Big Ten women's primer

Here's all you need to know about conference's women's tournament

Ten things to know about the Big Ten's women's basketball tournament, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates:

We're not in Indy any more, Toto: This is just the second time in its 19 editions the Big Ten women's tournament is not in Indianapolis. It took place at Grand Rapids. Mich., in 2001.

Six equals one: Iowa sophomore guard Melissa Dixon of far northwest suburban Johnsburg was named Big Ten sixth player of the year. In conference play, she was Iowa's No. 1 scorer (12.3 points per game) and the league's 3-point percentage leader (43).

Spoiler alert: Ninth-seeded Ohio State comes in with a three-game winning streak and six victories in its last eight games.

"(Amber) Stokes being back, they are playing at another level than they were earlier in the year," Illinois coach Matt Bollant said of the Buckeyes.

They had lost three of four with Stokes, a starter, sidelined by a knee injury.

The one who got away: Minnesota fans can only imagine how good the Gophers might be if Tayler Hill had stayed at home. Hill (20.9 points per game), an Ohio State senior from Minneapolis, and Rachel Banham (21.0), a Minnesota sophomore from Lakeville, Minn., are the top two scorers in the Big Ten. One goes home Thursday: Their teams meet in the first round.

Still frolicsome: With two freshman starters (including conference freshman of the year Maggie Lyon of New Trier), a third getting a lot of playing time and six rookies overall, Northwestern coach Joe McKeown has found himself herding wild kittens this season.

"We have various stages of practice where the ball flies everywhere, indoors and outdoors," the Wildcats coach said.

Even in March?

"Some days," he said.

No longer the Twelfth of Never: First-year Indiana coach Curt Miller likes the attitude his 12th-place Hoosiers have copped at the end of the season, beginning with an upset of the No. 22 Purdue.

"We have played with a swagger after hitting rock bottom (30-point loss to Michigan State). … They walk around campus proud to be a women's basketball player right now. When I got here, they almost didn't want to have people know they were a women's basketball player."

What's not to like: Senior Maggie Lucas of eighth-ranked Penn State is the consensus conference player of the year.

"She came in as a 3-point shooter and has grown her game to being a scorer," Nittany Lions coach Coquese Washington said. "She can create her own shots, finish with the left and right hand, (and) she's a better ballhandler."

Playing the percentages: Purdue's roller-coaster the last six weeks of the regular season reflects the ups and downs in senior Sam Ostarello's physical condition.

"Her shoulder has been 20 percent at times, 50 percent at times, then 70 percent," Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said.

The South Dakotan still managed to lead the Big Ten in rebounding and record 10 double-doubles.

No sure bet: As the only Big Ten team ranked higher than 22 and regular-season champion for a second straight year, Penn State would seem an odds-favorite. But the tourney's top seed hasn't even made the final since 2010. Last year, the Nittany Lions lost in the semis.

"There are no nights off and no bottom teams in this league the way there used to be," 13th-year Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.

Belittled Ten at the Big Dance: No conference team has made the NCAA Final Four since Michigan State finished second in 2005. Seven Big Ten teams made the tourney last year, but five lost in the first round and only Penn State (Elite Eight) won more than one game. After five straight years of having just the fifth-best conference RPI in the nation, the Big Ten is number two this year.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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