Tournament seeds may not be final until final game of the year

With tight races for first-round byes, Minnesota’s final four games will be pivotal.

by Mark Heise

The loss the Minnesota women’s basketball team suffered Saturday was bad enough by itself for a team fighting for conference position.

But when compounded with wins from Michigan and Indiana, things got worse for the Gophers.

Minnesota now finds itself in a three-way tie for fourth place heading into the final week of conference play. Only the top five teams receive a first-round bye for the tournament.

“We’re coming down the final stretch here, and as people might have expected, it’s going to come down to the last game,” coach Pam Borton said. “It should be an exciting week of basketball.”

Indiana and Minnesota face off at Williams Arena on Thursday, and while the Gophers will finish the season against Michigan, the other team tied for fourth, the Hoosiers will get to play Penn State, arguably the worst team in the Big Ten at the moment.

Michigan’s other matchup is against Wisconsin, a team that, with an 8-8 record, may still have an opportunity to sneak into the top five.

First place

The race for first place is in a dead heat as well following Indiana’s upset win against Ohio State on Monday.

The Buckeyes are tied with Iowa for first, with an 11-5 record, with Purdue hanging a half-game back at 11-6.

Despite the deadlock, Ohio State holds the edge, as they would win the tiebreaker against either Iowa or Purdue.

Along with that, the Buckeyes have by far the easiest schedule remaining, playing Penn State and Northwestern, two teams that have won a combined one game over the last 26 played in the last week.

But Purdue assistant coach Martin Clapp said his team hasn’t given up hope yet.

“We’re looking forward to this last weekend,” he said. “So many things can happen with several teams still battling for position. We won’t know anything until Sunday afternoon and all the games have been played.”

The Boilermakers have one game remaining as they travel to Illinois, while Iowa hosts Northwestern and then heads to Wisconsin to finish off its schedule.

First win

Northwestern avoided a dubious record last weekend, topping a fading Penn State team to end a 16-game losing streak. The Wildcats, now 1-15 in the Big Ten, were on track to be the first conference team to lose all 18 conference games.

But Northwestern instead had eight players score to upend the Nittany Lions, who have now lost nine in a row.

“We’re thrilled to have that goose egg off of our win column,” coach Beth Combs said. “It was a great win on senior day against a good Penn State team.”

Calling Penn State a good team may be a bit of a stretch, as the Nittany Lions haven’t won a game in over a month and have lost each of the nine games by an average of 17 points.