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Big Ten Tournament Preview: Iowa’s explosive offense may give it highest ceiling

It was a strong regular season for the Big Ten and, for the first time in years, the conference tournament begins without a clear favorite. The No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes, No. 10 Michigan Wolverines and No. 11 Maryland Terrapins are all teams to watch for, and don’t count out the No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers!

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The Ohio State Buckeyes and Iowa Hawkeyes are the top-seeded teams entering the 2022 Big Ten Tournament.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2022 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament will begin Wednesday at its usual location (Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.). Each of the conference’s 14 teams will be participating, with tournament seeding determined by the regular-season standings.

In contrast to previous seasons, the tournament’s top seeds weren’t determined until the final day of regular-season action — a hectic slate of games that saw the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-4) and Iowa Hawkeyes (14-4) both win their respective matchups to earn a share of the conference’s regular-season title. The Michigan Wolverines (13-4) and Maryland Terrapins (13-4) round out the tournament’s top four seeds; they each receive a double-bye and automatically advance to the tournament’s quarterfinal round, which will begin on Friday.

In a way, the tournament seeding represents a growth of sorts in the Big Ten — or, at the very least, a minor shift in power. Maryland has dominated the conference since joining in 2014, winning its regular-season title six times and its tournament five times. And while the Terrapins once again had an undeniably successful season, their No. 4 finish in 2022 speaks to the recent strength of their rivals at the top of the standings.

Iowa, in particular, is one of the most dynamic teams in the country. Led by sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, who finished first in Division I in both points (27.5) and assists (8.3) per game, the Hawkeyes are must-see TV. Their explosive offense gives them a ceiling that is perhaps the highest of any other team in the conference. Iowa finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, its most recent victory a 104-80 blowout of Michigan.

Don’t count Michigan out of the tournament before it even begins, though. The Wolverines were actually in position to win the Big Ten regular-season title entering their last matchup with Iowa and though injuries took their toll towards the end of the season, the Wolverines’ most important player is playing as well as ever. That is, of course, reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon: a double-double machine who is among the nation’s toughest players in the paint. As long as Hillmon and wing Leigha Brown are healthy and firing on all cylinders, the Wolverines have a chance to regain their early-season form and turn some heads in Indianapolis.

Then there’s Ohio State, a program whose top-four finish in the Big Ten is probably the biggest surprise. After a mediocre 2020-21 campaign that ended with a self-imposed postseason ban, the Buckeyes bounced back in 2021-22, earning their best conference record in years thanks to the sweet shooting of Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon. Ohio State is another team that can put up lots of points in a hurry; should the Buckeyes run into the Terrapins or Hawkeyes in the tournament’s later stages, fans will be treated to the type of shootout the Big Ten has become known for.

Other teams and players to watch

It’s notable that the Indiana Hoosiers (11-5) didn’t finish atop the conference standings, as they’ve been on the rise for several seasons now and just a few weeks ago were battling Maryland for the Big Ten’s No. 1 overall seed.

Indiana, unfortunately, lost center Mackenzie Holmes to injury for an extended period of time and with her a significant part of its half court offense. Holmes has returned just in time for the conference tournament, however; the Hoosiers can once again roll her out alongside the duo of Grace Berger and Ali Patberg, giving Indiana an experienced, well-balanced core of players that will be hungry to go far in its last go-around together.

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Indiana gets center Mackenzie Holmes back just in time for the Big Ten Tournament, making the Hoosiers a lot scarier than their No. 5 seed suggests.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

There’s no shortage of big-time players on the bottom nine teams in the conference, either. Northwestern’s Veronica Burton is the two-time reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Michigan State’s Nia Clouden averaged a career-best 20.4 points per game this season; both guards should be WNBA-bound if they choose to enter the 2022 WNBA Draft. Minnesota’s Sara Scalia (17.8 points per game; 3.4 threes made per game) and Penn State’s Makenna Marisa (22.5 points per game), meanwhile, are two of the conference’s most talented juniors. Both have the potential to take over a game and give their respective teams upset hope in the tournament’s early rounds.

The Big Ten Tournament will be played through Sunday. Each game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network except for Sunday’s championship game, which will be aired nationally on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET.

Big Ten Tournament schedule

All games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN

First Round — Wednesday, March 2

Game 1: No. 12 Penn State vs. No. 13 Rutgers, 2 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 2: No. 11 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Illinois, 4:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Second Round — Thursday, March 3

Game 3: No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Purdue, 11:30 a.m. ET (BTN)

Game 4: No. 5 Indiana vs. Game 1 winner, 2 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 5: No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 6:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 6: No. 6 Nebraska vs. Game 2 winner, 9 p.m. ET (BTN)

Quarterfinals — Friday, March 4

Game 7: No. 1 Ohio State vs. Game 3 winner, 11:30 a.m. ET (BTN)

Game 8: No. 4 Maryland vs. Game 4 winner, 2 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 9: No. 2 Iowa vs. Game 5 winner, 6:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 10: No. 3 Michigan vs. Game 6 winner, 9 p.m. ET (BTN)

Semifinals — Saturday, March 5

Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 6 p.m. ET (BTN)

Championship — Sunday, March 6

Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)