These Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings feel like the calm before the storm, as they are being published two days before arguably the biggest conference matchup of the season between No. 3 Iowa and No. 14 Indiana on Saturday. That being said, there was still a lot of action this past week, which included a pair of dominant Indiana wins, bad Michigan losses and Caitlin Clark triple-doubles. There continues to be movement within the middle and bottom of these conference rankings (which seem to be very much Iowa and Indiana vs. everyone else), which are shown below in this week’s edition of Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings.
1. No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 16-1 (5-0 B1G)
Next Game: vs. No. 14 Indiana on Jan. 13
Last Ranking: 1
No biggie: in the past week, senior guard Clark played two road games, helped sell out Rutgers’ and Purdue’s arenas and threw down back-to-back triple-doubles. Superstar aside though, Iowa looked like a more complete team (as it tends to do against weaker opponents), and a lot of that is due to graduate student guard Gabbie Marshall being on a three-pointer hot streak — she hit four from deep in the past two matches after getting no more than two threes in each of the past six games before that. She tends to be very erratic when it comes to shooting, so it will be interesting to see if her momentum continues in the future.
All eyes will be on the Hawkeyes when they take on No. 14 Indiana at home on Saturday, which might be their biggest test since facing No. 12 Kansas State back in November. It will be a battle for the ages between the only two teams undefeated in conference play.
2. No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 14-1 (5-0 B1G)
Next Game: at No. 3 Iowa on Jan. 13
Last Ranking: 2
In last week’s edition of our Big Ten power rankings, I mentioned that Indiana was cutting it too close with mediocre opponents. After that, it pulled off two of its most dominant conference wins of the season, beating Michigan 80-59 at home and taking down Nebraska 91-69 in a pretty filled-up Pinnacle Bank Arena that is notoriously difficult to play in (as recent men’s basketball results have shown). The Hoosiers shot nearly 60% in both games (57.8% vs. Michigan, 60.3% at Nebraska), and notably made their first 15 shots against the Wolverines. Their matchup against Penn State was less dominant as they trailed at halftime, but ultimately they came out with a 75-67 win. And through all of this, graduate forward Mackenzie Holmes remains a force, averaging 19.6 points per game and leading the conference in field goal percentage (66.5%). Senior guard Sydney Parrish has also stepped up with back-to-back 20-point games.
If the Hoosiers can get past the bad flashbacks of last season and muscle out a win on the road at Iowa, we might see a new No. 1 team in these rankings next week. After all, they weren’t last season’s Big Ten regular-season champs for nothing.
3. No. 17 Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 11-3 (2-1 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Rutgers on Jan. 11
Last Ranking: 3
Ohio State got a nice feel-good 90-60 win against Northwestern after being upset by Michigan the week before. All five of its starters were in double figures, and senior guard Jaycee Sheldon put up a respectable 18 points on 63.6% shooting — a nice bounce-back for her after she was held to seven points against Michigan. However, the team was outrebounded by Northwestern and struggled from deep at points in the game. The Buckeyes have another cupcake matchup against Rutgers on Thursday but will undergo a major, potentially ranking-altering test against a rising Michigan State team on Sunday.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 12-3 (2-2 B1G)
Next Game: at No. 17 Ohio State on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 5
After losing a tough battle against Iowa, Michigan State came out on top in another close fight versus Maryland that was decided by just five points. Senior guard Julia Ayrault has been on a hot streak recently, notching 15+ points in each of her last four games after scoring over 15 in only two of her first 11. The Spartans received the second-most AP votes out of all the unranked teams this week and could find themselves in the Top 25 with a win against a very volatile No. 17 Ohio State team. MSU isn't ranked higher than No. 4 because the Buckeyes have put up good numbers against more ranked teams than Michigan State has, but that could obviously all change when the two teams clash.
Notably, the Spartans are ranked 14th in the NET rankings, only behind Iowa and Indiana when it comes to Big Ten teams.
5. Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 10-5 (1-3 B1G)
Next Game: at Rutgers on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 6
Penn State, welcome to the “Almost beat Indiana but couldn’t quite pull it off” club, which already includes the likes of Rutgers and Illinois. The Nittany Lions held the Hoosiers to 39% shooting in the first half, which was pretty impressive considering how well the team had shot in previous games, but then were outscored 41-28 in the second half to come out with a defeat. Despite a poor conference record, Penn State hasn’t had a “bad” loss, with its only three defeats being close games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana. That’s why PSU remains in the top half of these rankings, and it should improve its record after playing Rutgers (which is ranked last on this list) on Sunday.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 11-4 (3-1 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Illinois on Jan. 11
Last Ranking: 7
Nebraska’s record changed in expected fashion this past week, leading and then winning (though it did get very close at some points) against a bottom-tier Wisconsin team but then suffering a lopsided loss to a ranked Indiana that completely outperformed the Cornhuskers in offensive efficiency. For these reasons, putting Nebraska in the middle of the pack sounds just about right.
7. Maryland Terrapins
Record: 10-5 (2-2 B1G)
Next Game: vs. No. 17 Ohio State on Jan. 17
Last Ranking: 8
Junior guard Shyanne Sellers has been carrying a massive load for Maryland, as she’s averaging 5.4 more points and 7.1 more minutes per game than any of her teammates. In addition, she also leads the team in quite literally every stat category (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). She’s going to need more support, or else the Terrapins will continue falling lower and lower as the season goes on. Really the only reason why this team is getting moved up is because Michigan is being moved down — there’s nothing about it that’s screaming positive momentum right now.
It’s also worth noting that Maryland’s home game against Purdue this past Sunday was postponed indefinitely because of an Xfinity Center roof leak, so that’s something...
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 12-3 (2-2 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Nebraska on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 9
Minnesota pulled off its most dominant victory of the season this past week, beating Michigan 82-66. The Golden Gophers put up a very impressive 53.6% three-point shooting percentage, and sophomore forward Mallory Heyer accrued a season-high 21 points. This win pulls the team up from where it was last week, but losing to a Maryland squad that is currently 2-2 in the conference (and hasn’t even played Iowa, Indiana or Ohio State yet) still stings.
9. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 11-5 (2-2 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Wisconsin on Jan. 13
Last Ranking: 9
Michigan was the “hot” team last week after upsetting Ohio State, but that momentum fizzled out when UM was first dominated by Indiana and then got beaten by double digits against Minnesota. It also doesn’t help that senior guard Elissa Brett, the team’s leader in rebounds per game (4.0) and fourth-highest scorer (8.3 points per game) got injured at the end of the fourth quarter and had to leave the court in a wheelchair. That injury seemed to be the catalyst for the Wolverines’ loss to the Golden Gophers, as the game was close throughout but began to get lopsided in the fourth quarter.
In both matches, Michigan had a significantly worse three-point shooting percentage than its opponent. Against Indiana, it shot 11.1% from deep compared to the Hoosiers’ 47.4%, and then was 38.6% from the same range versus Minnesota compared to the Gophers’ 53.6%.
10. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 9-6 (2-2 B1G)
Next Game: at Penn State on Jan. 18
Last Ranking: 10
Despite losing to Iowa by 25 points, Purdue played better than it looked on Wednesday night. The Boilermakers were consistently rough on defense and forced 15 turnovers on Iowa (by contrast, Iowa only forced 11 on them), but couldn’t capitalize on several offensive opportunities. As stated above, a roof leak meant that Iowa was the only action that Purdue saw in the past week; PU will have to wait until next Thursday to play another game. For now, the Boilermakers will remain in a similar position compared to last week.
11. Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 7-9 (1-2 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Illinois on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 13
Northwestern’s last two games proved the one thing that we’ve been screaming about all season: turnovers are its main problem, and often the deciding factor between a win and a loss. Against Ohio State, it committed 28 turnovers (tied for its second-highest total of the season) and lost by 30. When it beat Wisconsin 74-69, it only committed 10. Yes, Wisconsin is a worse team than Ohio State, but it’s clear that reducing turnovers helps. By transitive property, since the Badgers beat the Fighting Illini, the Wildcats should be favored against Illinois — a win against their in-state rivals would be a great way to fully escape from the Big Ten trenches that they have been stuck in for over a year.
Head coach Joe McKeown has been out since Jan. 2 and missed Northwestern’s last three games with an illness, and his timeline for return is still questionable.
12. Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 8-6 (1-4 B1G)
Next Game: at Michigan on Jan. 13
Last Ranking: 12
Wisconsin earned a win and took two losses this week, falling to Northwestern and Nebraska but beating Illinois. The Badgers haven’t been playing super poorly and have good players in sophomore forward Serah Williams and sophomore guard Ronnie Porter (who lead the Big Ten in blocks and steals per game, respectively), but keep landing on the short end of the stick — four of their six losses have been decided by 12 points or fewer.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 6-7 (0-3 B1G)
Next Game: at Northwestern on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 11
Wisconsin’s win against Illinois was a weird game, considering that the Fighting Illini made five more shots and had eight fewer turnovers than the Badgers. Essentially, Wisconsin won this game because it made more baskets than Illinois from deep. Speaking of that, Illinois is also averaging the fewest threes per game (5.2) in the conference. All that said, UIUC being one of two winless teams in the Big Ten is not ideal, and its rivalry matchup against Northwestern next Sunday is a must-win so it won’t sink to the lowest tier of the conference.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 6-11 (0-4 B1G)
Next Game: vs. Penn State on Jan. 14
Last Ranking: 14
Rutgers’ only game this past week was a blowout 103-67 loss to Iowa, where it allowed the most points that it’s yielded all season. The Hawkeyes were heavily favored to beat the Scarlet Knights in this matchup, but it doesn’t help the latter team’s cause either, as they remain at the bottom of these rankings. Sophomore guard and leading team scorer Kaylene Smikle has missed the last two games, and her availability for future matchups is unknown, so Rutgers could be in for a rough stretch.