Iowa earns highest NCAA Tournament seed since 1996
Iowa's spot in the NCAA Tournament was locked up a while ago.
The Hawkeyes had to wait until Monday night to get the details surrounding their eighth straight trip to the Big Dance.
When Iowa finally had its name called, it wasn't who the Hawkeyes would be playing, but where they would play that brought a loud cheer from Lisa Bluder and her team.
Iowa (24-7) was selected as one of 16 host sites for the opening two rounds, earning the No. 3 seed in the Oklahoma City Region. The Hawkeyes will take on No. 14 seed American (24-8) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"It's huge to be at home," Iowa sophomore Ally Disterhoft said "We've been undefeated at home this year and crowds help. It definitely helps being able to host again."
Iowa's players let out a cheer when it was announced that Washington had received the sixth seed in the Oklahoma City Region and would face No. 11 seed Miami.
The cheer came when Bluder pointed out the location for that game, Iowa City, meant that the Hawkeyes were selected as a host.
Iowa, which earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the 12th time in Bluder's 15 seasons, secured its highest seed since 1996. That season, the Hawkeyes were a No. 2 seed and advanced to the Sweet 16 — the last time Iowa has made it that far in the tournament.
"That is what we were hoping for, but we thought maybe they would put us to a four," Bluder said. "It was nice to see that three-seed pop up there."
Iowa set a school record for home victories, going a perfect 16-0 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena during the regular season.
The Hawkeyes will have a chance to add to that record this weekend.
"We are excited about playing here. I think our record shows that," senior Samantha Logic said. "We have to start off on Friday. We can't get to Sunday without winning on Friday, so that is what we are focusing on."
This marks the third straight season that Iowa has served as a host site, but the first time the Hawkeyes didn't know in advance.
The NCAA implemented a change this season, basing hosting on top-four seeds rather than sites being predetermined.
With 24 wins, a second-place regular-season Big Ten finish and a top-10 RPI ranking, Bluder felt her team was in line for a top-four seed and host berth.
It became official on Monday.
"That was the goal all year," senior Melissa Dixon said. "We knew the top 16 seeds were going to host, and to get back here and play in Carver was a goal all year."
Notre Dame (31-2) is the top seed in the region, while Baylor is the second seed (30-3).
Iowa has won its first-round game each of the last two seasons while serving as a host.
The Hawkeyes are 2-3 in home NCAA Tournament games under Bluder, including a first-round win over Marist last year.
"It's so important playing at home," senior Bethany Doolittle said. "Having our fans surrounding us and giving us energy is always great, and obviously this season has shown that home games are really important for us."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.