The non-conference portion of the 2022-23 schedule is set for the Iowa women's basketball team -- and Bluder's Bunch is set for some real doozies. Let's take a look.
|FRI 10/28/22||Nebraska-Kearney (exhibition)||Iowa City, IA|
|MON 11/7/22||Southern University||Iowa City, IA|
|THU 11/10/22||Evansville||Iowa City, IA|
|SUN 11/13/22||Drake||Des Moines, IA|
|THU 11/17/22||Kansas State||Manhattan, KS|
|SUN 11/20/22||Belmont||Iowa City, IA|
|FRI 11/25/22||Oregon State (Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament)||Portland, OR|
|SUN 11/27/22||Duke/UConn (Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament||Portland, OR|
|THU 12/1/22||NC State (Big Ten-ACC Challenge)||Iowa City, IA|
|WED 12/7/22||Iowa State (Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series)||Iowa City, IA|
|SUN 12/18/22||UNI||Iowa City, IA|
|WED 12/21/22||Dartmouth||Iowa City, IA|
Let's talk about these games a little bit:
Southern went 14-17 last year (7-11 in league play) and Evansville went 8-22 a year ago (2-16 in Valley games). These are the definition of tune-up games, to work out the kinks from the off-season, develop the rotations, and get some of the deeper bench players a little action.
The Drake and Kansas State games are interesting for a few reasons. One, they're the only true road games Iowa will play until Big Ten play gets underway, so those are the only two truly "hostile" environments Iowa is likely to see in the first two months of the season (though you can probably bet on plenty of Iowa fans showing up at the Knapp Center to watch Iowa play the Bulldogs. Drake was 20-14 a last year (9-9 in Valley games) and they've regularly been a solid mid-major team in recent years. They'll certainly try to play their best in a home game against the big bad in-state Hawkeyes, too. K-State went 20-13 last season (9-9 in Big XII games) and should at least give Iowa a taste of life on the road against a decent opponent.
But the meat of Iowa's non-conference schedule is definitely the two-week stretch starting with the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament games out in Portland, OR. These are the games that should really give us an early sense of how good this Iowa team could be -- and how they stack up against some of the top teams nationally. They're also going to be huge opportunities to score valuable wins for resume-building purposes come March.
Iowa opens with Oregon State on Black Friday in the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament; the Beavers were 17-14 last year (6-9 in Pac-12 action). I don't know what exactly they return this year or who they've added, but a loss in this game sure seems like it would feel pretty disappointing for Iowa. Whatever the result of that game, Iowa will play either Duke or UConn in the next game, on Sunday, November 27. If Iowa beats Oregon State, they'll play the winner of Duke/UConn; if they lose, they'll obviously face the loser of Duke/UConn.
Duke went 17-13 last year and 7-11 in ACC games; they've been a solid team (or better) in recent years, but I think it's fair to say it would be pretty surprising for them to knock off UConn. Iowa-UConn is a game that will have no shortage of buzz if it happens. They played one of the most-hyped Sweet 16 games in recent memory two seasons ago and ESPN has them pegged at 2 (UConn) and 6 (Iowa) in their most recent way-too-early Top 25 rankings. Of course, a lot of the hype around Iowa-UConn two years ago centered around the match-up between Caitlin Clark and UConn's Paige Bueckers; they were star freshmen point guards at the time who had taken the college basketball world by storm in their first season of action -- as well as longtime friends from the AAU circuit. That hype will be missing from a potential Iowa-UConn showdown this year, given Bueckers' unfortunate season-ending knee injury. Still: UConn will probably be a top-five team nationally even without Bueckers and they'll still be a tremendous challenge for Iowa. Bueckers or not, an Iowa win over UConn would be one of the program's biggest wins in a long, long time.
There's no breather after that possible UConn game, though -- Iowa's next game will be a home throwdown with NC State in this year's iteration of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. NC State was a dominant force last year (32-4 overall, 17-1 in the ACC) before dropping a 2OT thriller to UConn in the Elite 8. They're pegged to be pretty strong again this year; ESPN's early Top 25 slots them at #8 in the rankings. They should be another big-time test for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa's two-week gauntlet wraps up with a game that will have big-time national interest -- and a lot of local animosity and bragging rights. Iowa hosts Iowa State in the annual Cy-Hawk game on Wednesday, December 7. Iowa State ended Iowa's five-game winning streak in the series last year en route to 28-7 overall record and a 14-4 mark in the Big XII, good for league runner-up honors. They got a big boost when superstar Ashley Joens opted to return to Ames for one more year as a super-senior. They've also got the reigning Big XII Defensive Player of the Year, a quality point guard of their own, and a potential impact transfer. ESPN has them at #10 in their way-too-early rankings, so while Iowa-Iowa State is always a big game, it will be even bigger this season, given the national spotlight.
In all, Iowa could play three consecutive games against Top 10 opponents over the end of November and the beginning of December. That stretch isn't going to make or break Iowa's season -- but it is going to be a massive opportunity for Iowa to gain credibility as a national threat and earn some impressive wins that could resonate all season long. Big-time teams play big-time games and those games will definitely be big-time games; we should get an early sense of the capabilities of this Iowa team just a month into the season.
- Unsurprisingly, the schedule tails off after that stretch of heavyweight showdowns. Iowa returns from an 11-day break for finals for a home against UNI; the Panthers did go 23-11 last year and 13-5 in league games and they've regularly been a feisty foe for Iowa in non-conference action, so they won't be a pushover. Iowa closes out the non-league portion of their schedule with a visit from Dartmouth; the Big Green went 3-23 last year and 2-12 in Ivy League action, so they, uh, probably won't be putting too many scares into this Iowa team as it heads into Christmas.
After that, Iowa will be thrust into Big Ten play; the full details of that part of the schedule have yet to be released. This is one of the most interesting -- and exciting -- non-conference schedules Iowa has had under Lisa Bluder. She knows she has a very good team this year and that's helped put Iowa in some very big spotlight games. Even better, if you're a local fan most of these games are in Iowa City -- and one of the two true road games is just down I-80 in Des Moines. The home slate includes both NC State and Iowa State; getting not one, but two potential Top 10 opponents in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena is pretty thrilling. The Iowa women had some late-season sellouts last year for a home game against Michigan (that helped them clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season championship) and a pair of NCAA Tournament games; hopefully those same crowds turn up for these early season slugfests. Regardless, we're chomping at the bit to see this Iowa team take the court this season -- especially for some early big-time showdowns. Caitlin Clark on a national stage? Yes, please.