IOWA CITY, Ia. — With this year’s Iowa women’s basketball team, it’s hard to predict much of anything.
Its offseason was … tumultuous, let’s say. Bre Cera transferred to Milwaukee. Christina Buttenham’s career was shortened by concussions. Jinaya Houston left the program two months before her college career began.
But Megan Gustafson and her Associated Press All-American potential returned. So did Kathleen Doyle, Tania Davis and a roster that, despite losing three pieces, somehow retained depth.
To get any real sense of their potential, you’d need to see these 2017-18 Hawkeyes in person. So, HawkCentral watched the final hour of practice Tuesday afternoon.
No surprise with the rotation
Iowa ran a broken-up scrimmage of sorts for 30 minutes — Black versus Gold.
The Black team: Davis, Doyle, Gustafson, Makenzie Meyer, Chase Coley and Carly Mohns subbing in and out.
The Gold team: Amanda Ollinger, Alexis Sevillian, Hannah Stewart, Zion Sanders and Paula Valiño Ramos.
If you’re looking for a starting lineup, that Black roster provides a pretty good clue. Black beat Gold 20-9 early while committing zero turnovers.
"The focus is there," head coach Lisa Bluder said during the scrimmage. "We’re calm. You’re not going one million miles per hour."
Bluder mixed up the rosters for a second game. This time around, the Black team consisted of Stewart, Doyle, Mohns, Ollinger, Sevillian and Gustafson, while the Gold team included Meyer, Ramos, Coley, Davis and Sanders. They tied, 8-all.
Tania Davis ahead of schedule
Iowa worried it wouldn't have Davis until Christmas or Big Ten play after she tore her right ACL last February. But there she was, playing with a right knee brace on Tuesday afternoon.
Davis is active for about 75 percent of practice, Bluder said in the team’s media guide. She said Davis should be ready to go for Iowa’s opener Nov. 10 against Quinnipiac
The senior point guard is eight months removed from tearing her ACL, but she looked as good as ever Tuesday. Floaters off of screens. A driving layup with contact against Sanders. A corner 3. A drive-and-kick to Sanders for an open corner 3. A two-on-one, fastbreak layup with Doyle. Full speed, full contact.
Buckets on buckets for Gustafson
Gustafson appears to be picking up right where she left off last year. In the time HawkCentral was at practice, she went 7-for-8 for 14 points, hitting six paint buckets and a straightaway 18-footer.
We’ve come to expect the dominance inside. But the 18-footer is new. Gustafson’s consistently effective range topped out at about 16 feet last season. The farther out she can extend, the more trouble opposing power forwards or centers will have stopping her — and they already had plenty of trouble last year.
The junior was also extremely vocal on both ends of the floor. She was as a sophomore, too, but her veteran presence will be all the more important without Ally Disterhoft and Alexa Kastanek.
A confident Ollinger
Keep an eye on Ollinger. The 6-foot-1 forward from Cedar Rapids had the smallest role of Iowa’s active freshmen last year, but that role should increase significantly this season. She looks more athletic, more trim than she did as a freshman.
She didn’t hesitate to shoot Tuesday when given an opportunity — all from the outside. She drained a pretty 20-footer off a screen and a straightaway 3.
As much as she scores outside, she mostly defends on the inside. Ollinger worked with the bigs during zone defense drills. She'll primarily play against posts who might struggle extending outside to defend her jump shot. That role could mean big things for the sophomore.
The newcomers (sort of)
Even with Houston’s departure, Iowa welcomes three newcomers. Well, two, really. Sevillian is coming off her redshirt season.
Coaches were excited about Sevillian all offseason, and you can see why. She was a steady ball-handler Tuesday. Didn’t take any silly shots, used screens well. Probably her best play came near the end of the scrimmages, when she used a screen at the top of the key and angled all the way inside for a scoop layup off the glass.
Sanders is a walk-on from Central Evansville in Indiana. She had an offer from Evansville and a walk-on offer from Clemson, but she chose the Hawkeyes. More Division I offers would've come, had it not been for a knee injury following Sanders' junior year.
She played with a light knee brace on her right knee. She didn't make any glaring errors or big plays — just consistent ball on both ends of the floor. As a walk-on, she'll need some time to get a hang of Bluder's system.
Ramos is a bit of an unknown. She committed to Iowa in June and joined the team in August. She's got Spanish national team experience and played one season of high school in Bovina, Texas, but she's still quite raw. Basketball in Europe is different than it is here, especially in the Big Ten Conference. She switched between center and power forward during practice, but it appeared she played mostly at the 4. She held her own against Iowa’s bigs, but showed plenty of room for refinement — which was expected.
Good news for Mohns?
Some more potentially good injury news: Mohns played full-contact Tuesday. The redshirt junior did limp off the court after a baseline jumper and took a couple plays off. Other than that, she didn't appear significantly hampered.
Mohns, a 6-foot-1 epitome of a stretch power forward, tore the meniscus in her left knee as a freshman in December 2015. She hasn’t been consistently healthy since. She missed almost all of last season after missing almost all of 2016, too.
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.