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REGION: East SEED: 9
COACH: Lisa Bluder CONFERENCE: Big Ten
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Everybody should be wary of meeting this blue-collar team. The Buckeyes are playing tremendous basketball right now and are one of the most physical teams in the country. If you go through the lane, they'll bang you. But most importantly, Ohio State also knows how to play ugly basketball, meaning that while it's easy to play when things are going well, the Buckeyes also know how to grind out a game when things get scrappy.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
The 6-foot-1 senior forward is only the second Hawkeye player to amass 1,700 points and 800 rebounds, and one of only three Hawkeyes to score 300 points or more during each of her four seasons. The three-time captain ranks fifth in Iowa career scoring (1,740) and rebounding (817), third in blocks (110), sixth in steals (187) and eighth in assists (295).
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
With significant progress through the Big Ten season, Iowa is on track to cause more damage in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa has found great success sharing the basketball out of its half-court triangle offense. Accumulating assists, however, is easy when you stroke the long ball well and have four players shooting better than 82 percent from the free-throw line. This said, the team's main objective is to push an up-tempo brand of basketball, which is why the Hawkeyes led the conference in scoring for a greater part of the season.
On the flip side, Iowa has had a tough time preventing the opposition from scoring. Hopefully they can simply score more points than their opponent, but this is never a safe bet to fall back on in the height of tourney play.
While Iowa uses a 9-10 player rotation, the Hawkeyes derive their passion from senior forward Jennie Lillis. Her versatility has carried Iowa, as she has ranked in the conference's top 10 in five major statistical categories -- the most ever by a Hawkeye. Lillis has earned every bit of her All-Big Ten status.
Besides the guidance that Lillis provides, the team wouldn't be competing in postseason play without the leadership of senior shooter Kristi Faulkner and junior big Jamie Cavey. After transferring from in-conference rival Illinois following her freshman campaign, Faulkner has flourished as a proven scorer. Cavey might be the most improved player on not just Iowa's team, but in the entire conference. After averaging only 5.6 points per game a season ago, she has averaged more than 18 points this time around. Cavey has certainly given the Hawkeyes the added balance they will need to win in the tournament.
In the big picture, look for Iowa to put a lot of points on the board, but also give up a fair amount of points against sharp-shooting opponents. The Hawkeyes will need big-time play from not just their top three, but from bench players like defensive whiz Crystal Smith, who is one of the best thieves in the Big Ten. If Iowa can put together stops, it can be successful.