Why did NCAA women's tournament selection committee stick it to Caitlin Clark and Iowa?

Nancy Armour

Make it make sense.  

Iowa is the Big Ten women's basketball tournament champion and won its last four games, including a squeaker over the second-ranked Indiana women. It has a player of the year candidate in Caitlin Clark and the country’s most prolific offense.

And yet the Hawkeyes were snubbed by the selection committee Sunday, seeded No. 2 while two teams – not one, two! – that are stumbling into the NCAA Tournament earned No. 1s.

“We looked at the whole body of work and not just the conference tournament,” said Lisa Peterson, chair of the NCAA’s Division I basketball committee.

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Yes, but what’s a better indicator of how a team is going to fare in the tournament? How it played in January and February? Or what it did in the conference tournament? Unless injuries were a factor, how likely is it that teams struggling down the stretch are going to turn it around now, when the pressure is high and you’re facing unfamiliar opponents on quick turnarounds?

The selection committee takes injuries into account – as it should. But so, too, should it consider a team’s form and, in this case, it didn’t.

At least, not enough.

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Iowa’s six losses are more than any of the No. 1 seeds, yes. But four were against ranked teams, and three of them were in the top 10 at the time. Only one was at home.

More importantly, Iowa ended the season strong, winning seven of its last eight games. That included a defeat of second-ranked Indiana on Clark's buzzer-beater in the regular-season finale and a win over then-No. 5 Maryland in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.

The Hawkeyes then bulldozed Ohio State to win their second consecutive conference tournament championship. Clark had the first triple-double in the history of the conference tournament, with 30 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds. 

Caitlin Clark reacts to a call during a March 5 game.

Contrast Iowa’s recent resume to that of Indiana, the No. 1 seed in one of the Greenville regions.

Besides the loss to Iowa, the Hoosiers were upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. That’s right. Indiana didn’t even reach the final of the conference tournament.

Stanford, the No. 1 seed in the same Seattle region as Iowa, has a similar resume of late. It lost its regular-season finale to Utah and then bowed out in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament to UCLA. The Cardinal is below Iowa in both the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and The Associated Press Top 25.

But the committee still deemed Stanford more worthy of a No. 1 seed.

“They (Iowa) were definitely a part of the conversation,” Peterson said. “And in all honestly, it was probably the Iowa-Stanford conversation that went the longest.”

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Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said she didn’t really care if the Hawkeyes were a 1- or a 2-seed. So long as her team gets to play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena next weekend, which it will, she’s good.

“It appears we were the first No. 2. What's the difference between being the fourth No. 1 and the first No. 2?” Bluder said. “There's absolutely no difference, so I don't really care at all about that.”

Besides, all this might be wasted outrage.

The winner of the Seattle region where Stanford is the No. 1 seed and Iowa is the No. 2, and presumably would have been No. 1 had the committee flipped it and Stanford, will likely have to face South Carolina in the Final Four. Which will be … daunting.

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South Carolina, which returns four starters from last year’s national championship team, is undefeated. Hasn’t lost a game in more than a year, in fact, since the final of last year’s SEC conference tournament. The Gamecocks have the nation’s stingiest defense and lead the country with a whopping 30.3 scoring margin.

Now, no team has repeated as champion since UConn won the last of a four-peat in 2016. That’s also the last time an undefeated team won the title. But South Carolina is a veteran squad that’s accustomed to both pressure and expectations.

“They’re embracing in a more poised and calm way having a target on their backs,” coach Dawn Staley said on the selection show. “We’ve already been through this. They’re able to balance out what they’ve been through to what they’re currently facing.”

If that Iowa-South Carolina matchup does happen, it will be proof the Hawkeyes deserved better. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour