is always difficult to repeat in sports. It seemed like the Hawks peaked too early last year. Both the men’s and women’s teams had success in the B1G Tourney only to fall flat on their face in the Big Dance.
Creighton played a great game and deserved to win more than Iowa. Also, an Iowa transfer was the one who hit the winning shot; a little extra salt in the wounds. My guess is that teams will try to beat Caitlin Clark up. Officials shouldn’t allow it as she is the face of women’s basketball, but if a crew allows an extra physical game it will negate some of Clark’s prowess.
LGHL: Iowa added one transfer in Central Michigan’s Molly Davis and three freshmen. Do any of the four have the potential to make an impact this year?
BHGP: Molly Davis is a player. The Hawkeyes faced her a few years ago in the NCAA tournament when she played for Central Michigan. She can score, distribute, rebound, and she has quick hands. Davis stands just 5’7” but she grabs many long rebounds with her hustle. She will be a big addition to this team from a depth standpoint.
Freshman Hannah Stuelke, 6’2” forward, scored 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting in Iowa’s exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney. This is a very veteran team; I would think it’s unheard of for a college team to have the same starting lineup for three consecutive years, but that’s what the Hawks are working with.
LGHL: The biggest roster transaction of the offseason wasn’t a transfer at all, but center Monika Czinano electing to return for a final season. Caitlin Clark earns the attention nationally, but how important is Czinano to this team? Does Iowa compete at a high level without her?
BHGP: Czinano is a bucket. She has great footwork in the post. She is very efficient. She has led the nation in field goal percentage the last two seasons. Iowa would definitely miss Monika. The other two centers on the roster, Sharon Goodman and Addison O’Grady are both sophomores and are not as accomplished offensively. Czinano improved her rebounding numbers last year. She is not overly athletic, but she positions herself well.
LGHL: Finally, what are your way-too-early predictions for where the Hawkeyes end on the final conference standings, and how far do they make it in the NCAA Tournament?
BHGP: As I stated earlier, having a target on your back is a real thing. There will be terrific B1G games and a few upsets. At the end of the day I would go with Iowa’s experience. As a former coach it’s hard to say this season won’t be a success if we don’t ____________________.
I think Iowa gets to the Elite Eight and after that anything can happen. I’m not convinced Iowa is good enough defensively or from a rebounding perspective to make a Final Four / win a national championship, but they will be a tough out in the tournament.