By any measure, 2020-21 was a successful season for the Iowa women’s basketball team. The Hawkeyes finished 20-10 and advanced to the Sweet 16 on the backs of some truly elite individual performances.
Caitlin Clark, whom you have read about here and no doubt will again, averaged 26.6 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field, sinking 40.6 percent of her threes and topping 40 percent in her assist rate as well. This being the uber-competitive Clark, though, she looks at her freshman season and sees opportunities to get better.
“I think there’s always room for improvement,” Clark told me in an interview last month. “I can definitely increase my percentages, even from the 3-point line — I can even shoot it better. And I think that just goes back to shot selection, weeding out a few shots that I didn’t need to take, or were too soon, I could have substituted with an easier look.”
Meanwhile, Monika Czinano, Iowa’s 6-foot-3 senior center, led the nation last season in field-goal percentage, at 66.8 percent. Her points per possession, per Synergy Sports, were 1.213 — also best in the nation. Surely, there’s not another level for her, right?
“I don’t think there’s a specific metric that I’m aiming for,” Czinano said. “But there’s always room for improvement.”
She’s right: So far in 2021-22, her points per possession are at 1.233.
What’s been fascinating about the first six games of the Iowa season is how both Clark and Czinano turned out to be correct across a variety of measurements. The results have the Hawkeyes positioned to play deep into March, and maybe April as well.
Let’s start with the ways Clark vowed to improve over her standout freshman season. Clark’s 3-point percentage is down so far, just 24.6 percent on the same number of attempts per game (9.5) as in 2020-21. However, there’s likely not a person in basketball who thinks that reflects her real talent — so expect that number to rise quite a bit as the year goes on.
One reason to think so is reflected in her other statistical goals for the 2021-22 season.
“I think my free-throw percentage is pretty good,” Clark said. “But I don’t think there’s any reason I couldn’t be in the 90s. So just kind of refining those. And I think looking at my assists, they were off the charts, but at the same time, my turnovers were not very good. So that’s definitely something I can work on, to improve that assist-to-turnover ratio.”
Let’s take each of these in turn. Clark’s free-throw percentage was excellent last season, 85.8 percent. This year? She’s meeting her goal so far — 91.4 percent, to be exact. Studies have shown that free-throw percentage today can help predict 3-point accuracy tomorrow. Again, do not worry about Clark’s long-range accuracy.
But in the other areas too, she was only half-right. She spoke about her assist percentage being off the charts, and that was true — yet she’s raised it significantly somehow, from 40.1 percent last year to an even 50 percent this year. We’ve written here about the only women’s college basketball player since 2016 to top 50 percent — Tiana Mangakahia — and that’s the territory Clark is in distributing the ball.
As for her turnovers, a recent Clark masterpiece provides an example of her growth.