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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings, eighth edition

The stretch run is here.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

March is less than a week away, and most teams only have a game or two remaining before the conference tournament picks up. Most teams are within a game of each other in the standings, so each of these last few games could easily affect seeding. While the rankings remain mostly consistent, anything could happen to change them. March will be here in a week. Let the chaos begin.

1. No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 26-1 (16-1 B1G)

Next Game: at No. 6 Iowa

Last Ranking: 1

The Hoosiers still haven't lost in the calendar year 2023. They’re good enough to the point that they’ve earned votes for the No. 1 overall seed in the country despite South Carolina’s dominance. The Hoosiers boast the best defense in the Big Ten and its second-most prolific scorer in Mackenzie Holmes. If there’s a team that can beat them, it might be Iowa, but Indiana’s already toppled the Hawkeyes once.

2. No. 7 Maryland Terrapins

Record: 23-5 (14-3 B1G)

Next Game: at No. 16 Ohio State

Last Ranking: 3

After Maryland lost to Iowa on the road three weeks ago, it appeared impossible that the Terps would be able to finish second in the Big Ten, at least in the regular season. All they’ve done since then is reel off five straight wins, including an absolute shellacking of Iowa in a 96-68 rout. Maryland held the Hawkeyes to 20 points below their season average and Caitlin Clark to just 5-pf-13 shooting. Maryland is deep and hungry, and could be very dangerous in March.

3. No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 22-6 (14-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 2 Indiana

Last Ranking: 2

There’s a simple reason for the Hawkeyes not falling far despite the near-30-point blowout. Aside from that loss and the earlier Indiana loss, only one Big Ten team has been able to stay within nine points of Iowa in the past month. Clark is still averaging 27 points a game, and if there’s any one player in college basketball who could single-handedly take down a great team, it’s her.

4. No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 23-15 (12-5 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 7 Maryland

Last Ranking: 5

How the mighty have fallen. The Buckeyes were 19-0 and seemingly on top of the world (or at least the Big Ten) just under a month ago, but have gone 4-5 in their nine games since Jan. 23. Two of those losses — to Maryland and Indiana — were by a combined 60 points. Judging by their comfortable win over a ranked Michigan team, the Buckeyes still have the talent to make a run. But starting 19-0 may have run them out of gas.

5. No. 12 Michigan Wolverines

Record: 20-7 (10-6 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Rutgers

Last Ranking: 4

There’s no shame in relatively close losses to Indiana and Ohio State, but those games do show the ceiling of this Michigan team. Its offense (75.2 points per game) simply doesn't have the ceiling to go toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop, and that was exposed in the Wolverines’ last two games. They’ve got the shooting quality to make a run. They just need to bump the quantity up.

6. No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 20-7 (10-6 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Nebraska

Last Ranking: 7

Illinois hasn’t beaten a ranked team since New Year’s Day. The reason the Illini are up this high is because they’re 7-1 against the unranked teams. The three-point luck routinely falls the way of the Illini — they’re tops in the Big Ten in both three-point percentage and three-point percentage defense. And that’s why you can’t count them out. Back when Ohio State was undefeated, it had to climb out of a 17-point deficit to survive Illinois. Don’t be surprised if another highly ranked team has to do the same soon.

7. Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 17-8 (8-7 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Penn State

Last Ranking: 6

This team is potentially frightening. This past month alone, the Boilermakers have toppled Illinois and Ohio State, both on the road. When you take out their games against Indiana, Purdue is 6-1 since Jan. 14. Then you add back in their games against Indiana — a pair of 23-point losses — and you realize why they’re stuck at seventh. Once they beat a top-10 team, then it’s okay to be frightened of them.

8. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 13-13 (5-10 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Minnesota

Last Ranking: 11

It’s been a rough season for this squad, but MSU is showing a lot of grit down the home stretch. Two tough victories over Wisconsin and Penn State followed by a really good challenge of Maryland showed this team’s strength. DeeDee Hageman, the team’s leader in assists, has done an excellent job at running this offense and will be an important piece next year as well.

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 14-13 (6-10 B1G)

Next Game: at No. 25 Illinois

Last Ranking: 8

It got late early for the Cornhuskers, who are currently on a four-game losing streak. The team’s offensive struggles have really been exposed these past few games, with the squad cracking 40% FG shooting just once in that stretch. This team has some talent, but is still just a little too young to compete with the Big Ten’s best.

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 11-17 (5-11 B1G)

Next Game: at No. 12 Michigan

Last Ranking: 9

The worst defense in the Big Ten resides in Piscataway, and is currently giving up 74 points per game. The Scarlet Knights gave up 85 to Michigan State, 91 to Indiana, 111 to Iowa and 88 to Wisconsin. A big reason for those high totals: opponents shoot 35% from three-point land against Rutgers. The perimeter defense has to be fixed if the Knights want to move up.

11. Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 9-19 (4-12 B1G)

Next Game: at Northwestern

Last Ranking: 13

The Badgers have not been a great team this year, but there are signs of life. When they’re able to take care of the ball and not commit over 17 turnovers a game, they generally make things pretty competitive. Their blowout of Rutgers is proof of what can happen when their offense is clicking. It just needs to click more often.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 13-14 (4-12 B1G)

Next Game: at Purdue

Last Ranking: 10

It’s been a very rough stretch for Penn State, which has lost six of its last seven games. The big problem is the deficits by which they’re losing: a 22-point loss to Illinois immediately on the heels of a 12-point loss to Ohio State does not inspire confidence. The big issue is the rebounding. Penn State consistently gets outrebounded by their opponents, and until they can fix that, they won’t fix the skid they’re on.

13. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 9-18 (2-14 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Wisconsin

Last Ranking: 14

The Wildcats have finally climbed out of the basement! They’re still far from being a good team, especially with the scoring droughts they’re prone to (hello, two-point fourth quarter against Maryland). However, the Wildcats do have some things that provide hope. The team is top five in the Big Ten in both steals and blocks, and despite being undersized, has a very scrappy defense. It remains to be seen how this foundation will be built upon next year.

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 10-17 (3-13 B1G)

Next Game: at Michigan State

Last Ranking: 12

Minnesota has won just two games since Dec. 30. Those two games involved a game against Penn State where the Nittany Lions turned the ball over 22 times and a game against Nebraska where the Golden Gophers shot 51% from the field, over 10% better than their season average. Minnesota desperately needs to fix the defense, but that is unlikely to matter much for this season.