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Iowa women's basketball: How the Hawkeyes can avoid a short San Antonio stay


After having late-night and mid-afternoon tip times throughout the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa won't have to wait around long Sunday to resume its postseason journey. 

From the Alamodome in San Antonio, the No. 5 seed Hawkeyes (18-9) kick off the entire NCAA Tournament with an 11 a.m. tip against No. 12 seed Central Michigan (18-8). A season's worth of adjusting to and navigating through COVID-19 culminates in the proper setting under March Madness' spotlight.         

Several sportsbooks have the Hawkeyes as a 10.5-point favorite — a big enough spread that a Central Michigan win would be a significant upset. But Iowa can't afford to sleepwalk through this late-morning affair.            

So how do the Hawkeyes avoid a short San Antonio stay?

For starters, Iowa should look in the mirror.

Perhaps the women's basketball selection committee did this on purpose, or maybe it was a happy accident. Either way, the similarities between Central Michigan and Iowa are staggering. 

Two all-conference players who handle most of the scoring? Check.

A high-octane offense that can splash treys from anywhere? Check. 

A suspect defense that can disappear at a moment's notice? Check. 

We know the duo that runs Iowa's show, Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano. For Central Michigan, it's two guards under 5-foot-8 who make the Chippewas go. 

Senior Micaela Kelly and sophomore Molly Davis account for more than 57% of Central Michigan's scoring, averaging 23.9 and 20.9 points per game. Only once this season has someone other than Kelly or Davis been the Chippewas' leading scorer in a game. They're the catalysts for a Central Michigan offense that ranks near Iowa nationally in several key categories. 

  • Points per game: Iowa is second (86.8). Central Michigan is 16th (77.9).
  • Total 3-pointers: Central Michigan is tied for third (260). Iowa is sixth (258).
  • 3-pointers per game: Central Michigan is tied for fourth (10.0). Iowa is ninth (9.6). 
  • FG percentage: Iowa is the best (51.53%). Central Michigan is 17th (45.9%). 

Similarly, Central Michigan's defensive figures are as troubling as Iowa's.

  • Scoring defense: Iowa is the nation's worst (80.5). Central Michigan is 309th (73.8).  
  • 3-point FG defense: Iowa is 291st (34.5%). Central Michigan is 277th (33.6%).
  • FG percentage defense: Iowa is 316th (44.7%). Central Michigan is 292nd (43.4%).

Unfamiliarity is always a pivotal factor in the NCAA Tournament, where style and pace of play tend to clash between teams implementing different philosophies. Not here. Perhaps the best way for Lisa Bluder to prepare for Sunday's contest is consider how she'd plan for facing her own team.            

Given the figures, the Hawkeyes must have some defensive resistance.

It's not that Iowa hasn't had strong defensive showings this year. See the Michigan upset and its Big Ten Tournament performances (championship game aside). But the numbers certainly reflect a lack of consistency. 

Even a small reduction from that 80.5 figure would do wonders. Iowa is 9-0 this season when surrendering 75 or fewer points, including eight double-digit wins. Three of those showings came at the Big Ten Tournament, where the Hawkeyes held Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan State to 72, 62 and 72 points. 

That's an encouraging sign entering the NCAA Tournament, especially with a team up first that loves to get out and run. Central Michigan's own issues should give Iowa some leeway if it ends up being a shootout, but the Hawkeyes still don't want to deliver a dud on the defensive side.

That could wreck all the momentum established on that end in the conference tournament. And Iowa will undoubtedly need some defensive stability if it advances past the Chippewas.

What about the 12 vs. 5 matchup on the women's side?       

The 12 vs. 5 seeds have long been trendy upset picks in the men's tournament. The data backs it up too, with at least one No. 12 seed winning a first-round game in 31 of the last 36 years. It's already happened this season with No. 12 Oregon State knocking off No. 5 Tennessee.   

So what about on the women's side?

Not as many upsets — but still enough cause for pause. 

Since the women's tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994, 22 No. 12 seeds have defeated No. 5 seeds. Such an occurrence has happened in 10 of the previous 16 tournaments, with the last coming back in 2018 (Florida Gulf Coast over Missouri).  

However, only twice since 1994 has there been consecutive NCAA Tournaments without a 12 vs. 5 upset (2007-08 and 2011-12). With none in 2019, that suggests one could be coming this time around.    

The other three No. 5 seeds feature two thriving mid-majors and — like Iowa — another Power Five team that took some blows but had enough success for a decent Selection Monday outcome. Missouri State (21-2) and Gonzaga (23-3) rolled all season en route to regular-season titles. Georgia Tech (15-8) finished third in a top-heavy ACC. 

Historically, it's mostly been those good-not-great Power Five schools that have suffered in this matchup. Of the 22 No. 5 seeds to lose in the first round, only four would be considered mid-major schools (Louisiana Tech in 2002, Drake and Memphis in 1998, San Diego State in 1995).

Iowa's postseason resume was, in part, buoyed by no questionable losses. The Hawkeyes certainly don't want to start now.   

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.