Big Ten Women’s Basketball Power Rankings: April Edition
By Ari Levin
Well, here it is. The last Big Ten Women’s Basketball Power Rankings of the year.
This is the last power rankings article I will write for WNUR Sports. It has been an amazing experience breaking down the entire conference all season long.
First off, a huge thanks to HerHoopStats. They do absolutely incredible work. This column would have been impossible without them. I know they’re only going to grow in the coming years.
I started this idea in large part because there were no Big Ten Women’s Basketball Power Rankings out there. To the best of my knowledge, there still are none. The other reason was because I fell in love with Big Ten women’s basketball last year, probably right in the middle of Indiana and Michigan State’s four-overtime quarterfinal. And it was, from start to finish, another incredible year for Big Ten women’s basketball.
This was a lot of work each week, having to watch or check on every single game. And yes, it may have dragged sometimes watching the late minutes of Illinois vs. Wisconsin. But I loved every single minute of it.
I’m not much of a basketball analyst, if you haven’t figured that out by now. I still can’t really tell the difference between a man and zone defense (don’t even get me started on the blizzard hybrid.) I don’t know how Megan Gustafson does what she does, I only know that she’s incredible.
I tried to make up for that by watching as much as possible and diving deep into every box score. And, again, relying heavily on HerHoopStats.
And speaking of Gustafson, there are some players to whom I need to give a special shout-out. Thank you, Megan Gustafson, national player of the year, for being incredible to watch every single day. Hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where Gustafson can be as famous as Anthony Davis. (Is that an accurate comparison? I haven’t watched a ton of the NBA.) There are days when it feels like she must be cheating.
Thank you to Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah for very nearly dunking in one game and getting a pin-against-the-backboard chase-down block. Both were inches away from being one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
Thanks to Carmen Grande for making every possession so fun to watch. And thanks to Naz Hillmon for quietly becoming one of my favorite players. And thanks to Teri Moren and everyone on Indiana for proving me both wrong and right time and time again.
So, this is it. If anyone from WNUR Sports wants to take over the power rankings for next year, it’s all yours.
Finally, getting back to the rankings, Iowa just missed on the Final Four (or maybe it was not that close) meaning that I got just one of my bold predictions correct.
No. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes • 29-7 (14-4) • Last week: 1
The Hawkeyes made it all the way to the Elite Eight where they were promptly dispatched by a far superior Baylor team. Unfortunately, that game embodied the worst for Iowa as they were limited to just 53 points. Other than Gustafson, nobody could do anything, and the rest of the team scored just 30 points on 39 shots. But even at their best, it’s hard to see Iowa competing in that game. Baylor, the national champion, is just too good.
Their first-round game against Mercer was quite a scare when they showed similar problems. The Hawkeyes won a game when they lost the turnover margin 24-3. That statistic is both amazing and terrifying.
They made the Sweet 16 by limiting Sophie Cunningham and Missouri with Gustafson going off for 24 points and 19 rebounds, and 18 and 15 points by Makenzie Meyer and Kathleen Doyle, respectively. Meyer played a key role in several games this postseason.
Then they went with an impressively easy win over NC State. Gustafson scored 27. Doyle had eight assists. The game turned into a domination of a top-10 team.
This was a great season for the Hawkeyes, winning the Big Ten and in the end proving themselves the best team. It will be a treat to watch Gustafson continue to grow in the WNBA.
Season Grade: A
At this time last year, you could see how Iowa might be able to reach where it eventually did. But a lot would have to go right. Tania Davis would need to return from injury. She’d need to be able to play with Makenzie Meyer and Kathleen Doyle, who later needed to recover from her own injury. Gustafson would need to somehow get even better. Another serviceable forward would need to step up. And all of that went through. Oh, and Lisa Bluder was the national coach of the year.
No. 9 Maryland Terrapins • 29-5 (15-3) • Last week: 2
Maryland’s great season came to an upsetting finish. After easily beating Radford in the first round, Maryland failed to make the Sweet 16. UCLA came in to the game hot and stayed that way. Maryland failed to get going on offense, especially late in the game when they needed it. The Big Ten’s best shooting team made just one 3-pointer.
It’s weird to call this a rebuilding year for Maryland, but that’s what it was. Kaila Charles has another year and two freshmen were consistent starters. However, they were the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. They earned a split but lost in the final. Then their season ended with an upset in the second round.
Michigan Wolverines • 22-12 (11-7) • Last week: 3
Michigan came not so close to the Sweet 16, but for a moment it looked like they might be a threat. They dominated their first-round opponent in the No. 8/9 match, winning by 30 over Kansas State. Hillmon led the team with 17 points and even Amy Dilk knocked down a 3-pointer.
But Louisville was entirely different, and Michigan never had a chance. They turned the ball over 20+ times and got away with that in the first round but not in the second. Asia Durr ripped through the defense at will. They only scored 50 points.
Predicted to finish third in the conference in the preseason, Michigan eventually made it there, but the season wasn’t as pretty as it should have been. With two great freshmen, though, Michigan is in good shape for the future.
Michigan State Spartans • 21-12 (9-9) • Last week: 5
Michigan State advanced in a first-round thriller over Central Michigan, a really good team. Shay Colley’s heroic last-second layup put them over the edge. Colley scored 13 with six assists. She was outdone by Nia Clouden, who scored 16 with seven assists. Sidney Cooks led the team with 21 points off the bench, overcoming Reyna Frost’s 34.
But national runner-up Notre Dame proved dominant. Cooks again led the team in scoring off the bench. They let up 52 points in the paint, which happens against Notre Dame but is also emblematic of when the team struggled this year.
The season only feels disappointing because of the incredible start they had. But, compared to where they projected to be and where they were last year, Michigan State was a great team. If they can effectively replace Jenna Allen (and they should be able to) and especially if players like Clouden and Taryn McCutcheon take another step forward, they’ll be as dangerous as anyone.
Northwestern Wildcats • 21-15 (9-9) • Last week: 7
Northwestern was runner-up in the WNIT, finishing second-best of the rest.
I won’t recap every game of the run here, because hopefully you’ve been following on WNUR Sports. If not, you can catch up with our content from every game. After an incredible stretch of road wins, Northwestern met their match in Arizona and their 14,644 fans.
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah played her final game in a Wildcats uniform, which didn’t go as planned. But she set the WNIT record for rebounds. She won’t be forgotten any time soon. Replacing her will be tough, and Joe McKeown will have to be creative with the loaded backcourt.
But there’s a ton of bright spots from these two weeks. Veronica Burton proved herself to be a hyper-efficient bucket-getting machine who’s not far off from getting triple doubles on the regular. Lindsey Pulliam is as good as ever with her shot-making ability. If she develops a consistent 3-point shot, she might become the most dangerous scorer in the country.
Burton and Pulliam (and Jordan Hamilton and Sydney Wood and incoming recruits Laya Hartman and Kaylah Rainey and perhaps Jess Sancataldo and maybe even Lauryn Satterwhite) will terrorize the conference together for two more years.
It wasn’t the tournament team that seemed promising after the first few weeks. In some ways, though, it may have been even better.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights • 22-10 (13-5) • Last week: 4
Rutgers was “upset” in the first round. But Buffalo shouldn’t have been a No. 10 seed. What No. 10 seed stays within 12 points of UConn? Cierra Dillard proved why she’s one of the best players in the nation, and the game got away from Rutgers in the fourth quarter.
Sure, the season didn’t end how they wanted. But for them to even get so far is a miracle. Last year ended in a disaster, and the heart of the team then left. Two players were dismissed, and the coach left the team the last month of the season. And they still made the tournament and were one of the conference’s best teams all season long. Remarkable.
Indiana Hoosiers • 20-12 (8-10) • Last week: 8
The Hoosiers pulled a first-round upset of Texas, making the Big Ten 5-1 in the first round. Jaelyn Penn scored 24 points. Ali Patberg was clutch and had seven assists. They forced 23 turnovers compared to just 13 of their own.
Pulling a second upset was impossible. Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon is just way too good. Indiana was far from bad; they kept the game competitive for a while. Four players hit double figures. Patberg had five more assists. But again, Ionescu.
The Hoosiers lost their two best players, two of the best in school history, arguably, and somehow managed to (debatably) improve. The two transfers were great, and both are coming back. They went from WNIT Champions to NCAA Tournament Round 2. Teri Moren’s squad will be back.
Minnesota Golden Gophers • 21-11 (9-9) • Last week: 6
I really thought Minnesota was going to make more of a run. I thought they figured everything out and were going to go back to where they were at the start of the season. But one tough game ends all that.
To start, they had a great first-round WNIT win over Northern Iowa. They scored 91 points. Destiny Pitts had 27 of those. Kenisha Bell had 22 more, with 12 assists and seven rebounds. To the best of my knowledge, nobody in the Big Ten recorded a triple double this year, but Bell was pretty close. They had a ridiculous 1.37 points per scoring attempt.
But the loss to Cincinnati hurts, despite 25 points from Bell. Pitts was just 3-16 from the field. They had only four offensive rebounds, moreover, and lost the rebounding margin by 14.
This one hurts for Minnesota. They had high expectations at the beginning of the year and were seemingly living up to it. Then the collapse right in the middle. The toughest part may have been having to soldier through the rest of the season for two months knowing that their tournament hopes were dead. Maybe next year they’ll have a deeper bench and find more success. But without Bell initiating the offense, it won’t be any easier for Lindsey Whalen.
Ohio State Buckeyes • 14-15 (10-8) • Last week: 9
The Buckeyes finished their season with first-round exits in both the Big Ten Tournament and the WNIT. This time, they were upset by Morehead State. Dorka Juhasz registered a double-double, but Ohio State was destroyed on the rebounding glass.
Season Grade: C
The season as a whole was a disappointment. Losing so many seniors isn’t an excuse for taking such a big step back as a team. It was the program’s fewest wins in nearly 20 years. But then there’s that conference record. Yes, they were 4-7 in everything else. But at one point they won four straight games and went 10-4 in one stretch after their 4-8 stretch. And, of course, there were good signs for the future with the development of the freshmen and the incoming recruiting class. The strong finish only gives them more hope of soon returning to greatness.
Nebraska Cornhuskers • 14-16 (9-9) • Last week: 10
Nebraska returned almost all their key contributors from last year, added multiple impact freshman, yet still saw a huge drop-off from last year, finishing seven games worse and going from tournament team to sub-.500. They were the biggest disappointment in the conference. Maybe next year will be a bounce back.
Purdue Boilermakers • 19-16 (8-10) • Last week: 11
A season that started with so much promise ended in disaster. A 6-2 conference start had them looking primed for a tournament appearance. Instead they went 2-8 down the stretch. The lack of bench contributors put way too much pressure on the starters, who looked hopeless down the stretch. The good news is that everyone will be back, presumably. And they’ll hopefully have a deeper bench to complement their ultra-talented core of players.
Wisconsin Badgers • 15-18 (4-14) • Last week: 12
The plus is for the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin had very low expectations going in to this season, after winning just two conference games last year and then losing their leading scorer. Instead, they won the most games since 2011. Behind the play of a few transfers and freshman, plus the next step taken by Marsha Howard, Wisconsin found a way to launch a big improvement. They’ll look to continue that without Howard.
Penn State Nittany Lions • 12-18 (5-13) • Last week: 13
Carolyn Kieger joins the team as head coach for next year. In five years at her alma mater, Marquette, she built a perennial contender and conference champion, and one of the best teams in the nation this year with two players who could enter the WNBA. She’ll look to have similar success at Penn State and bring them back to prominence.
The five conference wins are misleading. Especially considering that they went 4-1 against Wisconsin and Illinois. The senior season of Teniya Page was supposed to be her best. Instead it was a disaster. What results is the firing of head coach Coquese Washington. Maybe this season wasn’t her fault, but something needed to change.
Illinois Fighting Illini • 10-20 (2-16) • Last week: 14
Like Wisconsin, Illinois entered the year with very low expectations. Also, like Wisconsin, they made an improvement over last year. They won the most games since 2015. They had a somewhat signature win over Minnesota. That’s about it, though. At some point, Nancy Fahey is going to need to bring this program out of the cellar. That gets tough next year without Alex Wittinger.