Women’s Basketball Big Ten Power Rankings: Exhibition Week
Overreaction time? Because of its nature, there’s obviously not much to take from exhibition week. Teams give a glimpse of what their rotation might look like, and some initial looks from the key players. But a meaningless game against a lower-division opponent doesn’t reveal too much.
Because of that, it would be a mistake to move anyone around too much after the first week. Instead, we’re going to spice up this column by adding bold predictions. Specifically, one season-long prediction for each team.
A quick note on the bold predictions: I clearly can’t expect for all of them to be right. In fact, some of them are contradictory. My goal is to suggest ideas that have maybe a 10 percent chance of happening that someone else might give no chance. So, if I hit on two or more of these, and come close on some others, I’d consider myself successful.
1. Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 1)
Maryland was the only team with not one, but two exhibition games. In the second one, they scored 127 points against Clarion and won by 86. This team is going to be very good. In both games, Maryland started three starters from last year, alongside double-digit scorer Brianna Fraser, and freshman point guard Taylor Mikesell.
Bold Prediction: Shakira Austin wins Big Ten Player of the Year
Austin is the real deal. The fourth-ranked recruit scored 29 points off the bench in the second exhibition game on 12-13 shooting. The biggest question may just be playing time for the six-foot-five-inch forward. She’s certainly going to make an immediate impact.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 2)
The Hawkeyes actually don’t play their exhibition until Tuesday night, after the regular season already tips off for other teams. The big news this week for Iowa was guard Kathleen Doyle breaking her hand in practice. Doyle is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, which will hurt Iowa in non-conference play, but she will hopefully be healthy when conference games come around.
Bold Prediction: Iowa reaches the Final Four for the first time since 1993
They showed flashes last year before falling in the second round of the tournament. If this team plays to its full potential, this squad will be special. Megan Gustafson always finds a way to get better, and Tania Davis returns and will contribute with great shooting and ball handling right away.
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last week: 3)
It seems like a lot of people are sleeping on Nebraska. They weren’t ranked in the top three in either the coaches or media poll, with Michigan and Minnesota being ranked #3 in each poll, respectively. But make no mistake, this team is dangerous. They scored 94 points in their exhibition against Kearney and led 30-5 after the first quarter.
Bold Prediction: Four Nebraska players make All-Big Ten first team
Hannah Whitish was second-team last year, while Kate Cain was all-defensive and all-freshman. Both should take a step forward, and any number of other players have a chance to contribute, including Taylor Kissinger, Maddie Simon and freshman Ashlyn Veerbeek. Nebraska’s hallmark will be a very balanced attack.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 4)
The Golden Gophers don’t play an exhibition this year. Minnesota starts as the first team out of the AP Top 25, and should impress early on with strong play behind new head coach Lindsay Whalen.
Bold Prediction: Kenisha Bell averages a triple-double
Maybe this is too far, but Bell put up fantastic numbers last year: 20 points, 6.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. She’s the team leader now with Carlie Wagner graduated and overseas. Bell and Destiny Pitts are as good of a 1-2 punch as any in the Big Ten.
5. Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 5)
Michigan doubled up their exhibition opponent by a score of 84-38. But the Wolverines troublingly made less than a third of their three-point attempts, emphasizing the glaring hole left by Katelynn Flaherty. Her replacement is freshman Amy Dilk, who will feel the pressure throughout the season.
Bold Prediction: Amy Dilk leads the Big Ten in assists
Dilk dished nine assists in the exhibition game. That by itself may not be meaningful, but as Michigan’s offense will run through Hallie Thome in the post, Dilk will be sending the ball her way often.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 6)
This season’s Purdue squad is an interesting one, with three players who have a case for being the best on the team. There’s also five-star recruit Kayana Traylor, who had eight assists off the bench in the exhibition. Does Purdue need someone to step up as a true leader, or will the committee approach work? Beyond those players, does Purdue have the depth to survive the long season?
Bold Prediction: Purdue’s offense ranks in the bottom three of the conference
Last year Purdue had the third-ranked defense but the tenth-ranked offense. That may not improve with the defensive-minded Traylor running the floor. Purdue relies too much on one of their best players getting hot on a given night, and that could lead to major inconsistency on offense.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 7)
Yes, it was an exhibition game against a Division II school, and there were some jitters, but Northwestern’s offensive performance was fantastic. Three-point shooting was a huge issue for the Wildcats last year, averaging less than four per game. In the exhibition, they hit five in the first quarter. First-year Veronica Burton looked stellar. The Wildcats open the season facing an immediate test on the road against Green Bay.
Bold Prediction: Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah wins Big Ten Player of the Year
Kunaiyi-Akpanah came to Northwestern as a raw athletic talent, and every year has gone further and further to polishing her skills and feeling more comfortable on the court. She has become a rebounding menace and looks like a lock to lead the conference in rebounding and perhaps in blocks as well. If she can do just a fraction offensively of what she brings on defense, she’s in the conversation for best player in the Big Ten.
8. Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 10)
Senior Jenna Allen scored 23 points in the exhibition, but it was freshman Nia Clouden who impressed the most, with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Sparty could make a big jump this year if everything goes right, but they’ll need everyone to contribute.
Bold Prediction: Nia Clouden makes First Team All-Big Ten
This year’s Michigan State freshman class looks to have a lot of impressive players who will contribute immediately, including Clouden. An athletic scoring guard, Clouden looks to be a perfect fit for the Michigan State lineup alongside players like Allen and Taryn McCutcheon.
9. Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 9)
Don’t take too much from it, but Indiana trailed after the first quarter in their exhibition. The road will be tough for Indiana without their two best players by far from last year. Their starting lineup included a freshman and two transfers. Also, they went 1-12 from behind the arc in the game. And Jaelynn Penn apparently aggravated a sprained ankle.
Bold Prediction: Indiana finishes in the bottom two of the Big Ten
Before the Tyra Buss era, Indiana did not have a long history of success, going 1-15 in conference play as recently as 2011-12. Unless someone unexpected surprises, it could be a long season in Bloomington.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 8)
Ohio State’s starting lineup for their exhibition featured longtime Buckeye backup Makayla Waterman, a freshman from Hungary and three graduate transfers. Just 36 total minutes were played by players on the roster last year, and 30 of those were from Waterman. And they led by as little as three in the third quarter against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (no, that’s not a typo).
Bold Prediction: Ohio State enters the Big Ten tournament as a bottom-four seed, but makes the final
There’s also the chance that everything falls apart and the Buckeyes finish at the bottom of the conference. But Kevin McGuff must have seen something he liked to go after so many graduate recruits. It will take time for all the new players to learn how to play together, but by the end of the season they’ll figure something out.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 11)
Penn State is in good position to build from last year. They had a freshman in their exhibition starting lineup with six-foot-four-inch Lauren Ebo. Jaida Travascio-Green missed the exhibition game with a leg injury and does not have a timetable to return, which is troubling as she missed the team’s WNIT game.
Bold Prediction: Teniya Page leads the Big Ten in scoring
Page average 18.4 points last year and was first-team All-Big Ten. She needs to improve her efficiency from deep, she shot 33.7 percent last season, and if she can do that she will be a top-tier player and lead this team to a respectable season.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last week: 12)
Rutgers doesn’t play an exhibition this year, so there’s no initial takeaways from this team. It will be interesting to see how their rotation shakes out without Tyler Scaife, how much time is given to five-star freshman Zipporah Broughton and to graduate transfer Sierra Calhoun from Ohio State.
Bold Prediction: Rutgers doubles their number of made three-pointers from last season (4.3 per game)
Consistent shooting was what prevented Rutgers from staying at the heights they reached in non-conference play. They led the Big Ten in defense last year but were dead last in three-point shooting with just a 28.5 percent clip. That seems to be the emphasis of C. Vivian Stringer’s offseason moves. Both Broughton and Calhoun are deep scoring threats that the team lacked last year.
13. Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 13)
The Badgers beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh 79-51 in an exhibition in which their opponent used 19 different players. The Badgers shot 48 percent from the floor, but that increases to 54 percent if you take out the 3-12 performance by center Kendra Van Leeuwen. Suzanne Gilreath has been out with a foot injury.
Bold prediction: Wisconsin loses every conference game by double digits
This is a team that won just three conference games last year and now loses their best player. They didn’t add much either. Unless someone like Marsha Howard overperforms in a big way, Wisconsin is going to be at the bottom of the conference.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 14)
Illinois didn’t have an exhibition game, but it’s not hard to project their rotation as all five starters return. The biggest question is how much playing time top-100 recruit Mackenzie Blazek gets.
Bold Prediction: Illinois goes .500 or better in Big Ten play
Times are tough for the Illini, but it’s hard to see things getting worse from last year. Nobody too important graduated, the best players will improve, and they add a four-star recruit. If you squint, you can see Blazek and Alex Wittinger forming a formidable frontcourt this year. There are opportunities at the bottom of the conference to pass teams that lose their best players, and Illinois just might take advantage.