Weak Big Ten RPI ranking, lack of respect worries coaches

By Anthony Zilis

March Madness is a time of excitement for fans, coaches and players.

As the women’s Big Ten Tournament gets underway at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Thursday, all eyes will be set on the NCAA Tournament.

But the Big Ten is ranked the fifth strongest conference in the RPI, and a fear of under-representation in the postseason has coaches worried.

“We’re the Rodney Dangerfield conference,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We can’t get no respect.”

Over the length of the season, Big Ten teams have sparingly sniffed the AP Top 25 poll, with Ohio State being the only team to have held a ranking since Dec. 15, when week 5 polls were released.

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“I don’t know why that is. There’s some great teams in this conference, and we don’t get close to the national polls and that hurts us in recruiting,” Bluder said.

The Buckeyes are ranked No. 12 in the AP poll. Head coach Jim Foster points to the Big Ten schedule as a possible reason for the lack of national recognition.

The conference plays 18 conference games, as opposed to only 14-16 for the ACC, Big 12 and Big East, which are all rated higher than the Big Ten in RPI.

“A lot of teams only play each other once,” Foster said.

“It’s a lot easier to build a resume. If you had to go into Connecticut and into Rutgers and into Notre Dame every year, you’ve got a very difficult situation. But when you get to go every other year, it’s not the same,” said Foster.

But there’s a big reason that the Big Ten doesn’t get the respect that it thinks it deserves – it might not deserve respect. Big Ten teams have made it to the Sweet Sixteen only three times in the past three years, and last season, no Big Ten team made it past the second round.

Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown knows something about national respect. As head coach at George Washington for 19 years, McKeown failed to reach the NCAA Tournament only four times. His team made the Elite Eight once and the Sweet Sixteen three other times.

“You have to, I think, have your teams play a certain way at the end of the year,” McKeown said.

“The way Ohio State’s playing right now … they’re going to be really hard to beat. I think they’re the one team that can make a run,” said McKeown.

But with head coaches such as Illinois’ Jolette Law and Penn State’s Coquese Washington, who were previously associate head coaches at national powerhouses Rutgers and Notre Dame, respectively, Foster doesn’t think his team will remain the lone Big Ten team in the rankings.

“Joe Mckeown, Sharon Versyp, the young coaches Jolette and Coquese, they’ve been around winning programs; they know what winning’s about,” Foster said.