Megan Gustafson and the legend of the Iowa post presence
If you know anything at all about Iowa’s women’s basketball program, you know who Megan Gustafson is. She’s the one that averaged 28 and 13 a game this past season, the one who shot 70% from the field, the one who led her team to their first Elite Eight appearance in 26 years. You’ve seen her highlights, and you know she’s an incredible player:
But what you might not know is that Iowa rostered a lot of other players, including a few scary shooters:
And another great forward that could score pretty efficiently in the post:
This is all part of what Lisa Bluder’s been doing as the Iowa head coach for the last 19 seasons. Coming over from Drake University in 2000, she’s taken Iowa to 14 NCAA tournaments – more than half of their total bids – and has consistently led the Hawkeyes to be among the most successful from the Big Ten’s middle class. For her, it all starts with having an offense that makes the most of the talent within it. “I love offense, I enjoy devising ways to maximize offensive efficiency,” says Bluder. Having someone like Gustafson on your team obviously helps:
But, again, it wasn’t just her. Iowa had four players average at least 10 points per game, with Makenzie Meyer right around the corner at 9.2. It’s always been Bluder’s goal to make sure everyone gets their fair shot in a Hawkeyes uniform. “Even though we had the nation’s leading scorer the past two seasons, I actually do love offensive balance. In a normal season, our goal is to have five players in double figures,” she says. Players like Kathleen Doyle, perhaps:
Doyle was Iowa’s second-leading scorer at 12 points per game – not flashy, obviously, but she got her shots up and played quality basketball. The same goes for Hannah Stewart (11.1 PPG), who was mentioned earlier, as well as Tania Davis (10.3 PPG). The Hawkeyes were great about finding their best offensive options and getting them the basketball:
It just so happened that this roster in particular was more post-oriented than Bluder is used to. Traditionally, Iowa’s run a 4-out motion offense that relies on stretching the floor via quality perimeter shooting and a dominant post player. The Iowa post tradition is long and sturdy; before Gustafson, there was Bethany Doolittle (1,353 career points, 650 rebounds), Morgan Johnson (1,582 and 886, plus a school record 293 blocks), and Megan Skouby (1,439 and 518). It just so happens that there were almost never two posts worth starting on the same team.
“We knew that Megan was special and we needed to focus our offense around her a bit more,” says Bluder. “In addition, looking at our top five players that were returning, we felt that two of them were posts. I needed to find a way to emphasize the post position offensively and find a way to have two posts on the floor at the same time – something you don’t see as much of in today’s game.” What you saw on the court is the result of Bluder’s high-end offensive experimentation:
And even by sacrificing her traditional 4-out for a two-post lineup, the shooters were, indeed, still able to shoot. Iowa got a lot of quality shots out of post kickouts like this one:
“We really look for the post that embraces being down there,” says Bluder. “I want the post that wants to be a post!” Anyone who watched Iowa play for any length of time last year can tell that Gustafson loved being down low. It doesn’t take much to realize her special talents, and why drawing up an offense around her capabilities led Iowa to the Elite Eight:
While Iowa plans on going back to their normal 4-out motion in 2019-20, Bluder knows what she’s looking for from her next offense. “When you incorporate the whole floor and reverse the ball, it is much harder on the defense,” she notes. She even named the next great Iowa post presence for me: sophomore Monika Czinano. If Bluder’s right – and we have every reason to believe she is – you’ll be hearing even more about Iowa’s dominance of the post game for years to come.