March 11, 2024 

Big Ten Tournament notebook: Iowa’s three-peat, Nebraska’s run, Maryland and Michigan’s huge wins and more

The Hawkeyes overcame a double-digit deficit to take home their third-straight tournament title

This week in Minneapolis produced some unexpected results, to say the least. Three of the four teams who got byes to the quarterfinals all lost their first game, with top-seed Ohio State, No. 3 seed Indiana and No. 4 seed Michigan State losing.

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While the ultimate champion of the 2024 Big Ten Tournament was no surprise — though fifth-seeded Nebraska had No. 2 seed Iowa on the ropes in the first half on Sunday — several Big Ten teams significantly helped their NCAA Tournament hopes.

Here are four takeaways from the weekend:

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Iowa finds a way

The Hawkeyes lucked out this weekend in that they didn’t have to face Ohio State or Indiana, two teams they lost to during the regular season. Iowa romped through the first two rounds, beating No. 7 Penn State, 95-62, and No. 6 Michigan, 95-68, while Caitlin Clark tallied double-doubles in both (24 points, 10 rebounds against Penn State; 28 points, 15 assists against Michigan). 

Against Nebraska in the championship game, it was the Huskers who carried a 46-35 lead into the halftime locker room. However, the Hawkeyes fought back, forced the game to overtime and walked away with a 94-89 win, avenging their loss to Nebraska on Feb. 11.

Clark, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, had her third double-double in as many days with 34 points and 12 assists. She also received assistance from Hannah Stuelke (25 points, nine rebounds), Sydney Affolter (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Kate Martin (13 points, seven rebounds).

“We just found a way to win, and that speaks to the team that we have, the maturity we have in this group,” Clark told reporters after Sunday’s win. “That’s what I’m probably the most proud of is we found a different way to win.”

The tournament championship likely locks up Iowa as a one seed for the NCAA Tournament, though it didn’t have to face any of the other teams that received a double bye.

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Nebraska moves up the seeding ladder

As disappointing as Sunday’s overtime loss was for the Huskers, their performance this week did wonders for earning them a better seed in the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska’s biggest knock entering this week was its inconsistency (losing to Rutgers, beating Iowa). From its first game on Thursday through Sunday’s championship, the Huskers showed up to play.

Facing No. 12 Purdue for the third time this season, they gutted out a 64-56 win; against No. 4 Michigan State, they slowed done one of the top offenses in the country in their 73-61 win; taking on No. 8 Maryland a day after the Terps’ massive upset over Ohio State, Nebraska once again prevailed, 78-68. Even Sunday’s loss, where Nebraska went toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the country for the second time this season, underscored the talent head coach Amy Williams has on her roster.

“We feel like we are incredibly poised to make a run in the next tournament,” Williams told reporters on Sunday, “and it’s going to take every single soul on our team given just what they did up here in the Big Ten Tournament.”

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Michigan and Maryland solidify their resumes

Both teams — particularly Maryland — came to Minneapolis aiming for an upset over a top-four seed to boost their NCAA Tournament hopes. Both picked up exactly what they were looking for.

For Maryland, it looked like that opportunity might not even arrive when the Terps trailed No. 9 Illinois 24-10 at the end of the first quarter of their second-round matchup. But they rallied to beat the Illini, 75-65, setting up a contest with Ohio State, a team they’d already lost to twice this season.

In that meeting with the Buckeyes on Friday, virtually everything went as well as it possibly could’ve. Shyanne Sellers turned in one of her best performances of the season with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Faith Masonius had her first double-double of the year with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Brinae Alexander had 19 points and Jakia Brown-Turner added 19 points and nine boards. 

Defensively, Maryland held the Buckeyes to just 6-of-22 shooting from 3-point range; Jacy Sheldon missed all five of her 3-point attempts for Ohio State.

“I think we’ve always had it in us,” Sellers said after the win. “Even though people don’t believe in us and still don’t believe in us — maybe they think this game is a fluke. I’m telling you right now, the Maryland team you see in March is not the same team you see at the beginning. I think we just proved that right now.”

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Meanwhile, No. 6 Michigan, after beating No. 11 Minnesota in the second round, stormed back against Indiana on Friday night for a 69-56 win. The Hoosiers led 35-21 at halftime, but a 30-point effort from Wolverine guard Laila Phelia spurred the massive comeback.

Indiana started the game without Mackenzie Holmes, and she only saw the floor after Michigan took the lead in the fourth quarter.

The Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament status was a bit more secure than Maryland’s entering this week, but the win over the Hoosiers erased any doubts that for the seventh time in her coaching tenure, Kim Barnes Arico will be taking Michigan dancing.

“Our team just battled and did a great job defensively against a really disciplined, tough Indiana team,” Barnes Arico said after the win. “It was a great basketball game, a great basketball game for our team and super excited to be advancing in the Big Ten Tournament.”

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Levels of concern for Ohio State or Indiana?

Last week’s tournament preview noted that Ohio State had followed a similar pattern at the end of this season as Indiana did at the end of last season — clinching the Big Ten regular season title ahead of a road game against Iowa that both teams lost narrowly. In last year’s Big Ten Tournament, Indiana scraped by its quarterfinal against Michigan State before falling to the Buckeyes in the semifinals. 

This year, Ohio State was the top seed that failed to advance as far as it’d hoped when it lost to Maryland in the quarterfinals.

It’s easy to overemphasize results from the conference tournament, but it doesn’t seem worthwhile to put too much stock in Ohio State’s loss. The Buckeyes had already played Maryland twice before, and for a team playing as desperately for a win as the Terps were, sometimes a team gets caught flatfooted. 

With no major injury concerns and lots of veteran experience, look for Ohio State to be more than ready when the NCAA Tournament tips off.

“I just think in general one of the things I think we’ve really hung our hat on this year is our competitive character,” head coach Kevin McGuff said after the Maryland loss. “We’ve not lost a game this year where our competitive character hasn’t been where it needed to be, but it wasn’t there today.”

The Hoosiers, on the other hand, have a bit more cause for concern with Holmes’ health status unclear. The fact she was healthy enough to make an appearance in the Michigan game was a positive sign, but it’s unclear if she’ll be 100% by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. That was an issue for the Hoosiers last season when they were upset by Miami (FL) in the second round of the tournament.

“It stinks. It really does. Especially when they’re such a great group and they’re so connected,” head coach Teri Moren said following the loss to Michigan. “We’ve had a great year, have been in some really tough battles in which we’ve won, a couple that we’ve lost. So you want to come into this tournament and have a chance because you came so close in the regular season of winning another one.”

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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