Iowa opens NCAA Tournament against American
Iowa spent the past three months earning a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, home-court advantage for the first two rounds and a newfound role as a favorite to reach the Sweet 16.
The Hawkeyes will spend the next three days trying to prove they deserve it all.
Third-seeded Iowa (24-7) earned its best NCAA Tournament seed in nearly 20 years and opens play Friday against No. 14 seed American (24-8) at 1:30 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"We want to prove we deserve our seed but any time you step out on the court you have to prove it," Iowa sophomore Ally Disterhoft said. "We have that target on our back and now we have to go out and prove why we deserve to be that three seed."
Hosting the NCAA Tournament isn't new for Iowa.
Iowa is serving as a host for the opening two rounds for the third straight season.
Yet this year has a much different feel for Iowa starting with why the Hawkeyes are playing at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they are a perfect 16-0 this season.
The last two seasons, Iowa bid to serve as a host.
This season, the Hawkeyes earned a berth to host as a top-16 national seed.
"This year is special for us for a number of reasons, one is we earned the right to play at home," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We have been very happy to play at home the last two years, but this year we had to earn it. We talked about that at the beginning of the year, and it's really nice to see that happening this weekend."
What earned Iowa home-court advantage?
A second-place Big Ten finish, a top-10 RPI and 24 wins against a schedule that ranks among the toughest in the nation, which are also the same things that make the Hawkeyes a favorite to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 1996.
Favorites or not, Iowa doesn't expect anything to come easy over the next three days.
"We are grateful for the seeding, we feel honored but you know it's the NCAA Tournament and anyone can come out on any given night and win," Disterhoft said. "Every team that has earned a spot here is going to be good so we have to be ready."
While Iowa is hosting for the third straight season and making its eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament, American is making its tournament debut.
The Eagles bring an 11-game winning streak into Friday's opening round after winning the Patriot League Tournament.
"We know American is a great basketball team," Bluder said. "They have not lost the entire month of February or March, you have to go back to January to find a loss on their schedule."
The playing styles between the two teams are as contrasting as their tournament experience.
Iowa is averaging 79.8 points per game while making 8.2 3-point field goals per game, led by the national leader Melissa Dixon's 3.74 treys per game.
The Hawkeyes boast four players averaging double figures and rank in the nation's top-10 in field-goal percentage.
American averages 63.3 points per game this season, but is holding opponents to an average of 57.2 points.
The Eagles have held opponents to 56 points or less 18 times this season and allowed more than 60 points once during its current 11-game winning streak.
"What's going to be our biggest challenge tomorrow is 'Can we control the tempo or are we going to let it get out of control?' " American coach Megan Gebbia said. "We have worked on that."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
WHAT: Iowa vs. American, NCAA Tournament
WHERE: Iowa City, Iowa
TIME/TV: 1:30 p.m., ESPN2