Big Ten has a good chance to end the conference’s NCAA women’s title drought

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May 29, 2001
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Teri Moren jumped on the opportunity to make a point as she sat behind a giant Big Ten women’s basketball tournament table skirt with a dizzying amount of the league’s logos plastered behind her. In fact, she thanked a reporter for setting her up. The Indiana coach has guided the Hoosiers for eight seasons and wanted to talk about respect.
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South Carolina, with superstar coach Dawn Staley and player of the year favorite Aliyah Boston, has been the focus of the conversation in the women’s game this season. Connecticut always bathes in attention even as the Huskies counted the days until the return of Paige Bueckers. Stanford is the reigning national champion, Kim Mulkey has re-energized LSU, and player of the year candidate NaLyssa Smith has kept Baylor in the top 10 for most of the season.
But outside of the national love for Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the Big Ten continues to fly under the radar.
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Six Big Team teams are in the NCAA tournament field, and all six — No. 2 seed Iowa, No. 3 seed Michigan, No. 3 seed Indiana, No. 4 seed Maryland, No. 6 seed Ohio State and No. 8 seed Nebraska — have a chance to make a deep run and maybe even win the conference’s first national title since Purdue in 1999.






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“I feel like we are still fighting from a national perspective to get the respect that this league deserves,” Moren said. “But from top to bottom, if you look at our top seven, eight, nine — I mean, really, really great teams, with great coaches, great players. And night in and night out … we just continue to beat up on each other.

“This is a special year for the Big Ten. ... I really feel like [there’s a] team here in the Big Ten, and I don’t know who it is, that could easily win a Final Four. I love the fact that, nationally, I think, we are getting some recognition. It’s not near where we need it to be, but winning hopefully will solve a lot of those issues.”
This season has produced the deepest rosters Moren has seen during her time in Bloomington. The pandemic assisted some schools — players were able to take an extra year, and many teams brought back intact rosters after four Big Ten squads advanced to last season’s Sweet 16.





“Our league was so hard this year, so deep,” Northwestern Coach Joe McKeown said. “... I feel like we’re just as deep as the SEC or the ACC or any other league. ... We finished seventh; we could have finished fifth, sixth, fourth. … [Iowa and Michigan] we beat, and that in itself should separate you on your résumé.”
The conference had an early opportunity to earn more national attention but went 4-10 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Michigan and Indiana lost to Louisville and North Carolina State in matchups of ranked teams. Iowa was upset by unranked Duke on the road, and Ohio State fell at unranked Syracuse.
Maryland played a difficult nonconference schedule and beat Baylor but lost to North Carolina State and Stanford by 18 points apiece while shorthanded.
“I was like, ‘Oh boy, I did not see that coming like that,’ ” analyst Christy Winters Scott said. “But I think even with the teams dropping some games early on, now everyone is fully healthy. … With so many teams returning so many core players and everyone came back because, ‘Hey, we have unfinished business’ — okay, let’s see who is going to finish.”

 
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