WBB Conference Tournament, Day 5: Terrapins Smother Spartans, Repeat As Champs
For 20 minutes on Sunday, it looked like two junior-high teams broke into the locker rooms before the start of the game, threw on Maryland and MSU uniforms, and ran out on the floor to play until someone caught and stopped them. Maryland played somewhat better in the second half, particularly on defense, where they made the Spartans look like the interlopers were never caught. When it was finally over, the Terrapins had a 60-44 win and their second consecutive Big 14 regular-season/tournament double, and Michigan State had some questions to answer before their NCAA opener in roughly two weeks.
To be sure, MSU deserves credit for making Maryland look bad on offense. The Terrapins managed only 50 non-fastbreak points and just 60 overall, shooting .349 overall (.267 in the first half) and .286 from three, and had 19 turnovers and 13 assists. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led all scorers with 19 (on 18 shot equivalents), but was 6 for 15 from the field. Kristen Confroy was 1 of 9, all from three. Brene Mosley was 4 for 11, Tierney Pfirman 4 for 13. Brionna Jones had 10 points and 14 boards (SWK joined her in the double-double column with 10 boards of her own), but was 3 for 7 from the field and 4 for 7 from the line.
The Spartans ... well. Aerial Powers was held to 8 points, shooting 3 for 12 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, and committing 6 turnovers. She also sat for 10 minutes, mostly in the second quarter, due to foul trouble. (Can't blame Suzy Merchant for resting her - three games in three days is tough on anyone, and the Spartans played Maryland even with Powers out.) Tori Jankoska again led Michigan State in threes attempted and missed, shooting 2 for 8 outside the arc and 4 for 15 overall, but still led the Spartans with 12 points. It wasn't like MSU had a better option Sunday: the rest of the team was 0 for 11 from three, as Branndais Agee missed all four of her attempts (and all nine in total, 0 for 5 inside the arc). Michigan State ended up with 22 turnovers (everyone but Kennedy Johnson committed at least one) and shot just 6 free throws (hey, at least they made all 6).
The good news for MSU is that they have nearly two weeks to work out these problems; the bad news is that if Charlie Creme's bracket is correct, they'll be playing a 4 seed - in this case, Texas A&M - on their home court in the second round. The Aggies had a listless finish to their regular season, losing by 13 at home to Kentucky, and then were bounced in the SEC quarters by 7-seed Tennessee. If that's the team that shows up against MSU, the Spartans will be fine; if it's the team that lost by 1 at South Carolina, then Merchant will have some extra time to work on these problems for next season.
Maryland, on the other hand, is essentially locked in as a 2 seed, so they know they'll be hosting two rounds and won't have to worry about significant competition until at least the Sweet 16. Their most dangerous opponent will be that old cliche, complacency, which is usually the case for teams who set their sights on a Final Four appearance. (Oddly, no 15 seed has ever beaten a 2 seed in the women's tournament, so Maryland's either safe or part of history. Of course, a 16 seed ...)
Maryland: 2 seed, hosting UNC-Asheville and facing Washington/Villanova winner in second round
Ohio State: 3 seed, hosting New Mexico State and facing BYU/UTEP winner in second round
Michigan State: 5 seed, playing Arkansas State in College Station and facing Texas A&M/Army winner in second round
Indiana: 9 seed, playing Duquesne in Waco and facing Baylor in second round
Purdue: 10 seed, playing Seton Hall in Corvallis and facing Oregon State in second round
A lot of bubble teams are done now, and it's not likely there will be many upsets that affect seeds, so it's looking good at this point for the Old Gold and Black.
Just kidding. The only two sites that had anything haven't updated since 2014, and the next-to-last hit on the first page for "wnit projections 2016" is thishere blog talking about Purdue knocking off Nebraska during the regular season. All I've got for you is a list of possibles, with one exception: we know Minnesota is in because the WNIT gives an automatic bid to the team finishing highest in each conference without an NCAA bid.
- Minnesota (19-11, 11-7) - automatic bid - last appearance 2014 (lost in round of 16)
- Nebraska (18-12, 9-9) - last appearance 2009 (lost in second round)
- Michigan (17-13, 9-9) - last appearance 2015 (lost in Final Four)
- Iowa (19-13, 8-10) - last appearance 2005 (lost in Final Four)
- Rutgers (18-14, 8-10) - last appearance 2014 (won WNIT)
- Northwestern (18-16, 4-14) - last appearance 2014 (lost to Indiana in round of 16)
Feature image courtesy of Maryland Athletics