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Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Big Ten As I See It: With a Mess of a Regular Season, Post-Season Chances Are Tough to Predict

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Photo Caption: Something of a dark horse in terms of NCAA tournament chances, Iowa has come on strong in recent weeks after a spate of injuries led to a rocky start. Jaime Printy has been a huge contributor to the comeback of the Hawkeyes, who have won seven of their last nine. The freshman guard is averaging 15.2 points, 4.2 boards and a little more than three assists per game and provided valuable firepower when the team’s top scorer, Kachine Alexander, was sidelined with stress fractures.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Iowa Athletics Media Relations

By Sharon Crowson

As the season winds down, eyes turn to the NCAA tournament and who will get to play and who will have to watch.

With the mess that has been the Big Ten this season few things regarding the postseason are certain.  But the situation is slowly becoming less clouded and some almost educated guesses can be made.

Though tournament berths aren’t doled out by conference, the Big Ten normally winds up with five bids, and their Number Five RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) ranking and Number Two strength of schedule ranking should get them at least four this season.  Historically, no team that finished under .500 in the regular season has ever gotten an at-large bid and that isn’t going to change this season.  The large majority of teams that finished at .500 did not get bids and there likely won’t be any .500 teams getting eitherin this year.

Of course, Ohio State (26-4, 14-3) is in.  They have won their sixth consecutive regular-season title, are currently ranked tenth in RPI , tenth by Full Court Press (see Full Court Top 25: Week of February 15, 2010) and seventh in the AP poll.

After struggling early, Michigan State also looks to be in.  The Spartans stand second in the conference, at 19-8, 10-6, after Sunday’s defeat of the Buckeyes, but they boast an RPI of 19 and they have won eight of their last nine.  They have notched wins over Xavier, Oklahoma State and North Carolina, as well as Ohio State, and their only bad loss is to Indiana (RPI 67).  They finish on the road at Purdue,. then at home against Minnesota.  Even 1-1 over that stretch should lock up a bid.

The likely third team in will surprise people who have not been paying attention.  Iowa began the season, decimated by injuries.  Projected starters JoAnn Hamlin and Hannah Draxten both missed the entire season with injuries and freshman Theairra Taylor, who would have been the first player off the bench, tore her ACL in the season’s tenth game.  The team’s best player, and arguably the league’s top all-around threat, Kachine Alexander suffered a stress fracture in her shin, missed seven games and has not been at full strength for much of the year.  Point guard Kamile Wahlin missed one entire game and part of another with a concussion and large parts of several others with back spasms.

The injuries have left Coach Lisa Bluder with eight scholarship players for the entire conference season and those eight break down into four freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors.  The Hawkeyes’ early record reflected the spate of injuries.  At one point, the Hawkeyes were 8-10 and 1-6 in the Big Ten. But they’ve hit their stride, pulling themselves into a tie for sixth in the conference at 15-12, 8-8, and are now playing as well as anyone in the conference, including Ohio State.  Despite a stumble on Sunday against Northwestern, they have won seven of their last nine.  Their RPI is 53, but that should be somewhat offset if, as the NCAA criteria call for, the Selection Committee takes their early injuries into account.  Iowa finishes with a home game against Indiana and a road game at Wisconsin; 1-1 over those last two games should get them a bid.

After that things get murkier.

Purdue currently sits in a tie for third place at 9-7, after losing Sunday on the road at Illinois. The Boilermakers finish with another road trip to Michigan and a home game against Michigan State.  They should go at least 1-1 and finish with a 10-8 conference record.  But, their overall record would only be 15-14.  They also have bad losses to Pepperdine, Northwestern and Gardner Webb offset by their good win against Ohio State.  The Boilermakers’ RPI is currently 54, but their strength of schedule is 22 and the RPI should improve slightly if they go 1-1.  If they can go 2-0 over their final games and win a game in the conference tournament, they should be in; 1-1 and two tournament wins should get them a bid.  Otherwise, they’re on the bubble and not very securely.  With the loss to the Illini, they could very well wind up watching.

With Sunday’s win over Michigan, Wisconsin currently is tied for third with a 9-7 record and a strong RPI of 28.  Some have them as a lock, but that may be premature .  The Badgers have the most difficult finishing stretch and have been playing just good enough to come close by small margins.  Their losses to Green Bay, Illinois and Northwestern will not help and, more importantly, they are 4-4 in their last eight games.  The Badgers finish with a game at Penn State and close with Iowa at home.  Penn State is playing better of late and Iowa is the absolute worst match-up in the conference for Wisconsin.  The Badgers depend on their defense and they get weaker defensively the farther from the basket they have to defend.  They will have to defend 24 feet from the basket against the Hawkeyes and their defense is not good when they have to do that.  If Iowa shoots to the best of their capabilities, it’s hard to see Wisconsin holding them in the low 60s and Wisconsin does not score that many points very often.

If the Badgers go 2-0, they should be in.  If they go 1-1, they will need at least one win at the conference tournament in Indianapolis.  Finish with two losses and they will have to at least make the tournament finals (and, failing that, Coach Lisa Stone may have to start looking for a new job). 

Both Michigan and Penn State have small chances of getting in without winning the tournament.  Penn State is 16-10, 8-8 with an RPI of 64, but snapped their six-game losing streak only Thursday, with a 71-65 overtime win over Michigan.  They finish with Wisconsin at home and Indiana on the road.  They absolutely have to win both games and at least two games in the tournament to have any chance.

With Thursday’s loss to Penn State and another on Sunday to Wisconsin, Michigan is 14-12, 6-10 with an RPI of 50 and a 4-4 record over their last eight games.  They do have good wins over Xavier, Boston College and over Iowa twice, but they also lost to Northwestern twice.  The Wolverines finish with a home game against Purdue and a road game at Minnesota.  Sunday’s loss makes their prospects doubtful, even with a good tournament performance; at this point, at the very least, they have to win both of their final games to avoid having to win the conference tournament to get in.  Even so, they will likely have to win at least one and more likely two games at Indianapolis to get an at-large bid. 

Indiana (13-14, 6-10, RPI 74), Northwestern (16-11, 7-9, RPI 89), Illinois (14-13, 5-11, RPI 75) and Minnesota (13-14, 6-10, RPI 83) would all have to win the Big Ten tournament to get a ticket to the Big Dance.  Indiana and Northwestern are both capable of pulling upsets in the first round of the conference tourney, but neither looks deep or talented enough to get much farther.  Illinois might have a shot at a first-round upset, but even that isn’t likely.  Minnesota is in a total free-fall and will likely be one and done.

Originally published Sun, February 21, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.