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updated: 3/13/2010 6:20 PM

Could simple change help more Big Ten teams?

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  • Former sprinter Marion Jones has signed to play WNBA basketball with the Tulsa Shock. The former Olympic sprint played basketball for North Carolina.

    Former sprinter Marion Jones has signed to play WNBA basketball with the Tulsa Shock. The former Olympic sprint played basketball for North Carolina.
    Associarted Press


This is how worrisome things are for Big Ten women's basketball.

Purdue, which has made the NCAA tournament for the last 16 consecutive years - a streak that ranked fourth-best in the nation, won't be dancing come next week. At least not in the Big Dance.

The Boilers, 14-16 overall, are hoping for a WNIT bid.

That leaves Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa as the Big Ten's only candidates for an NCAA dance card. Emphasis on the word candidates.

The NCAA will unveil its 64 tournament teams at 7 p.m. on Monday during ESPN's "Selection Monday Special."

At 28-4 and as the Big Ten champion, Ohio State is a lock. Michigan State, which is 22-8, will make it as well.

Wisconsin is a bit iffy with some bad losses, but will likely make it with 21 wins. Meanwhile, Iowa is a strong contender after pushing Ohio State to the brink in the Big Ten tournament championship game, but is still a bubble team with only 18 wins.

That's two, possibly three, mayyyyyy-be four teams from the league, and Big Ten coaches can't be happy.

The Big Ten is a power conference and having only two NCAA tournament shoe-ins doesn't leave the league in much of a power position.

But the coaches are optimistic that will soon change.

They've been stumping relentlessly for the last few years about the need for the Big Ten to revamp its schedule. Currently, all Big Ten women's teams play 18 conference games, which is a couple more than most major conferences. Next year, Big Ten teams will play only 16.

Big Ten coaches say that's a significant change. They argue that, under the current system, not only are Big Ten teams beating up each other up for more games, they're also getting fewer opportunities to showcase themselves nationally with marquee nonconference matchups that can enhance resumes come NCAA selection time.

"It all comes down to what are (teams) doing to differentiate themselves, to say, 'Hey, we're one of the best 33 teams (there are 33 at-large bids)," said Jane Meyer, who chairs the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee and is an administrator at Iowa. "So scheduling is an important part of how a team puts together its resume."

We'll see soon if it makes a difference for the Big Ten.

Prairie State pride: The state of Illinois is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.

DePaul, looking for its eighth consecutive bid, isn't a lock but should get in based on strength of schedule. The Blue Demons finished tied for sixth in the rugged Big East with a 9-7 record. They finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak and now sit at 21-11.

Illinois State, which just missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament last spring, could get in by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and they're off to a great start. On Friday, they routed Indiana State 76-39 in the quarterfinals. The 37-point margin is the biggest in the history of the tournament.

Illinois State, under the direction of MVC coach of the year Robin Pingeton, was set to play in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Saturday live on Fox Sports Midwest.

Side show: Mark your calendars to be at Allstate Arena on June 5. That's when the Tulsa Shock will be in town to take on the Chicago Sky.

Perhaps the most compelling part of that game, other than that Tulsa primarily consists of the same players who dominated the Eastern Conference as the Detroit Shock before moving during the off-season, will be the revival of Marion Jones.

The former Olympic track champion, who was stripped of her five gold medals from the 2000 Summer Games because she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, signed a one-year contract with the Shock.

Although there seems to be an element of gimmicky-ness to this acquisition, Tulsa could be pleasantly surprised by Jones' contributions.

After all, Jones did play basketball at the University of North Carolina in the 1990s. And she was good.

During my senior year at Northwestern, we played North Carolina in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game that was televised on CBS. Jones, just a freshman at the time, started at point guard for the Tarheels and was very impressive. I was amazed at how fast she could get to the basket.

That night was probably one of the first opportunities for women's basketball fans to see what a special athlete and basketball player Jones was. But it certainly wouldn't be the last.

A few months later, Jones led North Carolina to the national championship.

I'm pretty sure it was shortly thereafter that she left basketball to concentrate on track.