The first two weeks of Big Ten play were pure chaos. The preseason favorites keep losing, while the only team without a conference win is last year’s champion.
The only sure thing is that the gap between the top and bottom has significantly narrowed from last year. Illinois has already shown that any Big Ten team can beat any other team.
This week’s rankings include one game to watch for each team. If the rest of conference play is anything like the first two weeks, it’s sure to be thrilling throughout. So, here’s a guide to what should be some of the most exciting games. Until then, let’s just hope things settle down a bit.
No. 9 Maryland Terrapins • 13-1 (2-1) • Last week: 1
Despite another uninspiring performance, Maryland widens the gap with the teams below them in the conference. The Terps struggled to put away Ohio State at home, needing a clutch performance at the end from freshman Taylor Mikesell.
Maryland still has yet to win a game in convincing fashion in conference play, and the schedule only gets tougher. But they have the talent to win some blowouts soon.
Game to Watch: Jan. 17 at Michigan State
Michigan State will be looking to prove themselves against a top opponent, and Maryland will have to be very careful in that game. If the Spartans get hot, it could be a very long night in East Lansing.
No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes • 11-3 (2-1) • Last week: 4
Iowa pulled out a hard-fought win over Nebraska, as even on an off-day, Megan Gustafson scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Iowa shot 4-12 from behind the arc but hit 49 percent of their shots and pulled in 41 rebounds as a team.
Gustafson had another tough game, by her standards, against Wisconsin, shooting 9-16 from the field for 21 points and 12 boards. Kathleen Doyle added 15 points, including eight in the first quarter, to help out and give Iowa an early lead they’d never relinquish.
Game to Watch: Feb. 17 vs Maryland
Iowa has as good a chance as anyone against Maryland with their balanced attack on both sides of the ball, and Gustafson being a great match for Shakira Austin. Iowa must find a way to limit Kaila Charles, but if Gustafson can run up the score in the paint, Iowa has a great chance on this ESPN2 broadcast.
No. 18 Minnesota Golden Gophers • 12-2 (1-2) • Last week: 2
A stunning turn of events for the Golden Gophers saw them suffer their second-straight loss after a 12-0 start. This time, it game to lowly Illinois while blowing a 17-point lead. Minnesota earned just two bench points, compared to 30 for the Illini. Destiny Pitts went just 1-10 from three, which sunk Minnesota throughout the game.
They have a pair of chances to rebound this week against Michigan State and Iowa but need to be at their best to avoid continuing the losing streak.
Game to Watch: Jan. 14 vs Iowa
When these teams met last year, Minnesota pulled out a 90-89 thriller despite 48 points from Megan Gustafson. Kenisha Bell scored 26 in that game, and she may need a similar performance on Monday to pull out the win.
No. 23 Michigan State Spartans • 11-3 (1-2) • Last week: 3
Michigan State’s season took a sudden turn this past week. After a fantastic 11-1 start, with their only loss by four points in Cancun to a top-10 team, they suddenly suffered consecutive losses at Northwestern and Indiana. Shay Colley scored 28 points in the first game but took 23 shots and eight free throw attempts to get there, and she turned the ball over six times. In a great game with 21 lead changes, Michigan State fell behind late on good shooting by the Wildcats and couldn’t make up the deficit.
In the next game, it was a poor team effort with Taryn McCutcheon limited to four points and two assists, and Michigan State shot just 4-13 from three-point range.
Game to Watch: Jan. 9 vs Minnesota
Michigan State can beat anyone with their shooting, and they get a chance on Wednesday against another struggling top-25 team. It should be an exciting up-tempo game with good shooting on both sides. Whoever hits more three-pointers wins?
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • 11-3 (3-0) • Last week: 5
The Scarlet Knights continued their hot start to the season with an out-of-conference win against Brown. Noga Peleg Pelc led both teams with 19 points off the bench, including five made three-pointers. Rutgers out-rebounded their opponent 44-25, leading to 20 second-chance points.
The Knights started slow against Penn State but pulled away late for another easy win, as Arella Guirantes has a career-high 24 points with nine rebounds. Their defense held Penn State to just 37 percent from the field while shooting 47 percent.
Game to Watch: Jan. 16 vs Purdue
Whenever these teams meet, the slow pace on both sides leads to a great defensive affair. Last year, Rutgers won in the Big Ten tournament to avenge a 47-33 loss in the regular season, but it wasn’t enough to go dancing.
No. 25 Indiana Hoosiers • 14-1 (3-0) • Last week: 11
Indiana now holds the best record in the conference. They pulled a shocking upset of Michigan State on Sunday with a last-minute victory. Jaelyn Penn led with 17 points and Indiana made half of their threes. The Hoosiers showed up to play in their toughest matchup of the season thus far. They have a chance to rack up more conference wins as they don’t face any of Iowa, Maryland or Minnesota on the road.
Game to Watch: Jan. 24 vs Michigan
This Thursday night game will be intriguing for Hoosier fans against an uncertain Michigan team. Hallie Thome may prove a tough matchup, and Michigan’s three-point shooting will be tricky to defend, but the game is certainly winnable.
Michigan Wolverines • 10-5 (1-2) • Last week: 6
Michigan suffered a second conference loss, this time by one point to Purdue. Amy Dilk did all she could, scoring 16 points on 7-10 shooting and adding six assists, but she couldn’t quite get enough help at the end. Nicole Munger, after an incredible start to the season, hasn’t hit multiple threes in a game since December 9.
Game to Watch: Jan. 27 vs Michigan State
Two of the best shooting teams in the Big Ten reside in the Wolverine State, but Michigan has hit a slump recently. They’ll need to be better than their in-state opponent on both sides of the ball to get a home win.
Northwestern Wildcats • 9-5 (2-1) • Last week: 9
The Wildcats picked up a signature win on Thursday in a thriller against Michigan State. Lindsey Pulliam led the way with 18 points. The Wildcats shot a better percentage from behind the arc than the Spartans, who were 8-20 in the game. Northwestern assisted on 21 of their 24 baskets, with six each for Jordan Hamilton and Veronica Burton.
It’s a fantastic win for the Wildcats, who started Big Ten play with the loss to Rutgers but now appear right back on track at full health. They’re as dangerous as anyone in the conference and could be a tournament team they keep up the strong play.
Game to Watch: March 3 at Iowa
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah is one of the only centers that can slow down Gustafson. The challenge will be Iowa’s other options and then scoring points on the other end. If they can do that, Northwestern can certainly pull off an upset that was close a few times last year.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • 7-7 (2-1) • Last week: 7
Nebraska continues to find its stride, losing a close game to Iowa on the road on Thursday by six. Leigha Brown scored 20 points off the bench, leading the team for the second straight game. They managed to limit Gustafson to 55 percent shooting, well below her season average, but she proved too much on the glass, and 23 team fouls were too many for the Huskers.
Game to Watch: Feb. 25 vs Iowa
Nebraska gets a second shot at the Hawkeyes next month at home. If they can shoot just a bit better or grab a couple extra rebounds, they definitely can win.
Purdue Boilermakers • 11-5 (2-1) • Last week: 8
Purdue found their winning ways again with a great victory over Michigan. Dominique Oden scored 26 points, including a go-ahead layup in the last 30 seconds, while Ae’Rianna Harris recorded seven blocks. Both teams shot over 50 percent and had fewer than 30 rebounds.
The Boilermakers have a tough week ahead with games against Iowa and Northwestern. When someone like Oden, Harris or Karissa McLaughlin have a great game, they can beat anyone. The challenge all season is making sure that someone does.
Game to Watch: Jan. 20 vs Indiana
The crowd is sure to be full on bobblehead giveaway day on a Sunday afternoon against the Boilermakers’ in-state rivals. It’s sure to be an exciting game as well.
Wisconsin Badgers • 10-6 (1-3) • Last week: 10
Wisconsin suffered a tough loss to Penn State when they were unable to make up a fourth-quarter deficit at any point. Marsha Howard’s 20 points and 15 rebounds were not enough for the Badgers, who were just 3-15 from deep.
They played Iowa closer than the Hawkeyes would have liked, holding Iowa’s high-powered offense to 71 points, but they couldn’t get within striking distance. Free-throw shooting was disastrous for Wisconsin, with an awful 2-12 mark that was somehow barely worse than their 3-12 three-point mark.
Game to Watch: Jan. 13 vs Indiana
Wisconsin gets another chance for a big win against the strong Hoosier team on Sunday. Indiana may be a good matchup for Howard to work in the paint as another smaller team. That could allow some other openings for Wisconsin to exploit.
Illinois Fighting Illini • 9-5 (1-2) • Last week: 14
The streak ended in spectacular fashion. The Illini defeated Minnesota on Sunday for their first conference win since January 2017, and the first one on the road since February 2016. Nancy Fahey picked up her first-ever Division I conference win. Brandi Beasley was huge for the Illini, scoring 18 points along with five steals and six assists, including a fantastic pass to Arieal Scott for the dagger three-pointer. Alex Wittinger’s six blocks were fantastic.
The Illini hung close for much of the game early on but fell behind by as many as 17 in the third quarter, then stormed back with a 23-9 margin in the fourth, all while shooting 9-17 on threes. Illinois remains on an upward trajectory and have quickly caught up to the rest of the pack after a tough season last year.
Game to Watch: Feb. 24 vs Penn State
It’s tough to project how many more wins the Illini get this season. But they’ll have another great opportunity on Wittinger’s senior day. Another good game from her and Beasley should be enough to earn a victory.
Penn State Nittany Lions • 8-7 (1-3) • Last week: 12
Penn State picked up their first conference win on Wednesday in a battle with Wisconsin. Teniya Page scored 23 points, as the Nittany Lions held off the Badgers throughout the fourth quarter to maintain a lead between four and nine the whole period.
Penn State then ran into the tough Rutgers defense and shot just 37 percent. Page had 23 again but her teammates faltered behind her, which has been a common theme for Penn State recently.
Game to Watch: Feb. 14 at Northwestern
Remarkably, Joe McKeown is a career 0-22 against Penn State. If he were to get a win, this feels like it would be the year. But that curse has stood the test of time and the cosmos can be confusing.
Ohio State Buckeyes • 4-8 (0-3) • Last week: 13
Ohio State’s struggles continue as they remain the only winless team in the conference, but it wasn’t all bad for the Buckeyes this week. They played a close game against Maryland on the road, leading in the fourth quarter before falling late. Dorka Juhasz scored 18 in a double-double, but Maryland proved to be too much late.
Game to Watch: Jan. 31 vs Illinois
Ohio State has played multiple close games this season already; they won’t go winless in the conference. Their best opportunity for that win might come against the Illini, with Juhasz and Wittinger presenting an interesting matchup.