Iowa women's basketball ready to turn the page from Big Ten regular-season title to tournament

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — With the Big Ten regular-season title in the rear-view mirror, Iowa women’s basketball is on to the next phase of this late-season run. The Hawkeyes hope to deliver on this stage the same way they’ve delivered the last two weeks.

“The last few wins have been huge in proving to everybody and ourselves that these are wins we can have,” all-Big Ten selection Monika Czinano said. “We know we can do that. Knowing and having that behind us is going to be huge for the Big Ten Tournament just going in.

“Because when the Big Ten Tournament starts, anybody can upset anybody. It’s kind of crazy. Everyone is going in there with a blank slate. And that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do like everybody else.”

While securing the double bye was a monumental step in aiding Iowa’s Indianapolis stay, the Hawkeyes’ week of preparation has been a tricky one as a result. Late Thursday evening would be the earliest No. 2 seed Iowa would know its quarterfinal opponent, meaning the week’s prep had to be split between No. 7 seed Northwestern and No. 10 seed Minnesota.

That doesn’t mean the prep was split evenly, though.

More:How to watch Caitlin Clark and Iowa women's basketball at the 2022 Big Ten Tournament

Preparing for possible Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Minnesota 

Iowa’s results against Northwestern this year — a home loss and an overtime win — were much closer than the Hawkeyes’ season sweep over Minnesota. Iowa coach Lisa Bluder admitted more time has been spent evaluating the Wildcats than the Golden Gophers.

“We didn’t know during this week who we were going to play. But we know it was going to be one of the two. So who’s the trickiest to prepare for? Northwestern,” Bluder said. “We had to spend more of our time preparing for Northwestern because of the nature of the way that they play.

“Minnesota, although a great team, is a little bit easier for us to prepare for. So that’s how we had to spend our practice time, preparing more for Northwestern than Minnesota — even though we could be playing either one.”

More:Iowa women's basketball superstar Caitlin Clark named Big Ten player of the year

How have the Hawkeyes done in the Big Ten Tournament before? 

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder celebrates a victory over Michigan on Feb. 27 in Iowa City.

As is the case with many teams, Iowa’s recent Big Ten Tournament results have been a mixed bag. The Hawkeyes soared in 2019 and 2021, winning the title in the former year and reaching the championship game in the latter. However, the 2020 and 2018 Indianapolis visits both ended in the quarterfinals.

How successfully Iowa can turn the page will go a long way in dictating where this Big Ten Tournament journey fits in.

“Turning the page, yeah, we’re still going to be proud of what we did. But there’s still so much more left to do,” Big Ten player of the year Caitlin Clark said. “It’s March now. This is the best time of the year.

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How can Iowa women's basketball give themselves an edge in the NCAA tournament? 

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates with associate head coach Jan Jensen during a victory over Michigan on Feb. 27 in Iowa City.

Resetting could be easier given what’s in play for Iowa this weekend. Regular-season champions in power conference don’t always have clear-cut goals on the line when they venture to the league tournament, and the results sometimes reflect that. One more test run before the NCAA Tournament is all this weekend represents for some of college basketball’s highly ranked squads.

Not for the Hawkeyes. Iowa likely needs one win to secure a hosting spot, and a couple more could move Iowa above a No. 4 seed in the NCAAs — which means avoiding a top seed until the Elite Eight. That simple positioning adjustment could make a massive difference later this month.

It’s on Iowa to continue showcasing its premier product.

“We’re excited,” Clark said. “We feel like we’re playing our best basketball.”     

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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.