The 2016 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament opens Wednesday in Indianapolis. For those of us who care, here are five story lines as the 14-team field begins play at the downtown Indianapolis arena where both the Indiana Fever and Pacers call home:
1) No dominant team: Many see this year’s tournament title contention as wide open, unlike a year ago when Maryland stormed through its first conference season unbeaten. The Terrapins again is top-seeded but Ohio State and Michigan State are more than capable of standing on the winner’s platform Sunday.
2) “Stars stage” — This year’s tourney will feature some of the nation’s best, including two Minnesota locals: the Gophers’ Rachel Banham, who hit a record 75 three-pointers and finished as the league’s top scorer (30.5 ppg in 18 conference games); Northwestern’s Nia Coffey, who starred at Hopkins High School; and Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, whose second-seeded Buckeyes opens play on Friday.
Banham, who was named Monday Big Ten Player of the Year by both media and coaches, becomes the second consecutive Gopher receiving such honors — Amanda Zahui B. The fifth-year guard also was unanimous first-team all Big Ten along with Mitchell and Aerial Powers of Michigan State. Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was a unanimous pick by the coaches.
3) One day or two days off — which is better? The four top seeds: Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana won’t play until Friday. By virtue of their regular season finish, they earned a double-bye, which was put in place last season after the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference. Minnesota (No. 5), Purdue (No. 6), Nebraska (No. 7) and Michigan (No. 8) got first round byes and will play first day winners.
“That’s why you play the entire Big Ten season,” states Purdue Coach Sharon Versyp.
4) Last dance? — Teams such as Penn State (No. 11), Wisconsin (No. 13), even Northwestern (No. 12) and No. 10 Rutgers, hope to use this week as a possible springboard to a possible finish to a disappointing season thus far.
“It’s always an opportunity to do some big things,” declared Badgers Coach Bobbie Kelsey.
“We have one game,” adds Penn State’s Coquese Washington on the usual ‘win or go home’ post-season.
5) Overlooked again? — The Big Ten’s women tourney unfortunately is too often overshadowed by the more popular men’s, which doesn’t begin for another week. This is sad because, as Washington pointed out during Monday’s media teleconference ,which included the MSR, “The atmosphere in Indianapolis is a wonderful one.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.