Iowa Cracks Top 10 in AP Rankings For First Time Since 1996; Gustafson Wins POTW Again

By RossWB on February 19, 2019 at 8:00 am
go hawks go

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Fresh off a momentous win over Maryland that gave them a share of the Big Ten lead, Lisa Bluder's Iowa Hawkeyes hit some rarefied air in the rankings, too: they jumped from #14 in the AP rankings to #10 in this week's AP poll. How rare is that air? Well, how's this: Iowa hasn't been ranked in the AP Top 10 in over 20 years. 

Iowa was last ranked in the Top 10 during the 1996-97 season when they were #9 in the December 2, 1996 poll. They actually began that year ranked #6 in the initial poll, but a forgettable 4-4 start to the season sent them crashing out of the poll, never to return that season. Iowa finished 18-12 overall that year. This year seems much more promising, frankly. 

Cracking the Top 10 for the first time under Lisa Bluder and the first time overall in 23 years is a tremendous achievement, though, and another great indication of how special this Iowa team seems to be. Bluder has had some very good Iowa teams in her 19 (!) years in charge in Iowa City (I'd rank her 26-8 team that made the Sweet 16 in 2014-15 as the best of the lot so far), but this one is rapidly climbing the list of her best squads. 

Obviously, a big reason (the biggest reason) for this special season is the presence of one Megan Gustafson, who continues to dominate the Big Ten like few (if any) Iowa players in any sport in recent memory. After guiding Iowa to wins over Illinois and Maryland last week, Gustafson was -- surprise! -- named Big Ten Player of the Week again.

She earned the honor for the 12th time this season and for the 22nd time in her career. Both of those figures are Big Ten records, so she's just putting those records even further out of reach. 

This week in What Did Megan Gustafson Do? She averaged 29 points and 17 rebounds, while shooting 65.5% from the floor and 87% from the free throw line. Gustafson was lights out in Iowa's rout of Illinois, going for 27 points (on 9/11 shooting from the field and the free throw line) and 17 rebounds. She was even better against Maryland on Sunday; in Iowa's biggest game of the year, Gustafson had 31 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks to lead Iowa to an enormous win. She did most of her damage in the second half as well, scoring 24 points and 13 rebounds in the final 20 minutes of action. 

Gustafson continues to lead the nation in scoring (27.3 ppg, a full 2.0 ppg better than the second-leading scorer) and field goal percentage (70.9%), while ranking second in double doubles (23) and fourth in rebounds per game (13.0 rpg). So, yes: by averaging 29 and 17 last week Gustafson actually exceeded her already gaudy scoring and rebounding averages this season. She was already playing brilliantly, but she's actually been playing better over the last few weeks, as the games get more and more important. Nothing like a great player who finds a way to be even greater when the spotlight shines brightest. 

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