Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mike Siroky's Big Ten Report: The Big Ten Just Needs A Leader

By Mike Siroky

When the Big Ten Conference women’s basketball tournament started, Lin Dunn was at Purdue, C. Vivian Stringer was at Iowa, Nancy Darsch was at Ohio State and Renee Portland was at Penn State. All those fashioned a Big Ten team which made a Final Four.

Sure, that was 19 years ago and even the site – legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the finals for Hoosiers was filmed – was unique, but the point is no coach now affiliated with the conference (whose marketers use simply Big as the name) gives the conference a Wow Factor identity.

Coquese Washington, the Penn state coach, won conference again but was only 4-5 in the league tournament as this year’s edition started in a Chicago suburb. Penn State last won it in 1996, when Portland was still there. They did not win it again and are 5-6 in her run.

Since Joann P. McCallie fled Michigan State for Duke after the 2007 season, there has not been a real name coach with success. She was the last conference coach to make a Final Four. And she had even been a conference player, at Northwestern.

Purdue has the top three coaches in the tournament by percentage. Sharon Versyp is as good as it gets right now for name coaches in conference. She also was a player in conference, at Purdue. And she coached one year at arch-rival Indiana, losing to Purdue in the semifinals. She also won the post-season tournament again.

The Big Ten is trying to establish a presence. The league itself is Chicago-centric, yet Indianapolis has seemed more geographically acceptable for fans coming to the games. They even tried Grand Rapids, Mich., once.

That’s the last time it was not in Indianapolis. Since 2004, the year they attracted better than 9,000 to the finals, they draw about 6,000 per session.

In 2004, the draw was Purdue vs. top seed Penn State and Purdue won.

Last year, lower seeds Purdue (4) and newcomer Nebraska (6) edged their way into the championship game and NCAA tournament bids. This year it was unranked Purdue (3) and Michigan State (4).

Penn State was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Nebraska was No. 21. If, as some savants have predicted elsewhere, more Big teams were to join the NCAA invitational, something Big had to happen in Chicago. Michigan State may have made that statement

Here’s what happened, numbers reflecting seeds :

First Round

•No. 7 Iowa 60, No. 10 Northwestern 55

May as well eliminate “Chicago’s’ Big Ten team” early.

The Hawkeyes need no wake up call for the matinee starter. Iowa had started the week winning by 17 over the Wildcats to close the regular season.

Morgan Johnson and Jamie Printy scored 18 apiece as Iowa never trailed and led by 15 three minutes left before losing interest.

Northwestern closes 13-17. Coach Joe McKeown was coming off two winning seasons, so this was a flop in his fourth season. Prior to Northwestern, he had taken George Washington to 15 NCAA appearances, including the Sweet 16 before fleeing to the Chicago area.

•No. 11 Wisconsin 58, No. 6 Illinois 57

The best game of the night. Morgan Paige scored 18, including two free throws with three seconds remaining. Illinois had trailed by 10 with six minutes left.

The Illini finish 16-13 in Matt Bollants’ first season as coach. He had coached Green Bay to five straight Horizon League titles and four straight NCAA appearances. The Illini last had a winning conference record in 2003, when Theresa Grentz coached there.

•No. 9 Ohio State 58, No. 8 Minnesota 47

This was as good of a result for the Buckeyes yet in a season of disappointments.

Tayler Hill scored a game-high 25. She was 11-of-14 from the line. A 27-4 run straddling the end of the first half and the start of the second decided it.

The Buckeyes earned a shot at top-seed Penn State in a quarterfinal elimination game. It was the fourth straight win as OSU desperately tried to salvage the season with 20 wins.

The Buckeyes do host a sub-Regional, which means the NCAA would like to see them included in. But they still have a losing record (8-9) in conference, including a 15-point debacle vs. Penn State in the regular season.

•No. 5 Michigan 57, No. 12 Indiana 40

The expected result for Hoosiers. There is, apparently, only room for one good basketball team on campus. A 12-0 run by the Wolverines set the pace.

Michigan’s Nicole Elmblad had a double-double, 14 points and 10 boards.
IU finishes 11-19 for coach Curt Miller, another newbie. He came from Bowling Green where he had won the Mid-American seven of eight seasons and had been coach of the year a record six times.

Quarterfinals

The thing about quarterfinals in good conferences is if there are no upsets, you have done as well as you can as a league and everything else is just extra. All the top four seeds slipped right into the Semifinals

•Nebraska 76, Iowa 61

Last season’s tournament finalists, seeded second this time, began another run with emphasis, winning both halves. Jordan Hooper, a playoff star last season, scored 21. Lindsey Moore scored 13 with six assists. Unfortunately for the draw, the next up is last year’s champ, Purdue.

Thierra Taylor scored 22 to lead Iowa (20-12), but Iowa lost all three chances against natural rival Nebraska, which finished second in the league. Lisa Bluder, in her 13th season as Iowa’s coach has had them in the NCAAs for five straight years. They may luck in again as they were even in conference play.

• Purdue 74, Wisconsin 62

The defending tournament champs find themselves unranked at the moment and the No. 3 seed. A very workmanlike dispatch of lackluster Wisconsin moved them into yet another semifinal. The lost the first half by a point and smoothly won the second half.

KK Houser reminded all there is a very point guard in this league with 15 points.

Jacki Gulczynski led the 11th-seeded Badgers (12-19) with 21 points. Tessa Cichy scored 14 as the Badgers, who made all 21 of their free-throw tries in their opening tournament game, made 13-of-14 against Purdue.

Wisconsin has not had a winning record since 2011, and then it was only 16-15. There were two seniors on the roster, but coach Bobbie Kelsey was brought in to do better than this, a second straight losing effort. She came in as a strong assistant from Stanford.

• Penn State 76, Ohio State 66

Last season, this was the projected No. 1 vs. No. 2 seed. This year, not so much. The Nittany Lions, as the top seed, got 20 points from Alex Bentley and 18 from Maggie Lucas, the conference Player of The Year.

Tayler Hill, one of three seniors, scored 23 for Ohio State and became the fifth Buckeyes player to hit 2,000 career points. She scored more than 1,000 just since December of 2011. She was All Big Ten first team last season and this. Her team may be through in the NCAAs.

Ohio State is 18-13 after a four-game win streak to close the season, but had a dismal 7-9 conference run, which oughta disqualify itself from appearing even in its own sub-Regional. The NCAA has made that mistake before, however, and would have to leapfrog them past more deserving teams even in conference. They have not earned their way.

•Michigan State 62, Michigan 46

It’s always good to have at least one in-state rivalry mean something. State is the No. 4 seed and showed the difference in its fourth staright win, taking the season series 2-1 and avenging a one-point loss at Ann Arbor.

Junior guard Klarissa Bell scored 20 in 38 minutes.

Michigan finishes 21-10, with five seniors and is the kind of sneaky team that could get an NCAA bid. Coach Kim Barnes Arico did swell in her first season, coming from the Big East and legendary St. John’s.

Semifinals

The only two ranked teams in conference were available. The next two best would be the obvious extra NCAA choices if the league gets such a gift. Penn State is No. 8. Nebraska is No. 21.

•Purdue 77, Nebraska 64

So, naturally, unranked Purdue replicated the final of last season and eliminated Nebraska, assuring the Big of three in the NCAAs.

KK Houser maintained her dominance for a second straight game. She scored 13 with eight rebounds from the point guard position, six steals, and five assists and teammate Sam Ostarello 18. This makes three straight for Purdue over the Cornhuskers, including a three-point OT win in January.

Lindsey Moore scored 22 for the second-seeded Cornhuskers (23-8), who had won 11 of 12. They now await their NCAA fate.

• Michigan State 54, Penn State 46

Upset Saturday continued with the Spartans smothering Penn State. For the second straight season, the Nittany Lions have fallen to a lesser-seeded team in the semifinals.

The Spartans outscored them by 12 in the second segment. Jasmine Thomas scored 14 of 19 after intermission. Penn State had more turnovers (14) than field goals (11) in the opening half.

Penn State star Maggie Lucas, the conference Player of the Year, had 23 points and nine rebounds but had no help. Penn State (25-9) awaits its fate in the NCAAs and may have blown both a No. 2 NCAA seed and the chance everyone wants, to be the highest seed at Ohio State, a truly neutral sub-Regional.

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant has produced seven winning seasons and has the second-best winning percentage in the league, 69.5 percent.

They had been in the past four NCAA tournaments. She is making her bones in the Big Ten, having started at smaller schools in state. The Spartans have earned the chance to be the last Big team invited to the NCAAs.

The finalists split the regular season, each winning on the road.

Championship

• Purdue 62, Michigan State 47

Purdue coach Sharyn Versyp does not worry much about ther regular season because her school has the tradition of qualifying by winning the automatic bid. They did it again, the school’s ninth.

Mingo?

Mingo!

Drey Mingo scored 24, winning the tournament MVP in the process and the Boilermakers made it look easy. Each team finished 24-8.

She was paying back all the love Purdue had shown her when she transferred in after two seasons at Maryland. She was the second-leading scorer and top rebounder on campus when she retained her eligibility. Then she tore her right anterior cruciate ligament.

The school had to fight for the extra season. They did and the result was this payback. She was in street clothes last season when her team won without her.

“I’ll never forget Coach V looked me in my face after we won last year and said ‘We will get back,’ ” she said. “I’m so happy that we did. I’m elated.”

Versyp’s version has her telling Mingo that Purdue would be back, that Mingo would be playing and that she'd lead the Boilermakers to the conference championship.

“She's a walking miracle,” Versyp said. “She's an inspiration. I’m just so happy that things worked out the way it did for her and our team.”

Jasmine Thomas led Michigan State with 15 points and seven rebounds. Kiana Johnson scored 11, but the Spartans shot just under 33 percent.
State just couldn't stay with Mingo in the early going.

“We knew going in she was a hardworking post player, probably one of the hardest workers in the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “She just doesn’t stop. If she’s not open in one area, she’ll fight until she is. That's what makes her tough because she never quits.”

Spartans coach Suzy Merchant is hopeful her team earned its way into the NCAAs again.

“I did like our fight in the second half,” she said. “I thought we did some pretty good things to make it interesting and to hear the crowd trying to get back into it.

I guess the No. 1 thing is we're not going to make an excuse. We played badly.”

The conference quartet – the ranked teams plus the two finalists -- sit back and wait a week for Selection Monday. There is no No1. and probably not even a No. 2 in the group. They may have no one in the final Top 10. But they can each be sent to separate Regionals and get a chance to represent that way.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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