Iowa and Maryland tussled for the Big Ten title all season, with the Terrapins emerging as the outright champions despite a loss at Iowa in late February.
The Hawkeyes might get another crack at the Terps in Indianapolis this weekend with a shot at their first Big Ten tournament title since 2001 on the line.
Maryland (26-3, 15-3 Big Ten) clinched its fourth title in five seasons as a member of the Big Ten when it held off Illinois 71-62 on Saturday. Iowa (23-6, 14-4), which finished a win shy of a share of its first league championship in 11 seasons, will be seeded second.
Third-seeded Rutgers (21-8, 13-5) and No. 4 seed Michigan (20-10, 11-7) have also earned double bye into the quarterfinals, which begin Friday.
“It could be anybody’s game at the end of this. Anybody’s title to win,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
FEAR THE TURTLE
The Terrapins really found their stride after getting upset by Rutgers in their Big Ten home debut on New Year’s Eve.
“I think a lot of teams could have lost some confidence, and I think we gained some valuable lessons of how we need to come ready,” said Maryland’s Brenda Frese, the Big Ten coach of the year. “I loved our fight against Iowa. I thought that third loss was a game that had a lot of feelings and emotions that get you prepared for March.”
Maryland, the deepest team in the field, is led by junior Kaila Charles. She is averaging 16 points a game.
Iowa’s hopes will rest on the shoulders of senior Megan Gustafson, the back-to-back league player of the year. But veteran guards Kathleen Doyle and Tania Davis can make teams pay for doubling Gustafson in the post. The Hawkeyes beat Maryland 86-73 on Feb. 17 to pull into a tie atop the conference, but they subsequently fell at Indiana 75-73.
“I think, at this time of year, it’s about limiting your mistakes. Not making careless turnovers. Valuing the ball. Knowing personnel,” Bluder said. “On the offensive end, it’s — who’s shooting the ball? Who’s putting the ball in the hole at this time of the year?”
RUTGERS AND BIG BLUE
Rutgers is expected to be without longtime coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is on a leave of absence on the advice of her doctors. The Scarlet Knights won their last three games without Stringer, likely clinching an NCAA Tournament bid. She is expected to return after the Big Ten tourney.
“When you really understand your leader, you really understand the next words that would come out of her mouth. So, we’re basically just trying to do things the way she would want them done,” acting Rutgers coach Tim Eatman said.
Michigan, which handed Rutgers its last loss, had two players pick up first-team all-league awards in Naz Hillmon and Hallie Thome. Hillmon, a freshman, led the Spartans with 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game despite coming off the bench for a team that enters the tournament as winners of eight of its last nine games.
Fifth-seeded Ohio State faces either Northwestern or Penn State. The Buckeyes, who would get rival Michigan with a win, might need to make a run in Indianapolis to make the NCAA Tournament. Sixth-seeded Nebraska and the Hoosiers, seeded 10th, might be in a similar spot. …Many of the league’s coaches said Monday that this will be the deepest field in years. Maryland’s first game could come against No. 9 seed Michigan State, who throttled the Terps by 17 points on Jan. 17.