Big Ten womens tourney set to rock Sears Centre
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From Hinkle Fieldhouse to the old RCA Dome to Conseco Fieldhouse, the Big Ten women's basketball tournament has moved all over the city of Indianapolis.
Only once has the tournament moved outside of Indianapolis.
For just the second time in its 19-year history, the Big Ten women's tournament has left the Hoosier State. And for the first time ever, it is calling the Chicago area home.
The Big Ten women, led by nationally-ranked Penn State and Purdue, will tip off their postseason next week at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates with 11 games in four days. Action begins on Thursday with four games over two sessions. The first session tips off at 11:30 a.m. There will be four games on Friday, two on Saturday and the championship game will be played at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
"Chicago is the biggest city in our market and more Big Ten alums live in Chicago than in any other city," Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia said. "To bring a premier event like the women's conference tournament here is really important to us."
The Big Ten is also bringing the men's tournament to Chicago this month as well. That will start March 14 and run for four days at the United Center. The event is already sold out.
Officials are expecting about 6,000 fans per session at the women's tournament, which is about what Indianapolis draws each year. When the tournament moved to Michigan in 2001 and experimented with a venue in Grand Rapids, the numbers weren't quite as good, so it was moved back to Indianapolis.
The Big Ten has contracted with the Sears Centre to return in 2015, after a return to Indianapolis in 2014. Indy will also get the tournament in 2016, and after that, the site is up for discussion. A rotation between Indianapolis and Chicago is likely.
"We like Chicago and Indianapolis because you've got world-class facilities, plus our fans can go to those cities and really make a weekend out of their trip that includes more than basketball," Traviolia said. "We also think the Sears Centre is the perfect-size venue for the women's tournament. The games feel a certain way in a smaller venue versus an 18,000-seat NBA arena.
"The No. 1 thing that can really make an event feel exciting is great crowd participation."
Speaking of the fans, there's plenty to do next weekend at the Sears Centre. There will be autograph signings, a skills and thrills camp, a bonfire, a pep rally and a tipoff party.
"This is a great event for kids. I'm bringing my daughter, who is in seventh grade, and a friend of hers or two," Traviolia said. "For kids who want a preview of the next step, of where they can be with some hard work, the tournament gives a great example of that."
Tickets for the Big Ten women's conference tournament are $15 per session and there are special ticket packages available for groups and families. Parking is free. For more information, visit www.chicagomarchison.com.
The league locals:
At 13-15, Northwestern is going to need to be the last team standing next weekend at the Sears Centre in order to make the NCAA tournament.
Illinois, meanwhile, is a legitimate bubble team, especially with a nice run in the suburbs. The Illini are 16-11 overall but tied for third place with three other teams in the rugged Big Ten with a 9-6 league record. They also have a nice nonconference win over nationally ranked Georgia, which was 12-0 and ranked in the Top 10 at the time.
The Big East will be busy with its postseason conference tournament next weekend, too.
DePaul might not have to advance too far in Connecticut to make the NCAA cut. The Blue Demons have two very winnable games remaining on their schedule (at Pittsburgh on Saturday and at St. John's on Monday), and two more victories would put them past the 20-win benchmark at 21-9 overall.
The NCAA loves 20-win teams from power conferences like the Big East, and the Big Ten.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw, who is a color analyst for DePaul basketball this season and a commentator for IHSA girls basketball state finals, also will be part of the broadcast team for the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament next week.
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