The leaves are falling, the air is getting colder every day and sunset is at 4:30 p.m. With all the glory of winter — comes women’s college basketball. Last April, 9.95 million viewers, its largest audience ever, tuned in to watch the NCAA women’s championship game, and the sport will hopefully continue the upward trend in viewership this season.
Specifically for the Big Ten, the accomplishments were endless with Iowa appearing in the national championship for the first time ever alongside superstar national player of the year Caitlyn Clark. Prior to the finals, it was the Big Ten’s first Final Four appearance as a conference since 2015. The conference made big waves throughout the tournament, especially during the Sweet 16 when No. 3 Ohio State upset No. 2 UConn.
- No. 3 Iowa
Last Year: 31-7 (15-3 B1G), Big Ten Tournament Champions, NCAA Championship Game appearance
First Game: vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
Biggest Game: vs. Ohio State, Jan. 21
Caitlyn Clark. Playing all 38 games of the season, she averaged 27.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game — having back-to-back 40-point games during March Madness. There needs no further explanation as to why Iowa can win the conference. The main thing for the Hawkeyes will be making those adjustments without Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock, both key starters that Clark relied on as roleplayers.
To live up to the hype behind this team, Clark will have to find a way to create shots in the new rotation. For the second game of their season, the Hawkeyes will have to face No. 8 Virginia Tech who upset Indiana in the tournament's second round. Will the Hawkeyes be ready for true adversity this early? After playing the Hokies, Iowa has a relatively easy non-conference schedule that should allow for plenty of time to get into a rhythm before Big Ten play.
2. No. 7 Ohio State
Last Year: 28-8 (12-6 B1G), NCAA Elite 8 appearance
First Game: vs. USC
Biggest Game: vs. Iowa, Jan. 21
Last season, the Buckeyes shocked everyone in their 19-0 start led by freshman Cotie McMahon. The forward started all 36 games, averaging 15 points over 30 minutes and still managed to hold opponents defensively. This is a team to keep your eye on to go deep in March Madness once again. With a versatile 6’4 center like Rebeka Mikulasikova who can defend, shoot behind the arc and dominate the paint, Ohio State’s defense is stellar.
No one expected this team to get to the Elite 8, let alone upset the then No. 2 UConn team that had all the ability to win the national title. However, the Buckeyes could give Iowa a run forits money during the regular season. This roster is comfortable with one another and will improve immensely with the addition of Duke transfer and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor.
3. No. 9 Indiana
Last Year: 28-4 (16-2 B1G), Big Ten Regular Season Champions, NCAA Second Round exit
Next Game: vs. Eastern Illinois
Biggest Game: vs. Tennessee, Nov. 23
During the NCAA Tournament, this team had Final Four aspirations but was quickly upset by Miami in a close second-round matchup. After this disappointing end to their season, the Hoosiers will be out for revenge this season. With a star in Mackenzie Holmes and an arsenal of guards — Sara Scalia, Sydney Parrish, Chloe Moore-McNeil and Yarden Garzon — Indiana has all the tools to win the regular season conference title.
The real question for this team regards how the Hoosiers handle Grace Berger’s absence. Holmes will have to lead the effort for this team to keep up the high-scoring numbers. Mackenzie averaged 22.3 points last season shooting 68% from the field. But without the three-point machine in Berger, who will step up?
4. No. 14 Maryland
Last Year: 28-7 (15-3 B1G), NCAA Elite 8 appearance
First Game: vs. Harvard
Biggest Game: vs. South Carolina, Nov. 12
After a run to the Elite 8, this team could prove to be great or could quickly decline. Maryland has a tough first couple of weeks of the season, playing both UConn and South Carolina in the same week. The Terps will have to fill some serious holes in the loss of Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers, their top two scorers. The lockdown defender in Shyanne Sellers will need to step up offensively to keep this team rolling. Incoming five-star recruit Riley Nelson, a great combo guard who takes every scoring opportunity, could be a highlight reel for this team. Along with the first-year comes NC State transfer Jakia Brown-Turner whose scoring ability should help offset Miller’s loss.
5. No. 23 Illinois
Last Year: 22-10 (11-7 B1G), NCAA First Four Out
Next Game: vs. Morehead State
Biggest Game: vs. Michigan, Dec. 10
For the first time in 24 years, Illinois women’s basketball is ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Poll, coming in at No. 23. After their new head coach Shauna Green led them to one of the best seasons for a first season at a new school, this team’s benefits from familiarity. The Illini return seven of their top-eight rotation players from last season’s NCAA tournament team, including all five starters, which is something not many teams can say with such a big year for the women’s basketball transfer portal. The main questions for Illinois will be if it can keep up the momentum and defeat other great teams.
Last Year: 23-10 (11-7 B1G), NCAA Second Round Exit
Next Game: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne
Biggest Game: vs. Illinois, Dec. 10
In the last two seasons, Michigan has had major successes from legacy players like Naz Hillmon, Emily Kiser, Leigha Brown and Maddie Nolan. The Wolverines will mainly be in recovery from losing their scorers and assist makers. With many uncertainties, they only return two starters — junior guard Laila Phelia and senior forward Cameron Williams. Phelia had an amazing sophomore season — receiving All-Big Ten preseason honors after averaging 16.7 points and scoring 39 points on Indiana. Despite the fresh start for the Wolverines, they have three experienced graduate students from the transfer portal in Elissa Brett from Bowling Green, Lauren Hansen from Missouri, and Taylor Williams from Western Michigan.
Last Year: 19-11 (9-8 B1G), NCAA First Four Out
First Game: at UCLA
Biggest Game: vs. Wisconsin, Dec 30
Purdue opens their season against No.4 UCLA which will serve as a preview of what’s to come as regular conference play next season. Although the Boilermakers were in the first four out, it was their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2017 and their first winning conference play record since the 17-18 season. Purdue relied on interior scoring and their defense to win but with the loss of their top scorer, Lasha Petree, the Boilermakers will be looking for a new leader.
Last Year: 18-15 (8-10 B1G)
First Game: vs. Northwestern State
Biggest Game: at Michigan State, Dec. 9
Sunday afternoon, Nebraska got the exciting news that five-star guard Britt Prince would be committing to play next season. Looking towards this season, the Cornhuskers will not have their full roster, missing Allison Weidner for the entire season due to a knee injury. Senior guard Jaz Shelley led the team in points, assists and steals. In order for Nebraska to get out of the lull of alternating wins and losses, they need better consistency game-to-game. Although shorthanded, they still retain their leading rebounder Alexis Markowski who can also keep teams from scoring in the paint.
9. Michigan State
Last Year: 16-14 (7-10 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Oakland
Biggest Game: vs. Nebraska, Dec. 9
Honestly, the Spartans record tells a different story about how their season went. While it may seem like they’re a team that skates above .500, a majority of their losses were in overtime or a six-point differential. However, their entire system will be thrown for a loop as the program adjusts to a new coach. After 16 seasons, Suzy Merchant stepped down as head coach, and Michigan State hired Robyn Fralick to lead the upcoming season. With a coaching change and losing Matilda Ekh, the Spartans’ second-leading scorer, to the transfer portal, the Spartans will need the younger talent on the roster to step up.
Last Year: 12-20 (5-13 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Monmouth
Biggest Game: vs. Penn State, Jan. 14
Last season, Rutgers was beginning what seems to be a long rebuilding process as they learn under new head coach Coquese Washington. The team had relatively no depth with only eight players on the roster, most reliant on senior Awa Sidibe. The guard started every game and averaged 9.3 points over 33.3 minutes while shooting 42% from the field. The Scarlet Knights only had two players, Sidibe and Chyna Cornwell, start in every game. Their leading scorer, Kaylene Smikle had a great freshman year averaging 17.9 points playing in every game last season.
The offseason was crucial for this squad where they landed a true point guard — a position where they had no clear go-to — in Texas A&M transfer Mya Petticord. Another big acquisition through the transfer portal for the Scarlet Knights was Destiny Adams from UNC. With so much up in the air about potential lineups and consistency, Rutgers will need to prove themselves to beat other Big Ten teams.
Last Year: 11-20 (6-12 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Milwaukee
Biggest Game: vs. Rutgers, Jan. 27
The Badgers are a young dynamic team that can push the tempo of other teams, especially with the experience of senior Brooke Schramek. Having only two seniors on the roster, Wisconsin has many years ahead of familiarity with five freshmen coming on this year. Even if the Badgers don’t win many more games compared to last season, they have a player who could very well be a star in Serah Williams. The returning sophomore made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team last season after leading the team in points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage. The duo of Schramek and Williams could be extremely successful with some added defensive help from freshman D’Yanis Jimenez.
12. Penn State
Last Year: 14-17 (4-14 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Bucknell
Biggest Game: vs. Rutgers, Jan. 14
Despite its record, Penn State showed some promise late last season in the Big Ten tournament defeating Minnesota in the first round. After a disheartening six-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions needed the morale boost to close off the year. Coming into the new season, they will have five new players from the transfer portal that fit head coach Carolyn Kieger’s fast offensive game. This aggressive approach to the portal could either propel Penn State above all expectations or at the very least make them more competitive in conference play.
Last Year: 9-21 (2-16 B1G)
Next Game: vs. UIC
Biggest Game: vs. Georgetown, Dec. 3
I can’t bring myself to rank the ‘Cats at No. 14 even as possible as that is. There’s not much to say regarding last season after only beating two conference teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota. But with lots of returners, NU has a chance to make a turnaround this season. The best way the ‘Cats can improve upon last season is by maximizing Caroline Lau and Caileigh Walsh on offense and keeping Hailey Weaver on defense. Once the Wildcats find their niche, whether they choose to focus on scoring or locking down players, they could become much more consistent.
Last Year: 11-19 (4-14 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Long Island
Biggest Game: vs. Drake, Dec. 2
Minnesota is one of the many women’s basketball programs going through coaching changes. After the underwhelming season, head coach Lindsay Whalen stepped down and just weeks later, the Gophers announced Dawn Plitzuweit to be her replacement.
Although only winning four games, Minnesota led the Big Ten in rebounds last season, averaging 41.9 rebounds per game. Throughout the season, the Gophers had strong wins but hard losses, and Plitzuweit has a history of emphasizing defensive play to win. She joins a solid foundation with a young core of sophomores in Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer, Nia Holloway and Amaya Battle. Heyer is the perfect fit for Plitzuweit’s coaching style because of her ability to hit the glass and act as a big defensive player for the Gophers. Braun led the team in scoring 15.6 points per game while Battle led in assists and blocks. As they navigate their new era, this season will play a large role in a rebuild.