College basketball season is here, and what better way to ring it in than with a double header at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The women’s team play New Hampshire at 6 p.m., with the men’s team to follow against Longwood. That game is slated for 9 p.m.
Lisa Bluder’s team returns over 90 percent of its scoring from a year ago, including national sensation Caitlin Clark and the nation’s leader in field goal percentage in senior center Monika Czinano. They also added a new face in sophomore Kylie Feuerbach, who comes to Iowa City after starting 24 games for Iowa State as a freshman last year.
“They’re an up-tempo team and I like that a lot about them,” Feuerbach said. “They have a new defensive mentality. They really want to up the defense this year. There’s just a lot of things I want to contribute in this year.”
The Hawkeyes know they can score, as they finished second nationally in scoring offense last season. So naturally, there weakness was defense. They finished last out of 336 Division One teams in scoring defense a season ago, giving up 80.3 points per game.
With a preseason No. 9 ranking and aspirations of making past last season’s Sweet Sixteen run, the emphasis this season is on defense.
“I think just straight up caring more for all of us, is wanting to be good at defense,” Clark said. “I don’t think that was always in the back of our minds. We knew we could outscore every single person. If they scored 90, we could score 93 on them. We don’t want to do that this year. We want to make it easier on ourselves.”
They showed off that improved defense in a 102-32 stomping of Truman State in an exhibition last week. They held the Bulldogs to just 15 percent shooting.
Caitlin Clark posted a near-triple-double in that one, finishing with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. McKenna Warnock finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Addison O’Grady chipped in with 19 points.
This begins a busy week for Hawkeyes, as this is the first of three games in the next six days.
Fran McCaffery’s team on the other hand, is starting a new era after the departures of four key players from last season’s top-10 squad.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon returns for a sixth season as one of the few players with significant playing experience. While Big Ten All-Freshman selection Keegan Murray figures to take on a far larger role this season. Connor and Patrick McCaffery, along with Joe Toussaint round the group of players with experience in a Hawkeye Jersey.
Speaking of experience, senior forward Filip Rebraca comes over from the University of North Dakota after three years there. He hopes to help fill part of the void left by Luka Garza.
Because of that, coach McCaffery feels this is one of the deepest teams he’s ever had.
“Last couple years we were pretty set with our top seven or eight guys, and that could change from game to game,” he said.
That’s going to allow this Iowa team to do something it hasn’t for a while; ferociously pressure the ball. Its’s something coach McCaffery liked to in his time at Siena.
That also means he can go a lot of different directions with his lineups. Small or big, fast or slow. The Hawkeyes will be capable of playing a number of different styles this season. Their game against Longwood is just the first of many.
“I think in terms of matchup size-wise, we could go with a smaller lineup if we wanted to and wouldn’t have to play our 5 men as much, but at the same time you want to get those guys some opportunity and experience, as well,” coach McCaffery said.
With so many new players looking to get extended playing time for the first time in their young careers, it’s going to be a work in progress.
“I trust a lot of these guys,” coach McCaffery said. “It’s not like — I’m looking and saying, okay, ‘I trust this group, those guys can get some minutes,’ but I don’t know that I would trust them at crunch time. I don’t think that’s the case. I think over the course of November and December, we’ll see where things end up.”