March 13, 2023 

Ceilings for the seven Big Ten teams in March Madness

Indiana, Iowa and Maryland headline the Big Ten's participants in the 2023 tournament

Seven Big Ten schools were among the 68 revealed as participants in the 2023 women’s NCAA tournament on Sunday, tying a conference record.

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Indiana headlines the pack as a No. 1 seed, while Illinois and Purdue will both participate in First Four matchups. Here’s a breakdown of what expectations for each of the seven schools should be heading into the tournament.

Indiana (1 seed) – Final Four

The Hoosiers reached the Elite Eight in 2021 and the Sweet Sixteen last season, but this year’s team is even more talented than either of those two. Mackenzie Holmes would’ve been the Big Ten player of the year if not for Caitlin Clark, Grace Berger’s abilities as a point guard continue to impress week after week and outside shooting from Sara Scalia, Yarden Garzon and Sydney Parrish take this offense to the next level.

Oh, and don’t forget about Chloe Moore-McNeil, Teri Moren’s swiss army knife, who can pass, shoot and defend at a super high level as well.

Anything short of a Final Four appearance would likely come as a disappointment for a team that’s had a magical season so far. Their performance down the stretch, especially defensively, presents some cause for concern – the Hoosiers allowed 86 points in the regular season finale to Iowa and 85 in their first Big Ten tournament game against Michigan State, the highest point totals they’ve allowed all season. But with some much-needed rest since the conference tournament and an opportunity to face non-conference opponents, that should help Indiana rediscover their peak form.

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Iowa (2 seed) – Elite Eight

Second-seeded Iowa probably should be a Final Four team. But, the Hawkeyes are in the same region as No. 1 Stanford, and that might be a tough matchup for them to win. Cameron Brink’s athleticism in the post could give Monika Czinano some trouble, and the Cardinal’s overall size and physicality could be a tough matchup for Lisa Bluder’s group.

Still, this is a program that surely aspires to reach the Final Four. Iowa returned all five starters from last year’s team that was upset in the second round by Creighton. The program’s followed that up with another masterful regular season with Clark leading the way as usual. 

But one big area of improvement from last year is on the defensive end. Last season, the Hawkeyes’ Her Hoop Stats defensive rating was 99 out of 356 schools; this year, they were 49. It’s still not an elite defense, but it’s improved enough that it should help Iowa avoid an early-round exit for a second straight tournament.

Maryland (2 seed) – Elite Eight

Maryland’s hurdle to reach a Final Four is even more challenging since the Terps are in South Carolina’s region. Brenda Frese did a spectacular job rebuilding her roster after a mass exodus of players after last year’s loss to Stanford in the Sweet 16. This year’s Terps present a tougher matchup because of their length one through five on the floor.

However, just getting through the Sweet 16 will be no easy task. Maryland could face 7-seed Arizona in the second round, a program just two years removed from a championship game appearance, and 3-seed Notre Dame, a team the Terps beat 74-72 in dramatic fashion in early December. 

This team surely has the talent to reach the Elite Eight, but it’ll be an arduous journey to potentially have a second crack at South Carolina, a team the Terps lost to 81-56 on Nov. 11.

Ohio State (3 seed) – Sweet Sixteen

If there’s a top-four seed ripe to be upset early in the tournament, Ohio State could be near the top of the list. The Buckeyes had quite a wonky season, starting 19-0, before limping across the finish line in the regular season. A win over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament was impressive for sure, and getting Jacy Sheldon back will only help. 

However, a first-round win could set Ohio State up against North Carolina, a team that just narrowly lost to Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and can play stingy defense. If the Buckeyes survive that second round matchup, they could take on UConn, a team that seemed to find its stride (as per usual) heading into March Madness.

Because of the wild oscillations in Ohio State’s play this season, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what would be considered a success for the program. When the Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 in the country, Final Four or bust seemed like a valid take. Now, this team willing its way to a Sweet 16 seems respectable; advancing any further seems unlikely.

Michigan (6 seed) – Round of 32

Something’s just felt a little off about the Wolverines this season. They were a solid team, for sure, but they never pulled off a win in the regular season that indicates this group can make a deep run in March like last year. 

Leigha Brown’s transition to running the point this year certainly warrants praise, and the continued reliability of Emily Kiser in the post without Naz Hilmon added a key second weapon for Kim Barnes Arico. Laila Phelia returning from injury will also help. Even still, the Wolverines haven’t shown much lately that makes a strong case for how they could beat 3-seed LSU in the second round. Michigan barely beat Penn State in its first Big Ten tournament game and lost to Ohio State for the third time this season.

If Michigan beat Ohio State and then competed with Indiana in the conference tournament semifinals, then there’d be more of a case for this group to advance further. But the Wolverines have had chances time and again to pick up statement wins, and they just haven’t come.

Illinois (11 seed, First Four) – Round of 32

The Illini are the most under-seeded of the seven Big Ten teams. Under first-year head coach Shauna Green, they beat Iowa, pushed Indiana at Assembly Hall and showed overall massive improvement from the previous few seasons. 

Having to play a First Four game might hamper how far the Illini can go, but it’s not unreasonable to think they could beat Creighton in the Round of 64. Both teams have prolific offenses (both top 25 in HHS offensive rating), and Illinois has shown it can go toe-to-toe with anyone with the play of guards Makira Cook, Genesis Bryant and Adalia McKenzie.

They might be underseeded, but no one wants to face the Illini in this year’s tournament.

Purdue (11 seed, First Four) – Round of 64

No one would bat an eyelash if Purdue exited the tournament with a loss to 6-seeded North Carolina in the Round of 64. First, the Boilermakers will have to beat a St. John’s team in the First Four that they’re pretty evenly matched with. But if Katie Gearlds’ group can find a way into the first round, that seems like a successful way to cap off the season considering where Purdue’s been the last few years.

A bubble team for most of the year, the Boilermakers did themselves no favors by losing to Minnesota to end the Big Ten regular season. The program still has room to improve as Gearlds continues to mold Purdue into her vision, but reaching the NCAA tournament in her second season (first true full season) in a loaded Big Ten conference is surely something she and the Boilermaker faithful can feel excited about.

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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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