Braydon touched on this in his recap yesterday, but let's break out the discussion of the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament into its own post, too. Iowa finished 14-4 in the league, a game back of Maryland (15-3), which means they get the #2 seed and stay on the opposite side of the bracket from the Terps. Here's a look at the bracket:
As a #2 seed, Iowa gets a double-bye, which means that they can rest up until Friday, while their potential opponents play on Wednesday and Thursday. Iowa will play either Minnesota (#7 seed) or Indiana (#10 seed) in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament, at 5:30 PM CT on Friday evening. Iowa played each opponent just once apiece this season, both games away from home, and split the games 1-1.
Against the Gophers, Iowa used a blistering second half (they outscored Minnesota 49-23 after the break) to turn a 9-point halftime deficit into an easy blowout win. That game came in the midst of Minnesota's worst stretch of the season, though, an eight-game run where they went 1-7, including a loss to Big Ten cellar dweller Illinois. Minnesota ended the year winning seven of their final nine games (and the two losses came on the road at Maryland and Rutgers, the #1 and #3 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament), so they're playing much better now.
Indiana, of course, handed Iowa one of only two defeats the Hawkeyes suffered after January 10, a painful comeback win about 10 days ago that crushed Iowa's hopes of earning a share of the regular season conference title. Indiana used some improbably hot shooting in the second half to erase a 16-point third quarter deficit and upset Iowa. Given a choice, I'd much rather see Iowa face Indiana than Minnesota -- it would be nice to get a small measure of payback on IU after they cost Iowa a Big Ten title and, frankly, I don't expect them to duplicate the torrid shooting display they used to beat Iowa last time.
If Iowa beats Minnesota/Indiana, they'll face either Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois, or Purdue in the semifinal on Saturday evening (5:30 PM CT, BTN). Rutgers earned the #3 seed in the league after going 13-5 in the regular season. They began the year 7-0 in league play before suffering their first Big Ten loss against Iowa in Iowa City (that was their only meeting this season). They went just 6-5 after that 7-0 start, but they did win four of their last five games of the year, including wins over Indiana and Minnesota. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer missed the final four games of the regular season and is expected to also sit out the Big Ten Tournament while resting and recovering from health concerns.
Nebraska earned the #6 seed after going 9-9 in the Big Ten; there was actually a four-team tie at 9-9 (Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Minnesota), but the tiebreakers favored the Cornhuskers. Iowa swept the season series with Nebraska, beating them 77-71 in Iowa City in early January and most recently rebounding from that Indiana loss to beat the Huskers 74-58 in Lincoln.
Purdue and Illinois are, respectively, the #11 and #14 seeds and neither is very likely to face Iowa in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal on Friday, given that they would need to win two games just to get to that point. Two wins in the BTT would double Illinois' number of Big Ten wins this season; they went 2-16 in the league. Iowa beat them twice this year, smashing them 94-75 in Champaign and 88-66 in Iowa City. Purdue went 8-10 in league play this year, but was one of four teams to hang a loss on Iowa this year, upsetting Iowa 62-57 in West Lafayette back in early January. Back then it looked like the Boilermakers might be Big Ten contenders after a 3-1 start to league play. They weren't. Purdue went just 5-9 after that win over Iowa (including a 72-58 loss in Iowa City) and lost 8 of their final 10 games this season. Suffice to say, they are not entering the Big Ten Tournament with a lot of positive momentum.
Should Iowa make it to the Big Ten title game on Sunday (5 PM CT, ESPN2), they'd face someone from the top half of the bracket (aka, one of the seven other Big Ten teams we haven't already discussed). The most likely contender would be top seed Maryland, the Big Ten's regular season champion and frequent Big Ten Tournament dominator (they've won three of four Big Ten Tournaments since entering the league in 2014-15). Iowa beat the Terps in a thrilling game in Iowa City that was closer than the final score indicated; if the rematch is as good as that game, that would be a big win for the Big Ten. The most likely teams to upset the Terps and make the final are #4 seed Michigan or #5 seed Ohio State. Iowa went 1-1 against Michigan this year, beating them 75-61 in Iowa City, but losing 90-81 in a weather-rescheduled game in Ann Arbor. Iowa went 1-0 against Ohio State, blasting the Buckeyes 78-52 in Columbus.
We always want to see Iowa last as long as possible in the Big Ten Tournament, but a deep run would be especially satisfying this year. For one, this is just an incredibly fun Iowa team to watch, led by the incomparable Megan Gustafson; the more games we get to see her dominate all comers, the better. This is also a chance for Iowa to win a Big Ten Tournament title for the first time since 2001, which would be nice. Frankly, it stings that Iowa wasn't able to get a Big Ten regular season title this year, given how close they were at the end of the year, but a Big Ten Tournament title would be a pretty good consolation prize. First things first, though: beat the Gophers/Hoosiers on Friday.