Let’s start with the elephant in the room. In a huge mistake, the NCAA bracket was accidentally aired as sidebar during a men’s bracketology rerun on Monday afternoon, four hours before the selection show. The mistake was unfortunate and unacceptable.
But the decision made soon after by ESPN and NCAA to move the selection show from 7 p.m. on ESPN to 5 p.m. on ESPN2, with no notice, was atrocious. Everyone had to change their schedules. West coast schools were forced to cancel their watch parties, and reaction videos just didn’t happen. It was harder for everyone to watch. Athletes were in class when it aired.
With that out of the way, though, let’s dive in to what is sure to be another thrilling tournament. There’s no way it lives up to last year’s Final Four, of course, but don’t let that take away from 63 great games coming up this month.
Six Big Ten teams head to the NCAA tournament without any major surprises. That’s a respectable number in what was a great year for the Big Ten.
Three others head to the WNIT, where the Big Ten has dominated in recent years. There’s a fairly good chance that the conference wins yet again.
If you were wondering, right now I’m picking UConn to win it all, though that could change by Friday. Yes, they’re a No. 2 seed, but I think they have the best players right now, especially if Katie Lou Samuelson is ready to go. And they have a coach that knows what to do.
There’s no movement in this week’s power rankings because there were no games last week. Also, the next power rankings won’t be published until the end of both tournaments, when it will serve as a season wrap-up.
Let’s take a look at where those Big Ten teams ended up:
No. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes • 26-6 (14-4) • Last week: 2
Iowa gets a No. 2 seed and a rather favorable draw. Assuming they make it past Portland State, they should pull hard for Drake, a team Megan Gustafson scored 44 points against. Missouri, a team that beat Mississippi State but doesn’t have much else on their resume, would also be relatively easy, though Sophie Cunningham could provide a lot of trouble.
An elite eight matchup likely pits them against NC State. The Wolfpack had a great start to the year, but they’ve lost five of their last 10 after some injuries. Iowa would mainly need to prevent freshman center Elissa Cunane from taking over the game.
Then, should they make it to the Elite Eight, Baylor will be waiting. That will put Gustafson against 6-foot-7-inch Kalani Brown. It’s the potential game I’m most excited for in the entire tournament. Will Iowa be able to stop Baylor’s twin towers? Can Brown do anything to slow down Gustafson?
Gustafson has never won a tournament game in her career. She’ll have a chance for the second straight year after missing the tournament in 2016 and 2017 and being bounced in the first round last year.
No. 9 Maryland Terrapins • 28-4 (15-3) • Last week: 1
Maryland’s first-round game comes against Radford, who carry an 18-game win streak but also lost to Nebraska by 38.
If they get past that, they’ll face either UCLA or Tennessee. Tennessee’s struggles have been well documented, but UCLA finished fantastically down the stretch, including a win over Oregon. That’s come from outstanding offensive rebounding, which Maryland should be well suited to stop but need to be careful, for sure.
Past that is a likely matchup with UConn. Surprisingly, Maryland hasn’t faced anyone close to their quality, and they lost both games to the best team they played in Iowa. The only way to beat UConn might be with the 3-ball, so expect to see Taylor Mikesell put up a lot of shots.
Maryland makes the tournament for the ninth straight year and have won at least one game every one of those years. They made the final four in 2015 and won a national championship in 2006.
Michigan Wolverines • 21-11 (11-7) • Last week: 3
Michigan gets in as a No. 8 this year, marking their second straight year in the tournament after winning the 2017 WNIT Championship. Last year they made it to the second round but were trounced by Baylor.
This year, the Wolverines get Kansas State in the first round. The Wildcats have struggled to get any offense in their losses, losing one game 60-30 against West Virginia. They don’t rebound very well, so Michigan seems like a good matchup for them, and Naz Hillmon will need to play good minutes.
Past that would be Asia Durr and Louisville, a tough matchup for any team. Michigan will need to find ways to stop Durr, putting a lot on their guards. If Louisville’s post players are healthy, Hillmon will need to do even more to stop them. It’s not impossible, especially if Michigan gets hot from deep.
If they can get past Louisville, and maybe someone else takes out UConn, then anything can happen – the Sweet 16 game would likely be against Oregon State, though, another very tough game.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • 22-9 (13-5) • Last week: 5
Rutgers is in the tournament for the first time in four years. C. Vivian Stringer took this team to the Final Four in 2007, but she’s now not expected to be back for the postseason.
Rutgers will have a very tough first round matchup. Buffalo might be under-seeded as a No. 10, and they have the nation’s second-leading scorer in Cierra Dillard. Rutgers likely charts as a good matchup with their fantastic guard defense.
If they can stop Dillard and the Bulls, they get UConn in the second round. Maybe they can stop Katie Lou and Co. on offense, but at some point, Rutgers must be able to score. It’s hard to see that happening enough to beat the Huskies.
Michigan State Spartans • 20-11 (9-9) • Last week: 6
Michigan State is back in the tournament after a down year last year, now as a No. 9 seed. They will try to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2005, but it will be a tough road to get there.
They get Central Michigan in the first round 8/9 matchup. The Chippewas have a non-conference win over Miami and a few other tournament teams and took Louisville to the wire. Central Michigan boasts one of the top offenses in the country behind a pair of 20-point scorers in Reyna Frost and Presley Hudson. Just about everyone on both teams shoots well from beyond the arc, so expect a lot of deep shots in this game.
If they survive, they’ll likely face Notre Dame. Jenna Allen is going to need a great game for them to have a chance, but strange things have happened before for the Spartans.
Minnesota Golden Gophers • 20-10 (9-9) • Last week: 4
Minnesota missed the tournament in Lindsey Whalen’s first year as head coach, but they’re a huge threat in the WNIT given the way their season finished. Their road to claiming the Big Ten’s third consecutive championship includes possible teams like Arkansas, Butler and New Mexico.
Minnesota’s first game is against Northern Iowa, who haven’t beaten a team better than Creighton all year. They take a lot of deep shots but don’t make that many and can get run off the floor by teams that shoot well.
A second-round game would be the winner of Cincinnati and Youngstown State. Both run very slow pace, but while Cincinnati takes almost no threes, Youngstown State takes about as many as anyone. Both have shown they can beat a mid-level team.
Northwestern Wildcats • 16-14 (9-9) • Last week: 7
Northwestern makes a postseason appearance for the first time since 2015. They’ve never been past the third round of any tournament, although the third round was also the finals of the WNIT (then named the NWIT) in 1996.
The Wildcats face Dayton in the first round, who were 10-6 in the A-10. The Flyers look very beatable. They play at an average pace but have a very good defense and a poor shooting offense. Kind of like their opponents. This could be a very low-scoring game, but Northwestern has a lot more options to score and should get the win.
A second-round matchup would bring the winner of Seton Hall and Toledo. Seton Hall is one of the fastest teams in the country, while Toledo is one of the slowest. Both shoot 32.6 percent on threes.
The top seed in Northwestern’s region is West Virginia. The Mountaineers have a good defense but can lose in the rebounding margin.
The one other team to worry about is a potential elite eight matchup with Ohio, who should maybe have been in the NCAA tournament. Their hot shooting could be tough for Northwestern.
The Wildcats have been inconsistent all year, but this is the level of competition that they can beat. With two weeks two rest and heal some injuries, Northwestern should be poised to make a run.
Indiana Hoosiers • 20-12 (8-10) • Last week: 10
Indiana may not be the strongest team in the conference in my opinion, but their resume was better than the teams ahead of them, and they absolutely deserve their tournament bid. Texas doesn’t take a lot of threes, which lets them stay consistent. Their rebounding is elite, though, which is troublesome for Indiana. This game likely comes down to Indiana’s shooting. Ali Patberg will need to deliver.
The likely second-round matchup would be with Oregon. Michigan State has shown the formula to take down the Ducks, but Indiana may not be able to execute it.
After being potentially snubbed last year, Indiana’s in the tournament for just the second time since 2002. They only have two tournament wins in team history.
Ohio State Buckeyes • 14-14 (10-8) • Last week: 8
Ohio State misses the tournament for the first time in five years. The last time they were in the WNIT was 2001, and they won it all that year.
This year, the Buckeyes draw Morehead State to start things off. They scored 104 points against Chicago State, but their defense can really struggle, especially with defending the three and fouls.
Ohio State’s second-round game would be against the winner of Miami (Ohio) and Western Kentucky. WKU ranks last in some defensive categories, but the Red Hawks are the team to watch out for; they have wins over Central Michigan and Ohio even if they won’t do anything too fancy.
Ohio State finished the year strong, and like the other two Big Ten teams in the WNIT field, they could make a run. They’d square off against Northwestern in the Elite Eight if both teams get that far.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • 14-16 (9-9) • Last week: 9
Nebraska failed to be eligible for the postseason after a seven-win drop-off from last year, when they were a No. 10 seed and lost in the first round. Still, their young core comes back next year, hopefully improved enough to get them back to where they were recently.
Purdue Boilermakers • 19-16 (8-10) • Last week: 11
Purdue’s season is over after turning down a postseason opportunity. What looked like it would be a big improvement from last season turned into a major disappointment and a decline from 2017-18. It’s their first time not playing in the postseason in four years.
Purdue fell apart after a 6-2 conference start, likely due to exhaustion. Karissa McLaughlin led the conference in minutes with Dominique Oden not far behind. With nobody complementing their star trio, Purdue didn’t have a chance to hang on down the stretch.
Wisconsin Badgers • 15-18 (4-14) • Last week: 13
Despite losing their final scorer, the Badgers found a way to improve this year, winning six more games than last year, and three more games than in any of the previous seven seasons. With a strong Big Ten Tournament run that nearly got this team to the semifinals, the Badgers can take solace in their slow improvement.
Penn State Nittany Lions • 12-18 (5-13) • Last week: 12
Penn State ends their season with a 5-13 conference record that masks just how bad this season was. Those wins came against Wisconsin, Illinois and a Purdue team in a tailspin. They missed the WNIT for the first time in three years. They finished several games worse than last year despite not losing many pieces. The best win of the season was against Princeton.
From what I’ve heard, top prospect Makenna Marisa is still committed to Penn State, so there’s something to look forward to.
Illinois Fighting Illini • 10-20 (2-16) • Last week: 14
Illinois will not be in the postseason for the sixth straight season. But the season could have been much worse. An improvement from last year where every Big Ten game was at least a seven-point loss, Illinois started off by taking Indiana to overtime, pulled an upset over Minnesota, and got a second win over Wisconsin. There’s also an overtime loss to Clemson in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge that looks pretty good now.