If the NCAA women’s basketball conference tournament season were to finish today, the results wouldn’t exactly look rosy for the Big Ten.
According to an ESPN Bracketology projection, if the NCAA women’s basketball regular and conference tournament seasons were to finish today, the results wouldn’t exactly look rosy for the Big Ten.
ESPN’s Monday projection slotted five Big Ten teams into the NCAA Tournament, same as last year, but had Maryland and Ohio State as the conference’s lone top-five seeds. Maryland, which is 22-1 and whose only loss came by single-digits to top-ranked UConn, is projected as a No. 3 seed, while Ohio State is projected as a No. 5 seed in a DePaul regional.
Michigan is slotted as a No. 7 seed, Northwestern and Iowa No. 10 seeds.
While Maryland as a No. 3 seed is a difficult argument to make, it’s likely one largely based on RPI. Through 23 games, Maryland ranks 18th in RPI, behind four SEC schools, four ACC schools and four Pac-12 schools. Ohio State (20-5) is 27th in RPI and Michigan, with the conference’s third-highest RPI, ranks 34th.
The numbers point to 2016-17 being a down season for Big Ten women’s basketball. Asked about the label Friday, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said it’s due in large part to the conference’s struggles in nonconference play.
Given the Big Ten’s label this season as a weaker conference, it makes winning out, or continuing winning streaks, more important, he said.
“Yeah, it does, and it’s funny. I think (the Big Ten is) better than what we’re given credit for and it’s of our own doing. We didn’t have the non-conference as a league that we could have had and that’s hurt us,” he said. “But, by this point in the year, there are a lot of teams that weren’t playing as well then that are playing well now, so it’s a little disappointing because you either get a win and it’s a better win than people think or you take a loss and it’s not as bad of a loss as people think. But you know what, we really can’t control that, so we try to control what we can control, which is focusing on our team and continuing to get better.”
Take Ohio State’s lone loss in Big Ten play, a 19-point defeat at Michigan State, for example. The Spartans (16-7, 6-4) are a top-half Big Ten team that has been very good at home to start the conference season (4-1). The loss is considered a more damaging one for Ohio State because of the Spartans’ nonconference results.
In 13 nonconference games, the Spartans went 10-3 but didn’t have a single win against a Power Five opponent, losing by 18 to Notre Dame, by 11 at Syracuse and by 33 at unranked Oregon.
Ohio State went 10-4 in nonconference play and played some of the nation’s best teams. But a 1-4 record against ranked opponents, with a win over Syracuse and losses to Baylor, Miami, South Carolina and UConn, likely hurts the Buckeyes. Nine of Ohio State’s 10 nonconference wins came against unranked opponents and eight came at home.
“We just had some tough losses in the nonconference and I don’t know, I really think this year’s a bit of an anomaly in that way,” McGuff said. “But the (Big Ten) teams are better than what their records and their RPIs are showing. It’s a little frustrating because I think we’re getting some really good, quality wins and we have some tough games coming up, but the outside people don’t know the extent of that.”
The Buckeyes’ highest degree of difficulty game in Big Ten play – at home against No. 3 Maryland on Feb. 20 – is fast approaching. A win would certainly help the Buckeyes’ chances of hosting a regional.
Would a second, or earlier, conference game against the Terrapins have helped?
“Probably so, yes. But that’ll be a great opportunity,” McGuff said. “Obviously we’ve got some big things to handle before then which we’ll stay focused on, but yeah.”
Ohio State looks for its seventh straight win when it takes on last-place Wisconsin Saturday at 2 p.m.