Championship – Shauna Green She knows her team didn’t play its best game in the win over Northwestern on Sunday. Her team knows a lot. However, the Illinois women’s basketball coach urged her team to celebrate the win. After all, these are the games that can be problematic if they end in a loss.
Northwestern is in last place in the Big Ten. Winless against conference opponents in nine attempts. Wildcats also post a tough defense. Plus, wins on the road—regardless of the opponent—don’t come easy, especially for in-state competitors.
If Illinois (16-4, 6-3 Big Ten) wants to make a postseason berth for the first time since the 2012-13 season or the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2002-2003 season, those kinds of games have to be wins.
“I’m like, ‘You should be happy you won this game because that’s the kind of game that could keep you out of the NCAA tournament if you put some of them together,'” Green told the Illini Inquirer.
As the calendar approaches February, a postseason appearance and a potential NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in 20 years will be on the Illini’s table. Too early for discussions? Could. But they’re logical discussions to have with a team that blew the most colorful orange-and-blue preseason predictions straight.
The No. 22-ranked Illini sits fifth in the Big Ten ahead of Game 7 Thursday night at home against Purdue. The three losses in Big Ten games came against Indiana twice and Ohio State once. These teams have two losses combined and are in the top six in the Associated Press poll.
Green, in her first year after six successful seasons at Dayton, believes in honest conversations with her team about where they are and where they’re going. There’s a balance between not hiding from postseason talk — and Illinois certainly doesn’t — and not making it the focal point of every conversation.
“The postseason is the postseason, but you have to continue to have a 1-0 mentality or you won’t make it to the postseason,” Green said. “I think these guys understand that. We’ve talked enough. I don’t want to put extra pressure on you, but they’re smart enough to understand, and I think I made it clear that losing to Indiana or losing to Ohio State, it doesn’t hurt you. Yeah, it would be nice to win.” And it helps us because we beat Iowa and Iowa beat Ohio State and now Iowa is a top 10 team.It’s not a bad loss if you lose to a top 5 team in the country.But the bottom half of the league, if you want to be an NCAA caliber team, You have to mind business with these guys.”
Illinois is currently ranked No. 8 in the ESPN’s archeology expert Charlie Cream’s latest prediction, and the Illini were given to play Alabama in Stanford (California) with the local Cardinals as the number one seed in the region. Of course, there are still nine games and a conference tournament to go, but Illinois isn’t on his roster for the first four, the last four in or the next four. That’s a good sign for a program that hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament in 20 years and hasn’t played in the WNIT since 2013.
“Obviously we’re looking at it more as it gets closer to February, but it’s not something we’re necessarily focused on,” he said Kendall Bostick, who was on the 2020-21 Michigan State Championship Team. “We’re more focused on going 1-0, I know Coach Green said that, kind of going 1-0 every day and 1-0 every game. I think as February comes around and we get to those last three games, I definitely think that That’s going to be a little more important thing. It obviously matters now, but we’re all familiar with it. We’re all excited, especially those who were here last year. The fact that we literally went from not having a postseason to a potential NCAA Tournament in one season is It’s crazy. Just having that as fuel for excitement and having that as fuel for wanting to go out and win these games.”
Creme’s newest offering features seven top teams in the field: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Maryland, and Nebraska. It follows the same with the last two years in the conference. The top six teams in the conference standings last season qualified for the tournament and seven of the top eight teams in 2020-21 qualified with the only exception being Ohio State, which was serving a tournament ban.
The fact that the Big Ten is a multi-width league is part of the reason Green Dayton left the Big Ten. The Flyers won the Atlantic 10 regular season championship a year earlier but lost in the conference tournament and were the last team selected to the NCAA Tournament. The conference has historically been between one bid and two tournaments, and three bids have been submitted only seven times in the past 20 years.
Although the Big Ten is among the top conferences in the country and is a more challenging regular season, the potential for more big bids in the NCAA Tournament allows more wiggle room during the year. The conference losses in Dayton were a nightmare in terms of a potential overall bid. In a sense, NCAA tournament hopes have often been led to success in the conference tournament.
“It all came down to three days with everyone wanting to kick you know what we got because we put the target on our back forever,” said Green. “…I understand we have to continue to keep the main thing the main thing and one day at a time, one day at a time. But there are so many bids in this league. We have to be on top, you know, twice bye or bye In the Big Ten tournament and staying in that top seven and top six in the league and doing your job and winning the games you’re supposed to win and hopefully getting a shot at getting into the NCAA tournament. Even in the conference, there was an adjustment. If we lose a game in the A-10, I’m about to pull my hair out. Here, you have to understand that you’re going to lose some games. I never want to lose, but nobody’s going to lose in this league. It’s been an adjustment with that, too.”
Illinois, which is currently ranked 31st in the NET rankings, still has nine regular season games left with a chance to get a double in the conference tournament, which will be played in Minneapolis. The Illini have only two opponents with records better than . 500 left in the Big Ten as of Wednesday afternoon: at Michigan and Maryland.
Although it’s not officially February, things are a lot different around Champaign with the possibility – the possibility? – Who played the postseason in some capacity. This time last year, Illinois had just come off a 26-point loss against Iowa to fall to 6-11 and 1-5 in the Big Ten. The end of the conference tournament was the end of the road for the season. Now, The Big Dance is a very realistic discussion.
“It’s definitely different from last year,” Bostick said. “I feel like we kind of knew when our season was going to end so I feel like it was hard to win games because we knew it wasn’t going to matter. Obviously we all wanted to win but that would be like spurring yourself into the game. If you get down by 15 it turns into 30 by Q4. Just having that confidence and stability within ourselves this year is a really good thing.
“It was very different last year. We were like, ‘Okay, we have nine games left. That’s it. We don’t have anything else yet. It’s definitely a little different and we’re very excited about that.”
Green doesn’t get too caught up in postseason discussion. Simply put, there is a lot left in the regular season to get going that way every day. But it’s a conversation she knows she has to have with her team from time to time; Even if it means finding recognition in some kind of win over a team at the bottom of the conference standings.
“They’re smart enough. I’m not going to talk about it every day, but there will be times when I have to pick and choose when we can talk about it,” Green said. If they’re at Ohio State and I get them in and they’re a top five team and we have to go 1-0, then the results take care of themselves. “