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IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder has a clear message to her Big Ten comrades:
“Schedule better,” she said Tuesday as the Hawkeyes prepared for their first-round WNIT game with Missouri State.
“We need to do this. If nobody follows suit, this is what happens.”
The Big Ten has dropped from elite status in women’s basketball. Only four teams — Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue — were selected for the NCAA tournament.
Iowa (17-13) is one of four Big Ten teams (Michigan, Indiana and Penn State are the others) in the WNIT.
According to RPI ratings, the Big Ten is only the sixth best conference in the country. The reason is non-conference scheduling, or lack thereof.
Don’t blame Iowa. A challenging non-Big Ten schedule was the Hawkeyes’ greatest attribute to its tournament resume.
Iowa’s strength of schedule was 21st-strongest in the nation. The Hawkeyes played six non-conference games against teams that made the NCAA, winning four.
“I’m proud of our non-conference schedule,” Bluder said. “We did our job. The other 13 teams (in the Big Ten) need to do theirs.”
Actually, Minnesota played a more challenging schedule, ranking No. 8 nationally.
Michigan didn’t do itself any favors. The third-place team in the Big Ten, the Wolverines’ strength of schedule was 101, and that ultimately kept them out of the NCAA.
And Big Ten co-champion Maryland compiled a glossy 30-2 record, but other than a game with No. 1 Connecticut, the Terrapins’ non-conference schedule was extremely weak. Maryland’s strength of schedule was 117. That demoted the Terrapins to an NCAA 3 seed.
Iowa’s non-conference schedule featured all three of the state’s other Division I programs. The Hawkeyes beat UNI (in an 88-39 rout) and Iowa State, and lost to Drake.
UNI, ISU and Drake all are in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers were somewhat of a surprise at-large qualifier.
“Good for them,” Ally Disterhoft said. “I have some friends on their team, and I’m happy for them. They peaked at the right time. Kudos to them.”
Bluder is a UNI alum and a former Drake coach.
“Getting three out of four teams to the NCAA is quite an accomplishment,” she said. “I know UNI is a surprise to a lot of people. But I’m a UNI Panther, and I’m happy for them.”
The Hawkeyes host Missouri State (16-14) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
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