By Ari Levin
Most Big Ten teams were limited in action over Finals Week, so there are not too many games to catch up on. Instead, we are just one week away from conference games and have a chance to see how these teams really stack up.
Last week we looked at the best-case scenario for each team, so now we can think about the worst case. Because there are infinitely many things that can go wrong with injuries and the like, these scenarios will be slightly more limited than last week’s best-case projections. For all intents and purposes, think of these as the most reasonable bad scenario that could befall each team.
No. 5 Maryland Terrapins • (10-0) • Last week: 1
Maryland has a ten-day break between two games. They face Delaware to finish non-conference play, which starts with a relatively easy four-game stretch. They’ve cemented their status as the best team in the conference and found the top five of the AP poll.
Worst Case: Not hosting in the NCAA Tournament
Brenda Frese is too good a coach, and Maryland has too much talent and depth for this season to not be successful by any other Big Ten team’s standards. They’ll be in the tournament, and from there anything can happen.
No. 13 Minnesota Golden Gophers • (10-0) • Last week: 2
Minnesota gets ten days off after their 84-52 win over Coppin State on Wednesday. They should have no problem with Rhode Island on Saturday and project to finish non-conference play with a perfect record. Minnesota stays ahead of Iowa in the rankings because of their spotless season, but Iowa at full health might be favored in a head-to-head battle.
Worst Case: NCAA Tournament Bubble
The depth is concerning for Minnesota, as they’ve been playing with a shallow rotation in meaningful minutes. An injury to a key player could spell trouble. Regardless, Minnesota should be good enough to be in the tournament.
No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes • (8-2) • Last week: 3
Megan Gustafson scored 28 points and 12 rebounds in Iowa’s only game, a 83-57 win over Northern Iowa, which was enough for her fifth Big Ten Player of the Week award in six weeks. It was that kind of a week in the Big Ten.
Worst Case: NCAA First-Round Upset
Gustafson can take this team to the tournament by herself. They showed last year that a quick team with good shooting can pull an upset against them, but it’ll be tougher against this season’s improved Hawkeye group.
Michigan Wolverines • (8-3) • Last week: 5
Hallie Thome hit the deck two minutes in to Michigan’s win over Oakland. There’s no report yet, but hopefully she missed the rest of that game with Michigan cruising for precautionary measures. If she isn’t healthy for conference play, it’s a major loss for this Wolverines squad.
Worst Case: Borderline NCAA Tournament Team
Unless Thome’s injury is major, Michigan has enough pieces to be a tournament team, though their three-point shooting rate needs to step up.
No. 22 Michigan State Spartans • (9-1) • Last week: 4
The Spartans struggled in their first performance since upsetting No. 7 Oregon, needing overtime to take down Hartford. Michigan State is shooting lights-out this year, ranking first in the conference by hitting 42 percent of their three-pointers.
Worst Case: 8-10 in Big Ten Play
Michigan State can survive an injury or two. The concern is whether the shooting mark is sustainable. Through ten games, it’s held up even with some very strong opponents, so it likely will continue to be solid. If so, Michigan State continues to be a scary team.
Northwestern Wildcats • (6-3) • Last week: 7
Northwestern played 13 of the 14 players on the roster in a 97-35 smacking of Chicago State, including the career debut of Lauryn Satterwhite, who missed all of last year and the first nine games with injury but projects as the team’s new second point guard. That’s fantastic news for the Wildcats, who have struggled with injuries in non-conference play but are now ready to go. Next stop: Las Vegas.
This ranking is based on whether you think Northwestern would beat South Carolina at home, which Purdue failed to do. At full strength, the Wildcats probably pull that one out.
Worst Case: .500 record in Big Ten
There are nine games in the Wildcats’ conference schedule that should be wins, plus four more probable victories if Northwestern plays well. With Satterwhite now available, Northwestern has an overabundance of productive guards, and just enough bigs (as shown against DePaul) to stay competitive no matter what.
Purdue Boilermakers • (7-4) • Last week: 6
Purdue played great against No. 25 South Carolina in two overtimes, but ultimately it was the Gamecocks who had more to play for in the end, needing to spare themselves from yet another loss. That’s three losses in five games for Purdue, but there’s still no cause for alarm.
Worst Case: WNIT
Purdue has enough quality players to keep things going all year long. There’s enough talent to be close to the tournament, and they’ll get there easily if things go well.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • (5-5) • Last week: 8
Nebraska has started their path to getting back on track with three straight wins, the last over Denver with 96 points. They round out non-conference play with 8-3 Arkansas.
Worst Case: Bottom three of the Big Ten
If the shooting struggles of preseason first-team All-Big Ten Hannah Whitish are real, Nebraska is in trouble. She needs to pick up her game. Expectations are falling and could continue to go downhill, but there’s still time to recover.
Indiana Hoosiers • (9-0) • Last week: 9
Indiana was off last week. They have a three-game tournament in Puerto Rico that ends with a tough matchup against South Dakota. That will be the first real test for Indiana, who is perfect with their best win coming against 5-5 UCLA.
Worst Case: .500 overall record
This is more about the overall number of wins Indiana has banked. Even if they get exposed and fall apart later, they’ll still have a winning season.
Ohio State Buckeyes • (4-3) • Last week: 10
Ohio State won a game against a Power 5 team where they scored 46 points and shot 1-19 from behind the arc. This team is so incredibly different from last year’s, and not in a good way.
Worst Case: Less than 10 total wins
They’re not the worst team in the conference, as was a possibility early in the season, and they should continue to improve. But it’s also more likely than not that they finish below .500 this season and could have their worst season in over 20 years, and maybe ever. That could lead to big changes, even with a top-five recruiting class coming next year.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • (7-3) • Last week: 11
Rutgers beat LSU by forcing 25 turnovers. They have an interesting rotating cast of characters, with nobody averaging more than 11 points per game, which makes it very tough to get a sense of where Rutgers is.
Worst Case: Last in the conference
Rutgers simply does not have an impact player, and every other team in the conference does. Coach C. Vivian Stringer can make magic happen regardless, but it will be a tough job this year.
Penn State Nittany Lions • (7-4) • Last week: 12
In the win over American, the leading scorer was not Teniya Page, as Amari Carter led the team with 18 points. Page’s eight assists didn’t hurt, to be sure. Penn State is now done until conference play, with Maryland waiting right at the start.
Worst Case: Loss to every Big Ten team
Penn State gets two contests against Illinois, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Ohio State. They say it’s tough to beat a team twice. Penn State will put that to the test.
Wisconsin Badgers • (8-3) • Last week: 13
Wisconsin got to play Chicago State on Wednesday and held the Cougars under 40 points. Despite losing their top scorer last year and their best shooter to injury, Wisconsin may not be as bad as anticipated.
Worst Case: Winless in the Big Ten
Of course, they haven’t exactly been impressive against good teams. There are no Chicago States or Winthrops in the Big Ten.
Illinois Fighting Illini • (8-2) • Last week: 14
Illinois picked up another pair of wins last week, coming within one of their season total from last year. But if they don’t beat Missouri, it will have to come in a conference game.
Worst Case: Another winless Big Ten season
Illinois looks better than last year, but is that enough to make up the gap between the Illini and the next-worst team?