Heading into the final stretch of the women’s basketball season, the race for the Big Ten is still as close as ever. The conference has come with plenty of surprises and disappointments, but everything — from the regular season title, to the tournament champions, to March Madness spots — remains completely up-for-grabs. Of course, having momentum means everything moving into this tumultuous period of the season. Looking back on the past couple of weeks of Big Ten basketball, below are the power rankings for the conference, including the unstoppable teams and those limping to the finish line.
1. No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-3, 10-1 B1G)
Ohio State might just be the hottest team in women’s basketball right now. Undefeated in the new year, the Buckeyes moved into first place in the Big Ten standings Sunday afternoon after a back-and-forth 74-69 win over 14th-ranked Indiana. Although they have had some scares away from home against lower-tier opponents in Purdue and Illinois, the Bucks have still managed to escape their trap games, and win both of their top-10 Big Ten matchups. If the duo of Jacy Sheldon and Cotie McMahon continue to shine, OSU is likely to keep rolling.
2. No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes (21-2, 10-1 B1G)
Not seeing Iowa at the top of the Big Ten might shock some people. But it is definitely not cause for alarm — rather, it should tell you just how good this conference is this season. Iowa, recently ranked No. 2 in the newest AP poll, rebounded strongly following a heartbreaking loss in Columbus to the Buckeyes in mid-January. Since then, the Hawkeyes have picked up three wins — against Nebraska, Northwestern and Maryland — and look sharper than ever. With Caitlin Clark just 66 points away from breaking the all-time NCAA women’s scoring record, the Hawkeyes are more determined than ever to prove they belong in the conversation for the best team in the nation.
3. No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers (18-3, 9-2 B1G)
Indiana has been very unlucky this year, in that it is a top-10 caliber team but sees itself in the same conference as two title contenders. In fact, the Hoosiers’ only two Big Ten losses this season have come against Ohio State and Iowa. Outside of those two games, though, IU has made a convincing effort to prove its top-15 ranking. Indiana earned blowout wins against Michigan and Nebraska, and added a double-digit one at Maryland, for its first win ever in College Park.
4. Michigan State Spartans (17-5, 7-4 B1G)
Michigan State has been electric recently, winning each of its last four games by 10 or more points. Led by senior guard Julia Ayrault — averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds in that frame — the Spartans have seemed to come into their own and find their groove more than ever heading into a very tough stretch to finish their regular season. Big-time tests against Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan will be the Spartans’ biggest opportunities to come away with another signature win before tournament season.
5. Penn State Nittany Lions (16-6, 7-4 B1G)
Up until its 80-75 loss to Michigan last Saturday, Penn State looked nearly unstoppable. The Nittany Lions pulled off a whopping six wins in a row, all of which came by double digits. The return of senior guard Ashley Owusu has, in large part, attributed to this new-look Penn State offense. Since returning on Jan. 14, Owusu has averaged 18.3 points per game on 50% shooting. The squad’s overall defensive output has similarly shot up as a result: with Owusu, the Nittany Lions are giving up just 72.1 points a game, compared to 89 in all other Big Ten games.
6. Michigan Wolverines (15-9, 6-6 B1G)
By contrast, Michigan has struggled as of late: UM has dropped three of its last four, mainly due to a plaguing inability to score (in those losses, it averaged just 61.3 points, compared to a season average of 69.3). Suddenly, the Wolverines find themselves in seventh in the Big Ten, and in need of a serious turnaround to secure a double-bye come Big Ten Tournament time. Still, though, this team has shown its capability as a top squad in the conference with wins against OSU and Penn State, and is very capable of returning to peak form.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (15-8, 7-5 B1G)
Nebraska’s current Big Ten record reflects well how its season has gone: in a single phrase, it has been very back-and-forth. The Huskers are an even 3-3 in their last six matchups, flexing their muscle in a season sweep of Michigan, but dropping a winnable one to struggling Rutgers. Facing Iowa and Ohio State in their next two games, players like leading scorer Alexis Markowski (16.5 points per game) will need to step up more than ever for Nebraska to fully capitalize on huge upset opportunities.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-11, 4-7 B1G)
On the whole, Illinois’ season hasn’t exactly gone as planned: ranked 23rd in the nation to begin the season, the Fighting Illini suffered close loss after close loss, and by mid-January were two games under .500. But a couple of hard-fought wins against Minnesota and Michigan recently have salvaged hopes of an admirable end to the year for a team originally expecting much more.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-8, 4-7 B1G)
Minnesota, which was looking solid for a majority of its season backed by five double-digit scorers, fell apart completely when it lost leading scorer Mara Braun (17.8 PPG) on Jan. 29 to a foot injury which will sideline her “indefinitely,” per the Associated Press. Her impact has been severely missed: in fact, the Gophers have yet to win a game since she was ruled out, going 0-4 in her absence and sliding significantly in the competitive Big Ten standings. Not much else can be said other than that Minnesota needs to stop the bleeding, and quickly, while the Gophers still look good on paper.
10. Maryland Terrapins (13-10, 5-7)
Much like Illinois, Maryland is a team whose season was quickly chalked up to a failure. Ranked 14th preseason, a trio of top-25 losses took the Terps out of the poll, and a tough conference schedule didn’t make things easier. Recently, the Terrapins experienced a four-game skid which pushed them all the way to eighth place in the Big Ten. A recent win over Rutgers broke that streak, but all Maryland can hope for right now is that the taste of winning stays with it for longer than one game, which it has yet to in Big Ten play.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (8-14, 3-8 B1G)
Northwestern has struggled this season, to say the least. Before this past Sunday, the ‘Cats had lost their last five, and were showing few signs of fight against tougher opponents like IU and Iowa. But a glimmer of hope arrived Sunday afternoon in the form of a 69-43 romping of Wisconsin in what can be considered easily the ‘Cats’ most dominant win of the season, and included a perfect 9-of-9 shooting game from sophomore guard Caroline Lau. Though it’s unlikely the Wildcats will make a sudden push into the top tier of the conference, their remaining slate includes a lot of winnable games, which could allow them to find some momentum nearing the season’s end.
12. Wisconsin Badgers (10-11, 3-8 B1G)
Wisconsin simply hasn’t been able to dominate this season in any capacity. The Badgers have been unable to string together a win streak of more than three — even then, that stretch only came at the beginning of the season — and have struggled immensely to keep up with the stronger Big Ten opponents they’ve faced. Outside of forward Serah Williams, the team has been lackluster scoring-wise, getting to the basket at the lowest rate in the entire conference at just 62.7 points per game. For now, the Badgers at the very least know where their areas of improvement lie.
13. Purdue Boilermakers (10-12, 3-8 B1G)
Simply put, the Boilermaker women have been unable to close out their games down the stretch. In the new year, Purdue has managed only two wins, separated by a long seven-game losing streak. PU kept things close against ranked opponents like Indiana and Ohio State, but couldn’t finish either game to earn massive upsets. A recent win to a well-rounded Illinois team provides some relief, at least.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-18, 1-11 B1G)
There are few teams in the Power Five who have performed poorer than the Scarlet Knights. On the losing end of 13 of their last 14 games, Rutgers has had a hard time adjusting to the tough, gritty nature of its conference this season. A bright spot, though, is that the team recently picked up its first conference win of the season in an upset over Nebraska, grinding out a nail-biting one-point win on Feb. 3.