Lisa Bluder talks about landing a No. 2 seed and breaks down the Iowa City bracket Dargan Southard, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — It got a week to bask in championship glory — and Iowa took full advantage. An extended celebration was deserved after the Hawkeyes put on a show in Indianapolis.
None of that matters now. In a way, Iowa’s quest for a magical season didn’t truly begin until Monday’s selection show.
The Hawkeyes received a No. 2 seed in the Greensboro regional — the best seed Iowa has ever landed under coach Lisa Bluder. The Hawkeyes start with a home game against No. 15 seed Mercer at 1 p.m. Friday. With a victory, they’ll face the winner of No. 7 seed Missouri and No. 10 seed Drake on Sunday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
If chalk holds, a Sweet Sixteen matchup awaits against No. 3 seed North Carolina State. Big 12 champion Baylor is the top seed in Greensboro.
"We talked about how great winning the Big Ten Tournament was, but we don't want that to be the peak," Bluder said. "We want to keep getting better, and we feel like, every day, you either regress or get better. And we challenged our team (this week) that we've got to get better every day."
Iowa (26-6) has already racked up some special moments, most recently winning its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2001. The Hawkeyes followed its second-place regular-season showing with a riveting weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Iowa likely needed that to maintain a No. 2 seed.
However, the NCAA Tournament was always going to define the success of arguably Bluder’s most talented Iowa team yet. Disappointment will linger if the Hawkeyes fail to reach the second weekend. The Sweet Sixteen — a place Iowa has been only once since 1997 — feels like the first benchmark.
"We have so much more to accomplish," senior Megan Gustafson said. "The NCAA Tournament is something everyone strives to be in and to go on a run, so we're really excited. We've got a really good team we're going to be going against in Mercer.
"Then we'll see what happens after that."
The pieces are certainly there. After another all-American season littered with awards and recognition, Gustafson is in position to propel Iowa to greatness. One of the sport’s most dominant forces has taken over game after game this year.
Iowa’s guard play has been up and down at times, but it seems to be thriving at the right time. Veterans Kathleen Doyle, Makenzie Meyer and Tania Davis all had strong moments in Indianapolis. Their consistency and poise will dictate how long Iowa’s March journey lasts.
"We had three really good, tough practices last week," Meyer said, "then got a couple of days off to get refreshed and just take a step away since we've been so busy. That was nice for our bodies, too. Now, we're coming back and just getting better every day. It's nice to have Mercer on the scouting report. We're ready to go."
As part of Monday's festivities, Iowa held a celebration for its Big Ten Tournament title inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Fans piled in to soak up one last championship moment.
Everything resets now.
"We know we're not done yet," Doyle said. "Our team can achieve really great things. We're definitely happy but still hungry."
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.