By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Iowa’s national championship loss to LSU wasn’t even an hour old before the expectations of next year started following the Hawkeyes.
ESPN’s Charlie Creme had his way-too-early top 25 online as Iowa guard Caitlin Clark was talking about how she wasn’t ready to think about what’s next.
The Hawkeyes, by the way, were No. 4 in Creme’s rankings, one behind LSU.
It’s only the beginning.
The Hawkeyes will get to savor their postseason run in the coming days — a welcome-home event was planned for Monday afternoon and a more formal event will happen later, the university announced on Sunday.
But eventually work will have to begin toward next season, and while the Hawkeyes are getting the high expectations, there will be questions the team and coach Lisa Bluder will have to answer.
Clark, the consensus national player of the year, is returning, as are guards Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin. That’s 60 percent of a starting lineup that was together for more than 90 games in their career.
Where everyone else fits in, though, remains to be seen.
A look at some of the questions to be answered during the offseason:
THE INSIDE: Center Monika Czinano and forward McKenna Warnock won’t be back, and those are two significant losses.
Czinano was one of the nation’s best post players, a 2,000-point scorer for her career who twice led the nation in field-goal percentage. Her chemistry with Clark made for one of the best inside-outside combinations in the nation, and her growth from Megan Gustafson’s understudy to being a dominant inside presence was a big key to Iowa’s current run as one of the nation’s best programs.
Warnock was a steadying presence throughout her career. She was a 1,000-point scorer for her career, averaging 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds this season.
Warnock’s offensive rebound in the final seconds of Friday’s 77-73 semifinal win over South Carolina was one of the pivotal moments of the postseason. Her consistent production made her a big part of Iowa’s lineup.
Combined, the two averaged more than 57 minutes per game, which means there are opportunities for the rest of Iowa’s roster.
Hannah Stuelke, a freshman who was the Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the Year, is expected to move into a starting role last season after averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.
The bigger question is who fills the other frontcourt spot. Addison O’Grady’s impact as Czinano’s backup in the postseason can’t be overstated, and she grew more comfortable in that role throughout the season.
Sharon Goodman, who missed all of the 2021-22 season with a knee injury, has experience but only played in 13 games this season. A.J. Ediger played in 17 games.
THE BACKCOURT: Clark, Marshall and Martin have the three starting spots cemented, but it will be interesting to see who develops around them and how the minutes are distributed.
Molly Davis and Sydney Affolter were the main guard pieces off the bench. Kylie Feuerbach, out this season as she recovered from offseason knee surgery, played 32 games in the 2021-22 season and should be back. Taylor McCabe, a 3-point specialist, played in 18 games this season.
THE HYPE: Everyone is going to want a piece of the Hawkeyes this summer.
The NCAA Tournament run that captivated the state has made this group instant celebrities, and there’s no doubt they’ll be high demand for offseason appearances.
It’s a mature group that seemed to embrace and enjoy the moments of the postseason, so handling the hype might not be as much of a worry as it could be with other teams.
THE ROSTER: The Hawkeyes’ roster is full for next season, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune from the NCAA transfer portal movement that has affected just about every program in college basketball.
This is a group with great chemistry — you don’t get to the national championship game without it. And there are minutes to be had, but not as many as it first appears. So could there be changes coming?
Photo: Kate Martin (20), Gabbie Marshall (24) and Caitlin Clark are the starters returning for Iowa next season. (Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire)