Few teams in women's basketball have been as hot as the Hawkeyes have over the last few weeks, making a run to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament and winning eight of their last 11 games (and two of the three games they lost in that stretch were to Maryland, the Big Ten's regular season and tournament champions).
Monday night Iowa was rewarded for that red-hot run of form with a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a first round match-up against #12 seed Central Michigan (Sunday, 11 AM CT, ESPN).
The #4 seed in their mini-pod is Kentucky (17-8 overall, 9-6 SEC), facing #13 seed Idaho State. Should Iowa make it to the Sweet 16, mighty UConn would likely be awaiting for them as the #1 seed in the region. Gulp.
Like the men's tournament, the women's NCAA Tournament is being held at a variety of sites in a single location -- San Antonio, TX. All of the regions in the bracket were named for San Antonio landmarks (Alamo, River Walk, Mercado, and Hemisfair). Iowa is in the River Walk region and will play their opening game in the venerable Alamodome.
Iowa received the third-highest seed among the seven Big Ten teams that earned bids to the NCAA Tournament (tied for the second-most of any conference behind the ACC's eight bids), despite finishing sixth in the regular season conference standings. Credit that late-season surge; Iowa's upset win over then-#12 Michigan was big, as were their back-to-back Big Ten Tournament wins over Rutgers and Michigan State, both Quadrant 1 victories that boosted an Iowa resume lacking in big-time results until late in the season.
Central Michigan has also been on a hot streak lately; the Chippewas went 18-8 overall this season and 13-6 in the MAC, finishing second to Bowling Green in the regular season standings. But the Chips won five in a row to end the year (and 8 of their last 10 games), including three straight wins in the MAC Tournament to claim the league's auto-bid, toppling Bowling Green in the championship game, 77-72.
This will be Iowa's third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament (though it would have been four in a row had there been an NCAA Tournament last season, as Iowa was poised to be a #4 seed in that event) and Iowa's 15th trip to the Big Dance overall in Lisa Bluder's 20 seasons in charge. That's quite a hit rate when it comes to making the tournament. The #5 seed is the fourth best seed Iowa has received under Bluder, trailing the #2 seed in 2019 (when Iowa advanced to the Elite 8), a #3 seed in 2016 (made it to the Sweet 16), and a #4 seed in 2001 (made it to the second round). Not bad for what was widely viewed as a rebuilding year for the Iowa program.
There will be plenty of hype around a UConn-Iowa game if both teams should make it to the Sweet 16, as both teams are led by superstar freshmen in Caitlin Clark for Iowa, the nation's leading scorer, and Paige Bueckers for UConn, a freshman All-American who led the Huskies in scoring and assists. But that game is still just a tantalizing possibility at this point -- Iowa will need to take care of business against Central Michigan and Kentucky (or Idaho State) in order to make that possibility a reality. (UConn would also need to win two games, of course, but c'mon -- they're UConn.) Here's to hoping this very fun Iowa team has several more games left in them this season.