Iowa returns a ton of experience from last year’s 24-8 squad. 4 of 5 starters return, along with 7 of the team’s top 8 minutes earners from last year. That wealth of experience is a large part of the reason Iowa is projected to finish 2nd in the conference. Below is a breakdown of the returning players for Iowa this year, and the role I expect them to play.
Megan Gustafson: 27.5 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2 bpg, 67% fg, 80.6% ft
We start with Iowa’s best player, and arguably the best player in the entire country. Megan Gustafson isn’t the tallest post. She isn’t the fastest or strongest either. But a combination of a high basketball IQ and a phenomenal work ethic makes her one of the best rebounders in the nation. She’s also an excellent free throw shooter, and has a big impact defensively.
But what truly makes her elite is her shooting in the post. Simply put, Megan is the best post scorer that I’ve ever seen, man or woman. She has an array of post moves, and uses them to routinely beat double teams and collapsing defenses. Even in traffic, when she puts up a shot, you should expect that it’ll go in. Her 67% field goal percentage is absolutely ridiculous. So much so, that it makes her the most efficient scorer in the nation. Enjoy this final season of her Hawk fans, we’ll never see her likes again.
Role: Team star. Megan will be on the floor as much as she’s able this year, and she’ll be the focal point of the team’s offense for most of it.
Kathleen Doyle: 11.1 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.7 rpg, 34.7% from 3, 68% ft
Though Gustafson is Iowa’s undisputed star, Kathleen Doyle is a very good second option. The junior guard impacts the game in multiple facets; she might score 20 points and dish 10 assists one game, then completely shut down the other team’s best scoring guard the next. She also does a good job grabbing rebounds, and has become a consistent threat from behind the 3 point line. Doyle’s all-around contributions earned her pre-season Big Ten All Conference honors this year from the Coaches and the Media.
Unfortunately, Doyle’s season will get off to a slow start because of an injury that will keep her sidelined 4-6 weeks. Getting her back to 100% will be a big factor in whether this Iowa team will be able to meet, or surpass, its lofty expectations.
Role: All-around guard. Last year, after Tania Davis went down with her ACL injury, Doyle became the team’s primary point guard. She responded well to that, and will likely play point guard a fair amount this year. Davis’ return will take some of the ball-handling pressure off of her, however. If healthy, I expect her to score more this year, and to have a bigger impact defensively.
Makenzie Meyer: 10.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 37.8% from 3, 91% ft
Makenzie Meyer is a shooter. It’s been what she’s known for best since she was in sixth or seventh grade. Last year, though, Meyer became more of a well-rounded offensive threat. She still shot well from 3, but also improved at finding open teammates and in driving to the basket. In the off-season, she’s worked on expanding her offensive game even further, adding a mid-range jumper and working to not lose confidence when her shot isn’t falling.
Role: Scoring wing. I’ve previously detailed how important 3 point shooting is to Iowa’s chances this year. Meyer’s development as a shooter and scorer will be important to ensuring that the offense is balanced so that teams can’t focus too much on Gustafson in the post.
Tania Davis: 9.7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.2 rpg, 41% from 3, 84% ft
When healthy, Davis has had a tremendous impact on Iowa as a team. She’s a good ball handler, doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers, and might be Iowa’s best 3 point threat. Despite usually being the shortest player on the floor, she’s also very good at driving by defenders and making circus layups. Iowa coaches and players frequently mention how important she is to the team.
The problem for Davis is that she isn’t always healthy. She’s lost a major portion of her last two seasons to torn ACLs. This year, she returns again from injury hoping to have a full senior season. It seems she’s healthy enough to play from the beginning of the season now, though it may take some time before she’s back to 100 percent.
Role: Adding balance. In a previous article, I detailed how Davis’ presence helps Iowa’s offense stay balanced in terms of shooting 3s vs. relying on post scoring. She also gives Iowa a third solid ball-handler in the starting lineup. A full, healthy season from her is necessary for Iowa to reach its full potential.
Alexis Sevillian: 8.7 ppg, 36.9% from 3, 85.7% ft
For the first half of last season, Sevillian looked like a revelation. She was Iowa’s second leading scorer, despite coming off the bench, and was knocking down 3s and a high rate. Then, once she was forced into a starting role due to Davis’ injury, she struggled. Her shot wasn’t falling, and she wasn’t able to have a significant impact otherwise. There were some games where it was hard to recall that she was on the floor at all, despite playing 25+ minutes.
The best explanation for Sevillian’s rough second half is that she ran out of gas as the season wore on. A college schedule is more difficult than what athletes are used to in high school, and Sevillian didn’t get to fully experience that during her redshirt season the year before. But her difficult finish shouldn’t take away from what was a successful season. Sevillian is a good shooter, and has the potential to be a great scorer for Iowa in the coming years. Now, she needs to work on consistency over the course of the season.
Role: 6th woman/spot starter. Ideally, Sevillian would be the first woman off the bench for Iowa. She excelled in that role last year, and provides quality minutes at each of Iowa’s three guard spots. But Doyle’s injury will force her into the starting lineup, at least initially. Further injuries might see her there permanently.
Hannah Stewart: 7.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 49% fg, 64% ft
Last season, Stewart was Iowa’s primary backup post. She substituted for both Gustafson, and Iowa’s only departed starter, Chase Coley. As such, she played a lot of minutes and is very familiar with sharing the floor with Gustafson.
Stewart is a solid post player in her own right, and she would’ve probably started for a lot of Big Ten teams last year. She’s good at grabbing rebounds, getting into good positions offensively, and scores the ball fairly well down low.
Role: Post wing-woman. Gustafson is going to be double teamed a lot this year. Those double teams should free up space for Stewart on the opposite block for wide open layups. Iowa also has one post feed the other more than most teams I’ve seen. Either way, Gustafson and Stewart should combine for plenty of baskets in the upcoming season.
Amanda Ollinger: 3.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 41.5% fg, 19.6% from 3, 46.7% ft
Ollinger is a versatile wing. She has the body of a post, but is athletic enough to play out on the wing and to dribble the ball up court if needed. Her size gives her a significant rebounding advantage, and also allows her to shoot well from in close.
Role: This is my first real role question. Last year, Ollinger was the second wing off the bench, and was 8th on the team in minutes. It’d be easy to peg her in that same second wing off the bench role this year. But I’m not entirely sure that’s the role she’ll fill. At least not all the time.
Stewart’s move into the starting lineup as the second post leaves Iowa without a backup post with significant experience. The best parts of Ollinger’s game, meanwhile, are traits needed in a post (rebounding, scoring in the paint, size). I don’t think she can play center, but I could see Ollinger filling a “stretch 4” role that Ally Disterhoft occupied two years ago. It would help her get more minutes while not putting an inexperienced player in too big a role.
Paula Valino Ramos
Ramos was a late addition to Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class. Last year, she primarily played in games already out of reach as she adjusted to the college game. She didn’t get enough minutes for me to say with any certainty what areas of her game are best.
Role: Same? As mentioned, Iowa has an opening in their rotation for a backup post. Ramos could theoretically fill that. In Iowa’s exhibition victory over Dakota Wesleyan, however, Ramos still only got minutes in the second half once the game was out of reach. It doesn’t appear likely that she’ll fill the backup post role.
Like Ramos, Sanders spent much of the season adjusting to college basketball on the bench. Late in the year, though, injuries forced her into the lineup as a backup. When she played, she didn’t look completely out of her element, though she didn’t contribute much on the offensive end. Coach Bluder has said the biggest development in a player happens between her freshman and sophomore year, so we’ll see what Sanders can do this year.
Role: I don’t expect Sanders to be any higher than the third guard/wing off the bench, and she’ll have to beat out a couple freshmen for that spot.
Depth was an issue for Iowa last year, but I don’t expect it to be this year without significant injuries. Iowa returns 4 players with solid experience at point guard (Davis, Doyle, Meyer, and Sevillian, and 5 players who can play on the wing (the previous 4 plus Ollinger). They also have two very experienced senior posts (Gustafson and Stewart), and Ollinger may be able to chip in as a Stretch 4, too. These players will make up the core of what should be a very good, and exciting, team this season. In my next post, I’ll share what I know about Iowa’s 4 incoming freshman, and I’ll take a guess at how they’ll add to Iowa’s depth this season.