116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Their group-chat name is their desired destination.
“Final Four Minneapolis.”
If you’re a fan of the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, your hopes are high for a special season, an extended postseason.
Know this: The Hawkeyes’ hopes are higher.
“We can do it,” All-America sophomore guard Caitlin Clark said at Thursday’s media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Final Four ... that should be everybody’s saying.”
If rankings are a proper barometer, these Hawkeyes — No. 9, according to the Associated Press — are at their highest preseason level in a quarter-century (and if you’re wondering, the 1996-97 team, which opened at No. 6, was a disappointment).
There’s certainly a buzz. As of Thursday, about 3,150 season tickets had been sold, nearly a 50-percent increase from 2019-20.
For a program that traditionally relishes in overachieving from modest expectations, this is a departure.
“We’ve got a target on our backs,” junior guard Gabbie Marshall said. “When you’ve got players like Caitlin and Monika (Czinano), why wouldn’t you have a target on your backs?
“Preseason top-10, now we’ve got to play like that.”
More directly, they’ve got to defend.
Certainly one of the most prolific and entertaining teams in the nation last year, Iowa averaged 86.1 points per game in a 20-10, Sweet 16 campaign.
The Hawkeyes’ defensive average was 80.3 points per game, dead last in the nation.
“We have a pretty good recipe for offensive success, but as you know, our defense needs to improve, and that's been a point of emphasis since we started our workouts in the summer,” said Lisa Bluder, in her 22nd season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach and five wins away from 800 for her career.
“Rebounding and defense need to improve.”
Clark said, “If we can get from allowing 80 points per game, even to the low 70s, that will make a big difference. I saw that if we would have allowed two or three fewer baskets a game, we’d have won five more games.”
All five starters return — preseason all-Big Ten selections Clark and Czinano, plus Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin.
Seniors Tomi Taiwo and Logan Cook are projected to be valuable players off the bench.
Kylie Feuerbach, who started 24 games last year as a freshman at Iowa State, has transferred in, joining freshmen Addison O’Grady, A.J. Ediger and Sydney Affolter.
Iowa announced Thursday that sophomore Shateah Wetering, from Montezuma, had sustained a torn ACL. Backup post Sharon Goodman suffered the same fate a few weeks ago and recently underwent surgery.
That means O’Grady and Cook will be Czinano’s support staff in the post.
“Logan just doesn’t make mistakes,” Bluder said. “Addi is still in a learning curve. For a freshman or a newcomer, it usually takes until Christmas before the light bulb comes on. Once it does, the whole world opens up.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to play in empty arenas, the Hawkeyes are eager for noise.
“We’ll feed off that,” Clark said. “Even if I’m being booed, that gets me going, too.”
The journey begins with an exhibition game next Thursday against Truman State, then it starts for real Nov. 9 with a home date with New Hampshire.
Coach: Lisa Bluder (22nd season at Iowa, 439-234; overall, 795-376)
Last year: 20-10 (11-8 Big Ten, 6th); Big Ten tournament runner-up; NCAA tournament Sweet 16
Top returners: G Caitlin Clark (soph.), F/C Monika Czinano (sr.), G/F McKenna Warnock (jr.), G Kate Martin (jr.), G Gabbie Marshall (jr.), G Tomi Taiwo (sr.)
Schedule highlights: Nov. 4 — Truman State, 6:30 p.m. (exhibition)
Nov. 9 — New Hampshire, 6 p.m. (regular-season opener)
Nov. 14 — at UNI, 2 p.m.
Nov. 21 — Drake, 2 p.m.
Dec. 2 — at Duke, 8 p.m. (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
Dec. 5 — Michigan State, 3 p.m. (Big Ten opener)
Dec. 8 — at Iowa State, 6 p.m.
Jan. 23 — Indiana, 5 p.m.
Feb. 6 — Michigan
Feb. 14 — Maryland, 8 p.m.
March 2-6 — Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis