Last year's young Lady Lion basketball team exceeded preseason expectations to some degree, making it to the finals in the Big Ten tournament before losing to NCAA Sweet Sixteen team Ohio State. That momentum in the B1G tourney, behind all-tournament selections Alex Bentley (then sophomore) and Maggie Lucas (then freshman), carried over to the NCAA tournament, where Penn State made it to the second round, and then into this season. Many pegged this 2011-2012 season as the first big one under now 5th year head coach Coquese Washington, and so far the Lady Lions haven't disappointed.
A preseason favorite to win the conference, Penn State clinched their first regular-season Big Ten championship under Big Ten coach of the year Washington with their victory over Minnesota on February 26, after guaranteeing at least a share of the title with their February 20 win over Ohio State. The Lady Lions head to Indianapolis having secured their first regular season Big Ten title since 2004, and look to win their first tournament title since 1996.
Penn State goes into the tournament a clear No. 1 ranking, their fifth time with such a ranking. After Penn State, however, the rankings get murky, with four teams tied for second place with an 11-5 conference record. After applying the tiebreaker rules*, Ohio State received the No. 2 ranking, Iowa claimed No. 3, and Purdue is No. 4. Michigan State, the final 11-5 team, is the first team to not receive a bye in the first round of the tournament at No. 5.
In their first Big Ten tournament, Nebraska is ranked No. 6, followed by Michigan at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, Wisconsin at No. 9, Illinois at No. 10, Northwestern at No. 11, and Indiana at No. 12.
The Big Ten women's basketball tournament itself actually began three years before the men's tournament, in 1995**. Penn State won the first two titles, under controversial, now-former coach Rene Portland. Since its inception, Purdue has won the most titles, with seven overall. Ohio State has won four, including the last three in a row.
The tournament this year takes place from March 1 to March 4, with one round per day. All games should be broadcast on the Big Ten Network, except for the final, which will be shown on the deuce at 4 pm Sunday, March 4.
Game-by-game breakdown after the jump.
THURSDAY, MARCH 1
11:30 am: #7 Michigan (19-9 overall, 8-7 B1G) vs. #10 Illinois (11-17, 5-10)
Michigan brings the league's second best scoring defense to the tournament to face the Illini, who have had a relatively disappointing season with 4 of 5 starters returning off a team that went to the semis in last year's B1G tournament. Illinois will look toward junior Karisma Penn, a preseason league player of the year, and junior Adrienne Godbold, the B1G's sixth player of the year, to hold their own against Wolverine junior Jenny Ryan, who leads the league in steals and was just named to the B1G's all-defensive team.
2 pm: #6 Nebraska (20-7, 9-6; #24 AP, #23 coaches) vs. #11 Northwestern (14-14, 4-11)
The Cornhuskers go into their first Big Ten tournament fresh off an upset victory over Ohio State. Nebraska sophomore Jordan Hooper leads the league in overall and defensive rebounds and was just name to the all-B1G first team. She'll face Morgan Jones, named to the all-B1G freshman team, and Northwestern, who has only won one conference tournament game in the last ten years.
6 pm: #8 Minnesota (14-15, 6-9) vs. #9 Wisconsin (8-19, 4-11)
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Rachel Banham, who leads the league in three-point %, and the Golden Gophers take on Wisconsin, who was riding a six-game losing streak before Sunday's win over Illinois. This is first-year Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey's first B1G tournament, and first postseason as a head coach, after spending four years as an assistant to Tara VanDerveer at Stanford.
8:30 pm: #5 Michigan State (18-10, 10-5) vs. #12 Indiana (6-22, 1-14)
Last year's regular season Big Ten champion, Michigan State comes into the tournament this year a disappointing fifth after the tie-breaking rules were applied. Preseason All-B1G senior Lykendra Johnson, who leads the league in offensive rebounds, and the Spartans take on the Hoosiers, whose first and only conference win didn't come until February 23 against Wisconsin.
FRIDAY, MARCH 2
11:30 am: #2 Ohio State (24-4, 11-4; #14 AP, #14 coaches) vs. the winner of Michigan /Illinois
The top two scorers on the #1 scoring offense in the league, OSU's junior Tayler Hill and senior Samantha Prahalis were both named to the first team All-Big Ten. Prahalis also leads the league in assists, while Hill leads in three pointers made. Joining them on the court is B1G defensive player of the year junior Amber Stokes. The Buckeyes were looking to have an outright second seed and top ten regular season finish before falling to Nebraska on Sunday.
2 pm: #3 Iowa (18-10, 10-5) vs. the winner of Nebraska/Northwestern
The Hawkeyes are riding an eight game winning streak into the Big Ten tournament behind junior Morgan Johnson, who leads the league in field goal percentage. With the best free throw percentage in the league, this is Iowa's fifth tournament in a row in which they get a first round bye.
6 pm: #1 Penn State (22-5, 12-3; #9 AP, #15 coaches) vs. the winner of Minnesota/Wisconsin
PSU takes the #2 scoring offense in the league to Indianapolis behind All-Big Ten first team members junior Alex Bentley and sophomore Maggie Lucas. Complementing the offense, Penn State leads the league in field goal and three point defense, as well as rebounding offense. The Lady Lions' last five games were won by double digits, and they are currently riding a 7 game win streak.
8:30 pm: #4 Purdue (20-8, 10-5; #21 AP) vs. the winner of Michigan State/Indiana
The last team with a bye, the Boilermakers have the #1 scoring defense in the league. Sophomore Courtney Moses, who leads the league in free throw percentage, and Purdue were preseason ranked #17 in the country, and climbed to #12 before losing to Central Michigan in December. This is the highest tournament ranking Purdue has had since 2009, when they lost to Ohio State in the tournament final.
SATURDAY, MARCH 3
5 pm: Semifinal 1
Matches up the winners of the first two Friday games.
7:30 pm: Semifinal 2
Matches up the winners of the last two Friday games.
SUNDAY, MARCH 4 on ESPN2
4 pm: Championship game
*Full tie breaker procedures, updated this year, can be found here.
**This is the official date of the start of the tournament as we now know it. The Big Ten did not begin sponsoring women's basketball until the 1982-83 season; prior to this, there were some tournaments held, but were not officially sanctioned by the conference. There were no conference tournaments, unsanctioned or otherwise, between 1983 and 1995.
Thanks to the Big Ten Conference for stats and information.
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