IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Coach Lisa Bluder has had plenty of good teams in her 18 seasons in charge at Iowa. This year's group might end up being the best she's ever had.
The Hawkeyes, who are ranked 13th in The Associated Press women's basketball preseason poll , return six of their top seven scorers from a year ago — including NCAA scoring champion Megan Gustafson (25.7 points per game). Guard Kathleen Doyle, a preseason All-Big Ten pick, will be joined by Tania Davis, who missed last season with a knee injury, to form one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten.
Iowa, which finished 24-8 a year ago and was upset by 11th-seeded Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, opens the season against Oral Roberts on Nov. 9.
"It's easy to be enthused about this group of women," Bluder said. "They come every day to practice with great energy, with a positive attitude. They have a tremendous focus."
The biggest reason the Hawkeyes are so excited for this season is the 6-foot-3 Gustafson, who also led the nation in shooting percentage (67.1) and made baskets (320).
Snubbed by nearly every outlet for first-team All-America honors, Gustafson is primed to compete for national player of the year honors this winter. She is just 300 points shy of the school record and 89 rebounds from the team mark. She was the unanimous pick to repeat as the player of the year in the Big Ten.
Bluder said Gustafson might not be able to replicate her monster numbers from a year ago because she's no longer a secret.
"I think every coach in America is planning on how they're going to control Megan," Bluder said. "With that, the rest of our team is going to reap the benefits of that focus."
Getting back Davis to pair with Doyle, who led the Big Ten in assists with 7.5 per conference game a year ago, should take some of the pressure off Gustafson in the paint. Davis, who has averaged 9.3 points a game and 3.9 assists in 68 career games, is coming off surgeries for torn ACLs in each knee in back-to-back seasons.
"If you don't double (team Gustafson), you're going to give up 2s the entire game and she's going to score 50 and we're going to get 50 assists," Davis said. "We're fine with that."
With Gustafson, Doyle and Davis expected to serve as Iowa's so-called Big Three, Makenzie Meyer might be poised for a breakout season on the perimeter.
Meyer, a 5-foot-9 junior and the 2016 Iowa Miss Basketball for Mason City, averaged 10.8 points a game last season with 51 3s and a 37.8 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. She also shot 91.2 percent from the line and dished out 111 assists.
"She's a sniper out there," Doyle said.
Iowa has long been a competitive team in the Big Ten under Bluder, but greatness has eluded the Hawkeyes during her tenure. Just one of her 13 NCAA Tournament teams reached the Sweet Sixteen — and none beyond that.
These Hawkeyes, whose goals are to win the Big Ten and reach at least the Elite Eight, could help cement Bluder's legacy.
"I have unbelievable confidence in them. I believe this team can be very good," she said. "We're challenging ourselves, there's no doubt about it."