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5 storylines to watch ahead of the Iowa women's basketball season


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IOWA CITY — By now, the pieces that make Iowa women’s basketball go are household names. The Hawkeyes’ expectations for this season are at an all-time high, as is the nationwide support for Lisa Bluder’s program.

Now it’s time to roll out the ball and play.

A unanimous top-five team pegged as the preseason Big Ten champ, Iowa kicks off the regular season at 8:30 p.m. Monday against Southern. The Hawkeyes have Final Four visions, just as they did last season when they were upset in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, but Caitlin Clark and company feel better equipped to handle the grueling, pressure-packed season ahead.

With that, here are five Iowa storylines to monitor throughout the year.

What does Caitlin Clark have in store for her third season?

After two years that included plenty of hype, attention, fame and — of course — buckets, Clark enters her third season with a chance to take her stardom to another level. Cameras will be on her and the Hawkeyes more so than ever (just check their national TV schedule), while each one of Clark’s performances will be dissected and analyzed by more than just local media.

It’s clear Clark is comfortable with that kind of spotlight. But while most of the attention she’s received to this point has been positive, it’s inevitable more criticism will be mixed in as well, even if it’s unjustified. Iowa’s successes and failures as a team will largely be put on Clark’s shoulders — fair or not — and it’s important she continues to handle that responsibility in a productive manner.

How much improved is Iowa’s defense and rebounding?

While both areas unquestionably took a step forward last season, they came back under the microscope after the stunning tourney loss to Creighton. The Bluejays finished with a 52-37 edge on the glass, including 15 offensive rebounds, as Iowa watched its March momentum slip away.

The Hawkeyes don’t need to hold every foe under 70 and dominate the boards every game. But if Iowa is to make its Final Four dreams come true, there will inevitably be a game like the Creighton one along the way — where the Hawkeyes get knocked out of sorts offensively and must find a win in other ways.

Every deep tournament run has a moment where the team's versatility must shine through. The Hawkeyes hope they’ve received their one and only losing lesson on exactly that.  

How much will Molly Davis’ arrival benefit the Hawkeyes?

Even with the Hawkeyes’ entire core returning, this Iowa team will have a different wrinkle than last season with the arrival of Molly Davis. The Central Michigan transfer will play behind Clark at point guard and offer some needed backcourt depth, especially important after last year’s transfer addition Kylie Feuerbach tore her ACL in August.

All indications are Davis is happy with her new role, even if it will be reduced compared to her Central Michigan production. In three seasons there, Davis never averaged fewer than 35 minutes and 14 points per game as one of the Chippewas’ primary pieces.

Could Davis have chosen a place with a starting spot open and more responsibilities to fill? Probably so. But it’s important to remember Davis is coming off a 4-25 season at Central Michigan after making the NCAA Tournament in 2020-21 and winning a MAC regular-season title the year prior. Getting back on a championship-caliber roster was clearly a priority, and the fact Davis was willing to sacrifice playing time to do so indicates she’s bringing the right attitude to a place already rolling along.

“We told her right up front,” Bluder said, “(backing up Clark) is your No. 1 role. But you're also going to compete for off-guard minutes. I've been impressed with how well she plays away from the basketball. She's crafty. She's deceiving. She's a smart basketball player. So I'm very, very excited. I think that's going to be an X factor that people haven't figured out with our team yet.”

What will the frontcourt rotation behind Monika Czinano ultimately look like?

In terms of rotational questions to answer, this one is likely the biggest. Can Sharon Goodman get back to where she was before her ACL tear? How much can Addison O’Grady build off a nice freshman season? Are there bigger opportunities for A.J. Ediger, Hannah Stuelke or others?

The good news for Iowa is there’s time to solve this equation. Monika Czinano will be her All-Big Ten self right out of the gates while the Hawkeyes use the non-conference schedule to cement their frontcourt depth. Concern should really only arise if this question isn’t answered by the time Iowa dives fully into conference play.

Ultimately how will this Iowa season be remembered?

There will be plenty of blowout wins and gaudy stat lines. There should be numerous sizable victories that pad the resume, and maybe even some more Big Ten championship celebrations. Clark and Czinano will likely add another chapter to two of the best careers in Hawkeyes history.

Ultimately, though, March will define this Iowa squad. The opportunity to complete something special is certainly within reach. It’s on the Hawkeyes to make it happen.         

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.