Coming into the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa was projected as a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament by the Selection Committee. It seemed clear that one victory in the tournament would be enough to secure Iowa a 4-seed or better. Last night’s game against Northwestern was far from pretty, but it got the job done—Iowa secured a relatively comfortable 72-59 victory.
Now the question is: can Iowa do more? With a win in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal over Nebraska, Iowa could jump up to a 3-seed. Win the Big Ten Championship tomorrow, and with some help around the country, a 2-seed might even be possible.
The difference between a 4-seed and a 2- or 3-seed is huge. If you are a 2- or 3-seed you will be a fairly big favorite in the first two tournament games. You also should have a decent chance of winning your Sweet 16 game, because the best team you could play would be fairly close to you in talent.
As a 4-seed, you are still a favorite in the first two games, but the opponents are better. You would also likely run into the number 1 seed in the Sweet 16. In women’s basketball the top few teams are generally head and shoulders better than all others. Beating one of them in the Sweet 16 is usually a difficult task.
So to make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament realistic, Iowa needed to keep on winning.
The semifinal game started like a typical Iowa-Nebraska track meet. Nebraska led 16-13 at the first media timeout. The Huskers were consistently beating Iowa guards off the dribble, and were getting plenty of layups at the basket as a result. In the last half of the quarter, the pace stayed fast, but both teams struggled to make shots. Nebraska took a 20-17 lead into the second quarter. Iowa had six turnovers in the first quarter.
In the early second quarter Iowa struggled significantly on offense. The Hawks still turned it over some, but they were also missing three-pointers and shots around the basket. Iowa’s saving grace was its defense. The Hawks did better at keeping Nebraska out of the paint, and the Huskers missed several shots as well. Nebraska had a narrow 28-25 lead at the media timeout.
Out of the timeout, Clark hit two free throws, nailed a three, and added an assist to Addison O’Grady, which gave Iowa a 32-28 lead. Nebraska came right back with two quick baskets and a free throw and retook the lead at 33-32. The teams kept battling back and forth from there, and Iowa took a 38-35 lead into halftime.
In the first half of the third quarter, Iowa’s offense finally started to roll. Monika Czinano dominated in the paint. Clark started attacking the basket and making her shots. Nebraska also made some tough shots, but Iowa extended its lead to 50-43. The offense kept on going after the timeout, and Iowa quickly pushed the lead to 59-47 before Nebraska called timeout. The teams went back and forth in the final couple minutes, but a Clark three just before the buzzer gave Iowa a 66-53 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter the Caitlin Clark show rolled on, and Iowa pushed its lead to 73-56 before another Nebraska timeout. Nebraska briefly went on a run and cut Iowa’s lead to 12, but Clark responded with a basket and the game was over. Iowa closed out an 83-66 victory.
Clark led Iowa with 41 points and 9 rebounds. She also had nine turnovers and missed a ton of shots early, but honestly who cares? She overcame a rough start and complete dominated the last three quarters of the game to lead Iowa to another big victory.
Czinano had 22 points on 9/11 shooting. She again dominated Nebraska’s defense when she got position in the low post. Kate Martin just missed double-digits in scoring, but did have 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. She’s playing her best basketball right now and has been huge for the team. Addison O’Grady had four blocks in the first half, and changed the game defensively at a time when Iowa was struggling on offense. A box score is here.
Iowa returns to action tomorrow at 3 PM CT in the Big Ten Championship game against Indiana. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.
The Hoosiers are 22-7 on the season, and were 11-5 in the Big Ten regular season. Iowa beat Indiana 96-91 in Bloomington, then won the rematch 88-82 in Iowa City.
Both games were very different. In the game in Bloomington, Iowa jumped out to a 20+ point lead and held it most of the way. Indiana then made a furious fourth quarter rally and got to within four points, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback. The game in Iowa City was much closer, and the teams went back and forth before Iowa sealed it late.
Indiana has played better basketball this week, though, beating both Maryland and Ohio State. A big part of that is that Indiana’s star post Mackenzie Holmes was just back from injury when Indiana played Iowa twice. She’s had more time to recover now, and is starting to look more like herself.
Like today’s game, fatigue could play a big role in the championship game. Indiana will be playing its fourth game in four days, and normally doesn’t play many players on its bench.
NCAA Tournament Update
In ESPN’s Bracketology this morning, Iowa was up to a 3-seed. Previous 3-seeds Maryland and Arizona had dropped down to 4-seeds due to their losses in their first conference tournament games. It also looked like Iowa was ranked as a higher 3-seed than Tennessee and Michigan. The Wolverines had also lost their first conference tournament game, but Tennessee had won, albeit against an Alabama team that is unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament.
This morning, I was somewhat skeptical that Iowa would jump all of those teams in the eyes of the Committee. The Northwestern win alone really didn’t add a ton to Iowa’s resume. While the losses likely hurt Arizona, Maryland, and Michigan, were they really enough to justify putting Iowa over all of those teams?
With the Nebraska win now I feel more confident in saying Iowa will jump Maryland, Arizona, and Michigan. Tennessee just lost to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, so Iowa will very likely jump them as well.
Of those teams, the Wolverines probably have the best chance of staying ahead of Iowa because they were a 2-seed in Monday’s Committee reveal. But their loss to Nebraska wasn’t great, and it’s hard to keep them ahead of Iowa after the Hawkeyes just blew them out and blew out the Nebraska team that beat them in the conference tournament.
In terms of teams that could pass Iowa from behind, Indiana is really the only option. The Hoosiers have gone on a nice run, and if they beat Iowa in the conference championship, they would likely jump the Hawkeyes for seeding purposes.
So what does all that mean?
If Iowa loses to Indiana... I think the Hawks will be a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will likely finish as the 10th or 11th overall seed depending on how Texas does in the Big 12 Tournament and whether UConn gets upset in the Big East Tournament.
If Iowa beats Indiana... then things really get interesting. The Hawks should be no worse than the 10th overall team at that point. Could they go higher? I think it’s possible.
LSU was the 7th overall seed in the Committee’s reveal, and since has a loss to projected NCAA Tournament 9-seed Kentucky. Would Big Ten Champion Iowa with three additional wins on its resume jump LSU? It seems possible.
UConn was 9th in the Committee’s reveal, and might not play another NCAA Tournament team in the Big East Tournament. If the Huskies somehow lost, Iowa would likely jump them.
Then there are two Big 12 teams. Texas was 10th in the Committee reveal and since then has wins over Kansas (a projected 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament) and Oklahoma State (a non-tournament team). If the Longhorns lose in their first conference tournament game, I think Iowa could jump them. Iowa might even be able to jump them if they lose in the semifinal, though that is less certain.
Finally, there is Iowa State. The Cyclones were #6 in the Committee’s reveal, but got blasted by Baylor the same night. The Cyclones have since beaten West Virginia, a non-tournament team. If the Cyclones were to lose in their first conference tournament game, I think it is possible that Iowa could jump them too.
In sum, if Iowa defeats Indiana tomorrow, it likely only needs to jump two of LSU, UConn, Texas, and Iowa State to be a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Go Iowa Awesome!