By Ari Levin
This week saw many fewer upsets in the Big Ten, and as a result, there’s little movement in the latest rankings. If you wanted the shock value of a new number one, there is a valid argument to be made after Iowa’s win over Rutgers. But Maryland has the most talent, and so they keep the top spot.
If you have some time this week and a way to get BTN Plus, you should check out the ending to Wisconsin-Nebraska from Sunday. It was thrilling.
Halfway through conference play, things are starting to take shape in the standings. This week, we’re looking back at each team’s best win of the season so far. It should provide some good memories, no matter who you root for. Hang in there, Gopher fans.
No. 11 Maryland Terrapins • 18-2 (7-2) • Last week: 1
Maryland stayed strong with a 70-57 road win over Ohio State behind 20 points by Stephanie Jones. This was actually a pretty close game for a while, but Maryland ran away late in the third and fourth quarters. Then it was another dominant win over Indiana, with Kaila Charles leading the way via 25 points, 19 of which came in the first half.
Maryland pulls within a game of the top spot in the standings, and based on their season so far plus the talent of the team, they’re still the best team overall.
Best Game: Nov. 18: 85-61 win over South Carolina
The Gamecocks may not be what was expected of them this year – more of a borderline top 25 team than the top 10 one they were at the time. But Maryland made quite the statement, going into Columbus and winning by 24 even after falling behind 16-4. They have yet to quite replicate that performance in conference play.
No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes • 16-4 (7-2) • Last week: 2
The Hawkeyes became the first team to knock off Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights couldn’t stop Megan Gustafson. Gustafson scored 32 points and made over half of Iowa’s field goals. Iowa shot 12 fewer shots but was much more efficient on deep shots and free throws.
The Hawkeyes came away with an easier win against Purdue. Gustafson scored 25 but shot just 10-20 from the field, but Hannah Stewart chipped in 21 of her own. Iowa also assisted on 24 of their 30 baskets.
Iowa’s now won five straight and seven of eight, and they’re 11-0 at home. They’re really starting to look like the team they had potential to be at the start of the season, and that’s dangerous for everyone else.
Best Game: Dec. 21: 91-82 win over Drake
The Rutgers game probably has a better case here. But this was Gustafson’s 44-point game. Going on the road against a very tough Drake team (who just missed this week’s rankings) that made 12 three-pointers that day and pulling away for a comfortable win on a 13-2 fourth-quarter run was impressive.
No. 17 Rutgers Scarlet Knights • 16-4 (8-1) • Last week: 3
Rutgers fell for the first time in 2019 in a hard-fought game at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a big matchup problem for Rutgers, so the fact that it was so close (they had the ball down three in the final minute) is a great sign. Maybe the game goes differently if they’re better than 4-25 from beyond the arc, including 0-8 from Arella Guirantes. Still, the game proves again that Rutgers is a serious contender for the conference title.
They didn’t sweat too much against Penn State, winning by eight but being up comfortably most of the second half. They held Penn State to just 31 percent shooting.
Best Game: Dec. 31: 73-65 win over Maryland
Rutgers had a great stretch to open 2019, but this is an easy one. Going into College Park and essentially leading the whole game, with 37 bench points and 19 offensive boards, is about as impressive as it gets.
No. 22 Michigan State Spartans • 15-5 (5-4) • Last week: 4
After a rocky stretch, Michigan State picked up an easy win against Illinois at home by 17 points. Three Spartans scored 15 points, and five hit double digits. Nia Clouden didn’t score but had 11 assists. They continued their solid play by beating Michigan, shooting 26 three pointers and making 11 of those.
Michigan State is clearly a much better team than projected, the question is how much better, and how far they can go.
Best Game: Dec. 9: 88-82 win over Oregon
This is the best win the Big Ten has. Michigan State welcomed in a legitimate national title contender and simply beat them. The Spartans shot 58 percent in this game and got 27 points from Jenna Allen, who established herself as an elite center.
Purdue Boilermakers • 15-7 (6-3) • Last week: 5
Purdue continued their own good start to Big Ten play with a win over struggling Minnesota. Their defense showed up strong once again, holding the powerful Minnesota offense to just 53 points and just 31 percent shooting.
On the road, though, they couldn’t quite stick with Iowa, losing by 14 despite tying the game in the third quarter. Their strong defense forced only eight turnovers, and they needed more to get the win even while shooting 7-18 from three-point range.
Best Game: Jan. 10: 62-57 win over Iowa
This was a really impressive win not long after Purdue lost to Wisconsin and looked like a possible afterthought in the conference. They held the explosive Hawkeye offense to just 57 points while limiting Gustafson to 19, vaulting themselves back to the tournament bubble.
Northwestern Wildcats • 13-7 (6-3) • Last week: 6
Take a sigh of relief, Wildcats. Northwestern trailed Illinois by 11 in the second half and struggled all game against a hungry team. Then Veronica Burton nailed a half-court buzzer beater to end the third period, which kicked off 18 straight Northwestern points and a 21-5 fourth quarter (all 10 of Burton’s points came in the last 10 minutes and one second.)
Before that, Northwestern’s short winning streak, still without Abi Scheid, continued with a tough road win at Nebraska. The Wildcats had the lead for most of the second half but fell behind in the final minute. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah hit a clutch spinning layup to give the Wildcats the lead, they got a stop and hit their free throws to ice the win. Kunaiyi-Akpanah had 19 rebounds, 10 of those on offense. As a team, the Wildcats pulled in 17 offensive rebounds, leading to 18 second-chance points, and Lindsey Pulliam scored 21 points.
If Northwestern beats everyone they’re supposed to (Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State) and wins two of their three games against Indiana and Minnesota or pulls a different upset, that gets them to 11 conference wins, which may just be enough for the tournament.
Best Game: Nov. 11: 84-58 win over Duke
Injuries and tough scheduling have caused Duke to fall pretty far since this game, but this was quite the game for the Wildcats. In the second game of the season, when it wasn’t clear what this team was, they opened Welsh-Ryan Arena with a 26-point win against a ranked team.
Michigan Wolverines • 12-9 (3-6) • Last week: 8
It was a tough loss for Michigan at Indiana as they shot just 4-19 on threes. They were down by seven points before Naz Hillmon even entered the game, and it just keeps getting harder to understand why she’s not starting. Hallie Thome was 3-8 from the floor and Nicole Munger was 3-11. Indiana can make teams play really ugly.
That rough stretch continued in the Wolverines next game, as they fell at home to Michigan State. Munger suffered an injury in the first quarter and Thome shot just 4-11. Michigan’s still searching for an identity, but right now it’s a lot of talent not producing results.
Best Game: Dec. 31: 76-60 win over Minnesota
Before the collapse, Michigan was the first team to get to then-undefeated Minnesota. They forced 21 turnovers and held the Golden Gophers to just four three-point attempts.
Indiana Hoosiers • 16-5 (5-4) • Last week: 10
Indiana picked up another solid win against Michigan on a pair of very strong performances. Jaelyn Penn scored 28 points, hitting 6-7 threes, while Ali Patberg had 11 assists. The team as a whole had a 44-34 rebound advantage, hit some big shots, and forced Michigan into a bad performance.
But they couldn’t compete against Maryland after the first quarter and were outscored 20-5 in the second. Penn scored 15 but had six turnovers, part of the team’s 20.
Indiana has now dropped three of the last four, and four of six, after their promising start and find themselves slipping out of the tournament. In a crowded Big Ten that likely gets just six bids, it could be tough to get back in the field.
Best Game: Jan. 6: 68-64 win over Michigan State
Coming off an overtime game against Illinois the week before, and just a couple weeks removed from Grambling State, Indiana established that their record might actually be meaningful with an impressive win over a top-15 team at the time, holding Michigan State to just four three pointers.
Ohio State Buckeyes • 8-10 (4-5) • Last week: 11
Ohio State kept the game close against Maryland behind 23 points from Carly Santoro and 23 Maryland turnovers. Still, they never really threatened, and Maryland won easily late in the game. They got back to winning against Minnesota with 20 points from Aaliyah Patty in her second career start, and a 7-14 three-point night. Ohio State’s starting to find a bit of a groove and could be a trap game down the stretch for any number of teams.
Best Game: Jan. 14: 65-55 win over Michigan State
With Santoro’s 25 points, Ohio State had easily their best win of the season in this game, even with 21 turnovers.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • 9-11 (4-5) • Last week: 9
An up-and-down season continued in a home loss to Northwestern. Hannah Whitish was the leading scorer with 12, hitting four threes. But they took 28 attempts from behind the arc and made just eight of them, even with just eight turnovers on the night.
Poor Nebraska thought they had beaten Wisconsin when Nicea Eliely, who had five steals on the day, scored with less than a second remaining. But it was not meant to be on a buzzer beater on the other end. Whitish scored 12 with seven assists, however.
Best Game: Dec. 28: 70-56 win over Michigan
Nebraska doesn’t have much to hang their hat on for any particular game, but their conference opener, where they forced 23 turnovers against a pretty strong team, was a pretty good look for them.
Minnesota Golden Gophers • 13-7 (2-7) • Last week: 7
What’s up with Minnesota? I seriously have no idea. The team has so much talent, but they’ve simply fallen apart in the last month, now losing eight of their last nine.
Despite 18 rebounds from Taiye Bello, a poor shooting performance led to a double-digit home loss to Purdue. Against Ohio State, they held a two-point fourth-quarter lead then gave up 16 straight points and lost by 10 again despite another 18 rebounds from Bello. They again shot just 30 percent from the floor. Perhaps worst of all, they won the rebounding margin by 10 but turned 19 offensive rebounds into just five points.
The only hypothesis we have is that, outside of one game against Syracuse, Minnesota faced an easy non-conference schedule and wasn’t prepared for what Big Ten play brings.
Best Game: Nov. 29: 72-68 win over Syracuse
In an up-and-down ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Minnesota provided a signature win for the conference against a top-15 team. When everyone on Minnesota is hitting their stride, as they were in this game, they should be able to beat anyone.
Penn State Nittany Lions • 10-10 (3-6) • Last week: 12
Jaida Travascio-Green showed up for the first time this season, scoring 14 points off the bench in a win over Wisconsin. In ugly game with a combined 39 percent shooting and 32 turnovers, Penn State did just enough to get the win.
They tried to make a close game against Rutgers but couldn’t quite manage it. Teniya Page scored 18 but shot just 3-14; everyone who took a shot for Penn State was no better than 43 percent on the day.
Best Game: Nov. 14: 72-55 win over Fordham
Penn State’s three conference wins have come against Wisconsin, Wisconsin and Illinois. Instead, their best win of the season is probably an earlier one, a dominant win on the road against a solid, if not great, A-10 team.
Wisconsin Badgers • 11-10 (2-7) • Last week: 14
Wisconsin played one of the best games of the season Sunday evening. After a 12-point halftime deficit, the Badgers trailed Nebraska by 10 with four minutes left. They scored 10 straight points to tie the game with a minute left, missed a chance to take the lead, and Nebraska went ahead on a layup with 0.7 seconds remaining. Luckily, Wisconsin had one more timeout to advance the ball and inbounded to Kelly Karlis, who nailed a corner three for the win.
Wisconsin lost at home to Penn State on Thursday, as Imani Lewis led the team with 13 points. They had 30 attempts at the free-throw line and made just 18, and they’ll continue to be sent there if their awful free-throw shooting keeps costing them games.
Best Game: Dec. 31: 76-69 win over Purdue
Completing a trio of New Year’s Eve upsets, Wisconsin truly played their best game of the year in this win. Kelly Karlis scored 17, Wisconsin shot 50 percent from the field and 8-15 from behind the arc, and overcame a decent effort from Purdue.
Illinois Fighting Illini • 9-11 (1-8) • Last week: 13
The Illini put up a good fight against Northwestern, leading by 11 in the third quarter. For the first three quarters, Northwestern was missing all of their shots, while Illinois was making all of theirs and grabbing most rebounds. That all shifted in the fourth quarter, and Illinois couldn’t hold off the Wildcats. Still, they continue to show that the bottom of the Big Ten is far improved this year.
Best Game: Jan. 6: 66-62 win over Minnesota
Illinois doesn’t have much to hang their hats on this season (although an overtime game against Clemson, who are receiving votes, isn’t bad). But before Minnesota hit a total collapse, Illinois pulled off an outstanding upset. Beasley scored 18 points in this game and added six assists and five steals, including the go-ahead shot and then the game-sealing assist.