Iowa women begin crucial 6-game stretch at Michigan

Matthew Bain
Iowa's Megan Gustafson fights off defenders during the Hawkeyes' game against Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Earlier in the Big Ten season, we put forth a roadmap for Iowa to return to the NCAA Tournament, and this upcoming six-game stretch is where those at-large tourney hopes will be made or broken.

It goes: at Michigan, vs. Michigan State, at No. 14 Ohio State, vs. Northwestern, at Purdue and at Indiana. The Buckeyes and Wolverines figure to slot second and third in conference behind No. 3 Maryland. But Iowa will battle against the Spartans, Wildcats, Boilermakers and Hoosiers for at-large invites to the Big Dance.

Our roadmap states Iowa needs to go 4-2 in this stretch., which updates RPI rankings throughout the day, also projects wins and losses, and whatever calculations it uses predicts a 2-4 record for Iowa with losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana.

"I've got the next (game) circled," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "That's all I ever do."

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Roadmaps and computer algorithms aside, the Hawkeyes have a daunting task in front of them Sunday in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines boast a prolific offense that doesn’t make mistakes, and a defense anchored by 6-foot-5 Hallie Thome in the paint.

Michigan scores the third-most points (80) in the Big Ten and allows the second-least (58.8), with a scoring margin second to Maryland. It’s the second-best shooting team (47.8 percent) and by far the best 3-point shooting team (41.3 percent; Northwestern is second at 35.3 percent). And it's got Siera Thompson, whose 3.35 assist-to-turnover margin is fifth-best in the country, running the show.

Katelynn Flaherty ranks third in the Big Ten with 20.3 points per game. Thome (15) and Kysre Gondrezick (14) also rank in the top 20, and Gondrezick’s 47.4 percent clip from long range is tops in conference.

The Wolverines also haven’t lost yet this season at home.

"Obviously we're going to have to bring a great defensive game," Bluder said. "They're scoring 80 points a game. They're 11-0 on their home court. They've got three outstanding scorers. They have a 6-5 center, but Megan (Gustafson) doesn't shy away from that. But they are shooting the 3-ball very, very well, and we are going to need great 3-point defense against them at their place."

In terms of votes received, Michigan ranks 27th in the AP poll and 26th in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll. As of Saturday it had an RPI of 34; Iowa’s was 53.

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

Sunday's game

Iowa (14-8, 5-4, T-6th) at Michigan (18-5, 7-2, 3rd)

When/where: 1 p.m., Crisler Center

TV: Big Ten Network Plus

About the game: Iowa leads the all-time series, 48-16, and has won seven of the last 10, including a 97-85 win in the first round of last year's Big Ten Tournament.