With only three schools ranked in the top 25, the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament should be a wild shootout, because it will take nothing short of a conference championship to get most teams into the NCAA tournament.
The tournament in Indianapolis has moved from the RCA Dome to the brand new Conseco Fieldhouse, a welcomed change for most coaches.
“The Dome was not a basketball venue,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said.
No. 22 Michigan (21-6, 13-3 Big Ten) slipped into the national rankings for the first time in school history after finishing the latter half of the conference season 8-0.
The Wolverines are the No. 2 seed, who along with top-seeded Penn State, No. 3 seed Purdue, No. 4 seed Illinois, and No. 5 Michigan State, has earned a first round bye and will not play until Friday. Michigan will play the winner of tonight’s Iowa-Northwestern game.
##7 Iowa vs. ##10 NorthwesternIowa coach Angie Lee said despite rumors, she was not forced out of her job in Iowa City. Lee’s decision to resign as Hawkeyes coach last week was an effort to take undue pressure off her players and was entirely her doing, the five-year Iowa coach said.
“I don’t want my kids playing to save my job,” Lee said. “I want them to know that there is a future here and I really think we can focus with this behind us.”
The Hawkeyes (9-17, 6-10) will face 10th-seeded Northwestern in game two of the first round tonight. Iowa is led by sophomore Lindsey Meder, who is second in the conference in scoring (18.8 ppg). The Wildcats enter the tournament in the midst of a 10-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 20, when they beat Minnesota 50-44 in Evanston, Ill.
Northwestern beat Iowa 75-71 in the first round of the tournament last season.
##4 Illinois vs. ##5 Michigan StateBefore their Jan. 30 game in Champagne, Illini coach Theresa Grentz presented Michigan State coach Karen Langeland with a new Calloway Big Bertha driver in recognition of her 24th and final season coaching the Spartans.
Langeland returned the favor, bowing down 86-66 to the Illini, one of seven conference road losses for the Spartans. Michigan State’s inability to win away from the Breslin Center could again be a factor in their rematch Friday.
After losing to 11th-seeded Minnesota on the road last Sunday, Langeland had but one short statement assessing her team’s performance.
“That was about as poorly as executed game we’ve played all season,” the veteran coach said.
Karen Rasmussen scored 24 points for the Spartans, who are now on a three-game skid. She has a conference-best 15 double-doubles on the season.
Langeland said the Spartans will need to run the table in the tournament to get an NCAA bid.
Illinois brings a three-game winning streak into Indianapolis.
##8 Indiana vs. ##9 Ohio StateThe winner of the first game of the conference tournament between Indiana (10-17, 5-11) and Ohio State (12-14, 5-11) has a reward awaiting — another battle with conference-leading Penn State.
The Lions (24-3, 15-1) devoured the Big Ten this season, winning 15 games by an average margin of 20.5 points. Penn State trounced Indiana 74-36 on Feb. 17 in Bloomington.
But Ohio State has played tough against the Lions, losing by only six points last Sunday in Columbus.
With nothing to lose, if the Buckeyes can get past Indiana, they could have a shot to upset the Lions, the one team that made their NCAA reservations long in advance.