Thus far, the Iowa women's basketball team has exceeded expectations for the 2019-2020 season. The Hawks currently sit at 10-3 (1-1 in the Big Ten), and were projected as a 6 seed in ESPN's latest Bracketology.
While the start of the year has been good, the rest of it could be a challenge. As many as 11 Big Ten teams have a realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament. And while that means no conference loss should dent Iowa's resume too badly, it also means that wins will be hard to come by. That every game will be a fight.
The next four games in particular will be tough, as Iowa matches up against arguably the four best teams in the conference. Maryland, Indiana, and Minnesota rank #12, #14, and #24 respectively in the latest AP Poll, and Northwestern just beat that Maryland team 81-58 on Tuesday.
But before Iowa faces that brutal stretch, let's take a look at the team's nine rotational players and how they've fared thus far this season. Team stats so far are available here if you'd like to take a look before reading further.
Doyle has been the same player she’s always been this season, though with more involvement offensively. At her best, she can score in a variety of ways: she’s good at getting to the basket, can hit pull-up jumpers, and can knock down open threes. She’s also great at finding open teammates and racking up assists. Finally, she plays really good defense and often forces turnovers or gets into opponent’s heads. The one downside of her aggressive playing style is turnovers. Too often, she tries to force a pass to a teammate that isn’t quite open, and the result is a turnover of some sort. Or she dribbles into trouble and travels. Even with the turnovers, Doyle is an All-Big Ten player. But if she could cut down on them while leading Iowa on a conference run, she could get herself into fringe conference player of the year discussion.
Meyer has taken a step this year from three-point specialist to all around scorer. And she’s done that while seeing more of a defensive focus with the graduation of Megan Gustafson, Hannah Stewart, and Tania Davis. Even better, Meyer is shooting 42.5% from three in the process. She looks more comfortable and confident than she ever has in her final college season.
Czinano has easily been the biggest surprise of Iowa’s season. As a freshman, she saw regular minutes as Gustafson’s backup, but didn’t play enough to truly show her skill. Turns out, she nearly as good at finishing in the low post as Gustafson was. Czinano’s 72.3% field goal percentage leads the nation, and she averages over nine shots per game. And if Gustafson is any indication, Czinano will get even better at positioning in the coming years, meaning she’ll likely take more shots while maintaining a similar percentage from the floor. As good as Czinano has been offensively, her defense and rebounding are still works in progress. Defensively, she isn’t the best at rotating, and isn’t much of a shot-blocking threat. She averages only 5.3 rebounds per game, which is just over half a rebound more than Doyle. For Iowa to reach its ceiling both this year and in the future, Czinano will have to become a better defender and rebounder at the center position.
The good news for Iowa this year is that Ollinger excels at defense and rebounding. She’s done both well for a couple years now, and those skills helped her earn a role in the rotation on some very good Iowa teams. This year, she’s taken her game to another level, all while playing starter minutes for the first time in her career. Ollinger is one of the unsung heroes of this Iowa team.
It’s fair to say it’s been a disappointing season for Sevillian. Thus far, she’s averaging only 6.4 points per game, and shooting only 34% from three. Sevillian is a streaky shooter. When she’s confident, she will knock down threes and not hesitate to shoot more of them. When she’s struggling, she rarely shoots and sometimes disappears from games entirely. Though it doesn’t always show in box scores, her experience has also been helpful this season. Against Princeton in particular, she had a couple big moments that helped Iowa steal the game in overtime.
Warnock has had a very good start to her college career. She’s shooting 56% from the floor, and an astonishing 62.5% from three. She’s also averaging nearly 4 rebounds per game, which is close to Ollinger’s rate when you account for the difference in minutes per game. Offensively, Warnock is already Iowa’s most versatile weapon. She is as tall as a post, as athletic as most small forwards, and shoots like a guard. She should probably get more minutes than she already does, and probably would except for Ollinger doing so well in the areas that Czinano is weakest in. When Ollinger graduates, Warnock will slot into the starting lineup as the starting 4, and will likely hold that spot the rest of her career. She has All-Big Ten upside.
Marshall has had an up and down start to her Iowa career. Early in the year, she had multiple double-digit scoring efforts and looked like Iowa’s best three-point shooter. That shooting has cooled off more recently, though, and she has made her fair share of freshman mistakes. Still, she’s generally the first or second player off Iowa’s bench, and averages over 20 minutes per game. Moving forward, I’d like to see Marshall attack the basket more. She’s a legitimate three-point threat already, but if she doesn’t show she can attack the basket, teams will start guarding her tighter. I’d also like to see her take more risks defensively. She has good instincts for getting steals, but doesn’t risk enough for them quite yet. Otherwise, this is a learning year for her. She’ll be asked to do more in future years after Doyle and Meyer graduate.
This was an important year for Taiwo. With a couple good guards in this year’s freshman class and more on the way next year, she had to prove that she deserved a role in Iowa’s rotation. Thus far, she’s done just that. Taiwo came to Iowa with the reputation as a shooter, and so far she’s done well in that regard. Her three-point shooting against Iowa State, in particular, made the difference in a tight road victory. Taiwo is also really athletic, and has the potential to be a good defender when she gets better at rotations and reading the game. I’m not sure she’ll ever be a starter, but she should have a role in Iowa’s rotation both this year and in years to come.
It’s been a tough start to the year for Martin. Early on, she looked like she might be Iowa’s sixth woman this year, but has seen her minutes decline significantly over the course of the season. Martin is decent in a lot of areas, but not great in any of them. Marshall, for example, is a better shooter. Taiwo is a better, more athletic, defender. The key for Martin moving forward will be to not give up after this setback. Iowa will need a player who does a bunch of things well in the future. And with Doyle, Meyer, and Ollinger set to graduate, there will be minutes available. It's her job to prove to the coaching staff that she deserves those minutes going forward.
There's been plenty of good to take away from Iowa's start to the season. The Hawks are well positioned to make another NCAA Tournament, and have a solid core to build on moving forward. Ollinger and Meyer have taken a step in their senior seasons, and Doyle looks as good as ever in an expanded role. Czinano and Warnock look like future stars of the team after this year’s seniors graduate. Marshall, Taiwo, and Martin should also play important roles in Iowa teams to come.