Head coach Lisa Bluder was amazed by how quickly Tania Davis recovered from her torn ACL. Matt Bain / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa women’s basketball team held its annual media day Monday afternoon in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Here are some of the biggest things we learned:
No platoon system with only 11 players
It wasn’t at all uncommon for head coach Lisa Bluder to empty her bench during the nonconference "platoon system" games last year. She did that because she had a deep roster with 11 players who could realistically make an impact.
This year, she has 11 players. Total.
And one is a walk-on. One is a raw freshman post from Spain. One hasn’t played for the better part of two years with a knee injury.
Don’t expect any rest-heavy platoon system this year. If the Hawkeyes win, they’ll win with a short rotation.
"You worry about their legs, but you also remember they're 18- and 20-year-olds," Bluder said. "Remember how much energy you had when you were an 18- and 20-year-old. When the lights come on, the fans come out, they'll be ready to go. So it's just me having to adjust practice, making them a little bit shorter so that they're not spending so much time there."
The low number isn’t a result of poor recruiting. Coaches were expecting 13 or 14 bodies this season. Then concussions ended Christina Buttenham’s career, Bre Cera transferred to Milwaukee, and incoming freshman Jinaya Houston left the program due to health issues.
Players said Cera and Houston’s departures were a shock. Assistant coach Jan Jensen said Cera’s transfer particularly surprised her. Bluder’s reaction to the departures and ensuing adjustments? "That’s coaching."
But the Hawkeyes love the 11 they’ve got.
"So many people are talking about that, that we only have 11 players," Kathleen Doyle said. "And yeah, we do only have 11 players. But we have so many good players in that 11 that I’m not really worried about it. A lot of teams might have 14 players, but they might not have as much talent as we think we have. So we’re confident in ourselves. It really doesn't matter what other people think about our numbers."
This means a player like Amanda Ollinger, who would’ve had a minor role without the departures this offseason, will get an opportunity.
As for the starting lineup and rotation, Bluder didn't give any clues. But if the lineups HawkCentral saw during practice last week are any indication, the starting five would be Tania Davis, Megan Gustafson, Doyle, Makenzie Meyer and Chase Coley, with Hannah Stewart, Alexis Sevillian, Amanda Ollinger and a healthy Carly Mohns coming off the bench.
Will Gustafson shoot 70 percent?
Megan Gustafson discusses team’s chip on shoulder to return to NCAA Tournament. Matt Bain / The Register
Megan Gustafson made a significant jump from her freshman to sophomore years, specifically with her strength inside. She bumped her scoring and rebounding numbers from 10.7 and 6.8 to 18.5 and 10.1, respectively.
Bluder expects another jump from sophomore to junior year.
"She wants to average more (rebounds)," she said. "She wants to be more of a vocal leader. She wants to grow in that part of her leadership skills. She wants to be able to handle double-teams. She knows they're going to come at her."
Gustafson shot 64.7 percent from the field as a sophomore, good for fifth in the country. If someone fed the ball to her on the left side of the basket, chances are Iowa was getting two points. On the right side? Not quite a sure bet.
So Gustafson said she focused on finishing with her off hand this summer.
"I’m so much more confident with my right hand this year," she said. "I’m able to go both ways. Whenever I do my post moves (in practice), if I do, say, 50 hook shots with my left, I’m doing 100 with my right."
Gustafson also has extended her range to 18-20 feet. Her jumper’s consistency topped out around 16 feet last year.
She’ll play in a strong frontcourt with junior Hannah Stewart and senior Chase Coley.
Redshirt season did a lot of good for Sevillian
Tania Davis discusses her speed recovery from a torn ACL last February. Matt Bain / The Register
Perhaps no one is more excited for this season than redshirt freshman Alexis Sevillian. The 5-foot-5 guard entered last year as part of Iowa’s heralded group of freshmen, but coaches redshirted her to balance the 2016 and 2017 classes.
That decision looks brilliant now. Both of Iowa’s current freshmen won’t see the court very often. Sevillian will be the only "new" face out there, and she’ll be out there plenty.
She said her confidence and trust in her team shot way up during the redshirt season.
"If I could do that process all over again, I definitely would," she said. "I don’t feel any pressure at all. I’m confident in myself and I know I can take that (lone newcomer) role."
Teammates share the same confidence in Sevillian. Doyle said she improved by emulating all Iowa’s biggest individual matchups for its scout team last year.
"She got to be like the Tori Jankoskas — all the really great players," Doyle said. "So she got to try to make things happen. And I think that just helped her confidence, because she would make things happen — it wasn't just like, 'I’m trying to be this person.'"
Sevillian was a finalist for Miss Michigan Basketball coming out of Goodrich High in Michigan (where she was teammates with Tania Davis).
What about the backcourt rotation?
Iowa has two top-level point guards in Davis and Doyle. And like she did last year before Davis’ injury, Bluder plans to play them together.
Makenzie Meyer will be shooting guard, so Doyle won’t move there. Instead, Davis and Doyle will play a "point guard A/point guard B" combo, of sorts.
"I think we both play like point guard, but we can both score if we want," Doyle said. "You’ve just got to switch your mindset a bit. But it’s pretty positionless basketball. We’re both going to be bringing it up. It’s going to be really not that noticeable, I don’t think."
Both players are more than qualified to run the show, and it worked well when they played together last year. Davis averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 assists before tearing her ACL in February. Doyle broke Sam Logic’s freshman records for assists (148) and steals (71).
How will Meyer fit into the starting equation? Simple, Bluder says: She’s going to shoot. And shoot. And then shoot some more.
"Last year I felt she was our best 3-point shooter," Bluder said. "Our expectation is that she's going to demand as much respect on the floor as Melissa Dixon did in her campaign when she was the best 3-point shooter in the nation. She is simply just playing with a lightness, a joy you need to have to be successful."
Meyer shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range last year.
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.