With all six Big Ten teams entering the tournament seeded in the top eight within their respective regions and four teams seeded within the top five, hopes were high among conference fanbases ahead of the first round of this year’s big dance. Thankfully, for the second year in a row, four of those fanbases will get to enjoy a Sweet Sixteen berth while two sadly saw their seasons come to an end. Here’s our first check in with the women’s side of the madness:
After a semifinal loss in Indianapolis during the conference dance, the 8-seeded Huskers were looking to outplay 9-seeded Gonzaga on the national stage. Unfortunately, Nebraska could not hold the Bulldogs back and became the first Big Ten team eliminated from national title contention, 68-55.
Despite a season high 20-point performance from Sam Haiby and solid performances on both ends of the court from Jaz Shelley and Alexis Markowski, the West Coast Conference champs out-rebounded the Huskers 40-33 and allowed only 12 points in the crucial final quarter of play. Nebraska didn’t help itself out much either by hitting only nine of 34 two-point shot attempts, though the team shot 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Not all is bad for the Huskers, however. They went 24-9 on the season and maintained a winning record in conference play for the first time since 2018. Additionally, the three aforementioned players are all expected to return next season and continue to propel Nebraska to success. In sum, though the trophy might be out of reach this time around, Amy Williams and company are just getting started.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming. It’s the nature of the beast that is March to foster an environment prone to upsets, and unfortunately, one of Northwestern’s Big Ten brethren fell at the hands of an underdog. It just so happened to be Iowa, and it just so happened to occur in the most heartbreaking of fashions.
After having breezed by their first round opponent Illinois State with a 40-point victory, the 2-seeded Hawkeyes met their match in the 10-seeded Creighton Bluejays. Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano combined for 42 points, 13 assists and 14 rebounds, yet a last minute three from Iowa transfer Lauren Jensen and a missed Czinano hook-shot to tie doomed Iowa in its 64-62 loss.
Similarly to Nebraska, Iowa is retaining its star players in Czinano and Clark for next season. Though their NCAA tournament journey may have been cut short, the Hawkeyes are the reigning Big Ten regular season and tournament champions for a reason, and we haven’t seen the last of them yet.
Now on to the teams that are still dancing. First up are the Wolverines, who are out for blood after a quarterfinal exit in the Big Ten tournament. Their hunger is paid off in the best way they could have hoped to this point — two solid early tournament wins and their second Sweet Sixteen appearance in a row.
Michigan held its first round opponent, 14-seeded American, to just 39 points. Naz Hillmon scored 24 points in 25 minutes, and American hit only one of its 21 three-point attempts in addition to scoring only 13 points in the first half. The Wolverines moved on swiftly to the 11-seeded Villanova Wildcats, who they dismantled in dominant fashion, 64-49. Hillmon put up a similar stat-line with her second double-double in a row, and Leigha Brown helped out with 20 points and five rebounds of her own in the victory.
Michigan is slated to face 10-seeded South Dakota in the Sweet Sixteen, a team that is fresh off upsetting two-seeded Baylor. One thing’s for sure, though: the Wolverines look really good, and it’s going to be very, very difficult to stop them.
The Terps have been an offensive powerhouse all season, and they have only continued to dominate in March. Still the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, Maryland has shown its dominance by shooting over 50 percent and scoring a total of 191 points in its first two tournament matchups.
All five UMD starters achieved double-digit performance in the team’s 102-71 first round win over Delaware. Notably, the Terps shot 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from three with just under half of their points coming from the paint. Next, Maryland downed FGCU 89-65 thanks to three 20-point performances from Ashley Owusu, Angel Reese and Diamond Miller.
Maryland’s success has lead it to its most formidable opponent yet: 1-seeded Stanford, a tournament favorite and powerhouse program. If the Terps show they can take down the Cardinal, there’s no telling what their ceiling is.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Joining in on the party are the Buckeyes who have most definitely gained momentum as the Tournament has continued. Ohio State only scored five points in its opening quarter against Missouri State, worrying fans and casting doubt on the team’s tournament hopes. However, a massive 26 point second quarter quelled any concerns, as Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell combined for 39 of OSU’s 63 points in their eventual first round victory.
The Buckeyes carried their confidence into their second round matchup against 3-seeded LSU. If one Big Ten team was set to be upset, one Big Ten team was set to cause an upset, and that’s exactly what Ohio State did in taking down the Tigers 79-64. Sheldon and her teammates shut down LSU’s offense, forcing their opponents to shoot 36 percent from the field. It also helps that the Buckeyes hit a modest 10 threes to seal the deal.
Next on the docket for OSU are the heavy-hitting 2-seeded Texas Longhorns, who will, inevitably, not make it easy. That being said, it’s clear these Buckeyes are capable of upsets, and who says they can’t do it two games in a row?
The Hoosiers came into the dance with chips on their shoulders, hoping to avenge their Big Ten Tournament championship loss. Suffice it to say they are on their way, though it hasn’t been easy.
Indiana came out hot against 14-seeded Charlotte with a 85-51 victory thanks to four double-digit performances from four starters. Then came the bump in the road in the form of 11-seeded Princeton. The lead changed nine times over the course of the matchup, but leave it to Grace Berger to pull the Hoosiers ahead at the last second. Her jumper with 29 seconds remaining put Indiana in the lead, and Aleksa Gulbe sealed the deal from the free throw line for a narrow 56-55 victory.
Now the second-highest remaining seed in their region, the Hoosiers are poised to face Paige Bueckers and UConn in a marquee Sweet Sixteen matchup between two true title contenders.
Final Count from Week One
Eliminated in Round of 64: 1 (8-seeded Nebraska)
Eliminated in Round of 32: 1 (2-seeded Iowa)
Sweet 16 Bound: 4 (3-seeded Michigan, 4-seeded Maryland, 6-seeded Ohio State, 3-seeded Indiana)