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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings: Third edition

Conference play is in full swing now.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 20 Women’s Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The biggest highlight of Big Ten women’s basketball play this past week was Iowa senior guard Caitlin Clark’s game-winning three-pointer against Michigan State, but there was still plenty of other conference action that occurred, such as Michigan’s upset over No. 20 Ohio State. Follow along here for Inside NU’s latest rendition of Big Ten power rankings.

1. No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 14-1 (3-0 B1G)

Next Game: at Rutgers on Jan. 5

Last Ranking: 1

Iowa had a mixed bag of performances in the past week. The Hawkeyes’ win against Minnesota was arguably their best overall team performance of the season, as they shot an impressive 77.4% from the 2-point range and put up 94 points against a Gopher defense that had previously held their opponents to an average of 54.5 points per game. However, they struggled against Michigan State in a turnover-fest of a game, scraping by with a 76-73 win due to Clark’s game-winning shot.

It’s only fair to keep Iowa in the No. 1 slot now, as it technically holds the best record in the conference, has arguably the best player in the nation with Clark and is the only Big Ten team with multiple wins over currently ranked opponents. That being said, this team tends to rely excessively on Clark against tougher competition. Players like sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke and graduate student guard Kate Martin have stepped up from time to time, but in close games, Clark is often the one scoring nearly half of the team’s points. A team with success dependent on one player can be very vulnerable, and future games against other top Big Ten teams like Indiana and Ohio State will be a test to see if the Hawkeyes can remain at the top.

2. No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 11-1 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan on Jan. 4

Last Ranking: 3

Indiana began its conference slate with wins by single digits, most recently defeating Illinois 77-71. Senior forward Mackenzie Holmes dropped a 30-piece on 71.4% shooting and 14 shots, but the Hoosiers were cutting it close (especially later in the game) against an unranked 6-6 team. A win is a win though, and Indiana still hasn’t lost since it played No. 8 Stanford. IU hasn’t had a major statement win yet this season and has a relatively weak strength of schedule compared to some other teams in the conference, but nothing is proving that it deserves to be dropped down.

3. No. 20 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 10-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Northwestern on Jan. 5

Last Ranking: 2

Since we did our last ranking, Ohio State suffered its first “bad” loss of the season in terms of quality, getting upset by an unranked Michigan team. Senior guard Jaycee Sheldon, who leads the team with an average of 18.2 points per game, was held to an uncharacteristic seven points on 33.3% shooting against the Wolverines. The Buckeyes should bounce back in their next matchup against Northwestern, which they are heavily expected to win, but they won’t get a chance to fully redeem themselves until they face Iowa on Jan. 21.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Record: 11-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: at Indiana on Jan. 4

Last Ranking: 9

Michigan proved that it was worthy of being near the top of Big Ten rankings when it upset No. 20 Ohio State 69-60, continuing its in-conference momentum after blowing out Illinois 80-48 a few weeks ago. The Wolverine defense is allowing an average of 55.2 points per game, which is the lowest in the conference.

Lopsided non-conference losses against teams like Toledo and Florida keep Michigan from being ranked higher, but a win against No. 14 Indiana (which has been cutting it close in conference play) on Thursday could change the team’s narrative.

5. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 11-3 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Maryland on Jan. 9

Last Ranking: 8

After its 98-87 win against Penn State on Dec. 30, Michigan State received votes in the AP Top 25 poll. The Spartans will likely get more votes following their performance against Iowa; despite losing 76-73, they put on a showcase that made the No. 4 team in the country struggle. Largely due to the pressure put on her by the Michigan State defense, Clark had the fourth-worst field goal percentage of her season against the Spartans (41.9%), with two of her other worse performances efficiency-wise both being against Kansas State.

It’s worth noting that Michigan State is currently ranked first in the Big Ten for scoring, averaging 91.1 points per game.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 10-4 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: at Indiana on Jan. 10

Last Ranking: 4

After suffering a fourth loss of the season at the hands of Michigan State, Penn State moves down a few spots. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Spartans 37-30 and had a better field goal percentage, but they couldn’t match the Spartan defense that forced 20 turnovers on them. They later bounced back to dominate Northwestern 95-55, but that was anticipated considering that the Wildcats are at the bottom of the conference.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 10-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: at Wisconsin on Jan. 4

Last Ranking: 7

Maryland isn’t the team that people thought it was going to be at the beginning of the season, but Nebraska getting an 87-81 win over the Terrapins should still give it a huge momentum boost. That loss against an unranked Kansas still stings, but it stings less now. Junior center Alexis Markowski has been great in the paint, leading the Big Ten with 9.8 rebounds per game and averaging 17.6 points to lead her team.

The Cornhuskers will face a big test on Jan. 7 against Indiana on Sunday, in a game that could determine whether they belong in the upper echelon of the conference or not.

8. Maryland Terrapins

Record: 9-4 (2-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Michigan State on Jan. 9

Ranking: 5

In past years, Maryland has consistently been in the fight for the conference’s top spot. However, the Terrapins haven’t been the same this year and dropped out of the AP Top 25 altogether. Losing to Nebraska doesn’t help their cause, but bouncing back to beat Minnesota afterward should keep them in the middle tier of the Big Ten.

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 11-3 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: at Michigan on Jan. 9

Last Ranking: 6

Minnesota started the season with an 11-1 run but then proceeded to lose its last two games since we published our last rankings. The Golden Gophers couldn’t get things going against Iowa, and then later on suffered a 72-64 loss against Maryland. Despite struggling and going 4-for-16 against the Hawkeyes, sophomore guard Mara Braun remains the second-highest scorer in the Big Ten, averaging 19.9 points per game.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 9-5 (2-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Maryland on Jan. 6

Last Ranking: 11

Purdue resumed Big Ten play with a statement 89-50 win against Wisconsin, a game where the team’s entire starting five put up double figures and completely dominated their opponents. The Boilermakers’ next matchup versus Rutgers was a whole other story, as they maintained a consistent lead over the Scarlet Knights for the majority of the game before almost letting up in the fourth quarter (and committing four of its 10 total turnovers in this quarter) before winning 77-76. Yet a win is a win, and Purdue got two more since the last time we ranked, so they deserve the promotion.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 6-6 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Wisconsin on Jan. 7

Last Ranking: 12

It doesn’t have any conference wins so far, but it’s hard to disagree that Illinois giving a ranked Indiana team a run for its money (and even leading the Hoosiers at one point in the game) in a packed Assembly Hall was impressive and the best the team has looked this season against a competitive opponent. Senior guard Makira Cook led the team that game, putting up a season-high 24 points on 50% shooting.

The Fighting Illini’s performance against Indiana convinced me to move them one spot up, but it’s not enough to make up for the team’s earlier mishaps (*cough*...Michigan). Also, it doesn’t help that Indiana has had close battles with several bottom-tier Big Ten teams already this season, so Illinois isn’t unique in that regard.

12. Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 7-5 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Nebraska on Jan. 4

Last Ranking: 10

While Wisconsin showed some promise when it kept things close for two quarters against Iowa and won its next two matches after that, its massive loss to Purdue takes the team down a few spots in these rankings. Sophomore forward Serah Williams remains a bright spot on defense, leading the Big Ten in blocks per game (2.9) while averaging 16.1 points per game.

13. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 6-8 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 20 Ohio State on Jan. 5

Last Ranking: 14

Northwestern showed some signs of life with a three-game win streak in late December, which included its first Big Ten win of the season against Rutgers — where the Wildcats pulled off a gritty comeback win in the fourth quarter. However, all that momentum was killed after a blowout loss to Penn State on Tuesday, where the Wildcats had a whopping 28 turnovers compared to the Nittany Lions’ 12. If Northwestern plays the way it did against Penn State when it faces a ranked Ohio State team, things could get ugly.

Notably, sophomore Caroline Lau is second in the Big Ten for assists per game (6.4), ranked only behind Clark.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 6-10 (0-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 4 Iowa on Jan. 5

Last Ranking: 13

Northwestern and Rutgers have been the two worst-performing teams in the Big Ten this season, and they settled their fight to not be in last place this past Saturday when Northwestern beat Rutgers 77-70 in a close battle where the Scarlet Knights were hurt by foul trouble. Due to this, it’s Rutgers which takes the bottom-most spot in this week’s rendition of the power rankings.

Despite having bad non-conference losses, the Scarlet Knights have kept things close in conference play — each of their three Big Ten losses has been decided by fewer than 10 points. In fact, after losing to Northwestern, RU nearly got a comeback win on the road against Purdue, but junior Destiny Adams missed a layup that would have won her team the game. If Rutgers wins a conference matchup, then there might be good reason to bump it up a place. But for now, it remains in last.