For the third straight year, the Lady Lions won the Big Ten regular season title on Sunday after a dominating performance against Michigan (and after Nebraska, who had so thoroughly manhandled PSU on their new court just a few days prior, absolutely fell apart against a Purdue squad that seems to live for March). That Penn State shared the title with Suzy Merchant's MSU team makes no matter, as the Lions hold the tie breaker and get the top seed (for the 7th time) headed into the tournament this weekend, where they'll look to break a streak of not living up to their own heightened expectations.
For the third straight year, Maggie Lucas and Coach Coquese Washington will roll into Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament with the best conference record in the B1G; for the second straight year, it's the best overall record. It hasn't been since Lucas' freshman year, though, that the Lions were even able to make it to the last day of the tournament; that year, they exceeded expectations by making it to the finals, where they were demolished by a sweet 16 Ohio State team. Since then, the expectations for Coach Quese and company have been piling up, and the last two years, have been dashed in the semi-finals.
Let's hope that third time's the charm.
This year, the Lions come into the tournament with a 22-6 (13-3 in conference) record and a #11 national ranking. The tourney starts today, but PSU, by virtue of their season's strength, gets an extra day of rest, starting their run tomorrow at noon on the BTN. The opponent? To be determined, the winner of today's matchup of Ohio State and Northwestern. While the Lady Lions swept both teams when they met earlier in the year, they undoubtedly match up better this year against the Buckeyes; the average margin of victory in those two wins was 22 points, while the average MOV over the Wildcats was only 6.5.
If Lucas, a three-time all tournament selection, et al get by on Friday as most expect, on Saturday at 3:30, they'll meet the winner of Purdue and Iowa/Illinois--a tough matchup for the blue and white almost no matter the outcome, as two of the squad's three conference losses came at the hands of Purdue (currently ranked #17 nationally) and Iowa this year (the latter at home, almost single-handedly to the red-hot shooting of freshman Ally Disterhoft).
If there's any solace it's the fact that the other two teams that tied or almost tied Penn State for the regular season title, of course, lie on the other side of the bracket--and because of this, it's likely that the semifinal on the bottom half will pit the #19 Michigan State Spartans against the #16 Nebraska Lady Huskers. Those two teams split the series with each other, each winning easily on their home court; PSU played each of the two only once, beating MSU by 12 in East Lansing and losing in Lincoln by twenty just last week (and, no, I don't know why Penn State had to play the two other best teams in the conference just once, each on the road). Nebraska is looking for its first conference tournament title period (it never won one in the Big 12 either), and MSU its first since 2005 (the program's sole win).
The Championship game, if the Lady Lions make it past Iowa or (most likely) Purdue, would be Penn State's eighth since joining the conference; they haven't won a tournament title since their pair of wins the first two years in the Big Ten.
Something else to look out for this weekend? Lucas is just one three-pointer shy of Penn State great Kelly Mazzante's school- and conference-leading career 3-point FGs made record, and will likely tie and set a new record for that category this weekend. Mazzante herself had some remarkable runs at the tournament, despite not winning that title for the squad; she's still the conference's statistical leader for tournament FG attempts, single game and tournament 3-pt attempts, and single game and tournament 3-pts made, with Lucas on her heels in the latter categories. Lucas, unsurprisingly, is tied for the tournament's record 100% FT rate in a single tournament, for her performance in 2012 (she currently leads the nation in FT attempts this year).
You can find the full Big Ten Tournament bracket here.