Coaches of the top-seeded teams for the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament that tips off today in Indianapolis aren’t taking anything for granted.
Ohio State and Maryland, the preseason picks in the league, finished the regular season 1-2 in conference standings but expecting the unexpected has become the norm this season.
The Buckeyes dealt with a string of three straight losses in late January, the only blemishes on their 16-game conference record, and finished one game ahead of the Terrapins.
Three more teams – Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska – finished one more game back and illustrate the parity that exists within the Big Ten this season.
“It’s been a unique year where nothing has come easily,’’ Ohio State coach Kevin McGriff said. “I do know that if we are successful this weekend, we’re going to have to beat three really good teams to do it.’’
Tiebreakers in the three-way tie for third didn’t break Iowa’s way this year, so while Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska and Minnesota will enjoy double byes in the 14-team bracket the Hawkeyes’ tourney opener comes one day earlier.
Coach Lisa Bluder’s 23-6 team faces the winner of today’s game between Wisconsin and Northwestern in a Thursday game scheduled to tip off around 1:15 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“The double bye would have been nice, but we’ve had a small roster all season and we’ve learned to deal with it,’’ Bluder said. “We’ll take things as they come.’’
The Hawkeyes enter the tourney riding the momentum of a Big Ten-best seven game winning streak.
“It’s good to be playing good basketball at this time of year. We’ve won five of our last six and I think the biggest thing teams take from that is just knowing that you can compete,’’ said Minnesota coach Marlene Stallings, whose team would face Iowa in Friday’s quarterfinals if the Hawkeyes win their opener.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team ended league play 12-4 when it halted a three-game slide with a two-point win over Nebraska on Sunday, welcomes the chance to compete on a neutral court.
“We had five of our last seven on the road and that made more of a difference this year than ever before,’’ Frese said. “I’m proud of the fight we showed and we’re going to need to bring it again this week.’’
Illinois didn’t win a league game in Nancy Fahey’s first season and coach who led Washington University of St. Louis to five NCAA Division III championships welcomes a tournament opportunity.
“It’s a new season for us and we’ve been more competitive the last few games so we are looking forward to it,’’ Fahey said.
The Illini, who open with a 2:45 p.m. game today against Penn State, led Minnesota into the fourth quarter on Sunday, but were unable to help the Hawkeyes earn a double bye as the Gophers rallied late.
“Things were just so close in the conference this year,’’ Bluder said. “It seemed like the results of every game impacted a lot of teams. I think this tournament is wide open, just like the outcome of every game has been this season.’’