It may seem like the Big Ten women’s basketball season just started, but with March right around the corner, the regular season is quickly coming to a close. Despite some midseason hiccups related to COVID-19 cases that have led to some schools playing as many as eight more conference games than others, the B1G is just under seven days away from successfully completing its abbreviated 2020-21 season. All fourteen teams are now playing, and while there was certainly apprehension at the start of the year as to whether or not the season could get off the ground, forget completed, things have gone fairly smoothly.
How things shake out in the standings, however, is as uncertain as the virus itself. It has been a rollercoaster season with upsets each week. As has been the case over the past few years, the Big Ten has once again shown it is perhaps the most talented league in the country with five teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25. However, it is top-heavy, with its top three teams accumulating a record of 32-5 while the bottom three have totaled just six wins to 41 losses.
As things stand now, Maryland is the conference leader. After UMD took home a shared regular season conference title last year with Northwestern before winning the Big Ten Tournament, it has been just as dominant in 2020-21 while the ‘Cats have regressed. The Terps are currently ranked the No. 8 team in the country and are the favorites to repeat as conference champions. They sit at the top of the standings with a 12-1 record, but that’s just a half-game ahead of No. 11 Indiana (12-2), the only other team that could potentially claim the top seed in Indianapolis.
Led by head coach Teri Moren, IU is well on its way to its best conference finish in her seven years with the program. The Hoosiers currently ride a five-game winning streak that includes a big victory over No. 12 Michigan, but they’re running out of time to surpass Maryland. They have four games left on their schedule, including a date with No. 15 Ohio State. The Buckeyes won their first matchup earlier this year at the end of January in a close game, but the Hoosiers haven’t lost since then. In order for Moren’s squad to even have a shot at the regular season conference title, they will need to win against OSU team in Columbus this weekend.
UMD will be the heavy favorite in its remaining three contests. Maryland’s toughest opponent is Northwestern, a team that has the talent and capability to pull off an upset despite its inconsistencies. The two squads will face off in Evanston on Sunday.
Regardless of whether or not they win the title, the Hoosiers have made clear strides from their 2019-20 campaign that saw them finish fourth in the Big Ten and have plenty of talent to keep them in the conference’s upper echelon.
The end of the season still holds a lot of value for the rest of the conference. Some teams, like No. 12 Michigan and No. 25 Rutgers, are looking to bolster their NCAA Tournament seeding with more games due to their lack of total games played this year. Others in the middle of the pack are aiming to pick up some final marquee victories in hopes of hearing their names called on Selection Sunday.
Michigan sits at an interesting position, having missed out on two weeks of games due to a state-mandated shutdown of its athletic department because of cases of the B.117 variant of COVID-19. Since its return to the hardwood, it has been playing at a blistering level. The Wolverines have the same amount of total conference losses as Indiana (2), but they have played—and won—four fewer conference games, putting the maize and blue 2.5 games out of the top spot. Becoming regular season conference champions might not be in the cards for them, their recent play has shown that they will be a force come the Big Ten Tournament and the Big Dance.
Ohio State is a similarly talented team that has taken down the likes of Maryland, Indiana and Michigan but has also dropped a confusing game to conference cellar dweller Wisconsin, all but knocking them out of the regular season title race. OSU is serving a postseason ban this year, meaning its NCAA Tournament seed will not be affected!
Although purple and white confetti won’t be coming down at Welsh-Ryan Arena this year, Northwestern still has a lot to play for in the coming weeks as it looks to steal a top-four seed and double bye in the Big Ten Tournament and improve its NCAA Tournament positioning.