Checking in on the teams in the Big Ten:
Indiana is looking scary good heading into March. The Hoosiers have won 13 games in a row and aren’t showing any signs of stopping soon.
They’re coming off of a convincing win over no. 12 Michigan, with their only true test remaining in the regular season being against Caitlin Clark and no. 7 Iowa. The Hoosiers took down Iowa at home on Feb. 9, so it will be interesting to see whether they can go into Iowa City and sweep the season series against the Hawkeyes.
The showdown will be between two of the NCAA’s best players, IU’s Mackenzie Holmes and Iowa’s Clark. IU-Iowa will be the marquee B1G matchup to round out the conference season. The two teams could meet in the Big Ten Tournament as well.
Holmes is the sixth-leading scorer in the nation with 22.5 points per game. She dropped a career-high 33 points on Feb. 13 against Ohio State.
The Hoosiers are dominating at the right time, and are a true threat to make a Final Four run.
No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes (21-5, 13-2 Big Ten, No. 2 seed ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
The Hawks have the Big Ten’s, and debatably the country’s, best player in Caitlin Clark. She continues to amaze night after night, averaging 27.2 points per game, only behind Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist.
The areas on the floor that Clark is confident in shooting from are dazzling, which shouldn’t come as a surprise any longer for this year’s Wooden Award candidate. This isn’t normal, and how easy Clark makes shots from distance look is incredible.
After losing to Indiana, Iowa rattled off two wins in a row by blowing out both Rutgers and Wisconsin. They’ll have another opportunity to secure a conference win on Saturday against Nebraska, before rounding out the regular season with two tough tests against Maryland and IU.
No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten, No. 2 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
Maryland is lucky to have another one of the NCAA’s best players, Diamond Miller, suit up for it each game.
The Terps are firmly in the upper echelon of the conference, as well as the country. They can try to dethrone Iowa for the second seed in the Big Ten heading into tournament play. However, to do that, they’ll have to beat the Hawkeyes next Tuesday.
In the first matchup with Iowa, Miller shined with 27 points and six rebounds. Shyanne Sellers added 26 points and six rebounds of her own. The offensive power was there for the Terps.
To pull out a win in the upcoming matchup, they’ll need to do everything that they can to slow down Clark, who scored an incredible 42 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds in the first game. Iowa center Monika Czinano scored 28 points, so the Terps will need to ensure that they have help defense in the paint after trying to stop Clark on the perimeter.
After Iowa, Maryland has another tough test to round out the season, against no. 13 Ohio State. They blew out the Buckeyes at home in early February, and will look to do the same to finish the regular season strong in Columbus.
No. 12 Michigan Wolverines (20-6, 10-5 Big Ten, No. 3 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
The Wolverines have been playing well as of late, outside of matchups against the conference’s top-tier teams. They have yet to beat any of the aforementioned conference powers this season.
Their only remaining opportunity to beat a conference power will come on Feb. 20, at home against rival Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat Michigan in Columbus earlier this season, so the Wolverines will look for revenge in Ann Arbor.
To beat OSU, the UM big three of Leigha Brown, Emily Kiser and Laila Phelia will need to impress. The trio all average 15 or more points per game, while no one else on the roster averages more than eight.
Specifically, Brown continues to score in bunches. If she can put together a big game, Michigan has a great shot to beat Ohio State.
No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes (22-5, 11-5 Big Ten, No. 6 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
The Buckeyes have hit a bit of a rough patch. Once in No. 1 seed consideration, OSU has lost five of their past eight games.
This has been a bit due to a tough schedule, catching Indiana twice, as well as Maryland and Iowa within the past month. They round out their regular season with games against Michigan and Maryland, trying to right the ship and push themselves up the bracket.
OSU’s leading scorer Taylor Mikesell needs to be the driving force to get wins heading into postseason play. Some nights she’s on from the field, while others take a bit to find rhythm. On Feb. 8 against Minnesota, Mikesell went 6-of-6 from three and scored 24 points in a win. If she can shoot even close to that level, the Buckeyes can get back on track.
Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry have also played well as of late, helping take some pressure off of Mikesell. But, the team still needs their fifth-year senior scorer to be on heading into crunch time.
Illinois Fighting Illini (19-7, 9-6 Big Ten, No. 9 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
Illinois has been playing decent as of late. They are handling mid-tier teams in the conference on most nights, while struggling against the top of the conference, as expected.
The Illini’s best win of the season came on New Year’s Day, when they beat Caitlin Clark and Iowa 90-86 in a thriller. Clark scored 32 points, which still wasn’t enough to beat the Illini.
At their best, Illinois has a balanced scoring approach from Makira Cook, Genesis Bryant, Adalia McKenzie and Kendall Bostic.
Cook leads the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game, with all four players averaging 10 or more. To note, Bryant is shooting 43.9 percent from three. Crazy efficiency from the junior guard.
Illinois will round out the regular season with three winnable games, against Penn State, Nebraska and Rutgers.
Purdue Boilermakers (17-7, 8-6 Big Ten, “last four byes” in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
Purdue has won five of its last six games, only losing to Indiana, while beating both Ohio State and Illinois.
The Boilermakers run into Indiana again on Sunday in Bloomington, which will certainly be a tough game to win. They’ll round out the regular season against Penn State and Minnesota to try and hit the 10-win mark in conference play.
Purdue will need to lean on the trio of Lasha Petree, Abbey Ellis and Caitlyn Harper to continue its winning ways and make some noise in the postseason.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-12, 6-9 Big Ten, “first team out” in ESPN’s Feb. 17 Bracketology)
Nebraska has dropped three in a row heading into a tough matchup against Iowa on Saturday. They’ll have to play Illinois on the road before coming back home to take on Northwestern in their final regular season game.
To keep their name in consideration for the committee, I’d think that they would need to win two of their three final regular season games. The matchup in Illinois is the swing game for the Huskers, as it can go either way. If they can find a way to beat the Illini, and then have a decent showing in the Big Ten Tournament, I’d expect Nebraska to be well within the field of 68.
Huskers junior guard Jaz Shelley deserves a ton of praise. As of late, she’s been a triple-double threat each time she steps out onto the floor. She also dropped a whopping 37 points off of seven made 3-pointers in a tough loss at Minnesota.
Michigan State Spartans (13-12, 5-9 Big Ten, No. 48 in the NET rankings)
The Spartans have won their last two games, including an overtime victory over Penn State. They will play Maryland at home before games against Minnesota and PSU to finish out the regular season.
MSU’s two leading scorers, Kamaria McDaniel and Matilda Ekh, have been playing well as of late. McDaniel dropped 29 in a win over Wisconsin while Ekh put up 21 in the OT win against the Lady Lions.
The playmaking ability of sophomore guard Deedee Hagemann continues to shine. She has led the team in assists in each of their last six games, averaging 4.8 dimes on the season. Hagemann has shown steady improvement as the season has carried on, a bright point for the Spartans this season.
Penn State Lady Lions (13-13, 4-11 Big Ten, No. 85 in the NET rankings)
Penn State has only won two of their last 10 games. Not an ideal way to go through the conference slate. They go to Illinois and Purdue before coming home to finish the regular season against Michigan State.
Makenna Marisa continues to be outstanding for the Lady Lions. She leads the team in both scoring and assists, averaging 18.2 points, which is good for 38th in the country. Marisa has scored 22 or more points in four of Penn State’s last seven games, while still finding her teammates and helping out on the glass.
Freshman Shay Ciezki has also been good for PSU, shooting at 40 percent from three on close to five attempts per game. Ciezki helps space the floor for Marisa, providing a constant threat on the perimeter.
The duo will try to help Penn State finish strong in an otherwise disappointing Big Ten season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-16, 3-12 Big Ten, No. 107 in the NET rankings)
The Gophers haven’t had a conference season to write home about, either. They’ve dropped 11 of their last 13 games, struggling to find a rhythm in Big Ten play.
Minnesota may have an opportunity to find a win or two in their final three games of the regular season. They play Northwestern and Michigan State on the road, prior to finishing the season at home against Purdue.
A bright spot for Minnesota has been the play of sophomore forward Alanna Micheaux. She is averaging 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, a threat to grab double-digit boards in any game.
Freshman guard Mara Braun is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.3 points per game. She’s had strong showings in her last three games, including a 27-point, seven-rebound performance in a win over Nebraska.
Although this season hasn’t been anything special for the Gophers, they have a young duo budding in the Big Ten.
Northwestern Wildcats (8-18, 1-14 Big Ten, No. 126 in the NET rankings)
Northwestern has had a tough go in B1G play. They have lost five in a row, and only have one conference win this season. That came on Jan. 29 against Wisconsin thanks to a great performance from Paige Mott with 23 points and nine rebounds.
The Wildcats play Wisconsin again before the end of the season, which will be an opportunity to get another conference win in the books. They will also go up against Minnesota. So two winnable games for Northwestern in their final three regular season games.
Wisconsin Badgers (8-19, 3-12 Big Ten, No. 130 in the NET rankings)
Wisconsin has found a handful of conference wins, two coming against Minnesota and one against Michigan State. Two of their Big Ten victories came in overtime battles, which helps an otherwise struggling team find some momentum in winning close matchups.
Julie Pospisilova has been good for the Badgers as of late. The 6-foot senior guard from the Czech Republic has scored 15 or more points in each of the team’s last four games, including two 22-point performances, which came against Michigan State and Minnesota.
The Badgers have a favorable remaining schedule, drawing both Rutgers and Northwestern in two of their final three games. If Pospisilova can continue her magic, Wisconsin may be able to find at least one more conference win.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-16, 5-10 Big Ten, No. 151 in the NET rankings)
Although the Scarlet Knights are toward the bottom of the conference, they have had a decent season. They are coming off of a win against Northwestern and now head into a game against Wisconsin on Monday.
Rutgers is the lowest-ranked Big Ten team in the NET rankings. However, I’m not so sure that they are the conference’s worst team. They’ve played well and found a way to win games against the non-contenders of the conference.
Freshman forward Kaylene Smikle is having a great season. She’s averaging 17.6 points per game, which is 54th in the country, and plays well against the top teams in the Big Ten. Recently, Smikle dropped 28 points in a loss against Iowa, also recording five rebounds and five steals. She also recorded 29 points and nine rebounds earlier this season against Maryland. The Scarlet Knights have their primary player to improve around in the Big Ten through upcoming seasons.