March 26, 2024 

Seven Big Ten teams began, just two remain in the NCAA Tournament

The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers are headed to the Sweet 16

It was far from a banner weekend for the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament. Regular-season champion No. 2 Ohio State was upset at home by No. 7 Duke in the second round, No. 9 Michigan blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against No. 8 Kansas, and No. 10 Maryland led No. 7 Iowa State by 20 late in the second quarter, only to suffer a seven-point defeat.

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On the positive side, No. 6 Nebraska held off No. 11 Texas A&M with a 61-59 win, before seeing its season end against No. 3 Oregon State on Sunday. No. 4 Indiana survived a back-and-forth affair with No. 5 Oklahoma, and No. 1 Iowa escaped a nerve-wracking battle with No. 8 West Virginia.

Here’s one note on each of the seven teams from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes: Walking the tightrope to the Sweet 16

West Virginia gave the Hawkeyes everything they could handle. Iowa scored just six points in the second quarter and didn’t score until more than halfway into the fourth quarter but mustered just enough offense late to win 64-54 and advance to the Sweet 16.

The Mountaineers held Iowa nearly 30 points below its season average, but Caitlin Clark scored half of the Hawkeyes’ points, with 32 on 8-of-22 shooting. Hannah Stuelke turned in a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Kate Martin added seven points and 10 rebounds.

The 64 points was the second-lowest total for the Hawkeyes this season, narrowly exceeding the 58 points scored in a November loss to Kansas State. It was in no way Iowa’s best game of the season, but at this juncture, the win is all that matters.

“I’m so proud of our team for only having six turnovers in the second half against that pressure defense,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “That’s keeping your composure, especially when they tied it up. This might have been our lowest field goal percentage that we’ve ever won a game with. We found a way to win in a different way, and we won with our defense tonight.”

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No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes: A devastating defeat

The Buckeyes oddly followed the same exact path as Indiana did last year: They won the Big Ten regular-season title, lost to Iowa on the road in the final game of the regular season, lost in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

After reaching the Elite Eight last year, returning four of five starters and adding reigning ACC defensive player of the year Celeste Taylor out of the portal, Ohio State looked positioned to at the very least make it to the second weekend of the tournament. Duke had other ideas. 

Despite the Buckeyes leading by double figures in the first half, the Blue Devils eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 75-63 win.

Junior Cotie McMahon led the way for Ohio State with 27 points, but a team that shot over 35% from 3-point range entering play shot just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc Sunday. Foul trouble also plagued the Buckeyes, with three starters — Taylor, Rebeka Mikulasikova and Taylor Thierry — all fouling out. 

It was a disappointing loss for a team primed to make another run at the Final Four.

“It’s tough,” head coach Kevin McGuff said. “We’ve got some kids who invested, like, [Jacy Sheldon’s] invested so much in our program and been such an incredible representative of Ohio State women’s basketball, so it’s really hard to see them go out this way. I think there’s lessons for people like Jacy who won’t get a chance to play here again, and there’s lessons for the ones coming back. 

“It really only ends the right way for one team, but you do want to walk out of the locker room on that last game like, ‘Man, we played great. We gave it our all.’ They were just a little bit better.”

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No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers: Erasing the sour taste

The Hoosiers, led by graduate Mackenzie Holmes, were on a mission this season to make it back to the Sweet 16 after a devastating second-round loss to Miami (Fla.) last March. On Monday night, the Hoosiers accomplished their goal, as a late-surge propelled them to a 75-68 win over No. 5 Oklahoma, with Holmes’s 29 points leading the way.

Senior Sydney Parrish added 17 points (eight rebounds, five assists), graduate Sara Scalia scored 12 and senior Chloe Moore-McNeil had nine points, nine rebounds and five assists.

“I know how it felt last year. We all know how it felt last year, and I was going to do everything in my power to not let that happen again,” Holmes said following the win. “I just have a really great team full of people who believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself, and I think that’s the difference maker.”

“They really do care about each other. They’re friends on and off the floor,” added head coach Teri Moren. “They celebrate each other’s success. I tried to not go down the rabbit hole yesterday with you guys in terms of did it still bother us how things went last year, but it’s bothered us. It really has.”

Indiana advances to face South Carolina, the top overall seed, in Albany in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. It will be the Hoosiers’ third trip to the Sweet 16 in the last four years.

No. 6 Nebraska Cornhuskers: First tournament win in 10 years

When Nebraska walked away from its first-round game with a nail biting 61-59 victory over the Aggies, it was the first NCAA Tournament game win for the Huskers since 2014, when they beat Fresno State. The win was also head coach Amy Williams’ first with Nebraska in the tournament since she took over as head coach before the 2016-17 season.

In the win, junior Alexis Markowski and freshman Logan Nissley led the way with 16 points apiece, helping make up for graduate Jaz Shelley scoring just five points, though she did have six assists and five rebounds.

On Sunday in the second round, though, the Huskers’ run came to an end with a 61-51 loss to Oregon State. Nebraska’s offense struggled for the first three quarters, scoring just 29 points across that stretch, ultimately ending the Huskers’ season. 

“Just the thought of not going back and practicing on Monday, it’s breaking my heart a little bit,” Williams said after the loss. “Love these girls so much, and just so proud of the mark they’ve made on our program and set the tone and bar for us moving forward.”

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No. 9 Michigan State Spartans: Robyn Fralick’s first season ends with a narrow loss

Somewhat the inverse of Maryland and Michigan, the Spartans fell behind No. 8 North Carolina early — at one point trailing by 16 in the first quarter and by double digits in the fourth — only to battle back and lose by only one possession, 59-56. 

It was a disappointing end to a promising first season for Fralick as head coach. Rebounding hurt the Spartans most, with the Tar Heels winning the battle on the boards, 45-27 (18-6 offensive rebounds), but that’s been a big obstacle for Fralick’s team all season with an undersized lineup.

Still, Michigan State performed above expectations all year because of the cohesiveness with which the Spartans played, buying into Fralick’s system and putting up some of the best offensive numbers in the country.

“We had a group that really kind of figured out the power of a team and figured out the power of working hard and believing in new people. That’s hard when you come in, and the whole staff is new,” Fralick said after the loss. “I’m just constantly reminded about the power of human nature and belief.”

No. 9 Michigan Wolverines: A demoralizing late-game collapse

Like Maryland, Michigan picked up a big win in the conference tournament to buoy itself into the Big Dance, and like the Terps, the Wolverines suffered a big-time collapse in the round of 64. Michigan led Kansas 58-48 with 6:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks subsequently went on a 19-9 run to tie the game at 67 by the end of regulation and then outscored Michigan 14-5 in overtime to walk away with the 81-72 win. 

The Wolverines received double-digit scoring efforts from three players: senior Cameron Williams led the way with 18, while junior Laila Phelia had 16 (five assists, four rebounds) and graduate Lauren Hansen added 13. 

Inconsistent offense was an Achilles’ heel for Michigan all season, and it ultimately ended the Wolverines’ campaign in the first round of the tournament.

“Coming into this year — and I’ve talked to you guys about this a number of times — we didn’t know what this season was going to hold because we did have a lot of graduation and a lot of inexperience,” head coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “So for us to be in the positions we were so many times, I’m really proud of our group and proud of our program.” 

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No. 10 Maryland Terrapins: Massive lead disappears as Audi Crooks drops 40 on the Terps

Most of the season was a grind for head coach Brenda Frese and her Terps. On top of a lack of depth, injuries and inexperience led to one of her more challenging years in College Park. But when Maryland held a 50-30 lead over Iowa State with 1:28 left in the first half after its impressive win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament a couple of weeks before, it didn’t seem like a stretch to say the team had finally turned a corner. 

Frese has consistently seen her teams peak in March — like last season, when the Terps went on a run to the Elite Eight — but on Friday, her team didn’t sustain the same success in the second half. Crooks, the standout freshman, led the Cyclones to outscore the Terps 57-34 in the second half and ultimately walk away with the win.

“When I look back on the season, I’ll appreciate this team’s resiliency,” Frese told reporters after the loss. “Came in every single day and worked and put their head down in spite of a lot of injuries and lack of depth to be able to put us in the tournament this year.”

The loss came despite Maryland junior Allie Kubek’s best game of the year. She led the Terps with 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting and went 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. Junior Shyanne Sellers added 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists.

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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