Caitlin Clark, Iowa have treacherous road to

Potential foes could be Kansas State, which beat Iowa earlier this season, LSU, UCLA, Southern California and South Carolina.


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If Caitlin Clark leaves Iowa with a national title, she’ll have earned every bit of it.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee did Clark and the Hawkeyes no favors in the women’s bracket that was released Sunday night. Sure, they’re a No. 1 seed, as expected. They’ll host the first and second rounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they’ve lost all of two games in the past two seasons. They’re in the Albany regional, which is an easier trip for their diehard fans than the other regional in Portland, Oregon.

But the actual games? Woof.

There’s a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas State, which Iowa has already played twice this season, losing at home and winning on a neutral court. A rematch of last year’s national title game against LSU looms in the regional final. If it’s not Angel Reese and the Tigers, then it likely will be second-seeded UCLA, which is battle tested after the bruising Pac-12 season.

And that’s all before the Final Four!

If Clark and the Hawkeyes make it to Cleveland, Southern Cal and freshman phenom JuJu Watkins likely would await. Earn a spot in the title game, and there’s a good chance their opponent would be overall No. 1 seed South Carolina, which would be itching for some payback after Clark steamrolled the Gamecocks in the Final Four last year.

So yeah, have fun with that.

“They’ve got the hardest road in my opinion. This is the hardest road,” ESPN analyst Andraya Carter said during the selection show as Rebecca Lobo agreed.

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This at least answers the question of whether the committee plays favorites. If it did, the committee would have made sure Clark and Iowa had a straight shot to Cleveland — and I don’t mean via Interstates 80 and 90.

“We’re not trying to get certain matchups or anything like that,” Lisa Peterson, chair of the selection committee, said after the bracket was released. “I know what it looks like now, but when we’re in there, we don’t see them that way. We’re just putting them in number order.”

Honestly, no one would have blamed the committee if it had tried to give Clark and Iowa an easier road.

Clark has been the most exciting player in all of college basketball this season. She captivated hoop heads and casual fans alike with her assault on the record books, and they’ve continued to stick around to see what else she can pull off. Her last four games drew more than a million viewers each, with the regular-season finale where she passed Pete Maravich to become college basketball’s all-time leading scorer and the Big Ten tournament title game both averaging more than 3 million viewers.

Celebrities want to see her, little kids want to be her. Why wouldn’t the committee want to keep that going as long as it could?

Because it couldn’t, first of all. Top-four seeds from the same conference have to be in different brackets, and the Pac-12 skewed things with having four of them: No. 1-seeded Southern California; No. 2-seeded UCLA and Stanford; three-seeded Oregon State. That was a significant factor in how the committee fit all these jigsaw pieces together to make the bracket.

But more to the point, the women’s game doesn’t need propping up. Clark is a certified supernova, but there’s plenty compelling about the game beyond her.

There are storylines and stars galore throughout this year’s field. South Carolina is trying — again — to complete an undefeated season. There’s Generation Next, with Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo, South Carolina’s Milaysia Fulwiley and Texas’ Madison Booker joining Watkins as freshman phenoms. UConn and Paige Bueckers have been under the radar because of injuries and inconsistency, but they blitzed their way through the Big East tournament.

And don’t forget the walking soap opera that is Kim Mulkey and her LSU squad.

Yes, the buzz around the tournament will be muted a bit if Clark and Iowa aren’t in Cleveland. But there’s a really easy way around that. Clark and Iowa are just going to have to win.

It’s largely forgotten now, but few gave the Hawkeyes a chance last year against South Carolina. The Gamecocks brought a 42-game winning streak into the Final Four matchup, with all but a handful won by double digits. South Carolina was bigger and more experienced, having won the national title the previous season.

Clark wasn’t fazed in the least. She dropped 41 points on South Carolina and also had eight assists. Of Iowa’s 28 field goals, she scored or assisted on all but five of them. She played 38 minutes, despite picking up her second foul with 8:17 left in the second quarter. Anytime South Carolina tried to pull away, Clark made a monster play to reel the Gamecocks back in.

Iowa also wasn’t the favorite in the Big Ten tournament this month, having finished second in the regular season to Ohio State. But in the final against Nebraska, a team that had beaten Iowa a month earlier, Clark chased the Cornhuskers down almost single-handedly to force overtime, and Iowa rolled from there to its third consecutive tournament title.

She’s got ice in her veins, that one, and the bigger the stakes, the better Clark plays. She’ll have to again in the NCAA Tournament because Iowa’s path to the title isn’t easy. It’s anything but.

Email Nancy Armour at or follow her on social media @nrarmour

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