Big Ten places four teams in women’s Sweet 16 again
It has been seven years since the Big Ten had a team reach the Final Four and more than two decades since the conference had a national champion in women’s basketball.
With the conference having four teams in the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive year, those streaks could be ending soon.
Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland are all playing in the regional semifinals this weekend - matching the ACC for most teams left in the NCAA Tournament.
All four coaches credit the toughness of the conference as one of the main reasons for the success they’ve had so far on the game’s biggest stage.
“I think the biggest thing is we prepare each other for these moments,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “It’s so good and so competitive that we’re prepared for these games. The Big Ten prepares us for all these opponents we’re seeing right now.”
Indiana reached the regional final last season and has most of its team back from that run. The Hoosiers face UConn on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
Maryland, which faces Stanford on Friday, was the last team from the Big Ten to reach the Final Four, doing so in 2014. Coach Brenda Frese knows how important it can be to have made it to the regionals before.
“You have to gain that experience to get to the Sweet 16s and get to an Elite Eight like Indiana last year,” Frese said. “Your roster has to get that experience. That’s the cool thing to see now back-to-back years four teams making it to the Sweet 16. Teams are gaining a ton of experience to understand these rounds and how difficult it is.”
Michigan, which faces South Dakota on Saturday, is playing in its second straight Sweet 16 after never making it that far before.
“I’ve said it since I got here, the quote Geno (Auriemma) gave me 20 years ago. It’s easy to get there, the hard part is staying there,” Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “When you have a league that has back-to-back four teams in the Sweet 16, it really speaks to you staying there and having arrived.”
All of the coaches are rooting for each other to succeed. As soon as the other Big Ten schools advanced, Frese tweeted out her excitement for them.
“Brenda has been a real champion of this and is 100% right,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “A lot of the other leagues out there have TV networks that trumpet their teams. We have to similarly as coaches promoting how good we are. We know how good we are. Everyone knows it as well.”
The sixth-seeded Buckeyes will face Texas on Friday
With the four women’s teams advancing to the Sweet 16 and a couple of Big Ten men’s teams still playing also, it will be a busy next few days for Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. He plans to try to take in as many of the games as he possibly can in person while watching others on his phone.
He believes his conference is really close to breaking its national semifinals drought.
“We are on the forefront of putting teams in the Final Four on a regular basis and winning national championships,” Warren said in a phone interview from the airport. “I look forward to seeing them go into the Final Four and look forward to the day when I see when the national championship trophy is handed to them.”
Warren also made changes in the conference office this season, hiring Megan Kahn in November to be the conference’s Vice President of Women’s Basketball.
“That showed the true commitment from Kevin Warren, our commissioner, who is passionate about women’s hoops,” Moren said. “Him hiring her and really making this a position exclusive for women’s basketball is a huge deal.”
Warren said creating that position was one of his top goals when he got hired.
“I had a list of transition initiatives and that was a top one,” he said. “The first year we had to deal with COVID, so it got delayed.”
He also has spent the last two years developing relationships with many of the coaches and players. He went to all of the women’s games at the conference tournament and constantly texts them before and after games.
“They know I’m there. They know I can’t be in two places at once or I’d be there,” he said. “I’ll see Indiana this weekend. Hopefully all four of our teams win, so I can figure out where to go.”