Merry Christmas, basketball fans! And with that, non-conference play is over. The Big Ten finished a combined 117-39 (.750 winning percentage) against the rest of the country, including some big wins. Maybe the committee will pay more attention to this conference, which has seen a lot of worthy teams left out of the tournament in recent years.
Conference play starts on Friday with Northwestern at Rutgers and Ohio State at Purdue at 3 p.m. Central. It’s going to be a ton of fun to see how these teams stack up against each other.
This week’s column features one stat for each team – provided by HerHoopStats.com – as well as a key takeaway from their season so far.
No. 4 Maryland Terrapins • (11-0) • Last week: 1
Maryland went to Delaware to face the Blue Hens for the first time since Elena Delle Donne was there, and this time Maryland got an easy win. Shakira Austin (finally) made her first career start and tied a program record with an astounding eight blocks.
13.1 Fouls Per Game
There are plenty of numbers to show how dominant Maryland has been on defense this season, but perhaps most impressive is how little they foul. They foul on just 18.6 percent of possessions, the fourth-lowest rate in the country. Nobody on the team averages more than 2.1 fouls per game.
No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers • (11-0) • Last week: 2
Minnesota made a risky hire with Lindsey Whalen, and early on it’s paid off as their non-conference play literally could not have gone better. After rounding it out with a win over Rhode Island, led by Kenisha Bell’s 28 points, Minnesota is garnering plenty of attention.
Taiye Bello: 23.2 Percent Offensive Rebound Rate
Bello has been a rebounding force all year, including a remarkable dominance on the offensive glass. Her offensive mark ranks second in the country, and she has more offensive boards (62) than anyone.
No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes • (9-2) • Last week: 3
From the first possession, Drake knew it would be a long night against the Hawkeyes. Megan Gustafson scored seven seconds in and finished with 44 points, as the Bulldogs simply didn’t have a player that could match up with her. She leads the country with 26.5 points this year.
Megan Gustafson: 74.7 percent field goal rate
Technically she ranks third in the country in this category, but the volume is incredible, and she’s somehow improved on last year’s 67.1 percent. Not to mention that this stat doesn’t even account for how often she gets fouled.
No. 21 Michigan State Spartans • (10-1) • Last week: 5
Taryn McCutcheon is expected to be healthy for Big Ten play after leaving with a first-quarter injury in a win over FAU. She has been stellar this season and will be the key for Michigan State to keep up the strong play.
42.2 Percent Three-Point Shooting
The mark ranks fifth in the nation, and Michigan State’s strong shooting has propelled them to a great out-of-conference record. If they can stay as good at shooting, they’ll be a potential conference title contender and a surefire tournament team.
Michigan Wolverines • (9-3) • Last week: 4
An injury scare last week to Hallie Thome proved to be just that, as she was active and healthy in a win against Southern University. Meanwhile, the sophomore guard Deja Church posted 19 points and is starting to heat up. The Wolverines start Big Ten play with somewhat of a gauntlet and need to be ready to go immediately.
Naz Hillmon: 3.8 offensive rebounds per game
The freshman has been Michigan’s leading rebounder this season, not Thome. The two form a great combination on the glass on both ends of the floor, giving Michigan extra possessions game in and game out.
Purdue Boilermakers • (9-4) • Last week: 7
Purdue finished non-conference play with two easy wins and start next week with two should-be wins against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
6.5 Steals Per Game
Purdue plays a stingy defense that forces opponents to rely on outside shooting or getting to the line. They also don’t force many turnovers, which partially suits their style of not playing in transition, but not getting the extra possessions can hurt.
Northwestern Wildcats • (7-4) • Last week: 6
Northwestern saw all the highs and lows in Las Vegas. The Wildcats played perhaps their best half of the year in a rout of Wichita State, outscoring the Shockers 48-15 before the break. Then they fell apart against Kansas, giving up 11 threes and being out-rebounded 43-18. If Lindsey Pulliam can develop a consistent three-point shot, she’ll be one of the deadliest scorers in the conference, but she’s at just 17 percent (5-29) this year.
The lack of presence from Amber Jamison has been surprising, as Jamison started 11 games as a sophomore and shot 42 percent for three. After being away from the team last year, she has struggled to find consistent playing time while battling injuries and has yet to hit a three. She’s one of the most athletic players Northwestern has, and she needs to find her rhythm.
79.2 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions
Even when the offense is struggling, the Wildcats have played very strong defensively. Their season-high is 74 points allowed in the overtime win in Gainesville. Northwestern’s Her Hoops Stats Defensive Rating ranks only behind Maryland, Rutgers and Michigan in the Big Ten.
Indiana Hoosiers • (11-1) • Last week: 9
As anticipated, Indiana lost a game in Puerto Rico, but it definitely was not the expected one. The Hoosiers got a tough win against South Dakota off a 25-point performance by Ali Patberg, but 1-8 Grambling State got the better of them the day before. Indiana was simply outplayed by an eight-loss team, then beat a top-25 RPI team the next day. Go figure.
73.3 Percent Defensive Rebound Rate
Playing against lesser opponents so far, Indiana has done a great job boxing out and not giving up second-chance points. Of course, they’ve yet to face the elite Big Ten rebounders.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • (5-6) • Last week: 8
A disappointing loss to Arkansas puts Nebraska back below .500. But the offense has possibly started to find its stride, averaging 88 points in the last two games. They’ll need to keep scoring to win games in the Big Ten the way they did last year.
4.9 Blocks Per Game
Nebraska continues to block shots effectively, but their opponents are getting plenty of looks from behind the arc. They need to do a better job forcing shots inside, where they have a better chance to get stops.
Ohio State Buckeyes • (4-5) • Last week: 10
I had a chance to see this team in person at the West Palm Invitational as they put up perhaps their best effort of the season against undefeated Virginia Tech. Freshman Dorka Juhasz can be special (she scored 27 points with eight rebounds) but she does not have consistent contributors around her, though Jensen Caretti provided a spark off the bench. After losing to Butler the day before, Ohio State heads into conference play below .500.
59.0 Points Per Game (Compared to 85.0 in 2017-18)
Any offensive metric will show an incredible drop-off from last year, but the simplest is the most telling. Ohio State’s season low was 60 points last year, and they’re averaging less than that. Their offensive production has dropped over 30 percent.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • (7-3) • Last week: 11
Rutgers rested up last week, but they do get an extra game against Brown after New Year’s. They open conference play against Northwestern at home.
64.6 Possessions Per 40 Minutes
Rutgers plays at the slowest pace in the Big Ten and sixth-slowest in Division I. Combined with a pretty solid defense and excellent rebounding, they allow just 51.1 points per game and have yet to allow more than 70. Maryland may have something to say about that on Monday.
Penn State Nittany Lions • (7-4) • Last week: 12
The Nittany Lions were off this week as they get ready to host Maryland to kick off their Big Ten schedule.
Teniya Page: 5.0 Free Throws Made Per Game
Penn State’s do-everything guard is an elite scorer, and is especially good at getting to the line, where she’s a 76.4 percent shooter.
Wisconsin Badgers • (9-3) • Last week: 13
Wisconsin scored a season-high 96 points against Evansville and collected 51 rebounds.
49.1 Rebounds Per Game
The Badgers have played against some much smaller teams, but they’ve been dominant on the glass all season. Furthermore, Wisconsin is 9-0 when they win the rebounding battle and 0-3 when they lose it.
Illinois Fighting Illini • (8-3) • Last week: 14
Illinois finished with a loss to Missouri in which they were locked down the whole game. The Illini won nine total games last year and none in the conference. Can they pass either of those numbers this year?
3.7 Percent Opponent Block Rate
The Illini have only been blocked 16 times all season. Some of that is good shot selection, and some is likely a product of opponent quality; we will see which wins out.