Despite having the chance to play at home for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Iowa is anything but a lock to advance to the Sweet 16.
Just getting past the first round could be tough to accomplish.The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes will take on one of the nation's hottest teams as they meet No. 11 seed Marist on Sunday in Iowa City.The winner will likely face Louisville in the next round, and the Cardinals are a No. 3 seed despite entering the tournament ranked fourth in the country.Iowa (26-8) certainly would benefit from potentially playing them at home, though coach Lisa Bluder knows it won't be easy for her team to even get that far.Marist has won 26 of 28 after a 1-4 start, and the Red Foxes (27-6) are appearing in the tournament for the ninth year in a row."Very excited to be able to participate in the national tournament, then it makes it more special to be on our home court," Bluder said. "To be here in Carver Hawkeye Arena is extra special for us. We know that Marist is a great opponent. We're excited about playing them."Both teams feature balanced offenses. Marist has five starters averaging between 10.9 and 13.6 points, and all of Iowa's starters average at least 12 points. The Red Foxes and Hawkeyes know defensively they must both we wary of every player on the floor."It's very difficult. But I think we have the same threat," Bluder said. "So I think it counters each other or negates each other, because they're in the same boat with us."Iowa, the only Big Ten team to make the tournament in the last seven seasons, has won six of its last seven games and has lost just twice all year against unranked opponents.Bethany Doolittle tops the Hawkeyes with 14.2 points per game, but she was held to seven in the Big Ten title game loss to Nebraska.Senior Emma O'Connor averages a team-best 13.6 points for Marist despite being held below double figures twice in three games during the Red Foxes' run to a ninth consecutive MAAC title.Led by coach Brian Giorgis, Marist has won nine in a row and hasn't scored less than 70 in the last eight. The Hawkeyes are 19-0 when holding the opposition below 72 points.These schools are meeting for the first time.