clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament preview

Everything you need to know before the teams hit the court in Minneapolis.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 29 Womens Northwestern at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time since 2015, the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament will be taking place somewhere outside of Indianapolis. This year, the teams travel to the Target Center in Minneapolis for the five-day tournament that tips off with two games on Wednesday. Let’s take a look at some of the key questions surrounding this year’s event, starting with a look at Northwestern’s tournament prospects, then broadening the scope to some more national implications.

How far can Northwestern advance?

The 14-seed in the tournament, Northwestern begins its run on Wednesday against the 11th-seeded Rutgers, with the game tipping off 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Minnesota-Penn State matchup which tips off at 1 p.m. If the ‘Cats knock off the Scarlet Knights, they will advance to face Illinois in the second round on Thursday with No. 3 seed Maryland awaiting the winner of that game in the quarterfinals on Friday.

The Wildcats’ road is actually a lot more manageable than it could have been as the 14th seed. They have faced the Scarlet Knights once before, a February 15 matchup in Piscataway that Rutgers won 62-48. In that game, Northwestern turned the ball over a whopping 28 times and allowed the Scarlet Knights to snag 20 offensive rebounds. However, despite these numbers, both teams were tied at the media timeout in the fourth quarter. Therefore, if Northwestern can hang on to the ball and clean up the defensive glass, there is a very good shot it can dispatch Rutgers in the first round.

If the ‘Cats advance, their second round matchup would be against an Illinois team that they have already seen twice this season. Despite losing both games, the Wildcats were very competitive in both, and have shown that they have the capabilities to hang with a tournament-bound Illini squad. Illinois has also shown some vulnerability down the stretch, almost losing to Minnesota and losing by 33 points at home to Nebraska. While it would be difficult, a win against the Illini is certainly not out of the question if Northwestern makes the second round.

Realistically, I do not see the ‘Cats advancing past a potential quarterfinal matchup against Maryland on Friday. The last time those two teams played, Northwestern hung with the Terps for a quarter before Maryland looked like the far better team the rest of the way. Brenda Frese’s squad is also playing arguably its best basketball of the season right now, as it enters the tournament on a six-game winning streak which includes triumphs over Ohio State, Illinois and Iowa. Regardless of the outcome of a potential matchup with Maryland, just making it past Rutgers and Illinois would be a successful outcome for Joe McKeown’s squad.

Which team has the most on the line this weekend?

The answer to this question boils down to which team’s postseason plans have the most riding on their performance in Minneapolis. For me, that team is either Purdue or Nebraska. They are on both sides of the bubble in ESPN’s most recent bracketology, with Purdue listed as one of the “last four byes” and Nebraska listed as the “first team out.”

Purdue has the luxury of being on the right side of the bubble as the tournament gets underway. Therefore, a win in its game on Thursday against Wisconsin should be enough to secure a spot in the field of 68 barring lots of chaos in other conference tournaments. With a loss to the Badgers, however, Purdue will likely find itself squarely on the cut line with a good chance of being left out of the field. The Boilermakers beat the Wisconsin by 12 in their regular season meeting, so there is no reason to think they cannot do it again.

Nebraska, on the other hand, has a bit more work to do, given that the Huskers are currently on the wrong side of the bubble. Nebraska has entered the tournament on the heels of back-to-back resounding victories against Illinois and Northwestern. The Cornhuskers open their tournament run against Michigan State on Thursday in an absolute must-win game.

If they win that, then they face the unenviable task of having to face Indiana, the conference’s top seed and No. 2 team in the country. While knocking off the Hoosiers is a tall order, Nebraska took them to overtime in their lone meeting this season. They are a team that lives and dies by the three-ball, leading the conference with 729 threes attempted, which can potentially be a recipe for an upset if their shooters get hot. If the Huskers can pull a stunner, they will likely have earned themselves a spot in March Madness.

Who will win the tournament?

The top of the Big Ten has five of the top 17 teams in the country, all of whom I would say have a shot at pulling out a tournament victory. The odds-on favorite remains Indiana, who has picked up only one loss since the New Year which came on Sunday on a buzzer-beater by Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. However, their path to the final will not be an easy one.

Presuming Michigan is able to take care of business against the Penn State-Minnesota winner, it will face off in a marquee quarterfinal matchup against Ohio State, with the winner advancing to the semifinal against — barring a huge upset — Indiana. The Hoosiers are undefeated against both the Wolverines and Buckeyes this season, but a matchup against a top-20 opponent is never a sure thing.

On the other side of the bracket, all signs point towards a semifinal rubber match between Maryland and Iowa. Each team defended its home floor in their two matchups this season, so it would certainly be interesting to see how this matchup plays itself out on a neutral floor.

Overall, I think Indiana’s juggernaut is too much to overcome. It took some magic from Clark on Iowa’s home floor to hand the Hoosiers a loss, and they have been a nightmare for the rest of the Big Ten all year.

Regardless of who wins, there are guaranteed to be some great matchups on the floor at the Target Center all weekend, so be sure to catch all the action on the Big Ten Network, with the exception of the championship game, which will be televised on ESPN.