As we are nearing the midway point of conference play, the Big Ten has six AP Top 25 teams, five of which are in the top-15. The Big Ten is as primed as ever to reach the Final Four and bring home a championship in Dallas this season, which would be the first the conference has won this century. Here is how the conference looks less than two months out from the madness:
The following rankings are as on Jan. 17, 2023 and according to ESPN’s Bracketology.
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
Projection: One seed
The unquestionable top team in the conference and arguably in the country, the Buckeyes are for real. In a vastly superior Big Ten compared to a year ago, the defending Co-Big Ten Champions have yet to lose. They boast a 19-0 record that includes non-conference wins against No. 5 Tennessee, No. 18 Louisville and No. 16 Oregon, none of which were particularly close. It is no surprise that the Buckeyes are a projected one-seed.
No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers
Projection: One seed
If it wasn’t for their slip up in East Lansing, the Hoosiers may have taken the top spot. Still, they have a top big in the nation in senior Mackenzie Holmes, and have shooters all around her. Regardless of the results in their next two (against the Buckeyes and Wolverines, respectively), the Hoosiers look built for the tournament. The Hoosiers resume speaks for itself, which makes their one-seed bracket projection far from shocking.
No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes
Projection: Three seed
Throughout history, not being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the tournament has been almost proven to be a recipe to not reach the Final Four, but the Hawkeyes have the makings to do so if they keep they remain as a three-seed. The best player in the country, Caitlin Clark, is the prime reason why. The Hawkeyes have fallen only one time so far in conference play, and although they don’t have the caliber of forwards that the two teams above do, Clark alone makes Iowa scary in a single-elimination tournament.
No. 14 Michigan Wolverines
Projection: Three seed
Even after losing Naz Hillmon from their Elite Eight run a year ago, the Wolverines are a dangerous team, largely due to the jump Emily Kiser has made in her senior season. They have wins on the road at No. 6 North Carolina and against No. 21 Baylor, and are still a contender to win the conference. That being said, the Wolverines are extremely top-heavy with Kiser, Laila Phelia and Leigha Brown, who on average score 49.5 of Michigan’s 76.5 points per game. The lack of contribution outside of their stars will hold the Wolverines back from cutting down the nets, but they will be dancing once again and their three-seed projection all but guarantees that.
No. 11 Maryland Terrapins
Projection: Four seed
Despite being ranked above the Wolverines in the AP poll, the Terrapins are a lower seed. Still, Maryland holds arguably the most impressive win by a Big Ten team this season, as it went to South Bend and defeated No. 7 Notre Dame. Similar to Michigan, though, Maryland is top-heavy and even more inconsistent than the Wolverines, making it difficult to see the Terps making it past the second weekend, if that.
No. 21 Illinois Fighting Illini
Projection: Eight seed
Beginning the year unranked and opening the season with a loss to a mediocre Delaware team, the Fighting Illini have had quite the turnaround. Illinois has only one loss with a margin of more than six points, and has an elite guard trio of Makira Cook, Adalia McKenzie and Genesis Bryant. However, they don’t have a ranked win on their resume, making their eight-seed projection all the more understandable.
On the Right Side of the Bubble
Projection: 11 seed
The Cornhuskers are the only team listed on the bubble according to bracketology, with their last four in projection having them sneak in as an 11-seed. Although a tournament berth is not something that should be taken lightly, their preseason No. 22 ranking makes it hard not to see their .500 conference record as a bit disappointing. Additionally, six of their final 10 are against ranked opponents, so the Huskers could easily move up or fall out of the Big Dance entirely.
Hope is Not Lost
Despite not being listed on bracketology, the Boilermakers have a shot at going dancing if they finish the season on a high note. Only four of their final ten games are against current tournament teams, two of which are against their in-state rival Hoosiers. If they can pull off an upset or two and handle business against some lesser conference foes, they could finish the year above .500 in the Big Ten, and be right in the tournament discussion come Selection Sunday.
Outside Looking in:
Northwestern, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota