March 4, 2022
Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament: Day two takeaways
The powers take the floor in the day ahead
INDIANAPOLIS — Fueled by five cups of coffee, an oatmeal cookie and two containers of popcorn provided by the Big Ten, I made it through a 12-hour day of tournament hoops. And it was glorious.
Before diving into what happened on the court, I have to shout out Northwestern’s clarinet player. Throughout the entirety of Wildcats’ game versus Minnesota, this person hilariously bellowed over the moans of the fan base anytime a call went against them.
“Do you even know what that line stands for?” the outraged musician exclaimed through a mask at one point, referring to the restricted area. As the game went on, a few of us in the media kept looking over at this kid who never deviated from outward scorn of the referees.
It’s been an entertaining 48 hours for Big Ten women’s basketball that is entering a round on Friday where the top seeds will show off why they earned their spot on the totem pole.
Here are my takeaways from yesterday’s slate of games.
Despite foul trouble, Michigan State showed upside in the Big Ten tourney
The Spartans squeezed by Purdue on their way to a 73-69 win in the first game of the day. However, with five minutes left in the third quarter, the team’s leading rebounder, Tamara Farquhar, picked up her fourth foul. Nia Clouden, Alisia Smith and Taiyier Parks also accrued three fouls each at this point in the game The Spartans evaded the loss but they won’t be able to get away with being as physical against Ohio State when they play each other later today (they should also avoid shooting 22.4% from three-point range like they did yesterday).
Despite their foul proclivities yesterday afternoon, this Spartan team is frisky. Farquhar’s defense was sensational and she pulled down nine rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. Some of her best play came when Clouden was off the court, and she showed she could lead the team when its leading scorer took a seat.
Speaking of Clouden, this was far from her most efficient game this season — 6-for-17 from the field, though she made 10 of her 11 free throw attempts. Clouden missed some open shots yesterday which is unlike her. According to Synergy Sports Tech, she ranked in the 95th percentile on spot up opportunities in the regular season. There’s another level of offense Michigan St. can reach once Clouden gets going.
Do I think Michigan St. is actually going to win against one of the best teams in the country in Ohio State? No, but Farquhar’s post-game comments sum up the tournament so far.
“Any team in the Big Ten is capable of winning against any other team.”
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Indiana pulls through but needs to clean up mistakes
The Hoosiers did what they needed to do in their first action in the Big Ten tournament, but yesterday’s win against Rutgers wasn’t their best performance. Outside of Ali Patberg connecting on a game-high five three-pointers, Indiana struggled to connect from deep (they went 1-for-8 excluding Patberg’s numbers). They didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter, taking down Rutgers, 66-54.
This is partly due to Mackenzie Holmes not being at 100 percent health since she returned to the starting lineup on Feb. 17. The junior was averaging over 10 field goal attempts a game before she suffered a knee injury that forced her to have surgery in mid-January. Since then, Indiana has eased her back into the offense, and she is only averaging 7.2 field goal attempts per game. The Hoosiers have struggled to generate points since then, but Indiana is talented enough where it could get away with an outing like yesterday.
That won’t be the case Friday versus Maryland.
Heading into their game against the Hoosiers, the Terrapins have the second-best offensive rating in the nation, according to Her Hoop Stats. Angel Reese has reached another level this season and is averaging 17.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Behind her are four other players averaging at least 11 PPG.
Indiana beat Maryland in overtime on Jan. 2 and only lost by three a week ago in the two programs’ regular season finale. Grace Berger, who put up 17 points, six rebounds and six assists versus Rutgers, has been a steady force for the Hoosiers this season and might need to go up another level versus the Terrapins. Maybe some of the scoring production comes from former Big East player of the year Nicole Cardaño-Hillary.
With or without Holmes being at 100% health, Indiana will need to play its best basketball for 40 minutes if it wants to advance to the next round.
Nebraska’s first test will come against Michigan
What Illinois was able to pull off against Wisconsin in round one was admirable. They outplayed the Badgers and got to play the part of the spoiler, sending the Badgers home and securing only their seventh win of the season.
However, after one quarter yesterday, it was clear Nebraska was going to run away with the game. It didn’t hurt that Jaz Shelley went 9-for-13 from beyond the arc and scorched the Illini for a tournament-high 32 points in the finale of Day Two. As one media person told me halfway through the third quarter, “they are on autopilot right now.”
The Cornhuskers will now play the 10th ranked team in the country when they face Michigan today. They might have a shot at taking down a Wolverines team that lost three of their last five regular season games. Nebraska also beat Michigan 79-58 in their lone matchup of the season on Jan. 4.
They won’t be on cruise control like yesterday but these teams aren’t as far apart as they might seem at first glance. Heading into the New Year, Nebraska was knocking on the door to crack the AP’s top-25 rankings. Naz Hillmon and her unrelenting motor will be difficult to counter, but the Cornhuskers showed last night they are a force to be reckoned with in any given matchup.
Northwestern doesn’t have the firepower to hang with Iowa
The Wildcats and Gophers both struggled throughout their round two matchup and didn’t inspire hope going that either of them could take down a red-hot Iowa team in the third round. Veronica Burton’s leadership has been on display all season and she helped keep her team engaged in Northwestern’s 65-60 win over Minnesota. However, the Wildcats are too reliant on her as their primary scoring option. She was the only player on their team to average over nine points a game in the regular season.
If the Hawkeyes take her out, there won’t be enough firepower on the outside to overcome an Iowa team that had the best offensive rating in college basketball this season.
Anything can happen in the tournament as we have seen already. Reading the tea leaves, I would be shocked if Northwestern hung around in this one.
I will say this about the Wildcats though: when it comes to passionate clarinet players, this team is second to none.