Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, April 28, 2015


The long awaited inaugural Big Ten tournament is finally upon us, as all six conference teams head to Piscataway for three days of elite lacrosse.

[ MORE: Mark Dixon recaps a wild final Saturday on the men's side ]

Maryland won the regular season Big Ten title and top overall seed, while Penn State will be the No. 2 seed. Both teams earned a first-round bye and open the tourney Friday.

The four other teams will begin tourney play on Thursday, with No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 3 Northwestern (3 ET) and No. 5 Rutgers vs. No. 4 Ohio State (5:25 ET).

Find links to watch Thursday's quarterfinals on BTN Plus, our subscription platform, and Friday's semifinals on BTN2Go below. Sunday's championship game will air live on ESPN3.

Last Thursday night, Maryland claimed the inaugural Big Ten regular season title with a 13-10 win over Penn State in College Park. The Terps jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the game?s first 11 minutes and appeared to be on their way to another dominant Big Ten performance. Maryland won 11 draws in the first half, to Penn State?s one, and three different players scored two goals as the Terps appeared to have the Big Ten title locked up.

But in the second half, Penn State was able to turn around its performance on the draw control and climb within one goal with 20 minutes remaining. Jenna Mosketti lifted Penn State to a 16-13 edge on the circle in the final 30 minutes and helped the Nittany Lions go on a 6-1 run to make it 8-7. From there, the momentum shifted one final time, when Nittany Lion goalie Emi Smith went down with an injury.

Smith hurt her knee but stayed in the game for several minutes before finally coming out after giving up a goal that would start a 3-0 run by Maryland. It was an impressive effort to play through the pain, but Penn State missed an opportunity when it had the ball after the injury to call a timeout and at least assess its injured goalie. The Nittany Lions would turn the ball over, and Maryland scored quickly against Smith, who was not able to move quickly in the cage.

Maryland used the 3-0 run to claim a four-goal edge with 16 minutes to play and held off Penn State to secure the victory. Junior Taylor Cummings was her usual self, accounting for four goals and 10 draw controls to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for fifth time this season. At 17-0, Maryland remains the nation?s only unbeaten team, and it will try to hold onto that unblemished mark as it enters the first Big Ten tournament.



Big Ten Tournament Predictions

Thursday in Piscataway begins the inaugural Big Ten Tournament, and with it the opportunity for several teams to avenge previous losses and state their case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament. The automatic qualifier is in play, but with the top three teams in the league tournament certainties, this weekend presents an opportunity for the teams on the outside looking in.

The quarterfinals on Thursday pit No. 3 seed Northwestern against No. 6 seed Michigan and No. 4 seed Ohio State against No. 5 seed Rutgers. The Wildcats and Buckeyes secured lopsided victories over their quarterfinal opponents in the regular season, and there has been little indication anything will change in the postseason. Rutgers did earn its first Big Ten win against Michigan last weekend, but both teams are not at the same level as the league's top four and figure to have early exits this weekend.

Semi 1: No. 3 Northwestern vs. No. 2 Penn State - 5:30 ET, Fri. (Watch on BTN2Go)

Northwestern has become known for avenging losses in conference tournaments. In 2013, the Wildcats lost a brutal game to Florida in the regular season, 22-4, but two weeks later won 8-3 over the Gators to claim the ALC Tournament title. Last year, the Wildcats lost to Ohio State in overtime early in the season, only to beat the Buckeyes in the ALC semifinals. Kelly Amonte-Hiller is known for her adjustments and will have a game plan in place to get Northwestern in a position to beat Penn State after losing 14-10 at home on April 19.

Penn State will have confidence after ending an 18-game losing streak to the Wildcats earlier this month, but will it have Emi Smith? The Nittany Lion junior goalie?s status is still in doubt heading into Thursday?s game following the aforementioned knee injury suffered against Maryland, and freshman McKenna Coyle would need to step in again. Coyle has proven to be solid, but she does not have the experience that Smith does, nor the familiarity with the defense.

The Nittany Lions will count on their offense, as they have all season, but Northwestern will look to own possession off the draw and limit Penn State?s chances.

Prediction: Northwestern

Semi 2: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Maryland – 8 ET, Fri. (Watch on BTN2Go)

Ohio State does not have a signature win this season and this will likely be its last chance. The Buckeyes rank 20th in the nation and are No. 19 in the RPI but have lost four of their last five and lost the last three of those games by a minimum of five goals apiece. Ohio State is 0-6 against ranked teams this year and is desperate for something to hang its hat on while being considered for the postseason.

The Buckeyes lost 13-8 to Maryland at home on April 12, although, on the bright side, Alexis Venechanos? team felt like they hung with the Terps for 45 minutes of that game; they just need to eliminate the slow start. In the first meeting this year, Maryland jumped out to an 8-1 lead and, despite being outscored 7-5 in the game's final 40 minutes, it was in control throughout. The Terrapins had a 15-6 edge on draw controls and Megan Whittle was one of three Terps with a hat trick. Expect more of the same when the two teams meet in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Prediction: Maryland

Final: No. 3 Northwestern vs. No. 1 Maryland - noon ET, Sunday

The same argument could be made for Northwestern against Maryland as it was for the Wildcats vs. Penn State. Northwestern rarely loses twice in one season to the same opponent. But, Maryland is not a typical opponent.

In the Big Ten opener, the Terps dominated the Wildcats in all areas of the game. I expect a second meeting to be a better showing for Northwestern, but the result will be the same. The Wildcats have improved their draw control numbers, but they do not have a specialist who can match up with Taylor Cummings, and Maryland will use that draw edge to limit the impact of offensive players like Selena Lasota for Northwestern.

This series has been one of the best in postseason lacrosse over the last decade, however a young Northwestern team going up against a deeply experienced Maryland team will not result in a classic championship battle. The Terrapins will claim the conference tournament title and remain undefeated as they seek back-to-back NCAA championships.

Prediction: Maryland