The University of Iowa women’s basketball team has played more than half of its schedule, with a road game at Michigan State looming tonight. At this point, the Hawkeyes sit at 13-4 overall and 2-1 in conference, in a three way tie with the Spartans and Minnesota for second place. Those three teams sit just a game behind another triumvirate of teams (Michigan, Purdue and Penn State), whom are currently undefeated in Big Ten play.
With 13 conference games left to be played, the Hawkeyes’ destiny sits firmly in their own control. The question remains: can the Hawkeyes win the necessary games to nab a Big Ten regular season championship and top overall seed in the conference tournament? There have been a few opportunities earlier this season that could have vaunted the Hawkeyes into the rankings and each time the team has come up short.
The first of these opportunities was back on November 18, just four games into the season. The Hawkeyes played their way into the Preseason WNIT final against North Carolina. A victory in Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the Tar Heels could have easily propelled Iowa into the top 25. The Hawkeyes came out flat and were down by 22 at one point during the game. Opportunity squandered.
A week later, the Hawkeyes beat another ranked team, West Virginia, on a neutral court. Three days after that the Hawkeyes were in Tallahassee, Florida to take on Florida State in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. Again, complementing this win with the previous one would have given the Hawkeyes the resume necessary to be considered one of the top 25 in women’s basketball. 24 turnovers proved to be more than the Hawkeyes could overcome, and the Seminoles ran them out of the building 83-69. Chance wasted.
Following the loss in Tallahassee the Hawkeyes strung together six wins, including a thrilling overtime victory over then #24 Ohio State to open Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes then had a home date against the Wolverines standing between them and a potential top 25 spot. The Hawkeye offense was cold in the first half again, and they fell 64-68. Time ran out.
A look at the statistics for the season thus far gives a clue into the reason for this inconsistency. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in assists per game and are second in blocks per game and assist to turnover ratio. However in most of the other statistical categories, the Hawkeyes are around the middle of the Big Ten, with the exception of being tenth in the Big Ten in steals per game. The reason the Hawkeyes are near the middle of the conference in most categories is because they have been inconsistent. That has been most evident in the losses that have followed the big wins.
The Hawkeyes used a conference record 42 made free throws to beat the Mountaineers. In the loss at Florida State, the Hawkeyes only took nine shots from the charity stripe. 40 points in the paint and 51% shooting from the field led the Hawkeyes past the Buckeyes whom then followed that with a 22 point performance in the paint and 36% from the field effort which doomed them against the Wolverines. It’s not the ability that is being scrutinized but the consistency.
In the course of the next few weeks more opportunities like the ones the Hawkeyes have already had will present themselves. A win over Michigan State tonight could possibly set up a chance for the Hawkeyes to play themselves into a tie for first place in the conference on the 20th at home against Purdue. Will we see the Hawkeyes underachieve in the face of an opportunity again or for the first time this season rise to meet the challenge?