WBB Conference Tournament, Day 1: Chalk
If you can survive the experience that is the Big 14 tournament site - seriously, it's like a combination of good content, bad ideas (they need to put a fixed-size div around that carousel in case it can't load an image) and unrelated things, which means it's a perfect metaphor for the conference itself - you'll note that both higher seeds advanced, although Northwestern struggled to put away Wisconsin in overtime. Good news for the teams facing the Cats and Penn State: Minnesota and Purdue.
Game 3 - #9 Iowa (18-12) vs #8 Michigan (17-12), 12:00 noon
Previous meetings: 1/7 at UM (UM 82-75), 1/28 at Iowa (Iowa 85-69)
Michigan's done a great job the last month against the non-elite teams: 6-1, with the lone loss at Rutgers on Sunday. However, the game just before that run was the second game with Iowa, which was the third straight loss for Michigan (after home losses to OSU (understandable) and Nebraska (notsomuch)). Iowa, on the other hand, had a less favorable schedule, but still managed to beat Indiana and Purdue at home before a puzzling loss at Penn State.
With similar RPIs, either team would need a marquee win in Indy to have a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAAs. Michigan probably has a better shot at one (7-point loss home to Maryland, 20 points at Maryland) than Iowa (20-point loss at home), and they'll get a chance, but they won't beat Maryland. WNIT for both.
Game 4 - #12 Northwestern (16-15) vs #5 Minnesota (19-10), 30 minutes after Game 3
Previous meetings: 1/20 at Minn (Minn 95-92), 2/7 at NU (Minn 112-106, 2 OT)
Games like these are why coaches quit the business. Northwestern led Minnesota by 1 with 3:32 left in the first game, but just couldn't hang on; in a final minute that featured 14 points, down 88-85, the Cats had a costly turnover, quickly ran off four fouls to send Minnesota to the line, but couldn't get any closer than 1. In Evanston, the Cats led by 4 with 54 seconds to play, but Rachel Banham was fouled taking a three and hit all three, Northwestern turned it over, Minnesota missed a three but got the rebound, and Carlie Wagner hit one of two to tie it up. The Cats led by 5 with :42 left in OT 1, only for Banham to run off five straight to send it to a second OT that Minnesota controlled.
Depending on who you believe, Minnesota is either clearly out or right on the edge; if it's the latter, they can't afford a loss here, and even a close game isn't going to help them much. The Gophers do have Wednesday's OT win over OSU on their resume, but they have a squishy-soft non-conference schedule, and their only other win over an NCAA-bound Big 14 team is a two-point home win over Indiana in January. Minnesota needs to get to Saturday to make the Dance; they'll get past Northwestern easily, but Indiana will provide a test for them Friday.
Game 5 - #10 Rutgers (17-13) vs #7 Nebraska (18-11), 6:30 PM
Previous meetings: 1/16 at Neb (Neb 65-54), 1/30 at RU (RU 66-56)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Believe it or not, Vivian Stringer has been coaching for teams currently in the Big 14 almost since the dawn of NCAA women's basketball. (She spent her first two post-AIAW seasons coaching at Cheyney State.) She has 10 conference titles to her credit (Iowa finished below 3rd just once in 12 seasons) and four Final Four appearances ... but her last conference title at Rutgers was in 2006, and her last Final Four was in 2007. She's fourth on the all-time wins list, but the two coaches ahead of her (Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and UNC's Sylvia Hatchell) are still active, as are two of the three behind her (UConn's Geno Auriemma and Montana's Robin Selvig). Her place in history is assured (she's in both the women's and overall Halls of Fame), but it's also possible history will pass her by before she even steps off the court for the final time.
Nebraska could well be history's agent - although Stringer has yet to give any indication any season might be her last, Rutgers now isn't what they were 5-10 years ago, and there are many other situations where it would probably be easier to turn things around. (You may have noticed that Rutgers' athletic program isn't exactly printing money.) This will likely be the fourth straight year the Scarlet Knights don't make the NCAAs; they have just one tournament win in the last six seasons. A rough end-of-season schedule might make their resume worse than it appears, but inability to win conference games on the road (just Penn State and Illinois) probably sealed their NCAA fate anyway.
The one thing in Rutgers' favor is a big thing: Nebraska injuries. Rachel Theriot, the 2014 tournament MVP, is done for the year. So is Kyndal Clark, the other senior starting guard. In late January, the Huskers looked on pace to make the NCAAs with ease; now, they'll be lucky to get enough from Jessica Shepard to push them to Friday. In a game featuring two teams going in the wrong direction, Rutgers will advance.
Game 6 - #11 Penn State (12-18) vs #6 Purdue (19-10), 30 minutes after Game 5
Previous meeting: 1/30 at Penn State (Purdue 88-78, 2 OT)
As noted here previously, Purdue won the previous meeting through sorcery or something. Since then, Bree Horrocks has returned to full strength, Dominique McBryde has played at an all-conference level (she'd have probably made the all-freshman team if Versyp had given her more minutes early on), and Ashley Morrissette has found her stroke.
An unimpressive win over hapless Illinois is not a good sign for the Lady Lions; what should be a partisan crowd in Bankers Life is another bad sign for them. The Boilers aren't in the NCAAs for sure, despite bracketologists leaning their way, and they certainly can't afford a loss to a sub-.500 team.
Look for the Good Gals to jump out in front early, open up a big lead, and then wrap things up in the fourth quarter. Purdue will earn a Friday matchup with Michigan State, and by then we can start watching other conference tournaments and hope some bubble teams start falling away.