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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings, fourth edition: Nebraska rises, the Buckeyes flounder

Why hello, Huskers.

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With just over half the season behind them, Big Ten women’s basketball teams are beginning the bulk of conference play. The Hoosiers and Terps are cementing themselves at the top while the contenders below them continue to shift. Hopefully our fourth edition of power rankings will explain some of the movement in the background:

1. No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Ranking: 1

Record: 12-2 (4-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Nebraska

Indiana is the most dominant team in the Big Ten. Point blank. If it wasn’t evident by their 20-point win at Ohio State in mid-December, the Hoosiers recently held Maryland, the country’s fifth highest scoring team, to just 63 points. Mackenzie Holmes has been unstoppable in conference play so far, averaging 19.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Holmes also has the help of four other double-digit scorers in the starting lineup, including Ali Patberg, who averages 14.8 points per game, and Grace Berger facilitating scoring with six assists per game. The Hoosiers’ strong core five has lead the team to a field goal percentage of 55.5% in conference play while holding opponents to only 35.6% shooting, and they are poised to continue paving their way to the postseason.

2. No. 10 Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 2

Record: 11-4 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Minnesota

Other than their head-to-head loss, there is little separating the Terps from Indiana, and it’s worth considering the matchup did go to overtime. Clearly, Maryland’s anger from the loss was put to use in a 106-point performance against Penn State just four days later. There are still very few teams in the country who are able to stop the Terps’ offensive firepower that has them scoring a conference-leading 82 points per game — it just so happens that at least one of those few teams happens to also be in the Big Ten. Diamond Miller has finally returned to the lineup, scoring 17 and 24 points in her first two games back. She rejoins stars Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese to continue fighting toward their second consecutive conference title.

T-3. No. 8 Michigan Wolverines

Previous Ranking: 3

Record: 12-2 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Rutgers

The Wolverines entered conference play looking like their usual selves with comfortable wins versus Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State... and then they were absolutely picked apart by Nebraska, losing by 21 (!) points. Folks looking at the scoreline would have assumed Naz Hillmon or Leigha Brown were absent from the lineup, but that just wasn’t the case. Michigan lost, real bad. Whether the loss was a testament to the Cornhuskers actually being really good this year or it was just a poor game plan put out by Kim Barnes Arico, the Wolverines will have to pick it up and prove that it was no more than just a bump in the road. There’s no denying this Michigan team is extremely talented, but it cannot afford to lose any more winnable games in a conference as competitive as the Big Ten.

T-3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous Ranking: 6

Record: 13-1 (2-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 22 Iowa

Nebraska is for real. Its first loss on the season to Michigan State just before New Year’s did cast doubts on this notion, but there is nothing more redeeming than a 21-point win against No. 8 ranked Michigan. A ranked win is what people were looking for from this Cornhusker squad in order for it to prove that their 11-0 start to the season wasn’t just pure luck. For the time being, keep an eye on Jaz Shelley, who is averaging 13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per conference game, as well as her teammates Sam Haiby and Isabelle Bourne who are scoring in double-digits. Though I can’t justify putting Nebraska over Michigan because of its loss to MSU, it has proven it can hang with Big Ten powerhouse programs.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 7

Record: 10-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Ohio State

Welcome back to the top five, Wildcats, and congratulations on your first ranked win of the season! Northwestern has found its groove, as was evident in its 77-69 victory at No. 22 Iowa. Coming off of three consecutive postponements due to a COVID outbreak, shutting down Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes is exactly what the ‘Cats needed to let everyone know they are still a threat. Veronica Burton continues to show why she’s one of the best in the game with a massive statline of 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and eight steals in the matchup in Iowa City. First-year Mel Daley also had a big night with 22 points of her own — a testament to Joe McKeown’s impactful freshman class. Northwestern is one of the deepest teams in the conference, and now, with all of their COVID woes hopefully over and done with, the ‘Cats can start climbing their way back toward the top.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous Ranking: 5

Record: 10-3 (2-2 B1G)

Next Game: @ Northwestern

The Buckeyes have performed as expected in conference play so far and have thus dropped out of the AP Poll. They beat Purdue and Illinois, but they lost to Indiana and Michigan by 20 and 19 points, respectively. Should the Buckeyes have kept those matchups a bit closer, they would still have a little bit more credibility as a threat to other strong Big Ten teams, but for now, they seem like they’ll end up near the upper middle of the pack. That being said, Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon are still showing out, averaging a combined total of 40 points per Big Ten game. The Buckeyes are also statistically the best three-point shooting team in the conference. It’s hard to see OSU getting back into the race without fixing holes in its defensive play, but with several ranked opponents ahead, the squad still has a shot.

7. No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous Ranking: 4

Record: 7-4 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Nebraska

Despite having arguably one of the best players in the country in their rotation, the Hawkeyes have faltered as of late. Iowa is 1-2 in its last three matchups, all of which were winnable games for Caitlin Clark and Co. IUPUI took down the Hawkeyes 74-73 in dramatic fashion, and they were not a match for Veronica Burton’s Wildcats either, losing that game by an even wider margin. Iowa’s five postponements on the season could have had an effect on their chemistry and momentum, but this team just doesn’t look the same as it did at the end of last year. Even with Clark averaging 27 points per game against conference opponents and Monika Czinano stepping in with 19.5 points per game herself, the Hawkeyes seem off. Nonetheless, there are still many chances down the road for them to prove themselves once again, including their upcoming matchup against Nebraska.

8. Michigan State Spartans

Previous Ranking: 10

Record: 8-6 (2-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Purdue

While the Spartans will likely not compete for a share of the Big Ten regular season title, they have one of the most exciting players in the conference on their roster in Nia Clouden. Clouden is averaging an absurd 34.6 points in her last three games, including a 50-point performance against FGCU. She is currently second in the Big Ten in points per game against conference opponents with 22.3 and most recently scored 32 points to help the Spartans overcome an undefeated Nebraska. With Clouden, Michigan State is a team that should put a lot of conference opponents on upset watch for the remainder of the regular season.

9. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 8

Record: 10-4 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan State

Purdue hasn’t lost since we last checked in, but it also hasn’t done anything really impressive yet. The Boilermakers beat Rutgers 60-58 in a much closer game than it should have been, but they also scored 101 points on Denver just a few weeks earlier. This team does have an offense, it just simply isn’t as good as most of the Big Ten. A win against upcoming opponent Michigan State would be redeeming and there is still a lot of season left to go, but it’s hard to believe Purdue will move much higher than this.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Previous Ranking: 9

Record: 8-7 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 10 Maryland

The Gophers also notched their first conference win against Rutgers recently after losses to Nebraska and Michigan and a postponement against Northwestern. Despite their struggles, the Gophers maintain the second best three-point percentage in conference play at around 40%, but that doesn’t outweigh the fact that they are one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big Ten. Getting beat on the glass consistently can really diminish the number of possessions this Minnesota team has, and every possession is crucial in the Big Ten. Jasmine Powell has been scoring close to 20 points per game against conference opponents though, so the Golden Gophers have offensive weapons, but their struggles at the board have been evident in recent performances.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Ranking: 11

Record: 7-6 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 8 Michigan

Penn State faced its own set of COVID postponements recently, derailing late December matchups against Towson and Iowa and an early January matchup against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions were then welcomed back by getting 106 points scored on them by Maryland. Their other two conference matchups came against Indiana and Rutgers, the latter of which they won, but they haven’t faced most Big Ten teams in the lower half of the conference they actually have a chance against. Penn State will pull off a few more conference wins behind keystone Makenna Marisa, who scored an impressive 29 points against the Terps, but it won’t move much further into the middle tier.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous Ranking: 13

Record: 7-9 (0-4 B1G)

Next Game: @ No. 8 Michigan

Of the three teams yet to win a conference game, Rutgers has arguably the most difficult schedule. The Scarlet Knights also played a close game against Purdue, only losing by two points. However, other than a three game win streak against non-conference opponents that got the Scarlet Knights through most of December, there are few positives to talk about. They don’t have a single player averaging over 10 points per game, and, unfortunately, the rest of the season won’t get much easier.

13. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous Ranking: 12

Record: 5-8 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Wisconsin

Two of Illinois’ recent conference games against Maryland and Iowa were postponed, but should they have been played, it’s likely the Illini would still not have won a conference game up to this point. Right now, they’re on the tail-end of a 21-point loss to Ohio State and are poised to face Wisconsin this weekend — one of the few matchups the Illini should be able to come out victorious in. If they don’t, well, that’s that.

14. Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 14

Record: 3-10 (0-3 B1G)

Next Game: @ Illinois

Wisconsin has two really talented players in Sydney Hilliard and Julie Pospisilova, but not much else to support them. The two are averaging 14.1 and 14.5 points per game, respectively, while the teammate closest averages just 7.5. With their 10 losses averaging double-digit margins, the Badgers are once again in the midst of a disappointing season.