Thursday, March 21, 2019
Page 3

My, oh my

Some shockers today……..

ACC quarterfinals:

Louisville 75, Clemson 67

Notre Dame 95, North Carolina 77

NC State 69, Florida State 62

Syracuse 92, Miami 85

Big 12 first round:

Texas Tech 104, Oklahoma 84

Kansas 76, Oklahoma State 66

Big Ten quarterfinals:

Maryland 71, Michigan State 55

Iowa 70, Indiana 61

Michigan 73, Wisconsin 65 (2OT)

Rutgers 64, Purdue 49

SEC quarterfinal results:

Mississippi State 83, Tennessee 68

Arkansas 95, South Carolina 89

Missouri 70, Kentucky 68

Texas A&M 64, Auburn 62

Pac-12 quarterfinal results:

UCLA 73, Arizona State 69

Oregon 77, Arizona 63

Stanford 72, Cal 64

Washington 68, Oregon State 67

SO to recap: South Carolina out, Oregon State out, Miami out, several close games and challenges…….March Madness!!!!

More results:

Atlantic-10 quarterfinals results

ASUN quarterfinal results

AAC first round results

MAAC quarterfinal results

OVC semifinal results

SoCon semifinal results

West Coast Conference second round results

NCAA Tournament news:

Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit with today’s loss to Mississippi State.

Michigan advances to its first Big Ten Tourney semifinal since 2001.

Three MAC teams could make the NCAA Tournament.

The DII bracket will be revealed Sunday.

College team news:

Missouri is finding different ways to win when it matters.

Worn-down Utah will halt their season, as they turned down a WNIT bid.

Georgia is sad about falling short of the program legacy, but is happy about their fight all season. Where do the Bulldogs stand after their early exit?

A look into the emotions after Ohio’s 70-66 win over Miami.

Gonzaga embraces the journey that led to their regular-season title.

It’s time for Purdue to show real progress.

Why one November loss looms over West Virginia’s Tournament hopes.

Iowa State is at its highest seed in the Big 12 Tourney since 2013.

College player news:

UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson will miss the AAC Tournament with an injured back.

Janelle Bailey was a bright spot in North Carolina’s loss to Notre Dame today.

Sidelined Wisconsin players are OK after a traffic accident.

College coach news:

Jeff Mittie called a team meeting, and Kansas State started winning.

Penn State has let coach Coquese Washington go after 12 seasons.

Briann January continues to find passion in coaching at Arizona State.

Bonus:

Beth Goetz and Jill Shields have been appointed to the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee.

WNBA news:

Nicki Collen was her husband’s assistant coach before being named WNBA coach of the year in 2018.

After a state of limbo, faith and a clear mind is fueling Ruth Hamblin’s possible WNBA return.

March Madness in effect

ACC second round:

Syracuse 67, Virginia 57

North Carolina 80, Georgia Tech 73

Clemson 80, Virginia Tech 79

Florida State 51, Duke 41

SEC second round:

Tennessee 69, LSU 66

Arkansas 86, Georgia 76

Auburn 53, Alabama 52

Missouri 87, Florida 56

Big Ten second round:

Michigan State 68, Northwestern 52

Wisconsin 73, Ohio State 63

Indiana 66, Minnesota 58

Purdue 75, Nebraska 71

Pac-12 first round:

Arizona State 66, Colorado 49

Arizona 76, USC 48

Cal 77, Washington State 58

Still in progress right now: Washington vs. Utah

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

Chasing their fifth straight SEC title, the Gamecocks feel no pressure.

Why the SEC Tournament means more for Mississippi State.

Mission for Iowa: cut down nets.

UCLA carries their momentum into the Pac-12 Tournament.

How did Louisville only get one player on the all-ACC team?

With their first regular-season title in hand, VCU begins Atlantic-10 Conference play Friday.

College player news:

Sophie Cunningham is much more than a basketball player.

One-on-one with NCAA all-time steals leader Chastadie Barrs.

Jordan Moore is just the second TCU player to be named to the All-Big-12 team.

Standout Mary Persons is leaving her mark at Mercer.

South Carolina will lean on stable Doniyah Cliney in the SEC Tourney.

LaTashia Jones waited her turn and made the most of her opportunity with Oklahoma State.

It’s been a senior season to celebrate for three at Gonzaga.

Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier are inseparable on and off the court.

Aleah Goodman embraces her chance to provide a spark off the bench for Oregon State.

For Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise, each Indiana win is a little sweeter, as “it could be your last game.”

Two players are driving Oklahoma’s hope of a magic run in the Big 12 Tourney.

The Vegas lights are shining bright on Arizona State freshman Jayde Van Hyfte.

College coach news:

Bob Boldon has become the winningest coach in Ohio program history.

Clemson is no longer an ACC doormat under first-year coach Amanda Butler.

Georgia Tech coach Mark Simons backs MaChelle Joseph.

A book of Pat Summitt’s best quotes will be released tomorrow.

International news:

How Liz Cambage was pushed to the limit

One-on-one with NCAA all-time steals leader Chastadie Barrs

Chastadie Barrs became the NCAA's career steals leader last week. Photo courtesy of Lamar Athletics.
Chastadie Barrs became the NCAA's career steals leader last week. Photo courtesy of Lamar Athletics.
Chastadie Barrs became the NCAA’s career steals leader last week. Photo courtesy of Lamar Athletics.

Lamar University guard Chastadie Barrs is having a season most players can only dream about. Offensively, she is respectable, shooting 40 percent from the field, 27 percent from behind the arc, and a modest 64 percent from the free throw line. She stands out because she makes her living doing the dirty work.

Few players can affect the game with their defense, but Barrs is one of them. The senior is the reigning and three-time Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year. She is the second Division I woman with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, and 500 steals, after only soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Ticha Penicheiro. And last week, Barrs became the NCAA’s all-time leader in steals, grabbing No. 632.

A jack of all trades, Barrs is clearly a master of one. She currently averages 14.8 points per game, 6.2 assists, 7.3 rebounds, and a mind-blowing 6.2 steals per contest. She possesses a skill set quite like no one has ever seen in basketball, which will make her invaluable in the professional ranks.

When did you first pick up a basketball, and how soon did you know it was for you?

I first started playing when I was only four years old. It runs in my family. My mom played in college and my grandfather played. I guess it was something I wanted to try and something I was passionate about. I always knew the game was for me because I was good at it initially. My mom didn’t really allow me to quit. She coached me throughout my toddler and preschool years. I enjoyed it, so I just stuck with it.

Who were your teachers in the game, and how did they influence you?

My mom mostly taught me the game and of course some coaches. She played in college at UNT. She taught me the ropes. She coached me up until middle school. She influenced everything that I know about the game now. Of course past coaches – Jason Terry, who used to be with the Dallas Mavericks – he coached me as well. I played for his travel ball team in middle school. He influenced me as well.

Were you always defensive-minded?

For the majority of my career I have been. It was one particular big game in travel ball where my defense was one of the main reasons we won that game. Ever since that one game where I kept stealing the ball over and over again it was like, okay, this is something I’m going to be good at and something I want to focus on. Ever since that travel ball game I’ve always focused on defense and made it the biggest part of my game.

How did you learn to steal the ball so deftly?

[Laughs] I don’t even know. My mom always told me to stay with my opponent and try to figure out what her move is going to be, study her game to see what her counter move is going to be, and what she wants to do with the ball. That kind of helped me on the defensive end to know how to get steals. It’s timing and determination. I know that defense is a big part of basketball and one of the most important parts. I just focus on that because I feel like if you can defend somebody, you can win if you stop them from scoring.

Did you set goals for steals at any point in your high school or college career?

No. I was named Defensive Player of the Year in high school, as well. As far as goals are concerned, coming in here when I was the first freshman to get the Defensive Player of the Year award in the Southland Conference. From that point I set a goal to try to get it every single year. I’ve done that thus far, so hopefully this year I can keep that going. I wanted to break the record, as well. Ever since I’ve known that there was a record to be broken, I always strove to break that record with my defense.

Is playing defense fun for you?

It is [laughs]. I’m not going to lie, it is. I do like it more than offense. Everybody enjoys scoring and focuses on that, but I like the fact that defense is something that no one really tries to focus on anymore. I’m glad it’s something I’m good at because I’m bringing more attention to that realm of the game. It’s fun for me because I like the looks on the faces of girls that I steal the ball from. Everybody doesn’t want to dribble the ball because I’m defending them. I enjoy it because it’s an important part of my game that I’m determined to master.

How did you get to Lamar?

They recruited me in my junior year of high school when you’re allowed to talk to college coaches. They recruited me along with a lot of bigger schools like USC, Tulane, A&M, and USF. I got into a car accident in my sophomore summer. I didn’t play my entire junior year so I dropped a lot of those bigger schools due to that. Lamar actually stuck with me throughout the process of my thumb being broken and not being able to play. They were a DI school and when I visited it felt like home to me, so I said, “why not?” I always had the option to leave if it didn’t work out. I tried it out and it ended up working perfectly for me. I stuck with them because they were loyal to me.

How have you changed as a player and a person during your time as a Cardinal?

Well, I’ve matured I think in the game and outside of the court. My coaches have improved my offensive game as well being here. I used to not look to score. I would get all of my points off of steals and focusing on assists and rebounds. I wasn’t an offensive threat but I’ve become one since I’ve been here. I’m getting triple-doubles now. They helped me mature in that way. I’ve learned a lot from coach Harmony, coach Miles, and all the coaches here because they all have experience. As far as basketball is concerned, they taught me a lot about maturity, leadership, and accountability which will help me later on in life outside of basketball.

If you could go back and tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

I would know more about the recruiting process, but if anything I would probably try to give myself more exposure at a younger age and I don’t think my work ethic was as strong as it is now. I would definitely tell myself to put in more work. I was always the faster kid or the more athletic child, so I didn’t have to work on my skill level as much when it came to shooting and the fundamentals of the game. I would say, “don’t worry about anything, just go out there and play, and also create more of a work ethic outside of games because it can go a long way.”

At what point did that work ethic kick in?

College, to be honest. I stepped into a big role in my freshman year as captain and one of the better players on the team. I realized in college you can’t just be a one-side-of-the-ball player. I had to work on my game. I realized after a while once I kept on going to the gym how much it approved my game as a whole. I would say college, but I’d also say my senior year in high school. I had a chip on my shoulder with everybody who dropped me (out) of the bigger schools. I pushed myself harder and harder to prove them wrong to show what they missed out on.

What is next for you with basketball? Is the WNBA or playing overseas a goal of yours and also, what would you like to do after your playing career is over?

Most definitely I want to play ball professionally. I have been placed into mock drafts for the WNBA. That’s something I do want to do. I would love to do both. If I was to get drafted I would love to play for three months for the WNBA and of course go overseas once that season is up. If not the WNBA, I do want to go overseas and continue to play as long as I can. After basketball, I wouldn’t be opposed to coaching. It’s not something I really want to do, but I think I’m good at that as well. I coached a few younger girls in the summer time whenever I had the opportunity to. I would go into coaching. It’s a little stressful, but I wouldn’t mind it. If not that, I want to work with any job that’s focused in sports, whether it’s broadcasting, marketing, or an agency. I just want to be in something that has to do with sports because that’s really my passion. It’s been my passion since I was a kid.

Is ball life?

[Laughs] Yes, it has been. I’ve missed plenty of pivotal moments for basketball. It has taken over most of my life. In college you really see that ball is life when you don’t get a spring break and things that other kids might get. It definitely is life, but it’s worth it. Like my coach always says, after this I’ll leave debt free. Some of my friends will leave with debt, but I won’t. It’s definitely worth it. It is life, but it’s not really a job because I enjoy doing it. I love it and it’s brought me this far. It is life. I don’t mind it being life, either.

Some tournaments underway

SEC Tournament, round one:

Florida 64, Ole Miss 57

Alabama 74, Vanderbilt 57

ACC Tournament, round one:

Virginia 77, Boston College 61

Virginia Tech 85, Wake Forest 63

Big Ten Tournament, round one:

Purdue 72, Illinois 60

Duke 86, Pitt 64

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

Predicting who will win the Power 5 conference tournaments.

ACC: will a wild ride lead to an unforeseen ending?

Breaking down the SEC Tournament.

The Utes are excited for new life in the Pac-12 Tournament, while Arizona State has a tough road there.

The Pac-12 tourney could be one of the toughest to date.

Indiana Hoosier podcast.

Penn is on the brink of an Ivy League title.

Southern has clinched a share of the SWAC title.

Siena isn’t discouraged by their poor regular-season finish.

BYU is on the tournament bubble as they enter the WCC Tournament.

Is Arizona the favorite to win the WNIT?

College player news:

Georgia’s Caliya Robinson has a young superfan.

Maryland’s Stephanie Jones carves out her own legacy as the team prepares for the postseason.

For Minnesota’s Destiny Pitts, fearlessness is in her nature.

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah has etched her name into the history books at Northwestern.

North Texas guard Brittany Smith helped lead her team to a near-milestone.

The emergence of Indiana’s Grace Berger.

For Fairfield’s Sam Kramer, her dad’s love pushes her forward.

The NCAA’s starting five for the week.

College coach news:

Are Tennessee fans pulling against them so coach Holly Warlick will get fired?

30 under 30 honorees

Awards:

All Big-12 awards.

All Big East awards.

Asia Durr repeats as the ACC player of the year.

Amanda Butler is the ACC coach of the year.

Super bonus:

The rise and fall of NCAA Tournament dynasties.

WNBA news:

The Washington state senate voted to create a Seattle Storm license plate.

Liz Cambage speaks on the double standards for women in sports.

ACC: will a wild ride lead to an unforeseen ending?

Arike Ogunbowale and Notre Dame squared off against Mykassa Robinson and Louisville in January. AP stock photo.
Arike Ogunbowale and Notre Dame squared off against Mykassa Robinson and Louisville in January. AP stock photo.
Arike Ogunbowale and Notre Dame squared off against Mykassa Robinson and Louisville in January. AP stock photo.

It’s been an unpredictable year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. We’ve seen dominance, upsets, breakout players and absolutely brutal injury luck. No team has been invulnerable, and the conference has shaken itself up plenty.

Ahead of the Conference Tournament, which begins today, here’s a look at how teams finished, who out- or under-performed preseason projections, and what to expect in the tourney and beyond. By ACC Tournament seeding order:

No. 4 Notre Dame (27-3, 14-2 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 1, Blue Ribbon No. 1. Finish: No. 1.

Muffet McGraw’s squad has defended their National Championship about as well possible this year. Showcasing a roster full of future WNBA players, the Fighting Irish have steamrolled almost all comers. They have only three blemishes on an otherwise flawless campaign.

The 89-71 home loss to UConn Dec. 2 will likely be remembered as the turning point if Notre Dame manages to repeat as champions this year. The Irish were uncharacteristically listless on both ends in the second half, but the loss seemed to galvanize them; they’ve been all intensity and focus ever since. The other two losses – 73-78 Jan. 27 at UNC and 65-72 Feb. 7 at Miami – were the products of injury and uncharacteristically poor shooting from key players. After the wake-up call from the Huskies, and with everyone healthy and dialed in, Notre Dame has been utterly dominant.

How dominant, exactly? The Irish are third in Division I in both offensive (122.8) and defensive (72.9) rating, 11th in rebound margin (9.5), eighth in assist-turnover ratio (1.40), second in field goal percentage (51.8), and fifth in scoring margin (25.2). They’re complete, balanced, and incredibly talented. Paced by Arike Ogunbowale’s 21.3 points per game, all five starters average double-figure scoring, and three (Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, and Young) have logged well over 100 assists each this season. With Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard anchoring the paint (29.7 points, 17.5 boards a game combined), they can destroy teams inside. Young and Ogunbowale can score at every level, and Mabrey is absolutely lethal (45.5 percent 3FG) behind the arc. Add it all up and there just aren’t many teams in the country capable of handling the Irish for a full forty minutes.*

*A barometer on precisely how great this team is: Ogunbowale broke Skylar Diggins’ career scoring record this year. Then, in Sunday’s regular-season finale, Jackie Young’s 22-11-10 tied her with Diggins for program career triple-doubles and made her the only player in program history to record two in the same season.

Notre Dame has the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament and are clicking on all cylinders right now. After enjoying a well-earned double bye, they will face either a Georgia Tech squad in the midst of internal turmoil, or North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets have proven they can hang tough and win against ranked opponents, and UNC already beat Notre Dame this year. Te Irish will rightfully be favored whatever the match up, but it won’t necessarily be a walk in the park.

No. 3 Lousiville (27-2, 14-2 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 2, Blue Ribbon No. 2. Finish: No. 2.

Last season Louisville won the ACC Tournament and made it to the Final Four. This year they have shown no signs that they can’t finish in a similarly lofty fashion. Jeff Walz’s squad has run through the season on a rampage. They have faltered only twice, and both times to ranked conference opponents. The Cardinals suffered an 82-68 drubbing on the road at Notre Dame Jan. 10, and took a close 79-73 loss at home to Miami Feb. 17. Otherwise, it has been lights out. Looking back, their schedule is replete with mostly double-digit whoopings, even over fierce competition. They crushed FSU and smoked Syracuse. They beat UConn. And after the Miami loss, they closed the season with four straight 20-plus-point wins, including a 92-62 home demolition of top 10 NC State.

The key to Louisville’s success is Asia Durr. The senior is an offensive sorceress; truly a once-in-a-generation scoring talent. She is averaging 21.6 points per game on .452/.367/.829 shooting splits. She can create at every level, and there is not a more captivating player to watch in the country when she’s flat-out cooking. (See: her 47 point outburst against NC State, the second time she’s hit that mark this season.) Not to be lost in the mix are Dana Evans (10.6 ppg and 113 total assists), Sam Fuerhing (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Arica Carter (8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 77 dimes), and Kylee Shook (7.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 41 total blocks off the bench.) The Cardinals are seventh in offensive rating (117.9), sixth in defensive rating (76.4) and seventh (20.4) in scoring margin. If Durr is on, which she almost always is, this squad can beat anybody. The question now is how many electric games she and her teammates can string together. Recent history suggests it will be quite a few.

As the No. 2 seed in the conference tourney, Louisville also get to luxuriate with a double-bye before playing either Wake Forest (nope), Virginia Tech, or Clemson. Either of the latter two are capable of doing significant damage, but the Cardinals should be able to power through that game to the next round.

No. 9 North Carolina State (25-4, 12-4 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 4, Blue Ribbon No. 4. Finish: No. 3.

There really is no such thing as too much effusive praise for what Wes Moore and NC State have managed to do this season. Four ACL tears to major contributors would have been the end of it for most teams. Instead, they were the last unbeaten squad in the nation, ripping off 21 straight victories before falling to North Carolina in Raleigh. Their other three losses came against ranked teams, and while they didn’t show up well in two of them (bludgeoned 95-72 against Notre Dame and 62-92 at Louisville), they have more than proven themselves in knocking off ranked conference foes and taking lesser competition apart.  As thin as the injury-ridden bench is, the remaining functional pieces are perfectly calibrated, and Moore has gotten the most out of his depleted roster.

It all starts with Kiara Leslie, who might be the most terrifying player in the country when she has the ball in transition. Leslie’s blistering end-to-end speed and deft handles allow her to knife through any defense. She leads the team with 15.8 ppg on .491/.391/.717 shooting splits and is also pulling down 7.3 boards a game. Sharp shooter Aislinn Konig is averaging 11.2 ppg while shooting 40.6 from three and dishing a team-high 112 assists. DD Rogers (6.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has been essential down low with her unkillable tenacity on both ends. Freshman center Elissa Cunane has been a genuine delight. Moving from bench to starter amid the wash of injuries, she’s showcased an already-mature post game while averaging 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. The Wolfpack aren’t on par with Notre Dame or Louisville in overall metrics (20th in offensive rating, 19th in defensive rating, 37th in scoring margin), but they can give any opponent a vicious battle.

As the No. 3 seed in the tourney, they will face either Duke (not likely), Pitt (extra-not likely) or FSU (very likely.) The Seminoles have already dealt NC State a loss this year, and the Wolfpack’s thin bench will have to dig deep, but it’s tough to bet against the alchemical magic in Raleigh right now.

No. 16 Miami (24-7, 12-4 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 5, Blue Ribbon No. 6. Finish: No. 4.

Katie Meier’s team has had quite a year. The Hurricanes have functioned mostly on the winning end of a razor blade, as they cut deep. Sometimes it is at their own expense, but mostly it is to their opponents’ detriment. They’ve suffered a few odd losses, but they’ve also beaten Note Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, and a handful of other very competitive teams. Miami is a flexible squad, and they play for keeps. They do most of their damage down low, but they have balance across the roster. Perhaps most importantly, they are clicking at the most critical point of the season. Even though they dropped their final regular-season contest, taking NC State to the wire in Raleigh was proof positive of what this team is capable of doing. Having already exceeded their preseason expectations, the only thing left for the ‘Hurricanes is to see how far they can take the ride this year.

Bigs Beatrice Mompremier (16.5 ppg, 12.0 rpg) and Emese Hof (14.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg) have been a truly dynamic interior duo this year. They punish everyone in the paint, and always seem to bring their most electric performances on the biggest nights. In the back court, Mykea Gray and Laura Cornelius have clocked 22.8 ppg and 214 total assists combined this year. At 19th in offensive rating and 37th in defensive rating, they rely on superior scoring to bolster some deficiencies on the other end. And despite that top-20 offense, they’re only 41st in scoring margin, but the formula has worked out well thus far.

Miami will most likely face either Syracuse or Boston College in their first match up of the Tourney – both of which they’ve already beaten this year, but the Orange in particular will be an exceptionally tough out. Nonetheless, the Hurricanes’ propensity for showing up when it counts this year doesn’t seem likely to fade out now.

No. 18 Syracuse (22-7, 11-5 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 3, Blue Ribbon No. 3. Finish: No. 5.

Quentin Hilsman’s Orange have shown an aversion to close games this year. Seventeen of their outings have been decided by double-digits (two more were nine-point games), with Syracuse either getting whooped or, more often, doing the whooping. Their struggles against ranked opponents largely account for the failure to meet preseason expectations, but their overall performance has been plenty stout. Other than drubbings against Notre Dame and Louisville, Syracuse has been right there against some of the fiercest competition in the nation. A few bounces of the ball separate their current position from being in the conversation as one of the most elite squads around.

Point guard Tiana Mangakahia is the engine that makes the whole thing tick. Leading the team in both scoring (16.6 ppg on 50.7/37.8/87.6 shooting splits) and assists (8.4 apg, second overall in the county), the guard alternates between putting teammates in the best position to succeed and taking over games herself. Miranda Drummond is the only other player averaging double-figure scoring (11.3 ppg, .5 rpg), but the Orange runs a deep rotation. The bench-mob trio of Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, Kiara Lewis, and Emily Engstler have combined for 22.8 points and 11.8 boards an outing. Syracuse is a balanced 24th in  offensive rating and 26th in defensive rating, coming in just behind Miami at 42nd in scoring margin, which is fitting given the tournament seedings.

Speaking of Miami, Syracuse is poised to meet them in the tourney. The Orange will most likely play Boston College for the right to advance, and they’ve already waxed the Eagles by a combined 172-128 margin in two games this year. Syracuse lost 84-71 when they faced the Hurricanes this year, but again, they’re a few bounces of the ball from greatness. Don’t count the Orange out of a deep run.

No. 22 Florida State (22-7, 10-6 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 8, Blue Ribbon No. 7. Finish: No. 6.

Sue Semrau didn’t do much this year, other than coach a team replacing five senior starters to a top-25 ranking. The Seminoles simply reloaded and went to work, fueling off a new core and reconfigured rotations. Like many teams in the ACC, FSU has been a little up-and-down. They announced themselves with a November win over Iowa, then they beat NC State, and they split the season series with Miami. As has already been discussed, it’s tough to hold bad losses to Louisville and Notre Dame against anyone. More concerning: a home loss to LSU, and barely getting by Mercer, St. John’s, and UVA. Most concerning: dropping two straight to Miami and Syracuse before closing the season with a win over Georgia Tech. It’s hard to tell which FSU might show up on any given day, but they’ve still outperformed expectations and Semrau’s latest remix is not to be trifled with.

Florida State rate only 50th in offensive rating, 41st in defense, 71st in scoring margin. That’s not a great starting point for ambitions in the conference tournament or the Big Dance, but the ‘Seminoles pack a considerable punch when everyone is on point. Kiah Gillespie (16.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Nicki Ekhomu (14.9 ppg, 117 total assists), Nausia Woolfolk (13.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 72 dimes) and Valencia Myers (9.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are a brilliant quartet. When all four are in high gear, good luck trying to stop them. FSU doesn’t get much off the bench, though, and it’s doubtful their core four can put up enough consistent, collective performances to get into late March, but it can’t be entirely ruled out.

At the least, the Seminoles will likely cruise through their first game in the ACC Tourney. Neither Duke or Pitt should pose too much of a challenge, though the Blue Devils admittedly gave FSU a fight in a 62-66 ‘Noles home win on Jan. 20.

Clemson (18-11, 9-7 ACC.) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 14, Blue Ribbon No. 15. Finish: No. 7.

Amanda Butler could literally multiply fishes and loaves at half court in a packed gym and it still might not be a bigger miracle than what she’s done with Clemson this season. Butler took the helm of a moribund Tigers squad (11-19, 1-15 ACC last year) and turned them into a legit team in her first year on the job. The Tigers knocked off Miami and FSU in consecutive road games in January, then beat the Seminoles again to sweep the season. To be sure, Clemson took some early L’s they maybe shouldn’t have, especially a 90-80 final against Davidson at home. Once they got in gear, though, the Tigers blew past every mile marker and truly shocked both the conference and the country.

Kobi Thornton (14.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Simone Westbrook (13.5 ppg, 103 total assists), and Danielle Edwards (12.9 ppg, 92 dimes) have been an incendiary trio. Add in Aliyah Collier’s 11.5 points and 7.5 boards off the bench, and that’s a very solid nucleus; stable when whirring and potentially explosive. The Tigers are a decent 42nd in defensive rating, but 144th in offense and 141st in scoring margin. On balance, they don’t have enough fire power to sustain a significant run, but the fact that a few wins over favored opponents in March wouldn’t surprise anyone is a tremendous accomplishment given where they were before Butler took over.

Clemson will face either Wake Forest or Virginia Tech in their first game of the conference tournament. The Hokies gave them a battle on Feb. 24, but Clemson should achieve the same winning result.

North Carolina (17-13, 8-8 ACC.) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 7, Blue Ribbon No. 8. Finish: No. 8.

There has perhaps been no team more perplexing this season than the Tar Heels. Sylvia Hatchell’s squad has swung a pendulum between the clouds and the gutter all season. Their apex came between Jan. 24 and Feb. 3. Over four straight games, UNC trounced Virginia Tech, beat then-No.1 Notre Dame, beat Georgia Tech, and handed NC State their first loss of the season. Unfortunately for UNC, they’ve also lost every other game against ranked opponents and been swept by Duke, including a dismal 44-62 clunker to close the regular season. Some of their struggles have been injury-related. Paris Kea and Stephanie Watts, the team’s perimeter threats, have both missed games down the stretch. UNC has proven they can beat the literal best team in the country, but they need all hands on deck to do it.

At 33rd in Offensive Rating and 101st in defense, the Heels win when they’re pouring in buckets. At 101st in scoring margin, they need every inch of offensive production, too. Kea (16.7 ppg) and Watts (15.2, 5.5 rpg), have been the stellar, but the team’s rock has been sophomore big Janelle Bailey. Averaging 16.7 points and 8.9 boards, Bailey essentially demands a double team when she gets the ball in the post. She’s also excellent at denying opposing players position down low. Juco transfer Shayla Bennett (10.7 ppg, 116 total assists) has been a huge addition, and the incredibly versatile Taylor Koenen (9.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 80 dimes) has been essential on both ends. Problem: Watts has been out the past few games with a knee injury. The Heels’ immediate future probably depends on that.

UNC will face Georgia Tech in their first game of the tournament. If Watts is a go, they should be able to beat the Jackets, and at the least give the Irish a battle. If not, the Heels will likely end their season a little earlier than they’d like.

Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9 ACC.) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 9, Blue Ribbon No. 10. Finish: No. 9.

The situation in Atlanta right now is turbulent, to say the least. Georgia Tech had a perfectly fine year, highlighted by a 65-55 home win over Syracuse Jan. 20. Recently, however, 16-year head coach MaChelle Joseph was placed on leave by the athletic department without any explanation beyond a “pending personnel matter.” Joseph’s attorney has asserted the leave was a retaliation against the coach for raising gender equity issues within the department. Acrimony between Joseph and the athletic department isn’t a new thing, but the timing here is truly crazy. The Yellow Jackets are in contention to snag a bid in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s an almost unprecedented move to engage this level of direct conflict with a coach on the brink of March Madness. There is plenty of talent on the roster, but whether acting coach Mark Simons can keep this now-literal Ramblin’ Wreck focused and together is an open question.

The bright side: The Yellow Jackets have some really good players. Elizabeth Balogun (14.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Francesca Pan (12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), and Elizabeth Dixon (11.0 ppg, 6.0 pg), and Kierra Fletcher (8.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 74 total assists) have been tremendous this season, maximizing their talents and emboldening their teammates. This team also has a clear identity as a hard-nosed, clamp-down squad. Tech is 39th in defensive rating, but 128th offensively and 111th in scoring margin. Given the chaos they have to play through right now, it’s uncertain if those numbers will hold or matter at all going forward. Teams in these situations tend to either dial in completely or fall apart.

As mentioned above, Georgia Tech will face North Carolina in their first ACC Tournament game.

Virginia Tech (19-10, 6-10 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 10, Blue Ribbon No. 11. Finish: No. 10.

Virginia Tech started the year with 13 straight W’s before things took a turn. Conference play hit the Hokies like a big rig with the brake lines gone, and they never quite recovered. That’s not to say they weren’t a good team, though. They lost a close one 61-68 to Miami on the road, took Syracuse and NC State to OT, split the season series by beating the Hurricanes at home, and generally took care of business against inferior opponents. Coach Kenny Brooks has improved the team every year he’s been in Blacksburg, and their trajectory only points upwards.

Taylor Emery has paced the team with 17.9 points per game, and Regan Magarity has averaged a monster 14.4 points and 12.9 boards. Dana Mabrey has struck the ideal balance between scoring and facilitating. She’s averaging 11.8 points on .460/.477/.860 shooting splits and has dished a team-high 82 assists. Alternating between starter and bench-spark-plug, Trinity Baptiste is putting up 9.8 points and 7.1 boards. The Hokies are 44th in offensive rating, 64th in defense, and 50th in scoring margin.

Virginia Tech face a Wake Forest team they should make short work of in their first tourney match-up. If they advance, they’ll face Clemson, whom they played tough in a 66-73 road loss on February 24. (This could be the low-key heater in the early rounds.)

Duke (14-14, 6-10 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 6, Blue Ribbon No. 5. Finish: No. 11.

The Blue Devils have had some rough injury luck this year. Not NC-State-level bad, but multiple critical players going down while also trying to replace the production of two of the best players in program history is a tough ask, even for a coach as accomplished as Joanne P. McCallie. Duke started conference play with a brutal schedule, taking five straight losses against a murderer’s row of opponents. The Devils tried mightily to right the ship, and even succeeded to a degree. They beat a very good Clemson team and swept the season series against rival UNC, including a 44-62 demolition in Cameron. Nonetheless, they’re too haggard to do much damage at this point.

Haley Gorecki has been unreal, averaging 17.1 pints and 7.2 rebounds while dishing a team-high 107 assists. Leaonna Odom (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 67 assists), Miela Goodchild (11.0 ppg, 49 dimes), Mikayla Boykin (9.4 ppg, .1 rpg) and Jade Williams (8.5ppg, 5.3 boards) have kept the team afloat. The Devils are 55th in defensive rating, 135th in offense, and 184th in scoring margin. They’ve played their hearts out this year, it just hasn’t been enough.

Duke should take care of Pitt in round one of the tourney, and they played FSU, who they’ll play if they advance, close this season, but they don’t have enough depth to get far beyond that. Unless Gorecki goes off, which isn’t totally out of the question.

Virginia (11-18, 5-11 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 11, Blue Ribbon No. 11. Finish: No. 12.

Tina Thompson’s first year with the Cavaliers did not go well. In fairness, Virginia did beat Georgia Tech, split the season with Virginia Tech, and came close against FSU, Clemson, and Syracuse. They played hard. They fought and scrapped and never caved to any opponent, it just wasn’t enough. Thompson is obviously as knowledgeable as anyone regarding what it takes to succeed in the game. She just needs time to imprint her vision on the program.

Jocelyn Willoughby (14.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Dominique Toussaint (11.1 ppg, 94 total assists) were the team’s standouts, but they didn’t have much in the way of support, and ultimately the lack of depth and versatility proved too tough a hurdle. The Cavaliers are 159th in offensive rating, 137th in defense, and 275th in scoring margin.

Virginia plays Boston College in their opening game of the tourney, and even though BC has the lower seed, the Cavaliers will have their hands full in round one.

Boston College (14-15, 3-13 ACC.) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 15, Blue Ribbon No. 14. Finish: No. 13.

The record isn’t great, and the Eagles didn’t exceed expectations by much, but coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s first season on Chestnut Hill has been a success. BC blitzed out to an 11-3 start this season before faltering in conference play, but a revamped system and doubling last season’s win total are enough proof of concept for the Eagles going forward. BC didn’t pull off any crazy upsets, but they beat the teams they were supposed to and played Miami down to the wire on the road. Give Bernabei-McNamee a few classes of her own recruits to suit her preferred style of play, and all the indicators are there for a bright future.

The Eagles are 64th in offensive rating, 174th in defense, and 158th in scoring margin. True to Bernabei-McNamee’s vision, they are 15th in offensive rebounding. BC is led by Emma Guy (14.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Makayla Dickens (12.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 110 total assists), Georgia Pineau (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and Taylor Ortlepp (10.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 87 dimes). No one player stands out, but everyone contributes.

If BC can get past Virginia in Round 1 of the tourney, they’ll face a Syracuse squad that beat them comfortably by double digits in both match ups this year. The Eagles have the longest of long shots, but there’s a slim chance they could pull that one off.

Pitt (11-19, 2-14 ACC) Preseason conference orojections: Coaches No. 13, Blue Ribbon No. 13. Finish: No. 14.

Pitt did about what they were expected to do this season. Lance White’s first year guiding the Panthers was never going to be a rousing success. The team needs a rebuild, and that’s going to take time. Injuries didn’t help the situation. Aysia Bugg was leading the team and averaging 14.0 points, 3.4 assists and 2.4 boards before going out five games into the year due to blood clots. Danielle Garven (11.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Cassidy Walsh (9.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg), and Jasmine Whitney (9.5 ppg, 134 assists) have tried to carry on, but there just hasn’t been enough firepower. At 231st in offense and 157th in defense, they never really had a shot. Even a depleted Duke team trounced the Panthers 55-74 in the regular season, and the result will likely be similar when Pitt face the Devils in their opening tournament game.

Wake Forest (10-19, 1-15 ACC) Preseason conference projections: Coaches No. 12, Blue Ribbon No. 12. Finish: No. 15.

An already difficult season for coach Jen Hoover’s Demon Deacons got the hammer dropped in January when leading scorer Elissa Penna (15.3 ppg) went out for the season with a knee injury. Ivana Raca (12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Gina Conti (9.0 ppg, 1 total assists) played their tails of in an attempt to finish out the year strong, but any slim odds of catching tourney lightning in a bottle went out with Penna. Wake finished the season 225th in offense, 148th in defense, and 266th in scoring margin. Hoover is a good coach, and the Deacs will rebound, but this is one season they’ll want to forget. Wake Forest will square off in a rematch of their season finale (a 57-69 loss) against Virginia Tech in the tourney.

It’s conference tournament week

A-10 Tournament day one results

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College games news:

List of conference tournament dates.

What Champ week games will have the most impact om the Tournament bracket?

Notre Dame and Louisville lead the ACC into the league tournament.

After a stellar year, who will win the Big Ten Tournament?

Maryland and Iowa are on a possible collision course in the Big Ten Tourney.

The Hawkeyes will get a challenge immediately.

College team news:

With their NCAA Tournament fate in limbo, the Lady Vols are focused on LSU.

The SEC tourney will determine Tennessee’s NCAA tourney fate.

Mercer hasn’t lost a Southern Conference game in two years, and now they look for a repeat title.

UCLA has adapted to different playing styles.

Nebraska is looking for a Cinderella story.

UMaine is seeking another tourney berth.

Mississippi State is the NCAA’s team of the week.

College player news:

Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter will miss the SEC Tournament with a finger injury.

Tee Tee Starks has changed her mind and will return to Arizona for one more year.

Taja Cole sets the tone with her passing and defensive prowess for Georgia.

Colorado freshman guard Emma Clarke brings her unique experience to the court.

Syracuse guard Emily Engstler is expected to return for the NCAA Tournament.

College coach news:

A Step Up assistant coaches hall of fame inaugural class.

Q&A with Georgia coach Joni Taylor.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was happy to allow USF senior Laura Ferreira an uncontested bucket last night.

Why Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly nearly retired.

MaChelle Joseph is still suspended as Georgia Tech clings to NCAA hopes.

Drexel coach Denise Dillon has found success with international recruits.

Former UConn guard Carla Berube has built a Division III powerhouse.

All-conference teams and awards:

Pac-12.

SEC.

Big Ten.

ACC.

WNBA news:

Get to know new Fever president Allison Barber.

Tamika Catchings could be an NBA general manager in the future.

Natalie Achonwa is home in Canada for the launch of her new camp.

Noelle Quinn on her transition to coaching.

Bonus:

Q&A with Chamique Holdsclaw.

American’s basketball pipeline is changing, and Allison Feaster is involved.

After a stellar year, who will win the Big Ten Tournament?

The Iowa Hawkeyes before their game against the Purdue Boilermakers in January at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Photo by Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com.
Maryland claimed the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend. Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
Maryland claimed the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend. Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

With the Big Ten regular season in the books, we figured we would look back on how we got here.

Megan Gustafson beat out Kaila Charles and Kenisha Bell for Big Ten Player of the Year, and should compete for National Player of the Year.

Brenda Frese was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, and a slew of other players stepped their game up to produce one of the most exciting years in conference history. Nine of the 14 teams finished .500 in the conference or better – the second time that’s happened in 18 years – which is proof that the conference is one of the most competitive in the nation.

  1. Maryland (26-3, 15-3)
Kaila Charles lead Maryland to the Big Ten regular-season title. Photo courtesy of Big Ten.
Kaila Charles lead Maryland to the Big Ten regular-season title. Photo courtesy of Big Ten.

The Terrapins entered the season expected to win the Big Ten, be a top 10 team, see Kaila Charles perform at a high level……and probably be a tier below the top teams. For better or for worse, that is exactly where Maryland ended up. They won the regular-season conference title, have been in the top 10 for almost the entire season, and Charles has been one of the best players in the nation. Freshman Shakira Austin, a top five recruit, has been excellent, averaging 8.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. She won Big Ten Freshman of the Week award five times and was named to the conference All-Defensive squad. Few teams in the country have a better record than the Terrapins, but their 2-2 record against ranked teams gives pause. A .500 record against top teams isn’t bad by any means, but those competing for top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, like Baylor, Oregon, UConn, Notre Dame, have at least four wins, and as many eight.

Biggest surprise: Taylor Mikesell. The freshman was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the coaches, after leading Maryland in minutes and shooting lights out from three-point range. She became the third freshman in the last ten years to lead Maryland in minutes.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can the Terrapins compete against top talent? The Big Ten is a very tough conference, but more because of the quality of the middle of the pack. Playing only four top 25 teams isn’t necessarily Maryland’s fault, but its lack of experience against top teams could be problematic in the Tournament.

NCAA Tournament: The Terrapins are in play for a 2 or 3 seed in the tournament, and a run to the Elite Eight is well within their possibilities, but anything more than that would be a surprise.

  1. Iowa (23-6, 14-4)
Megan Gustafson's scoring outbursts have paced the Iowa Hawkeyes this season. Photo courtesy of Big Ten.
Megan Gustafson’s scoring outbursts have paced the Iowa Hawkeyes this season. Photo courtesy of Big Ten.

Big Ten coaches and media picked the Hawkeyes to finish second in the conference at the beginning of the year, and Iowa proved their predictions accurate. They challenged Maryland for the top spot for a good portion of the year, but their losses to three unranked teams in the conference took them out of contention. Star forward Megan Gustafson has been as dominant as expected, averaging an insane 27.7 points and 13.3 rebounds each outing. She repeated as Big Ten Player of the Year by both the coaches and media, becoming the ninth player in conference history to win the award twice.

Biggest surprise: Support from Hawkeyes not named Gustafson. Three rank in the top ten in the conference in assists, while no other team has more than one. Part of that is definitely the ability to dump the ball into Gustafson down low, but Iowa has four players averaging more than 10 points, and leads the conference in points per game. Kathleen Doyle has been great throughout the season, and was named First Team All-Big Ten by the coaches after leading the conference in assists per game.

The Iowa Hawkeyes before their game against the Purdue Boilermakers in January at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Photo by Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com.
The Iowa Hawkeyes before their game against the Purdue Boilermakers in January at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Photo by Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can the Hawkeyes give Gustafson enough support to go on a run? They have done a good job answering the question this season, but it still persists for a reason. Gustafson will probably be the best player on any court she steps on, but can Iowa win games when the opposing team’s entire starting five is better than their third, and maybe second, best player? If they play the top teams, that’s a very real scenario.

NCAA Tournament: The Hawkeyes are in line for a three or four seed, although if they win the Big Ten Tournament they could take potentially move up to a two seed. No team in the NCAA Tournament wants to draw Iowa, as their 5-2 record against top 25 teams show they can compete with anyone.

  1. Rutgers (21-8, 13-5)

C. Vivian Stringer, why do we doubt you? The Rutgers coach and coaching legend notched her 1000th win this season, and has led the Scarlet Knights higher than anticipated this year, with an NCAA Tournament appearance seeming like a lock. Last year ended with crashing and burning for the team, as they lost nine of their final 12 games and missed the NCAA Tournament after beginning the year 16-2. Eight games into this season, it seemed nothing had changed, as Rutgers was just 5-3, with losses to then-unranked Drake, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech. The Scarlet Knights then went on a run, winning 10 in a row. Their calling card is their defense, which leads the conference in points allowed (57.2 points per game) and steals per game (10.3). They are led by Stasha Carey’s 11.9 points per game, but they receive contributions up and down the roster, as 12 of 13 players on the team average at least five minutes a game.

Biggest surprise: How successful the team has been without a star player. Rutgers is one of four teams in the Big Ten to not have a top 20 scorer in the conference. None of the other three teams – Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska – will make the NCAA Tournament.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can their defense do enough to offset their low-scoring offense? Rutgers’ stingy defense is what has made them so successful, but it also puts a lot of pressure on them. They are second to last in the conference in points, and are only 8-6 when opponents score 60 points.

Also, will the recent dismissal of two players and Stringer’s ensuing brief sabbatical effect the team?

NCAA Tournament: The Scarlet Knights are a lock for the tournament, looking at an 8 or 9 seed unless they go on a run in the Big Ten Tournament.

  1. Michigan (20-10, 11-7)

Expectations were high for the Wolverines entering the season, as Big Ten coaches predicted they would finish third in the conference. They had to replace Katelynn Flaherty, the all-time leading point scorer in Michigan history for men or women, who averaged almost 23 points last season. Hallie Thome was seen as the heir apparent to lead the Maize and Blue, coming off the 17.4 points and 7 rebounds she averaged last season. Slowed down in part to injuries, she has had a down year for her standards, averaging 12.3 points and 6 rebounds. Fortunately for Michigan, freshman Naz Hillmon has become their star, and was named the media’s Freshman of the Year and the coaches’ Sixth Player of the Year. The Wolverines are one of the best teams in the conference in rebounding, and has few glaring weaknesses. They are average to above average in almost every major statistic.

Biggest surprise: Naz Hillmon. ESPN’s number 57 recruit has been excellent, leading the team in both points and rebounds. She has seven double-doubles this season and is second in the conference in field goal percentage, and has helped Michigan stay in the top four of the Big Ten and secure a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can they win away from home? The Wolverines had one of the most extreme home/away splits in the Big Ten, winning 13 of 14 at the Crisler Center, but going 5-8 away. Defending home court is always a priority, and they accomplished that. Yet their struggles away are a cause for concern.

NCAA Tournament: Michigan appears to be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament. Unless they knock off Maryland or Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament or win the championship, they will likely be an 8 or 9 seed.

  1. Ohio State (14-13, 10-8)

It’s been four years since the Buckeyes finished outside the top three in the Big Ten, tied for the longest active streak in the conference. And while that streak will end this year, it’s tough to say the season was a disappointment, as Ohio State lost 93.3 percent of their scoring from last year. They navigated an 0-3 start in the conference by responding with consecutive victories over top 25 teams, ending the season with a winning record in the Big Ten – no small task. Unfortunately, their out-of-conference performance will likely keep them out of the Tournament, as they went 4-5 in a time when most teams are padding their win total. They are one of the three squads in the conference with a negative scoring margin, and the only one with a winning record. The Buckeyes’ eight wins by fewer than 10 points, the second most in the conference, have masked some of their issues.

Biggest surprise: Their 3-5 record against AP top 25 teams. For a team that is last in the Big Ten in scoring and turnovers, in the middle of the pack in defense and has no clear star, it’s difficult to point to how Ohio State was able to be effective against top competition. Yet they defeated No. 25 Indiana, No. 17 Michigan State and won at No. 23 Rutgers. Their three wins against the top 25 are tied for third in the conference.

Biggest question mark remaining: Which are the real Buckeyes: the first or second half season team? They ended the year going 7-3, which brought them to the fifth seed in the conference. If they had played like that throughout the year, they would be in the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Tournament: Two wins over top 25 teams in the Big Ten Tournament would give them an outside chance to advance to the Dance, as a team with five wins over top competition and a winning record in a major conference would be difficult to keep out.

  1. Minnesota (20-9, 9-9)

When Lindsey Whalen took over the Gophers program this season, expectations were high. The team set multiple single-season program records the previous season, including points scored and points per game. Then they brought in one of the greatest players ever in Whalen – a homegrown superstar that led Minnesota to the Final Four when she was in school. Yet the team took a step back this year, squandering an 12-0 start by dropping seven of their first nine conference games. Kenisha Bell, named First Team All-Big Ten, Destiny Pitts and Taiye Bello have all been phenomenal, with Bell finishing third in the conference in points, Pitts finishing sixth and Bello finishing second in rebounds. Yet the Gophers lacked help off the bench, as their starting five accounted for 87.6 percent of their points, the most in the conference. While their starters were strong, there simply wasn’t enough depth to be successful in a conference as strong as the Big Ten. In a year that began with so much hope, there is no doubt this season has been disappointing. Ending the season winning seven of their last nine helps, but more was expected than the season produced.

Biggest surprise: Minnesota’s struggles at home. Four home losses in the Big Ten isn’t terrible, but the Williams Arena is known as one of the best atmospheres in women’s basketball. A program record 14,625 fans came out to the first game of the Gophers’ season, yet the team hasn’t been great at home. A loss to Iowa at Williams is completely reasonable, but dropping home games to Illinois and Purdue is more difficult to understand.

Biggest question mark remaining: What will Whalen do to increase bench production? At this point in the season a team knows what it has, so it’s not reasonable to expect a player on the bench to play like a star. But for Minnesota to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, Whalen needs to figure out a way to win with more than her starters.

NCAA Tournament: With only a 2-2 record against Top 25 opponents, the Gophers lack the top tier wins other bubble teams in the Big Ten have. To make the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota, needs to win the Big Ten Tournament.

  1. Northwestern (16-13, 9-9)

The Wildcats finished 12th in the conference last season, and there weren’t many reasons to expect a big jump coming into this year. The scouting report on Northwestern said that Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah was a great rebounder and Lindsey Pulliam was a decent scorer, but the supporting cast was a question mark. The report on Kunaiyi-Akpanah was correct, but it’s been clear throughout the year that Pulliam was underrated, as she finished fourth in the conference with 16.7 points, and was named First Team All-Big Ten. Kunaiyi-Akpanah was excellent on the boards again, finishing third in the conference in rebounds. The supporting cast proved it can play, and Abi Scheid became a solid third option, averaging 10.9 points, third on the team, and 4.8 rebounds, second on the team.

Biggest surprise: Jordan Hamilton. The sophomore guard averaged less than 8 points a game last season, and her average this season, 9.5, doesn’t look that different. Yet Hamilton has gone off for 16 or more six times, helping to relieve pressure from Pulliam. If she can string together those performances more consistently, the Wildcats may have another star on their hands.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can Northwestern win if Pulliam has an off night? The Wildcats went 5-9 in games where she scored fewer than her season average of 16 points.

NCAA Tournament: Entering conference play at 7-4, including two losses to teams who finished under .500, hurt their postseason chances greatly. Similar to Ohio State, the Wildcats need at least two wins over top 25 teams in the Big Ten Tournament to have an outside chance to make the NCAA Tournament, as a team with five wins over top competition and a strong record in a major conference would be difficult to keep out.

  1. Nebraska (14-15, 9-9)

Last year’s Nebraska team was the surprise of the Big Ten. They improved from an eight-win season to go 21-11 and make the NCAA Tournament, and head coach Amy Williams won Big Ten Coach of the Year. Improvement was expected this year, as they returned their top five scorers and brought in a top-20 recruiting class. Yet the Cornhuskers stumbled out of the gate with a 2-5 record, and have since struggled to right the ship. They’ve stuttered on defense, allowing the third most points in the conference. Yet maybe their biggest issue is their inability to defend their home court; they’ve gone 8-6 in Lincoln, which is the third0-worst home record in the league. Last year Nebraska were road warriors, going 9-2. Their inability to recreate that success, coupled with struggles at home, have led to the disappointing season. Yet, there have been bright spots on the year. Freshman Sam Haiby is second on the team in scoring with 10 points, and is one of the best bench players in the conference. The Huskers are incredibly deep, with seven players on the team averaging between seven points ,and Hannah Whitish’s team-high 10.1 points.

Biggest surprise: Whitish. The Huskers’ best player and lone member of the preseason All-Big Ten team, Whitish took a step back this year, dropping from 12.6 points and 4.7 assists per game to 10.3 points and 4.3 assists. A lot was expected from the junior, and while she still had a decent season, it wasn’t the breakout she appeared set for.

Biggest question mark remaining: Should Sam Haiby be starting? While there is no doubt she provides a spark off the bench, there are questions whether the team’s second-best player should be out of the starting lineup. She averages the fifth-most minutes on the team, which seems low for a player second on the team in points and assists.

NCAA Tournament: Nebraska needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.

  1. Michigan State (19-10, 9-9)

Michigan State delivered one of the first shocks of the season, knocking off No. 3 Oregon at home in just their ninth game. There were expectations to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a rare down year, but few saw the Spartans becoming giant-killers, knocking off three other top 25 teams, including No. 9 Maryland in January by 16. They are 29th in the nation in scoring, with four starters averaging more than 10 points. Redshirt junior Shay Colley leads the group with 14.7 points, tenth in the Big Ten. Michigan State has been excellent at home, going 15-1, which helped them rise all the way to 15 in the rankings in early January. Losses to sub .500 teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin put a damper on a great season, but there is no doubting the Spartans are one of the conferences most unexpected successes.

Biggest surprise: How good the Spartans have been against top competition. Michigan State hasn’t beaten four top 25 teams since the 2011-2012 season. The victory against Oregon is particularly impressive, as the Ducks only have three losses on the season, and are one of the top teams in the nation.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can the Spartans win away from home? The flip side to recording 15 of their 19 wins at home is that they have been dreadful on the road, going just 3-7. (They have one win on a neutral court.) Michigan State needs to perform away from home to make any noise in March.

NCAA Tournament: The four wins against top competition, specifically the two Top 10 wins, put the Spartans comfortably in the Tournament. They are looking at a 7-10 seed, depending on their performance in the Big Ten Tournament.

  1. Indiana (19-11, 8-10)

This team ended last season in style, winning 15 of their final 17, including the WNIT Championship. They lost their two stars, Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill, and seemed to lack the players to step up in their absence. Yet the team knew differently, as juniors Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise – two transfers who had to sit out last year – became their go-to players. Patberg is averaging 15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, while Wise is averaging 12.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. The Hoosiers picked up right where they left off last season, starting off 15-2. Yet the team struggled since then, losing nine of their final 13 games. The offense in particular has fallen flat, with the Hoosiers scoring below their season average in all but one of those losses. The first half of the season was a pleasant surprise, making the second half that much more disappointing.

Biggest surprise: How well Patberg and Wise have stepped in for Buss and Cahill. Forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, no one really knew how they would perform this year. They’ve been excellent, and put Indiana in great shape for next year as well.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can Patberg regain her form? She’s a top player in the conference when she’s on, but the Patberg has struggled during the second half of the season, with her scoring dropping from 18 points a game after the win at Michigan State to 12.4 since then. She missed three games to injury, but the Hoosiers need to see her back to form.

NCAA Tournament: While a sub-.500 conference record is certainly damning, Indiana’s start to the season gave them enough leeway to withstand it. Their victory over then-No. 10 Iowa at the end of February should help them sneak off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. If they can get to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, they should be looking at a 9 or 10 seed. If not, they will sweat out Selection Sunday.

  1. Purdue (17-14, 8-10)

The Boilermakers returned all but one player from last year’s squad, which went 4-1 against top 25 opponents but still missed the NCAA Tournament. This year brought high expectations, which Purdue hasn’t been able to meet. They leaned heavily on their starting five, with their starters recording the highest percentage of a team’s rebounds (77.3 percent) and assists (84.8 percent) in the Big Ten, and the second-highest percent of points (86.5 percent). Karissa McLaughlin, Dominique Oden and Ae’Rianna Harris led the conference in minutes played, with McLaughlin and Oden finishing first and fourth in the nation. Kayana Traylor has been excellent in her freshman year, and Tamara Farquhar helps grab boards down low. But the simple truth is that outside the starting five, the Boilermakers struggle a lot, which has led, in part, to their season not reaching projections.

Biggest surprise: The amount of losses to sub .500 teams. Purdue lost to Wisconsin, Penn State and twice to Nebraska – teams they should have beaten.

Biggest question mark remaining: Will the amount of minutes the starters have played catch up to them? It’s not uncommon to see players break down at the end of the season, as exhaustion sets in.

NCAA Tournament: Purdue’s three wins over top 25 opponents show they can play with anyone, yet those sub-.500 losses severely hamper their ability to reach the NCAA Tournament. If they can beat two more ranked opponents in the Big Ten Tournament, they would have a chance to make the Big Dance.

  1. Penn State (12-17, 5-13)

After three straight Big Ten Championships from 2012-2014, it appeared Penn State was on the verge of solidifying themselves as the premier program in the Big Ten. Yet since then, they have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Expectations were raised this season, as the Nittany Lions returned every player from last year’s squad, including Teniya Page. She has been fantastic, finishing second in the Big Ten in scoring with 19.4 points per game. Yet Penn State has struggled this season, and a quick look at the statistics helps reveal why: they are last in the conference in scoring margin and rebounding margin, along with field goal percentage, and tied for last in points in allowed. They dropped all five of their games against ranked opponents, and finished .500 at home. The NCAA Tournament was the goal for this year, and the Nittany Lions are going to fall well short.

Biggest surprise: The lack of improvement from last year. Returning a full team is rare, and high expectations follow. Yet Penn State has been worse this year, despite having one of the best players in the conference.

Biggest question mark remaining: Can Page carry the team through the Big Ten Tournament? Improving their rebounding and shooting percentage might be a more effective way to win, but the numbers are low for a reason, and won’t be fixed now. Page could catch fire and drop 30 throughout the tournament, and grab the Nittany Lions some wins.

NCAA Tournament: Penn State needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.

  1. Wisconsin (13-17, 4-14)

The Badgers struggled throughout the year but are still positive, as they improved by four games, including winning two more conference games. Both their offense and defense improved, as they scored more and allowed fewer points than last year. Despite the improvements, their offense still struggled greatly, finishing last in free throw and three-point percentage, and second to last in field goal percentage. There was concern over their ability to replace Cayla McMorris, the team leader in points who graduated last year. Yet sophomore Marsha Howard became a star, finishing 11th in the conference in points and sixth in rebounds. Wisconsin did a good job protecting home court, with 10 of their 13 wins coming at home. They have improved every year under head coach Jonathan Tsipis, who has brought in strong recruiting classes in his three years at the helm.

Biggest surprise: Howard. While she was expected to step up in McMorris’ absence, she quickly showed herself to be one of the best players in the conference, averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. She was named Second Team All-Big Ten by the media, and should start on the shortlist for next year’s conference player of the year.

Biggest question mark remaining: How will team respond to this season? Wisconsin improved, and ended with 13 wins. Another four-game improvement, with two more wins in the Big Ten, could put them close to the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Tournament: The Badgers need to win the NCAA Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.

  1. Illinois (10-19, 2-16)

While Illinois’ season had a lot of losses, it stands as an improvement, as they won the most games since the 2014-2015 season. A year after losing every conference game, they won two games in the Big Ten, including upsetting then-No. 12 Minnesota in Minneapolis. They began the season well, starting 8-2, before the bottom dropped out. Their defense was an issue all year, as they tied for last in the conference in points allowed. The Illini lost 17 of their final 19 games, holding opponents to fewer than 70 points just six times. Senior Alex Wittinger was excellent throughout the season, named Second Team All-Big Ten for the second straight year after finishing in the top ten in the conference in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. She will go down as one of the greatest players in Illini history, and proof that great players can thrive even when teams have down years. Junior guard Brandi Beasley took a step forward this year, finishing second on the team in points and first in assists, and will be expected to lead the team in Wittinger’s absence next year.

Biggest surprise: The win over Minnesota. Based on the numbers, Illinois had no chance in that game, yet they fought throughout the game, battling back from a 17-point third quarter deficit to win. Second year head coach Nancy Fahey won five NCAA Division III championships before coming to Illinois, and can use that win as proof that her team is improving.

Biggest question mark remaining: Do the Illini have the talent to consistently compete in the Big Ten? Wittinger is a top player in the conference, but many of her teammates will need to step up next year for Illinois to improve.

NCAA Tournament: Illinois needs to win the Big Ten Championship to make the NCAA Tournament.

This week’s WomensHoopsWorld top 25 poll

  1. Baylor
  2. UConn
  3. Louisville
  4. Mississippi State
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Oregon
  7. Maryland
  8. Stanford
  9. Iowa
  10. Oregon State
  11. South Carolina
  12. North Carolina State
  13. Gonzaga
  14. Miami (FL)
  15. Iowa State
  16. Kentucky
  17. South Dakota
  18. Syracuse
  19. Marquette
  20. Drake
  21. Arizona State
  22. BYU
  23. Rice
  24. Texas A&M
  25. UCLANotes –-Texas falls from the poll this week and while they likely won’t fall from the AP poll, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be. They’ve lost 3 of their last 4 games, they are 11-6 in a down Big 12, and their best wins to date are Iowa State and Michigan, the most recent of which happened back in early January.

    -Texas (21) and Florida State (25) fall out of the poll

    -Texas A&M (24) and UCLA (25) enter the poll

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