The first week of Big Ten play showed, if nothing else, the unpredictable nature of basketball. Like this: Purdue started with an easy win over Ohio State. The Buckeyes then nearly knocked off Nebraska, who had beaten Michigan before the Wolverines beat Minnesota. Minnesota had crushed Wisconsin, who then beat, get this, Purdue.
In any case, this is overreaction week. Some of the movement will revert next week, but for now enjoy your upset wins, Michigan State, Michigan and Rutgers.
No. 4 Maryland Terrapins • 12-1 (1-1) • Last week: 1
The Terrapins struggled early against Penn State in their Big Ten opener, trailing through three quarters before rattling off an 18-0 run in the final nine minutes. A 52-29 rebound margin became too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome late in the game. Still, the Terps not being able to put it away more easily is troublesome.
Then Rutgers came to town. Holding Maryland to just 65 points and 28 rebounds, Rutgers notched one of the year’s biggest upsets. The Scarlet Knights’ defense might be the best in the conference, and they hit enough shots for a 73-65 victory.
Maryland should recover from the slow start and be the top team in the Big Ten. They don’t get Minnesota until February 21, but they’ll be anxiously awaiting that matchup.
Why isn’t it time for a new number one yet? Minnesota has looked really good, but their loss to Michigan allows the Terps to keep their place at the top. And Michigan State is not quite there yet.
No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers • 12-1 (1-1) • Last week: 2
It had to happen at some point, and Minnesota suffered its first loss of the year at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Kenisha Bell was just 4-18 from the field while Minnesota allowed 17 offensive rebounds and only took four three-pointers the whole game.
Annalese Lamke made a statement to open conference play with her 20 points in Minnesota’s dominant win over Wisconsin. The Gophers held the Badgers to 56 points and just 34 in the first three quarters.
Even with the loss, Minnesota has been outstanding this year and may just be the best team in the conference. They’ve certainly played like it.
No. 15 Michigan State Spartans • 11-1 (1-0) • Last week: 4
All of a sudden, this Michigan State team that ranked tenth in the preseason edition of these rankings has a case for the top spot in these rankings. They continue to play outstanding basketball against every team they face.
Their fantastic season continued with a win over Iowa. They hit only a third of their threes (not a bad mark for most teams), but the difference-maker was Jenna Allen. Allen outplayed Megan Gustafson in every facet of the game, grabbing 17 rebounds and scoring 20 points. Of course, Gustafson still scored 30, but half came in the first quarter, and she wasn’t the same focus of the offense.
No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes • 9-3 (0-1) • Last week: 3
Make no mistake, the Hawkeyes played well in East Lansing, it just wasn’t enough. Jenna Allen may have shown how to stop Megan Gustafson: don’t let her get comfortable on offense, even when she scores, and limit the other options. Teams with a good center, like Maryland, Michigan and even Northwestern should be able to follow suit.
Still, Iowa continues to be one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten. Gustafson is surrounded by great guards who complement her strength, feed her the ball, and give her reliable kickout options.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • 9-3 (2-0) • Last week: 11
Talk about a hot start! The Scarlet Knights’ defense is simply dominant, and they etch themselves in the top half of the conference after remarkable wins against Northwestern and Maryland.
In one of the biggest upsets of the year, Rutgers went into College Park and came away with a win. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which resulted in them take 17 more shots than the Terps. Stasha Carey scored 18 off the bench while Ciani Cryor dished 11 assists.
The defense was even more stifling against Northwestern, holding the Wildcats to 41 points. Cryor led with 13 points in that one, as Rutgers scored just 45 even while hitting six of 17 three-pointers.
In retrospect, their three non-conference losses (Drake, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech) are pretty acceptable; those teams are a combined 44-5.
Rutgers is starting to hit its stride behind a no-name team (Victoria Harris is the only player to start every appearance, and she averages barely 20 minutes) that’s quickly learning to play together.
Michigan Wolverines • 10-4 (1-1) • Last week: 5
What to make of these Wolverines? They thoroughly outplayed undefeated Minnesota, leading by as many as 26. They came with a balanced attack on both ends of the floor (no player had more than eight rebounds or 14 points) and scored 76.
But before that, they fell at Nebraska. They were hurt by 23 turnovers and 20 percent three-point shooting, though they led in the fourth quarter before falling late.
This is a good team that’s still searching for an identity. They may have found it with balance against Minnesota, though Hallie Thome may need to score more to establish consistency.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • 7-6 (2-0) • Last week: 9
Of the surprising results from the week, Nebraska defeating Michigan and then struggling against Ohio State is one of the most questionable, especially given Michigan’s win over Minnesota. More than any other team, you can probably chalk Nebraska’s start up to randomness.
They played nearly perfectly against Michigan, getting Thome and Munger into foul trouble and taking away the three-point shot. Forcing 23 turnovers also helps, and they were able to pull away late after a close game nearly the whole time.
The Ohio State game proved to be similar, with Nebraska keeping it close and pulling away late on foul shots. Leigha Brown contributed 19 points off the bench. And they forced Ohio State into 20 turnovers.
Nicea Eliely isn’t a name that’s been discussed here, but she provided a huge spark in both games. She scored 14 points in each game, and all 28 came in the second half. She also contributed big plays consistently, including four steals against Michigan.
Purdue Boilermakers • 10-5 (1-1) • Last week: 6
The Boilermakers had no problem with Ohio State to open conference play thanks to 20 points from Dominique Oden and 17 from Karissa McLaughlin. Purdue limited the Buckeyes to 29 percent shooting and just 42 points.
Wisconsin got the better of Purdue when they struggled to score and allowed eight three-pointers. The Boilermakers only had nine bench points and were simply beat in the second half.
The nature of Purdue’s offense, which relies on a different player seemingly every night, allows for great performances but also the occasional bad loss.
Northwestern Wildcats • 8-5 (1-1) • Last week: 7
For as good as their defense can be, the Wildcats have serious problems scoring the ball. Against teams that can effectively guard the paint, or can score in spurts, Northwestern barely stands a chance. They need to find ways to get more shots for their better shooters without settling for midrange jumpers and bad layups. In the conference opener, a loss to Rutgers, the Wildcats scored just eight second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
Lindsey Pulliam provided a spark late in the game, scoring 14 points in a 15-0 run to bring Northwestern within one. But that was over a third of the Wildcats’ points for the whole game, and Northwestern shot just 27 percent against Rutgers. That’s simply not enough to win games. That loss hurt but did look a lot better come Sunday with Rutgers’ upset win over Maryland.
Thankfully, the Wildcats rebounded against Illinois. They shot a much more respectable 42 percent, and 35 percent from deep. They were able to dominate the paint and then set up outside shots, as Abi Scheid scored a career-high 25 points.
Wisconsin Badgers • 10-4 (1-1) • Last week: 13
Wisconsin already has more wins this season than they’ve had in five years. They won just two conference games last year, and they’re already at one as we begin 2019.
The Badgers had a tough start against Minnesota. Suzanne Gilreath provided a spark off the bench with three three-pointers, but Wisconsin did not record a single player in double-digits in points or any category besides minutes.
Wisconsin turned things around by beating Purdue, as Niya Beverly had nine assists while Kelly Karlis led the team with 17 points. A 27-15 third-quarter margin was more than enough, and making eight of 15 from three was just what the Badgers needed.
Indiana Hoosiers • 13-1 (2-0) • Last week: 8
They had an only slightly easier time against Penn State, allowing 50 second-half points but scoring 56 of their own, with Penn State battling foul trouble the whole game. Ali Patberg scored 26, while Brenna Wise made 13 free-throws.
Penn State Nittany Lions • 7-6 (0-2) • Last week: 12
Jaida Travascio-Green made her season debut at the perfect time, hoping to help Penn State hang with Maryland . Unfortunately, the three-point specialist is still waiting to get hot from the floor, shooting 1-12 in in her two games so far. Kamaria McDaniel came up big with 16 points off the bench and has carved a bigger role for herself. But Teniya Page’s 24 points were what really let Penn State compete with a top-five team for three quarters.
Penn State allowed a similar result to Indiana, giving up 56 points in the second half. Page scored 24 again, including 10-10 from the line, but it was not enough to beat the Hoosiers.
Ohio State Buckeyes • 4-7 (0-2) • Last week: 10
Ohio State’s offense is absolutely stagnant. With Dorka Juhasz hitting just one shot from the floor, Carmen Grande was the Buckeyes’ leading scorer with 11 points as they scored just 42 in a loss to Purdue.
They played better at home against Nebraska, but still allowed 27 points in the final period.
Grande is a fun player to watch, though not always in a good way. She’s a streaky three-point shooter, with a solid 34 percent rate this year. But somehow, she shoots just 19 percent from inside the arc. She’s prone to taking bad shots in the paint and missing badly. She can have great assist numbers, like the nine she had against Virginia Tech, but also turns the ball over at way too high a rate.
Illinois Fighting Illini • 8-5 (0-2) • Last week: 14