Raw becomes refined: Next year's Hawkeyes look like NCAA tourney team
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As much as we followed Ally Disterhoft’s rise to the top of the record books, this season was always about the new kids: Kathleen Doyle, Makenzie Meyer, Bre Cera, Amanda Ollinger and Alexis Sevillian.
How soon would head coach Lisa Bluder trust them? How quickly would the country's No. 7 recruiting class develop?
The answers? Very soon. Very quickly.
Meyer and Cera started the season opener, and Doyle soon joined them as mainstays in the starting five. Doyle set freshman records for steals and assists, and she made the All-Big Ten freshman team. Meyer shot 40 percent from long range. Cera was Iowa’s best on-ball defender.
Ollinger earned more minutes as the season progressed. Sevillian broke her nose early and took a redshirt.
In the end, the Hawkeyes finished 20-14. Now, onto the offseason.
"We got some great play for our freshmen in the last couple of weeks. I think that's exciting,” Bluder said after Sunday’s loss. “When you look at Megan (Gustafson) and Kathleen, I mean, you guys know, you see how good our freshmen are and our sophomore classes.
"The future looks incredibly bright for our team."
What Iowa loses
The Disterhoft era is over.
Four years, 2,102 points, two NCAA Tournaments and a Sweet 16. She graduates alongside sharpshooter Alexa Kastanek and locker room leader Hailey Schneden.
What Iowa returns
Gustafson averaged 18.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game — both team highs. She notched 18 double-doubles this year, good for 10th-most in the country. She should be the best post in the Big Ten next season and eventually become an All-American.
Tania Davis will be back after rehabbing a torn ACL, which interrupted a potential All-Big Ten season.
Chase Coley and Hannah Stewart return as sixth women who could start at a lot of other schools.
Christina Buttenham lost her spot in the rotation while sitting with a concussion in February, but she comes back, too.
Carly Mohns might return. She played 12 minutes over five games this year, but a knee injury that kept her out almost all of 2016 started to resurface in February and March.
Sevillian technically isn’t new, but she’ll get her first real opportunity as a redshirt freshman next season. She was scoreless in seven minutes of Iowa’s exhibition game.
Davenport North’s Jinaya Houston will be the only incoming freshman. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward often draws comparisons to Disterhoft. She averaged 18 points on 56.7 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals this season. ESPN ranks her the No. 19 wing prospect in the Class of 2018. Blue Star pegs her as the 118th-best incoming freshman.
How soon can Davis return from her torn ACL? And when she does, what happens to Doyle? Davis tore her ACL Feb. 5. Normally rehab takes about nine months, which would put her return date right around the season opener in November. But Doyle proved to be more than capable as the starting point guard. In Davis’ absence, Doyle averaged 9.9 points, 5.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers.
Will Mohns return? It’d be a big blow if the redshirt sophomore doesn’t play again for the Hawkeyes. She’s the definition of a stretch power forward, and she’d nearly broken the starting rotation when she initially got injured in 2015. Bluder said they'll re-evaluate after Mohns rests her knee for a couple months.
Offseason goal: 3-point shooting
Iowa shot 31.1 percent from long range this year — third-worst in the Big Ten. It’s no coincidence the top four teams in the Big Ten were also the four best 3-point shooting teams.
Expectations for next season
Just listen to Washington State head coach June Daugherty:
"(Iowa is) going to be a team that I’ll bet you is going to be in (next year’s) NCAA (Tournament). I’ll put a bet on that if I’m allowed to legally within the rules."
Iowa will miss Disterhoft’s scoring. But Gustafson looks like the next big thing, and she and Doyle are preseason All-Big Ten candidates. There's already a lot to like about next year's Hawkeyes, whose rough edges won't be nearly as rough.
2017-18 expectations: 20 regular-season wins, a top-six Big Ten finish and an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.