Women’s basketball has started with a bang, as 11 teams in the top 25 have fallen in the season’s first two weeks. Within the top 25 rest five Big Ten teams, two of which already have a loss pinned on them.
Northwestern’s campaign to win back-to-back Big Ten championships will be challenging in a conference stacked with talent. Here is how the conference lines up early on in the season.
1. No. 14 Maryland (3-1)
The Terps lost an ugly one to Missouri State in their second game of the season but bounced back to beat a good Arkansas team. They graduated a lot of talent this past offseason, but they still have solid depth and an elite coach in Brenda Freese. With two buy games being canceled, their next four matchups are against Rutgers, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana. If Maryland can come out of those games unbeaten, they will almost certainly be the favorites to win the Big Ten.
2. No. 15 Indiana (2-1)
The Hoosiers’ one defeat was to an elite Kentucky team, a game which they likely should have won but lost due to a fourth-quarter meltdown. The loss of Brenna Wise is significant, but Indiana returns four of its five starters from last season and boasts plenty of star power, led by Ali Patberg. Patberg’s scoring ability paired with that of Grace Berger and 6-foot-3 Mackenzie Holmes presents serious matchup problems for many of IU’s Big Ten foes.
3. No. 18 Ohio State (4-0)
None of Ohio State’s wins have been super meaningful, but they have blown out weaker opponents. The Buckeyes had a solid season in the Big Ten last year and added ESPNW top-25 recruit in Kateri Poole and Providence guard Hevynne Bristow through the transfer portal. Dorka Juhasz has the size and shooting ability of Abi Scheid with a more developed post game. With her leading the charge, the experienced Buckeyes are going to be contenders for the conference title.
4. No. 19 Michigan (5-0)
Like Indiana and OSU, the Wolverines bring back a lot of their talent. Losing Kayla Robbins hurts, but Nebraska transfer Leigha Brown has been on fire to begin the year, averaging 18 points a game. When you factor in Naz Hilmon’s elite post presence and Michigan’s plethora of shooters, they are a strong team in all facets of the game. The one factor that they have missed previously was star power, but with the addition of Brown and another year for Hillmon to grow, the team is expected to be dominant.
5. No. 17 Northwestern (1-0)
Northwestern’s scheduling prevents it from landing higher on this list. They only have one win against a subpar Eastern Illinois team, and we just haven’t seen enough of the ‘Cats to have a grasp on how competitive they will be in the Big Ten this year. However, their performance against the Panthers was dominant, and if they can continue that play as they begin their conference schedule on Monday, they are sure to be contenders to win the title once again.
6. Rutgers (2-0)
The Scarlet Knights returned leading scorers Tekia Mack and projected first-round pick Arella Guirantes while adding Diamond Johnson, Chyna Cornwell and Sakima Walker. Their roster is packed with talent, but as shown in their growing pains against Wisconsin, it’s going to take some time for them to round into form.
7. Iowa (4-0)
Any Big Ten win is a good win, but only beating Wisconsin by seven is questionable, as is the six-point win against Drake in which the Hawkeyes gave up 97 points. The losses of Kathleen Doyle and Mackenzie Meyer are significant, but Caitlin Clark headlines a deep freshman class for the Hawkeyes that should be able to replace their production in time. It’s going to take a while for their young core to develop, so Lisa Bluder’s team could experience growing pains early in the season, but Clark’s production and the return of Monika Czinano leaves the Hawkeyes with potential this year.
8. Purdue (2-1)
The loss of Ae’Rianna Harris hit the Boilermakers hard, as demonstrated by their loss to Valparaiso, which cannot happen in a shortened season. With that said, Purdue should pick up steam as the season goes on. It’s going to take a bit for Ra’Shaya Kyle and Madison Layden to get comfortable, but when they do, they can grow into great players in West Lafayette.
9. Michigan State (3-0)
Again, no Big Ten win is a bad win, but Sparty didn’t exactly beat the Gophers in an impressive fashion. After a 2019 season in which they were in the middle of the pack, MSU will likely beat the bad teams in the conference while being easy wins for some of the more competitive teams.
10. Penn State (3-1)
After a 2019 season in which the Nittany Lions went 1-17 in the Big Ten, Penn State’s best player Kamaria McDaniel transferred to Baylor. They then almost lost their third game of the season to the University of Rhode Island, barely earning the win through a buzzer-beating layup. All signs pointed to the Lady Lions being mediocre at best, but they then played No. 22 Syracuse close, leading by 11 at one point in the game. They likely won’t be very good, but PSU demonstrated the potential to play close games against good teams.
11. Nebraska (3-0)
Most of Nebraska’s seven wins in 2019 can be attributed to the play of Leigha Brown. With the talented guard wearing Maize and Blue this season, the Huskers are going to lean heavily on individual performances to win them games, as they did in their close win over Illinois. Without many star individual players, they will likely remain toward the bottom of the Big Ten.
12. Wisconsin (1-2)
Maybe aren’t as bad as people thought they would be this year. They are 1-2, but both of their losses have come in Big Ten play, losing to Rutgers and Iowa by a combined 12 points. It seems silly to expect anything too significant of Wisconsin, but it might not be the worst team in the Big Ten this season.
13. Illinois (2-2)
Illinois was the first Big Ten team to fall victim to the Crusaders of Valparaiso this season. After a miserable 2019, the Illini lost Ali Andrews, one of their only bright spots on the season. Sharpshooter Petra Holesinska transferred to UNC, leaving U of I short in depth and talent. J-Naya Ephraim and Jada Peebles will hopefully keep games close like they did versus UNL, but Illinois won’t be winning too many games this season.
14. Minnesota (1-2)
After an underwhelming 2019 season, things don’t look to be any better for the Gophers, as they barely beat an EIU team that Northwestern dominated and looked terrible against Drake and MSU. Losing Destiny Pitts to the transfer portal certainly didn’t help their case, but the Gophers are in for another challenging season.