The Big Ten had a big day in the 2021 women’s basketball tournament on Tuesday, including a breakthrough for Michigan. But it was a tough day for the SEC, including another early exit for Tennessee. No. 1 seeds Stanford, UConn, NC State and South Carolina each hit the Sweet 16, which was the showdown everyone was hoping for – UConn and Paige Bueckers versus Iowa and Caitlin Clark, who had 35 points on Tuesday – on them waiting. The Big Ten have a chance to make more headlines on Wednesday as eight more teams stamp their tickets to the regional semi-finals. Our team – Charlie Creme from ESPN, Mechelle Voepel and Royce Young from ESPN – weighed it all up. Follow this link for Wednesday NCAA tournament betting times and visit here to check yours Women’s Tournament Challenge bracket.
It was a good tournament for the Big Ten, with two teams in Sweet 16. If three more Big Ten teams play on Wednesday, will it get any better?
Voepel: It could definitely get better, but Tuesday was pretty good for the Big Ten in the River Walk Regional. After Michigan No. 6 upset Michigan No. 3 Tennessee 70-55 to win the Wolverines’ first Sweet 16 appearance, manager Kim Barnes Arico said, “It’s great for the rest of the country to see that Michigan isn’t just is a soccer and men’s basketball school, but it’s also a women’s basketball school. “
In her tenth and final year at St. John’s, Barnes Arico led the Red Storm to Sweet 16 in 2012. Then she took over in Michigan, but had failed to make it through the second round of the NCAA on three previous attempts. On Tuesday, the Wolverines had control of the regional semi-finals for the entire game. The Big Ten player of the year, Naz Hillmon (19 points, 15 rebounds) and teammate Leigha Brown (23 points), dominated offensively and defensively. The Wolverines didn’t look like themselves in a Big Ten quarterfinal against Northwestern, but led by Hillmon and Brown they were an NCAA tournament squad.
Tuesday’s win brought Hillmon to tears: “I think I’ve got a lot of individual awards this year and they’re always great, but given the work my team has done over the year to finally get recognized as a team become.” is the best award I have ever received. “
In the 86-72 win of number 5 Iowa against number 4 Kentucky, the Hawkeyes led 23-11 after a quarter and never looked back. Clark has 58 points and 13 assists in her first two NCAA tournament games.
It seems like the Big Ten have a good chance of adding at least two more teams to the Sweet 16. On Wednesday (ESPN2 / ESPN App, 1:00 p.m. ET) Maryland, number 2 in the Hemisfair Regional, faces Alabama in a potentially interesting matchup if the Crimson Tide’s offensive is as good as a first-round win over North Carolina when they scored 11 3-point hits. Indiana, number 4 in the Mercado Regional, will seek to avoid interference from 12 seed Belmont (ESPNU / ESPN App, 5:00 p.m. ET). And number 7 Northwestern will be checking the Alamo Regional for a disruption in second-occupied Louisville (ESPN2 / ESPN app, 5:00 p.m. ET).
Cream: After the success of Iowa and Michigan, two lower-ranked teams beating higher-ranked opponents, it would be disappointing if the Big Ten didn’t add four teams to the Sweet 16.
Alabama is skilled and can be explosive, but Maryland is a big favorite in this game. The Crimson Tide couldn’t hold back the best of SEC offenses during the regular season – South Carolina averaged 80 points in three games against them, and Arkansas scored 94 points in one meeting – and now they’re facing the highest-scoring team in the world Nation. The Terps have six players averaging double digits. Katie Benzan does more than half of her 3-point attempts and leads the country in accuracy. Ashley Owusu is an All-American. Freshman Angel Reese, the second-tallest recruit in the 2020 class, is healthy and back on the rotation. Diamond Miller (first team), Chloe Bibby (Honorable Mention), and Mimi Collins (Honorable Mention) all made the All-Big Ten. This talent is striking.
Indiana should get through too. Belmont was brilliant in his win over Gonzaga, slowing down the pace, filling the middle and forcing 20 turnovers. The Hoosiers’ offensive is more diverse: Mackenzie Holmes, Ali Patberg and Grace Berger average more than 14 points per game, and Indiana has the seventh best turnover rate in the country. In the last two NCAA tournaments, the double-digit starting values in the second round are 2-5.
Northwestern’s job is much bigger against Louisville, of course, but if Maryland and Indiana advance, the Pac-12 will be the only conference the Big Ten could reach with four teams in the Sweet 16.
Tennessee lost in the first rounds for the fourth time in a row in an NCAA tournament. What went wrong in San Antonio and what’s next for the Lady Vols?
Voepel: Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said the Wolverines’ physical play bothered the Lady Vols, who never seemed to be in a very good rhythm throughout the game. Tennessee was 2 out of 14 out of the 3 point range. But Harper thought the Lady Vols’ many misses – which were hit by Michigan’s defense – an equally big problem.
Tennessee has had its ups – like against South Carolina in the regular season – and lows – like the loss on Tuesday – this season. In the last two defeats of the Lady Vols, they scored 52 points (against the Gamecocks in the SEC tournament) and 55 points.
Tennessee has won every NCAA tournament and only lost to Ball State in the 2009 first round before the Sweet 16. The idea that Tennessee doesn’t have players with Sweet 16 experience would have been absurd until the last few years. But that’s exactly what the Lady Vols found themselves in this season.
“During my career as head coach, I feel that these experiences were so good for the following year,” said Harper. “I think this is going to be growth for our team. It’s a process: it’s a lot about learning how to win and understanding what it takes.
“You can turn on the TV and see the teams walking around with different confidence because they were there and did that.”
The thing is, no program – other than 11-time Master UConn – has been there and done that more than eight-time Master Lady Vols. Former coach Holly Warlick lost her job in large part due to losses in the NCAA preliminary rounds in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Harper knew that even as a beloved alum who won three titles as a player, she was still in heat from the get-go try to restore Tennessee to its former glory. This is going to be a challenging project to say the least. Lady Vols fans probably wouldn’t have been too disappointed when she made a Sweet 16 appearance as the Lady Vols trainer in that first Harper NCAA tournament after taking three previous teams to the big dance. An exit in the second round, however, gives the pressure cooker a little more.
Cream: Mechelle hit it. The Lady Vols were just too inconsistent, especially on the offensive. One of those bad offensive days was on Tuesday.
It’s especially hard for Tennessee to win when Rennia Davis is in trouble. Against Michigan, she scored 12 points in 4v17 shooting. Davis played seven of the Lady Vols’ eight losses, averaging 14.6 points on 36% of the shots in those games. Harper had put together a solid roster, but it wasn’t good enough to get past his best player’s bad games.
The potential game everyone was expecting on Selection Monday is official: Freshman phenomena Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark as well as UConn and Iowa will meet at Sweet 16. What are your first thoughts on the matchup?
Paige Bueckers scores 20 points when UConn Syracuse is eliminated from the NCAA tournament and moves to Sweet 16.
Young: It was the game everyone was quietly hoping to get into the tournament, and both teams – and their star newbies – pulled it off to make it a reality. Already now, both Clark and Bueckers are downplaying the head-to-head element and talking about how UConn is against Iowa and such. Saying the right things, of course, but in a game that often boils down to individual excellence, the thought of the two incredible talents is not just what the tournament is about, but what basketball in general is about.
“Obviously a good friend of mine,” Clark said of Bueckers. “A great player. But we’d both say we won’t win it alone no matter who wins this game.”
And while that’s obviously true, and the supporting cast will play their part, it’s a much bigger burden for Clark to carry her team. Bueckers has the support of the UConn machine, with talent and depth – albeit young – and other great players like Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards. While Monika Czinano is one of the most efficient players in the country, the Hawkeyes don’t have the same two-way firepower.
And while Iowa is a great offensive team, the defensive team is their weakness (most recently in the country when it comes to defending during the season). While it has been a significant area of improvement in the tournament so far, if Iowa and Clark are about to shock the world, it will be because the Hawkeyes play their best defensive game of the season.
Cream: Is it too obvious to make a lot of points? Both will score and Clark will likely score more goals, but the only lucky newcomer to this matchup will be the one on the winning side. If that team is Iowa, they will likely need another signature game from Clark like the one they played against Kentucky on Tuesday. And with UConn on the other hand, it could take even more.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bueckers spends the early part of the game engaging others. Clark has help, and their gaudy assistance numbers (7.1 per game) prove it, just not the same level of help as Bueckers, so Clark may not have that luxury.
It would be fun to see Bueckers and Clark compete against each other in a mini 3 point contest, but what might disappoint some is that they are unlikely to compete defensively. UConn will mingle in some zones and when the huskies go man to man. Christyn Williams or Evina Westbrook is the more likely matchup for Clark.
Iowa newcomer Caitlin Clark scored 35 points as she led the Hawkeyes to an 86-72 win over Kentucky in the second round of the tournament.
Voepel: These are the types of matchups that every sport wants: Two young superstars in the same position compete against each other in a winner-take-all game. Aside from Clark and Bueckers, there will still be a lot going on in this game. That way, everyone else will most likely decide the winner. But all eyes will be on the youngsters and play their chess game against each other.
UConn-tired viewers (all but Huskies fans) will join Hawkeye Nation as big Iowa fans. And the thing is, no matter how this game goes, it’s cool to think it’s just the beginning for these two players.
Name any other player who really impressed you on Tuesday?
Voepel: Let’s hear it for Hemisfair No. 5 Seed Georgia Tech, who rose to the Sweet 16 for the second time in program history, and Lorela Cubaj, its high-ranking striker from Italy. After a 54-52 squeak on the first round in overtime against a team from Stephen F. Austin who appeared to be understaffed in 12th place, the Yellow Jackets drove past West Virginia 73-56. Cubaj was the leader on Tuesday with 21 points and 12 rebounds, averaging 12.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game this season. Let’s see how she can keep up with Aliyah Boston and number 1 South Carolina in the regional semifinals.
Cream: After Kayla Jones was out with a knee injury and Elissa Cunane struggled for a 3:15 performance, NC State student Jakia Brown-Turner jumped to the top. Brown-Turner’s 19 points in 7v12 shooting led the wolf pack against South Florida in a game they might not have won without her. Jada Boyd, replacing Jones on the grid, was solid too. She scored seven of her 18 points in the crucial third quarter, when NC State outperformed USF 24-11.
Young: To be honest, I’m tempted to just ignore the directions on this question and rave even more about Caitlin Clark, but a big thank you is required for Rhyne Howard of Kentucky. The Wildcats got off to a terrible start, falling 11-0 in the opening minutes, following not only Iowa but also Clark himself in half.
Kentucky had a challenging season with the stunning resignation of head coach Matthew Mitchell after a serious head injury after a fall while on vacation. But the Wildcats responded all season under assistant head coach Kyra Elzy, showing their resilience against Iowa in the second half. The game was never this close, but Howard fought to the end, scoring 28 points in 38 minutes plus 8 assists and 6 steals. An admirable way to go out.