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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings, third edition

The top five remain unchanged heading into the heart of conference play.

@TerpsWBB on Twitter

It’s December, which means we all get to enjoy sporadic conference matchups among a mix of random, yet exciting, non-conference opponents. Not much has shaken the top of the ranks yet, but the bigger picture behind the top five is becoming clearer by the day. What better way to begin the whirlwind of holiday season Big Ten women’s basketball than our third set of power rankings:

1. No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Ranking: 1

Record: 8-2 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Western Michigan

The Hoosiers continue to prove they’re the best team in the Big Ten. Most recently handling conference foe No. 20 Ohio State by a modest 20 points, Indiana has only lost one game since we last checked in with the team — that would be respectable eight point loss to one of four ranked teams it has faced so far, No. 2 NC State. The X-Factor for the Hoosiers as of late has been Mackenzie Holmes. Over her last five appearances, the junior has averaged 21.4 points, including a career-high 30-point performance against the Buckeyes. Senior Grace Berger is also averaging double digit points along with stellar showings at the rim with 6.4 rebounds per contest. The Hoosiers are well-rounded and only the best-of-the-best have been able to take them down, so it’s hard to see any conference opponents overtaking them for now.

2. No. 9 Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 2

Record: 9-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: @ Coppin State

It’s the Angel Reese show in College Park as the Terps continue to establish themselves as one of the best offenses in the nation. Reese is averaging a double-double of 18.6 points-per-game and 10.2 rebounds. Following close behind is All-American Ashley Owusu, who boasts 17.3 points per game herself. Even without Diamond Miller in the rotation, Maryland is still putting up 81.6 points-per-game, good enough for 10th in the country. Even in the Terps’ most recent loss to No. 1 South Carolina, they scored 59 points, which is the third most any team has scored on the Gamecocks all season. When compared to the Big Ten, Maryland has the offensive edge on Indiana, but it allows about 10 more points on average. Nonetheless, there isn’t much separating these two teams at the top.

3. No. 13 Michigan Wolverines

Previous Ranking: 3

Record: 10-1 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 5 Baylor

The Wolverines’ 10-1 record is impressive, but their one loss coming against No. 10 Louisville — one of their only two ranked opponents so far — is reason enough for them not to crack the top two just yet. Nonetheless, Michigan has some stars that will be crucial to it proving itself in the tougher matchups of conference play. Naz Hillmon continues to average 20 points along with 8.4 rebounds per game while Leigha Brown and Emily Kiser average both average above 10 points. The Wolverines are second in the nation in two-pointers made so far, proving to be incredibly efficient within the arc, but they have yet to be tested as much as some of their conference counterparts have. Their upcoming matchup against Baylor should reveal what this team is really made of underneath Hillmon, Brown and Kiser.

4. No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous Ranking: 4

Record: 5-2 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Central Florida

The Hawkeyes are 1-2 since their COVID-induced hiatus with losses to Duke and in-state rival No. 15 Iowa State. They did, however, beat Michigan State by a commanding 27 points, showing they haven’t completely lost their mojo. Iowa fans were pleased to see that Caitlin Clark is still, in fact, Caitlin Clark. The sophomore has averaged 24 points over her last three appearances, including a triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists against the Spartans. She still leads the Big Ten in points and assists, while her teammate Monica Czinano hosts the conference’s best field-goal percentage at 62.8%. The two of them are nearly unstoppable together, but question marks surrounding Iowa’s lack of depth continue to cast minor doubts on its ability to contest for a conference championship.

5. No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous Ranking: 5

Record: 8-2 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ UCLA

Ohio State has lost two of its last five matchups, one of which came as a bit of a surprise against Syracuse while the other came at the hands of No. 10 Indiana. However, the Buckeyes’ three wins over Purdue, Mount St. Mary’s and Alabama State were won by an average of 35.6 points. Other than their six point drop to the Orange, everything has gone as expected. Much of OSU’s success can be attributed to Oregon transfer Taylor Mikesell, who is looking like one of the best shooters in the nation, especially from beyond the arc. Boasting an average of three 3-pointers made per game, good enough for third in the country, Mikesell is an ace and has yet to score fewer than 12 points the entire season. Jacy Sheldon has also impressed, averaging 18.6 points per game thus far, but the Buckeyes’ first conference loss to Indiana is indicative of where they will sit as Big Ten play picks up.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous Ranking: 9

Record: 10-0 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Drake

Alright, Nebraska, maybe you are for real. Since we last checked in with the Huskers, they’ve come out victorious against an undefeated Wake Forest by an impressive 26 points. They’ve also beaten Minnesota and Indiana State, which makes them the last undefeated program in the Big Ten. Despite not having faced a ranked opponent yet, Nebraska has still managed an average margin of 30.5 points per game. Offensively, the team holds a top five field-goal percentage nationally at 48.5%, and defensively Nebraska is holding opponents to just 31% from the field. Jaz Shelley leads the Huskers offense with 15.2 points per game and she will be a focal point for Big Ten opponents heading forward. Speaking of which, they still have yet to play any impressive conference opponents, but the Huskers are poised to come in to the bulk of conference play with a lot of momentum behind them.

7. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous Ranking: T-7

Record: 8-3 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Temple

Northwestern is undefeated since our last set of rankings, with dominant wins over Wisconsin, Delaware and Milwaukee. Since the first-years have acclimated to McKeown’s style of coaching, the Wildcats have been hard to beat, even with key players missing and a poor Veronica Burton performance as was had in the Milwaukee game. Caileigh Walsh is making waves as she continues to lead the conference in blocks, leading the ‘Cats to a top 10 national ranking in blocks per game at 6.4. Burton is still doing what she does best by dominating opponents with 18.1 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. With plenty more depth this season as well as a solid lineup of shooters, Northwestern is set to be competitive as conference play gets going.

8. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 6

Record: 7-4 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Miami (Ohio)

Yes, Purdue beat Georgia one point. Let’s be honest, these are Big Ten power rankings, and the fact that Purdue wasn’t even remotely competitive in its first conference contests against Ohio State and Maryland doesn’t bode well. Seventeen- and 15-point losses to the Buckeyes and the Terps respectively overshadow the Georgia Tech victory, and frankly those losses overshadow the Boilers most recent 33-point win versus Denver as well. Purdue does have four players averaging double-digits in points, which is reassuring, but until this team can pull off a Big Ten win, there isn’t much to justify pushing it any higher in the rankings.

9. Minnesota Gophers

Previous Ranking: 10

Record: 7-6 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: @ Drake

Minnesota has arguable the toughest schedule in the conference up to this point in the season. The Gophers have faced No. 2 UConn and a one-loss Oklahoma, with recent drops to soon-to-be-ranked North Carolina, undefeated Nebraska and No. 13 Michigan. You have to feel for them a bit. That being said, they’re still unlikely to be competitive for the rest of their conference matchups. While it did beat Syracuse early on in the season, Minnesota’s biggest win since has come against a two-win UTSA team, and the Golden Gophers most recently beat Ohio by an unimpressive six points. The Gophers do have four players averaging over 10 points, with their offense centered around Sara Scalia and Jasmine Powell who are averaging 14.9 and 13.3 points, respectively. However, a lack of depth beyond them will keep the Gophers in the bottom half of the pack.

10. Michigan State Spartans

Previous Ranking: 12

Record: 7-4 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Florida Gulf Coast

Since we last checked in with them, the Spartans have pretty much performed exactly as expected. They lost to No. 24 Notre Dame by a respectable five points and followed that up with a less respectable 27-point loss to Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes. They then beat Illinois in dominant fashion to put them at an even .500 in conference play so far. Unfortunately, two early losses against Fordham and St. Francis (Brooklyn) are coming back to haunt Michigan State. Both are games the Spartans should have won, which would have put them in a much better place heading into 2022. Nia Clouden is still the leader she has always been, as she’s averaging 19.2 points per game and 5.1 assists. There is potential for her to fuel some upward mobility for the Spartans, but for now, they sit toward the bottom.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Ranking: T-7

Record: 6-5 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Duquesne

Oh, Penn State, you almost had us fooled. Four straight losses by an average margin of 22 points is not a good look, even if they were against quality opponents. Most important of the four for these rankings is the Nittany Lions’ 30-point drop to Indiana. While the Hoosiers are one of the best teams in the conference at the moment, a lack of any competitiveness from Penn State is worrying going forward. To add to the worry, PSU only beat Rutgers by four, which is four points away from a potential 0-2 start in conference play. There isn’t much Makena Marisa can do on her own as the sole leader of this team, but her consistent 20-point performances are most definitely bright spots for the Nittany Lions thus far.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous Ranking: 13

Record: 5-5 (0-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Southern Illinois

Hello, Illinois. Congrats on getting out of the bottom two. A nine point loss to No. 25 Florida State really isn’t that bad! To be honest, there isn’t much separating the Illini from Rutgers other than they have only lost one Big Ten game compared to Rutgers’ two. Illinois also scores an average of 10 more points per game than Rutgers and allows 10 less. Other than that, there isn’t much separating the two, at least until they play each other. The Illini are not that good, but they’re not the worst. Let’s leave it at that.

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous Ranking: 11

Record: 6-7 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Wagner

The only team with a worse losing streak than Penn State over the past month or so is the one-and-only Rutgers. Make that six games to PSU’s four. Rutgers lost to Pitt, Maryland and Penn State since we last checked in with them after having lost three in a row. The Scarlet Knights have had a rough go, but hopefully their streak-snapping 38-point win against Delaware State followed by another win over Central Connecticut State will get them back on track. That being said, no one on the Rutgers roster is averaging more than nine points per game, so it’s doubtful they will be able to match up to the majority of their remaining conference opponents.

14. Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 14

Record: 3-9 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Eastern Illinois

Wisconsin has only won one game since our last set of power rankings, and that opponent, Southern Illinois, has only won two games itself. But hey, a win is a win, even if it is over a non-conference opponent. It’s hard to believe the Badgers will have much success in the next few months, but fans can still watch Sydney Hilliard and Julie Pospisilova ball out along the way.