March 21, 2023 

Big Ten notes from the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend

Three of the conference's seven teams still remain

After the tournament’s first weekend, three Big Ten teams still stand. But with Indiana – the regular season champions – out after Monday’s stunning 70-68 loss to Miami, the conference’s chances of sending a team to the Final Four for the first time since Maryland in 2015 tumbled. 

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Still, Iowa’s path looks stronger than expected, with No. 1 Stanford bowing out of the tournament after a loss to Mississippi on Sunday and the Terps and Buckeyes continuing to play steady basketball.

Here’s a recap of the first week of the tournament for all seven Big Ten participants:

No. 1 Indiana

Indiana’s loss to No. 9 Miami Monday night was nothing short of shocking – not because the Hurricanes were a bad team that the Hoosiers should’ve romped, but because for most of the season, Teri Moren’s team passed test after test.

Even with slip ups at Iowa to close out the regular season and against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, the Hoosiers’ depth of scoring boded well for a deep tournament run. This team expected to reach the Final Four; instead, the Hoosiers won’t even make it out of the tournament’s first weekend.

“We’re disappointed. It stings. It hurts,” head coach Teri Moren said after the loss. “But it should if you’re competitors and it means anything to you, the way these kids work. Like I told them, if they didn’t have tears and they weren’t emotional, then I would wonder what all the hard work was for. 

“I’m so proud and grateful for these kids. I love every one of them. They give us their best every single day, and I’m so proud of them. As I said to them, when the dust settles, we’re going to look back at all the memories that we made this season. It was special on so many accounts.”

Without Mackenzie Holmes in the first round, the Hoosiers still cruised to a 77-47 win over Tennessee Tech. But the senior took a while to find her footing on Monday, scoring just four points in the first half. She ultimately finished with 22, but it wasn’t enough. 

Grace Berger’s career at IU concluded with a 17-point performance. But as Moren emphasized after the game, her impact on the program will sustain long into the future of IU basketball.

“She’s helped build this program,” Moren said. “We’re not sitting here where we are today, we weren’t sitting here a year ago, probably three years out without Grace Berger on this roster. Just so grateful that she decided to become an Indiana Hoosier five years ago when she had a lot of different options. She chose us. We’re so grateful. And again, she’s going to be one of the very best to ever put on a uniform. 

“I can’t wait to see what’s next for her. She’s been an unbelievable kid to coach. She’s been an unbelievable teammate. That’s why they’re so emotional about her because she means so much to all of us. I don’t know if I can quantify in words just how important she’s been to us and this program.”

No. 2 Maryland

For most of the season, Diamond Miller guided Maryland to two wins to kick off the Terps’ tournament. In the Round of 64 win against No. 15 Holy Cross, Miller had 13 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes. Then against No. 7 Arizona, she followed it up with 24 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the team’s 77-64 win.

“We’ve seen Diamond just will her team,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the Arizona win. “I thought it started with her defense, the impact she was making there, to her offense. They had no answer for her.”

The first half of Sunday’s second round didn’t start well for Miller; she shot just 2-for-9 from the field and had four points in the first half.

“I was just missing layups,” Miller said. “Even Faith (Masonius) was like, ‘Come on Diamond, you’ve got to make that.’”

Miller, Masonius and the rest of the Terps turned it on in that second half, outscoring the Wildcats 45-31.

“Just really, really special, to be able to get back to a Sweet 16,” Frese said. “I’m happy for everybody in our program, our staff, these players. So many things that were unknown last year, and I know this group is not satisfied just to be able to get to the Sweet 16. This started with their work last summer, and the trust and the belief that you see how much we love each other, how much we want to continue to keep playing on.”

No. 2 Iowa

Few teams entered the tournament with as much pressure to win as the Hawkeyes, and so far, they’ve taken care of business.

In the first round against No. 15 SE Louisiana, Caitlin Clark had 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, while Monika Czinano added 22 points and eight boards in the 95-43 win.

Against a physical No. 10 Georgia team, Iowa had to work for a 74-66 win. Clark had 22 points and 12 assists, Gabbie Marshall added 15 on 5-of-8 shooting and Czinano had another 20 points and nine rebounds. 

In a game where Lisa Bluder only received nine combined minutes from her bench, the starting five rewrote the script after last year’s devastating loss to Creighton in the Round of 32 to punch their ticket to a Sweet 16 matchup with Colorado in Seattle on Friday.

“It’s not something that we’ve talked about this week,” Bluder said of that Creighton loss. “Maybe it’s in the back of everybody’s mind. It’s not something we really brought up. It feels good to win this game certainly. … And we are advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, and we get to play another week.”

Added Clark: “Any time you are one of 16 teams that get to keep playing basketball, it’s pretty special,” she said. “It wasn’t a huge party or celebration in the locker room. This wasn’t our goal. It’s one of the steps to reaching our goal, but it’s not the be-all-end-all to us. This is the first weekend, and it’s done with. And now we have the second weekend. And we hope there’s a third weekend too.”

No. 3 Ohio State

The Buckeyes’ tournament started inauspiciously when Kevin McGuff’s team fell behind No. 14 James Madison, 35-19, more than halfway into the second quarter on Saturday. But Ohio State rallied to a comfortable 80-66 win in the Round of 64.

Then against North Carolina, Jacy Sheldon once again proved how valuable she is to this team, with 16 points – including the eventual game-winning shot – six rebounds and five assists.

Ohio State sorely missed Sheldon’s presence while sidelined with a foot injury throughout most of the Big Ten schedule. With her return, the Buckeyes have looked more and more like the team that started the season 19-0 and further from the group that limped across the finish line in February.

“We’re playing really, really hard,” McGuff said after the second-round win. “We’re playing with a lot of passion and a lot of energy and a lot of physicality. I still think we can play better. It’s hard to change your team this time of year. I don’t think you’re going to make significant changes.  But I think we can have a week ahead to where we address some things just to be the best version of ourselves when we show up in Seattle.”

Ohio State will face No. 2 UConn for a spot in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

No. 6 Michigan

After reaching the Elite Eight last season, Michigan couldn’t quite muster the same magic down in Baton Rouge this year. The Wolverines outpaced a talented UNLV team in the first round, a 71-59 win. But against No. 3 LSU, Kim Barnes Arico’s group had no answer for former Big Ten foe, Angel Reese. Michigan corralled 26 rebounds as a team in the 66-42 loss; Reese alone had 24 for the Tigers, along with 25 points.

“We played against her last year when she was at Maryland, and she just had a heck of a game and has really improved,” Barnes Arico said of Reese. “And they were physical and really limited our scoring and didn’t allow us to get into rhythm.”

After losing Naz Hilmon to the WNBA, the Wolverines had to retool their offense in 2022-23. Leigha Brown had a stellar final season, as did Emily Kiser. But the group overall was no match for the athleticism of LSU.

“Proud of our team,” Barnes Arico said. “At the beginning of the year, we weren’t picked to be in this position with the loss of our All-American. And these two guys (Brown and Kiser) led our team to a tremendous season, and it was great to be in this position tonight.”

No. 11 Illinois

The Illini’s shockingly successful season came to a close in the opening First Four game of the tournament, a 70-56 loss to Mississippi State. With top rebounder Kendall Bostic hampered with a right leg injury, the Bulldogs outrebounded Illinois 47-28, including 16-7 on the offensive glass.

Illinois trailed just 31-30 at halftime, but a rough third quarter, where Mississippi State outscored the Illini, 21-8, did them in. 

While the performance certainly wasn’t how Shauna Green wanted her team to end her first season in Champaign, the mere fact that Illini had the opportunity to play in an NCAA tournament game speaks volumes of how far this program has grown in just 12 months.

“You’re lying if anyone in here said we’d be here,” Green said after the loss. “Just really, really happy for these guys to be able to experience this, and now we’re going to learn from it, and we’re going to use this as motivation coming back because we have pretty much our entire team coming back besides (Geovana Lopes).”

That roster continuity should go a long way in helping Green continue to build the program into one of the best in the Big Ten.

“(Last summer), I’m teaching them the footwork. … I’m teaching them layups. I’m teaching them how we pass. I’m teaching them terminology. We’re trying to grow as a unit and just getting to know each other. 

Now, I have a crystal clear vision of what we need to get better at, and believe me, we’re going to work on it every single day, some of the things that are glaring, and we’re going to attack those, and we’re going to be better for it.”

No. 11 Purdue

Purdue’s eye-opening season saw a similar result to the Illini in the First Four, after the Boilermakers lost a nailbiter, 66-64, to St. John’s.

The senior leadership of Lasha Petree, Cassidy Hardin, Abbey Ellis, Jeanae Terry and Caitlyn Harper laid the foundation for what head coach Katie Gearlds wants to build on as she continues to mold this program into a perennial tournament contender.

While Gearlds will lose a good chunk of that senior leadership next year, the magnitude of what her group accomplished wasn’t lost on her after the First Four loss.

“There’s nobody outside of our locker room that thought Purdue was going to make the NCAA tournament,” she said. “If you said you did, you’re lying to yourself because there’s not one single person walking this earth that believed Purdue was going to be in the NCAA tournament outside of our locker room.”

She continued later: “They believed in me. They believed in each other, and they’re fighters,” she said. “I don’t care what happens. This group will always be my favorite Purdue team.”

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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