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Six Big Ten Teams Make Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament

Big Ten champions Ohio State lead a middling conference cohort into a tournament where, surprise surprise, it’s still UConn’s to lose.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Maryland Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since joining the conference, the Maryland Terrapins failed to win the Women’s Big Ten Tournament.

In their place, the Ohio State Buckeyes lead the conference of the Midwest into another Women’s NCAA Tournament where the primary function seems to be to crown the UConn Huskies unless Mississippi State or Notre Dame can dethrone them again.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Big Ten teams in the bracket. All ratings courtesy of Women’s RPI Ratings. You can find the full bracket through the mothership.

Midwest Region

[5] Maryland Terrapins

Record: 25-7 (12-4)
RPI: 18th
Coach: Brenda Frese

Round 1: vs. Princeton Tigers
Friday, March 16 (Milwaukee, ESPN2, 11am)

Losing both the regular-season and Big Ten Tournament title to the Buckeyes, the Terrapins are the clear number two in the conference in 2017-18. While they lost to the top-ranked Huskies by 25 early in the year, they hung with #4 South Carolina before falling by 8, and finished the year ranked 16th in the nation.

Kaila Charles patrols the paint for the Lady Terps, pulling down 8.3 boards a game and leading the way with 18 points per contest. She’ll lead them against the Ivy League champion Princeton Tigers in Milwaukee on Friday morning.

[6] Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 24-7 (11-5)
RPI: 21st
Coach: Lisa Bluder

Round 1: vs. Creighton Bluejays
Saturday, March 17 (Sacramento, ESPN2, 5pm)

Megan Gustafson. Megan Gustafson. Megan. Gustafson.

That’s about all you need to know about the Hawkeyes, who go as far as Gustafson (25.6 ppg, more than double the nearest Hok) goes and probably should have lost to Northwestern in the second round of the BTT in a game we should never talk about again.

The Hawks dropped a 1-point game to then-#13 Florida State in their only real test of the non-conference. They could, to my mind, just as easily lose to the Big East at-large Bluejays as they could make a run to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond, with UCLA and Texas lurking as the 3- and 2-seed in their bracket.

[10] Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 21-10 (11-5)
RPI: 60th
Coach: Amy Williams

Round 1: vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Saturday, March 17 (Indianapolis, ESPN2, 2:30pm)

Wow. From 7-22 (3-13) in 2016-17, Amy Williams’ first season, to 21-10 and NCAA Tournament-bound. They were a shaky bubble team, with an RPI down at 60 and a couple not-great losses (Wazzu and Clemson) in the non-conference, but their turnaround and strong conference showing earned them an at-large bid.

For their troubles, the Huskers get a redux of postseason play in Indianapolis, where their lockdown defense will face a similarly-offensively-challenged opponent in the Sun Devils. ASU, however, only dropped non-conference games to tournament teams (Mississippi State, Green Bay, and Florida State). If Hannah Whitish is hitting from outside, the Huskers could pull off the upset.

West Region

[3] Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 27-6 (13-3)
RPI: 6th
Coach: Kevin McGuff

Round 1: vs. George Washington Colonials
Saturday, March 17 (Orlando, ESPN2, 12:30pm)

The Kelsey Mitchell Show rolls on, and on, and on...

Ohio State finally dethroned the Terps atop the conference, as Mitchell’s ability to pour it in is bolstered by the inside double-double average (16.5 and 10.8) of Stephanie Mavunga. The Buckeyes only dropped non-conference games to ACC opponents Louisville and Duke, along with South Florida, and consistently rolled up big numbers in conference play.

They should walk through the Colonials, and after that a date with SEC at-large LSU Tigers before what would be a pretty marquee and winnable matchup with the Oregon Ducks.

[10] Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 23-8 (11-5)
RPI: 41
Coach: Marlene Stollings

Round 1: vs. Green Bay Phoenix
Friday, March 16 (Salt Lake City, ESPN2, 4pm)

While women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme (that name tho) had the Gophers as one of the last four teams in the tournament, this is still a team that can pour it in when they get out and impose their pace on the game.

Kenisha Bell does it all for the Gophers, averaging 20 ppg, 6.8 apg, and 5.5 rpg, but her contributions will be tested by a stingy Phoenix defense—the damn best in the country, allowing just 46.1 ppg.

You read that right. Forty-six points per game. That’s it.

It comes down to just how well the Gophers can impose their pace and offense on the game; Green Bay is always one of those tricky outs and perennial mid-major powers in women’s college basketball. For their troubles, the Gophers would likely draw 2-seed Oregon in the second round.

South Regional

[7] Michigan Wolverines

Record: 22-9 (10-6)
RPI: 39th
Coach: Kim Barnes Arico

Round 1: vs. Northern Colorado Bears
Friday, March 16 (Indianapolis, ESPN2, 4pm)

Katelynn Flaherty bombs away from deep (41.8%, 23.2 ppg), Hallie Thome patrols the lane (17 ppg, 7.2 rpg). That’s about the open-and-shut case for the Wolverines, who didn’t have the firepower to run with the big guns (Notre Dame, Louisville, Ohio State) and lost 5 of their last 8 on the trot to close out the season.

There could be a nice chance to show strong close to home against the Big Sky champion Bears, who romped through their tournament, but with Kim Mulkey’s Baylor Bears lurking as the 2-seed, it’s likely to be a short stay for the Wolverines.

The Snubs? (Women’s NIT)

Really, only these three could have any beef with not making the NCAA Tournament, and it’s really just Rutgers’ gripe to have, as they finished just a spot below Michigan in RPI. Ultimately, though, their conference record likely doomed C. Vivian Stringer’s club.

Update: Citing a desire to earn her 1,000th win in the NCAA Tournament, not the Women’s NIT, C. Vivian Stringer and the Knights will not compete in the consolation tournament. The Scarlet Knights were on the bubble but lost 9 of their last 12 and were edged by Minnesota and Creighton.

A shoddy non-conference run keeps both B1G teams in the state of Indiana in the 64-team WNIT field, as well.

Official matchups will be announced later tonight; I’ll do my best to update them tomorrow.

Good luck to all the women’s Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament and Women’s NIT!