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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings, second edition

Winning streaks are shaking up the conference.

The Big Ten conference schedule is in full swing, with each team except for NU having played at least three conference games as of this writing. And while there is a clear number one in this conference, the rest of the pack is a bit of a muddle right now. With four teams currently on winning streaks of three games or longer, second place (and perhaps even first place if Ohio State stumbles) is still very much up for grabs. As for Northwestern, an 0-2 start against Big Ten opponents doesn’t bode well, but both of those teams were highly ranked, so the ‘Cats could easily bounce back.

1. No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 15-0 (4-0 B1G)

Next game: @ Minnesota

Last ranking: 1

If there were any doubts that the Buckeyes belonged atop the Big Ten, they were silenced with a convincing 66-57 win over No. 14 Michigan. Ohio State flexed its defensive muscle, forcing 24 Wolverine turnovers and holding Michigan to just 11% shooting from beyond the arc. Considering that Ohio State won’t face another ranked team until Iowa on January 23, it’s very reasonable to assume that the Buckeyes will still be unblemished when the Hawkeyes come to town.

2. Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 13-2 (3-1 B1G)

Next game: vs. Northwestern

Last ranking: 7

I know, I know, it’s probably not a great idea to put an unranked team at number two in my rankings, but if there’s one team that deserves it, it’s Illinois. They’re currently riding a six-game winning streak, including a defeat of No. 12 Iowa. With a high-powered offense that’s currently 21st in the country at 80.4 points per game, Illinois would be a tough out for any team in the conference.

3. No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 13-1 (3-1 B1G)

Next game: @ Northwestern

Last ranking: 2

While some may claim that Indiana still deserves the number two spot in these rankings, there’s an argument that they should drop even further. Following a loss to Michigan State in which the Hoosiers did not lead in the second half, it took extra basketball for them to put away a stingy Nebraska team. When considering that they also struggled to take down both Illinois and Penn State, the 13-1 record suddenly looks a lot murkier. With seven ranked opponents on the docket from January to March, the Hoosiers better hope the ball continues to bounce their way, or they could be in trouble.

4. No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 11-4 (3-1 B1G)

Next game: @ Michigan

Last ranking: 3

The Hawkeyes’ six-game winning streak finally came to an end on New Year’s Day when they fell to Illinois, but Iowa is still very much a national contender. Despite the loss, Hawkeye star Caitlin Clark scored 32 points, marking the fourth time this year she’s broken the 30-point barrier. Clark is currently third in the nation at 26.8 points per game, but her scoring prowess will be tested against the conference’s second best scoring defense...

5. No. 14 Michigan Wolverines

Record: 12-2 (2-1 B1G)

Next game: vs. Iowa

Last ranking: 4

One of the best shooting teams in the nation right now at 48%, Michigan has been spectacular this year, with only two of their wins decided by single digits — and one of those wins was against current No. 13 North Carolina. However, when the Wolverines go cold, like they did against Ohio State and Toledo, they’re extremely vulnerable. The turnover issues (17.4 per game) also aren't ideal, as is the fact that their three-point shooting is in the bottom five in the conference. If the Wolverines are able to fix those issues, they’ll be a dangerous squad, but considering the season is almost halfway over, Michigan may have already hit their ceiling.

6. No. 16 Maryland Terrapins

Record: 11-3 (2-1 B1G)

Next game: @ Rutgers

Last ranking: 6

Maryland just might have figured out their offense. It took a while, and the 90-67 loss to Nebraska back on December 4 remains a glaring black mark on the Terps’ record. However, that game was clearly the exception and not the rule, as Maryland has now put up 80+ points in three straight games, all victories. With three guards averaging better than 14 points per game, the Terrapins are going to be tough to stop for any Big Ten defense.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 10-5 (2-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Rutgers

Last ranking: 5

This ranking would have looked a lot different four days ago. On December 28, the Huskers had won eight of their last nine and had momentum heading into a home game against Michigan. Instead of seizing that momentum, Nebraska scored five points in the opening frame en route to a 17-point loss. They were able to take Indiana into overtime three days later, but failed to score at all in the extra period. Now, the Cornhuskers are a talented enough team that they probably deserve to be ranked in the next AP poll (they received 10 votes in the Dec. 25 edition). However, these last two games have made it clear where Nebraska stands in the Big Ten pecking order.

8. Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 11-3 (2-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Penn State

Last ranking: 8

Purdue is winning games for a simple reason. The Boilermakers can shoot the lights out of the ball, slotting in just behind Michigan at 13th in the nation. They can also shoot pretty well from distance, making just over 34% of their attempts as a team so far this year. Of their three losses this year, two were by just one possession, and the other game involved Iowa hitting 11 threes. The biggest issue for Purdue is rebounding (currently 174th in the nation), but if they’re able to figure that out, they just might be able to sneak into March Madness.

9. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 10-4 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Michigan

Last ranking: 10

Penn State has been perhaps the streakiest team in the Big Ten this year. After opening the season 6-0, the Nittany Lions dropped three straight games, before rebounding by winning three of their last four. The biggest issue so far has been the defense, which is currently 197th in the nation at 64.3 points given up per game. All of their losses have involved numerous defensive lapses, and considering the amount of offensive talent in the conference, that’s a major problem as Big Ten play intensifies.

10. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 9-5 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Northwestern

Last ranking: 9

Sorry, I take back what I said about Penn State. It’s the Spartans that hold the title of streakiest in the Big Ten. Just look at their season so far: six straight wins, then five straight losses, and now three straight wins, including a shocking defeat of No. 4 Indiana. The 16th-best offense in the country at 81.9 points per game has shown that they can play with the big dogs, but the upset of Indiana feels far more like an aberration than a sign of things to come.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 8-6 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: vs. Ohio State

Last ranking: 11

Whether or not Minnesota has discovered how to play defense remains a question. The Golden Gophers are currently giving up 71.1 points per game, good for 299th in the nation, and have been absolutely torched by Iowa, Kentucky, and Maryland. Considering that Minnesota is very good at rebounding and forcing turnovers, the defensive issues remain puzzling. One potential cause: the Golden Gophers commit almost 17 turnovers per game.

12. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 6-6 (0-2 B1G)

Next game: vs. Michigan State

Last ranking: 12

Don’t let the narrow wins over UIC and Air Force fool you. This Northwestern team is very much a group that is struggling, and if you ignore their games against competition outside the NET top 150, you’ll see what I mean. The ‘Cats kept things respectable against Duke and Michigan, but allowing DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow to slap up an ungodly 45-point, 17-rebound, five-steal performance in Welsh-Ryan Arena fully exposed the issues this team is dealing with. Courtney Shaw is not the same player she was last year, and it shows in Northwestern’s -1.2 rebound margin. Caileigh Walsh has been the team’s best all-around player so far and leads the team in points and blocks, but the very fact that the Wildcats’ best player is averaging just 12.8 points per game says a lot about the team.

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 6-9 (0-3 B1G)

Next game: vs. Maryland

Last ranking: 13

Rutgers is averaging 64.6 points per game. In a conference filled with offensive firepower, the Scarlet Knights are currently putting up that mark, good for 198th in the nation and dead last in the Big Ten. It also doesn't help that the defense is giving up 72.7 points per game. With Big Ten play now in full swing, there’s a real possibility Rutgers might not win again until February 5, when they play...

14. Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 4-11 (0-4 B1G)

Next game: vs. Minnesota

Last ranking: 14

The last win for Wisconsin was against St. Thomas (MN), a team currently 216th in the NET rankings. Speaking of the NET rankings, Wisconsin is currently the second-worst power conference team in them (the true dishonor goes to Rutgers). So why does Wisconsin bring up the rear here? Simple. Without including the St. Thomas victory, the Badgers haven’t won a game since November 16. Will the new year bring a change of fortune? Wisconsin fans can only hope.