Fresh off their two biggest wins of the season -- a win over #17 Maryland and then a 2OT thriller over #12 Indiana -- Iowa women's basketball received their latest bit of recognition: a spot in the AP Top 25 at #22. Iowa was a fixture in the Top 25 last season, but hadn't made it back inside the rankings this season despite winning six of seven before last week. After Iowa beat two of the Big Ten's leading title contenders, though, and established themselves as significant Big Ten title contenders as well, there was no way for the pollsters to continue overlooking them.
AP Top 25
|1||South Carolina (20)||16-1||737|
Iowa moved up four spots in the rankings, from outside the rankings (they were third in the "others receiving votes" category last week, which really puts them more like #28 than #26, but hey) to #22. Only one team made a bigger jump in this week's rankings -- Arizona State, who jumped from the others receiving votes category (where there were seven teams between them and the Top 25 last week) all the way up to #18. The Sun Devils made that big leap after producing one of the Best Weeks Ever by beating then-#2 Oregon on Friday and then toppling then-#3 Oregon State on Sunday. If you beat two Top 3 teams in the same week, I think you deserve to be in the Top 20.
Those upsets -- plus #1 UConn getting trounced by then-#6 Baylor -- led to plenty of change at the top of the rankings. South Carolina is the new #1, followed by Baylor and Stanford, with UConn and Louisville closing out the Top 5. The Pac-12 retains a stranglehold on the bottom half of the Top 10, with Oregon, UCLA, and Oregon State at 6-7-8 in the new rankings, followed by NC State and Mississippi State. This is shaping up to be a very wacky year in women's basketball.
Iowa is the third of the three Big Ten teams ranked, trailing Indiana at #15 and Maryland at #20. There's some argument for ranking Indiana ahead of Iowa -- Iowa only narrowly beat the Hoosiers at home; the Hoosiers have better non-conference wins (they're the only team to beat South Carolina so far this season, and they also beat then-ranked Miami); they also have better losses (Indiana's three losses are to Baylor, UCLA, and Iowa, all ranked teams. The Hoosiers are also 9th in the current RPI standings, one spot ahead of Iowa. The argument for ranking Maryland ahead of Iowa seems more spurious, though -- Maryland's best wins are two conference wins over then-ranked Michigan, and while two of their four losses are understandable (South Carolina, NC State), they also got obliterated by Northwestern. They're also ranked 24th in the current RPI standings, 14 spots behind the Hawkeyes. Granted, the gap between Maryland and Iowa in the rankings is narrow -- the Terps are #20 and the Hawkeyes are #22 -- but it still seems to speak more to the power of the Maryland brand in women's hoops than anything they've done this season.
In other news, Iowa scored their two biggest wins of the season and jumped all the way from a #5 seed in ESPN's mock bracket to... a #5 seed in ESPN's latest mock bracket. It's disappointing that those two big wins -- and Iowa's status as a Top 10 RPI team -- didn't move the needle more when it comes to their bracket position. Getting a top 4 seed (and the possibility of two home games) this year could be crucial for Iowa. With a weird, parity-riddled field, home court advantage could be huge, especially for a team like Iowa that's been so outstanding at home (30 straight wins at Carver-Hawkeye Arena). The Big Ten as a whole doesn't seem to have much juice in the bracketology world this season, though -- the top-seeded team from the league is Indiana with a #4 seed. Iowa's the next highest seed at #5, followed by Northwestern (6), Rutgers (7), Ohio State (8), Maryland (8), Purdue (9), Michigan (10), and Nebraska (11). Iowa will just need to keep winning and hope that eventually their body of work enables them to move up the seeding ladder. (Ed. Note: Iowa is a 4-seed in the latest mock bracket from College Sports Madness.)
For now, though, it's great to see Iowa in the Top 25 for the first time all season. It's a more than just reward for a team that's been much better than anyone expected before the year. Iowa women's basketball was supposed to be rebuilding this year -- instead they've just reloaded and are back where they were last season, vying for a Big Ten championship and a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There's a word for that: awesome.