Early Wednesday morning, Nebraska will begin play at the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis against Minnesota. The eighth-seeded Huskers (11-11, 9-10 Big Ten) are in the 8-9 matchup with Minnesota (8-12, 7-11 B1G) and on top overall seed Maryland’s side of the bracket.
Barring a run to the championship, it’s likely Nebraska’s season will end in Indianapolis.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s tourney, which begins Tuesday afternoon with the 12-13 matchup on BTN at 4 p.m. CT.
Illinois (4-17, 2-16 B1G) and Wisconsin (5-18, 2-18 B1G) will open the tournament in the 12-13 game Tuesday night. The winner will face No. 5 seed Northwestern (13-7, 11-7 B1G) on BTN Wednesday about a half hour after Nebraska’s game with Minnesota concludes.
The winner of that game will move on to battle Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon and No. 4 seed Michigan (14-4, 9-4) Thursday afternoon on FS2. The Wolverines earned a double-bye in this year’s tournament; Nebraska wouldn’t face Michigan until a potential semifinal game.
The Huskers and Gophers will do battle early Wednesday morning, with tip-off slated for 10 a.m. CT. Should Nebraska keep winning, it’ll remain in the first time slot of the day each day throughout the week. A win over the Gophers would move Nebraska on to face Maryland (21-2, 17-1), who once again claimed the best regular-season record in the Big Ten. That game tips at 10 a.m. CT on FS2 Thursday morning.
On the other side of the bracket (where every game will take place on FS2), in the 7-10 matchup, Michigan State (13-7, 8-7 B1G) will play Penn State (9-14, 6-13 B1G) at 5:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday. A half hour after that game’s end, the 6-11 matchup between Iowa (15-8, 11-8 B1G) and Purdue (7-15, 4-14 B1G) gets underway.
The winner of that game will take on No. 3 seed Rutgers (14-3, 10-3 B1G) on Thursday in the nightcap game.
A 5:30 p.m. CT Thursday date with No. 2 seed Indiana (18-4, 16-2 B1G) awaits the winner of Michigan State-Penn State. The Hoosiers were a buzzsaw this season, with 10 of their 18 wins coming by 20 points or more and 14 overall coming by double-digits. Their only two losses in conference play were to Maryland and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes (13-7, 9-7 B1G) are not participating in the tournament this year after a self-imposed postseason ban for NCAA violations.
It begins with Minnesota.
The Huskers had some memorable wins against high-level conference opponents this season, but also some untimely losses to unsightly teams. A season sweep at the hands of the Gophers represented two of them.
On Jan. 19, Minnesota dropped Nebraska 76-71 in Lincoln. The Huskers were coming off back-to-back wins over ranked opponents and riding high after a stretch of four wins in five games. From Dec. 31 through Jan. 16, Nebraska faced four ranked teams and a fifth in Rutgers who was just outside the top 25. Minnesota, at that point 2-7 on its season and 1-6 in conference play, shot horrible from two but caught fire from beyond the arc.
The Gophers hit 15 3s that day, led by a 5-for-9 performance from Gopher guard Gadiva Hubbard. Nebraska got 25 points from lead guard Sam Haiby, but Ashley Scoggin (16) was the only other Husker in double-figures for the game.
The first meeting came at a time when Nebraska’s rotation was the thinnest. Two games prior, forward Issie Bourne had turned her ankle against Michigan State, an injury that would cost her four games. Guard Mi’Cole Cayton also hadn’t yet been cleared to play and freshman early-enrollee Kendall Coley had just arrived in Lincoln. Nebraska had seven players available.
The second loss, a 73-63 road defeat on Feb. 24, was less about tired legs and more about Nebraska’s inability to control the painted area. Minnesota had a 32-18 edge in paint points, a 39-30 edge on the glass (including an 11-6 advantage on the offensive boards) and 12 second-chance points to Nebraska’s zero.
Forward Bella Cravens missed the second meeting. Is it noteworthy that the Huskers were missing a significant interior presence in both meetings with the Gophers? We’ll see.
Nebraska enters Wednesday’s game as healthy as it has been in a while, but the Huskers have lost six of their last eight games. Minnesota has gone 6-5 in its last 11, beginning with that Jan. 19 meeting with the Huskers in Lincoln.
For the year, though, they’ve been outscored by an average of 10 points a game. Opponents, on average, have outrebounded the Gophers, turned the ball over less, and shot five percentage points better from beyond the arc.
Watch the 3-point line; it played a role in the first win, where a 33.2% 3-point shooting team shot 47% on 32 takes. Nebraska has allowed opponents to shoot 39% or better from 3 in five of its last seven games and given up double-digit makes in three of the last six.
After Minnesota, the road turns to a gauntlet.
With a Wednesday win, the Huskers would face a Maryland team that beat them 95-73 in Lincoln on Feb. 14. Nebraska showed fight in the third quarter of that meeting, at one point cutting a deficit that had hovered around 20 to 10, but Maryland used a 21-4 run over the final 5:30 to end the quarter and put the game to bed.
Should Nebraska upset the Terps, it could face either Northwestern or Michigan in the semis. Nebraska swept the Wildcats this season but lost 64-62 to the Wolverines on the road on Jan. 7. Hillmon exploded for 35 points and 22 rebounds in that meeting.
The bottom of the bracket is a little tougher to predict. Iowa opens the same day as Nebraska, but the Hawkeyes have Freshman of the Year Caitlin Clark, arguably the league’s most explosive player, and a complement of shooters surrounding her propping up the country’s second-best offense.
Indiana has bulldozed teams.
Rutgers has only played 13 conference games on account of a lengthy COVID-19 pause that saw seven games postponed from Jan. 7 through Feb. 4. Interestingly, that stretch of games featured meetings with each of the other top five teams in the Big Ten. Second games against Iowa and Maryland (both losses the first time around) weren’t rescheduled, and neither were initial meetings with Indiana or Michigan.
The Scarlet Knights had a three-game stretch at Maryland, home against Michigan, and then at Indiana that were all postponed (and not made up) before finally returning to action against Nebraska at home on Feb. 7. A 78-62 win over the Huskers kicked off a run of nine straight wins for them heading into the league tournament.
The Big Ten is projected to get seven teams into the NCAA Tournament this season. It’s been another tough year in the league, we’ll see if someone can make a surprise run in the conference tournament.