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Lady Lions’ 2023 Big Ten Tournament Preview

Postseason college basketball is here.

Penn State women’s basketball kicks off the Big Ten Tournament at 2 p.m. today with a matchup against Minnesota. The tournament will be the fourth time that head coach Carolyn Kieger has seen Big Ten postseason action, though, she has yet to win a game in the conference tournament.

The Lady Lions enter the tournament riding a six-game skid, which included losses to Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue, and two losses to Michigan State. Since a 29-point loss to Nebraska in January, the Lady Lions haven’t been able to regain their footing in the conference and have slipped further and further from controlling their own destiny.

For Penn State to see any sort of postseason action past the Big Ten Tournament, it would likely have to win the whole thing or come just short. The Lady Lions are well out of the running for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament and not quite good enough for the WNIT.

No matter what the Lady Lions hope to accomplish, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are the main priority for right now.

First Round: Minnesota ( 2 p.m. — Wednesday, March 1)

Penn State begins its Big Ten Tournament run against No. 12-seeded Minnesota. This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, with the Golden Gophers winning both prior games.

Like the Lady Lions, Minnesota finished its Big Ten schedule with a record of 4-14 but had a worse overall record of 11-18. Had they not beaten Penn State twice, the Golden Gophers would hold the Lady Lions’ No. 13 seed.

While Penn State’s senior guard Makenna Marisa struggled as of late, her performances against Minnesota were some of her best. In the December matchup, she dropped 34 points, a season-high, as well as six assists and two steals. In January, she scored 25 points and posted four assists and three steals, too

Minnesota’s Big Ten slate, like Penn State’s, featured a series of losing streaks broken up by a few wins in between. Interestingly enough, the Golden Gophers beat Nebraska and Purdue, seeded at No. 8 and No. 7, respectively, but couldn’t take down No. 14-seeded Northwestern.

The Golden Gophers are led by freshman Mara Braun and sophomore Alanna Micheaux, who combine for just over 30 points per game. They are helped by freshman Amaya Battle, who is one of the best in the Big Ten in assists.

Braun will be the player Penn State worries about the most. She dropped 26 on the Lady Lions in the first matchup in December and another 15 in the second game in January. Braun is the 12th-best scorer in the Big Ten and one of the conference’s most consistent shooters.

For Penn State to make it out of this matchup, it’ll need to put together a cohesive effort that it hasn’t seen in some time. Leilani Kapinus, Marisa, and Shay Ciezki will all need to step up, play strong defense, and knock down shots at a rate above the 30-40% clip the team has been stuck at recently.

Second Round (If Needed): No. 17 Michigan (~3 p.m. — Thursday, March 2)

Should Penn State make it past Minnesota, it will face No. 17 Michigan around 25 hours later.

The game would be the second matchup between the two teams this season after the Lady Lions lost to the now-No. 17 ranked Wolverines by 10 points just after the New Year.

The Wolverines enter the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 5 seed, just one slot away from a double-bye. Instead, their conference record of 11-7 put them just behind rival No. 14-ranked Ohio State.

Offensively, Michigan is a middle-of-the-pack squad within the Big Ten. The team is ranked seventh in points per game, and the group has just two players averaging over 10 points per game.

However, the Wolverines are among the best defensively. They’re second in the Big Ten for points allowed. At just 62.9 points allowed per game, they’re behind only Indiana.

Interestingly enough, none of Michigan’s individual defensive stats stand out: it doesn’t have a leader in steals, blocks, or even defensive rebounds in the Big Ten. Still, the Wolverines give up very few baskets by the conference standard.

With Penn State’s recent run of form, a win over Michigan would be a massive upset. It would need each player on the roster to step up, as well as an unlucky outing from the Wolverines.

The Rest Of The Tournament

To quote the great Justin Bieber, never say never. However, this just isn’t the Lady Lions’ year to win the Big Ten.

Penn State hasn’t advanced out of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament since 2018 and hasn’t won the whole thing since 1996. It’s a sub-.500 team that hasn’t shown up in conference play.

Along the way to a Big Ten title stands No. 7 Iowa, which has likely the nation’s best player in Caitlin Clark. Iowa just beat No. 2 Indiana and still fell in the AP Poll. Indiana is scary as well, even though the Lady Lions performed surprisingly well against the Hoosiers earlier in the season.

Considering how the regular season, especially conference play, fared for the Lady Lions this season, it’s unlikely that they’ll make the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT. The only true hope for any sort of real postseason action lies in an impressive Big Ten run.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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