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B1G WBB Week 8: Early upsets and the Illinois Fighting Illini are on the rise

The depth of the Big Ten is clear as conference play restarts.

Head coach Shauna Green hugs guard Genesis Bryant after their win over the Iowa Hawkeyes
Illinois WBB on Twitter | @IlliniWBB

Teams in the Big Ten have only played between two and four conference games, but there are already stories emerging throughout the standings. In week eight, a surprise team threw their name into conversation and two favorites slipped.

It starts in East Lansing, Michigan.

Spartans Shock Hoosiers

The Indiana Hoosiers’ re-entered Big Ten play on Thursday, Dec. 29 with a trip north to face the Michigan State Spartans. With point guard and team leader Grace Berger still out due to injury, the Spartans capitalized.

Sparty accomplished their 11th win over a top-5 team by taking advantage of a usually disciplined Hoosier team’s mistakes. Indiana had 21 turnovers in the game, compared to their average of 12 giveaways per game.

Scoring-wise, Mackenzie Holmes played her usual outstanding basketball. The forward hit a new career high with 32 points. Holmes also grabbed 17 rebounds, showing why the Indiana offense goes through the 6-foot-3 senior. Around Holmes though, the remaining four starters combined for 44 points. The Hoosiers’ bench only scored four points in 23 combined minutes for the three substitutes.

On the Michigan State side, they were relentless on defense and made baskets quickly in transition. The Spartans showed a lot of the fight that they showed against the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team when they lost 74-68 on Dec. 11.

Leading the Spartans was guard DeeDee Hagemann. The sophomore scored 15 points and made a bigger impact away from scoring. Hagemann led the home side with eight rebounds and five steals, showing youthful leadership.

Michigan State won the close game 83-78 for their first conference win of the season.

Indiana got back on track three days later, beating the Nebraska Cornhuskers 74-62, but needed overtime to earn it.

Illinois is the Real Deal

Although they sit outside of the top-25, the Illinois Fighting Illini are grabbing attention. It’s also no coincidence that their newfound attention aligns with guard Genesis Bryant finding her way into the Illini starting five.

Bryant joined Illinois after two seasons playing as a substitute for the NC State Wolfpack and lately, she’s been outstanding. Since Dec. 18, Bryant averages 20 points and six assists per game. The junior’s also shooting 59% from three in the same period.

On Dec. 21, Bryant had a triple-double with 22 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, although it was against the Florida Atlantic Owls. On Jan. 1, to kick off 2023, Bryant hit a career high against a team projected to take the conference this season and it earned Bryant her second-straight Big Ten Player of the Week award.

The Illini welcomed guard Caitlin Clark and the then No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes to Champaign, Illinois, and played their best game of the season.

Illinois led the Hawkeyes in point off turnovers, second chance points, points in the paint and points off the fast break. Bryant went 3-for-3 from deep on her way to 24 points.

Joining Bryant in having a career game was forward Kendall Bostic. The 6-foot-2 junior who transferred from Michigan State two years ago scored 17 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting, adding 12 rebounds in her fourth double-double of the season.

Even so, it’s not a one-sided game when Clark and center Monika Czinano are on the court.

With 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Illinois brought their deficit down to three points — enter Clark. This time though, the 2022 Naismith Award finalist couldn’t get a three away, instead the guard fouled out.

The Fighting Illini’s 90-86 win is their first against a ranked opponent this year, but leading a team like Iowa, who was picked as the preseason conference champion, for the last 23 minutes of the game is an accomplishment.

It makes Sunday’s game in Columbus, against the Buckeyes, a big matchup. Not bad for first year Illinois coach Shauna Green, on her way to leading the Illini to their first winning season since the 2012/13 season.

Conference Standings

B1G WBB Standings

Position Team B1G Record Overall Games Back
Position Team B1G Record Overall Games Back
1 Ohio State 4-0 15-0 -
2 Indiana 3-1 13-1 1
3 Illinois 3-1 13-2 1
4 Maryland 3-1 12-3 1
5 Iowa 3-1 11-4 1
6 Michigan 2-1 12-2 1.5
7 Purdue 2-2 11-3 2
8 Michigan State 2-2 10-5 2
9 Nebraska 2-2 10-5 2
10 Penn State 1-2 10-4 2.5
11 Minnesota 1-2 8-6 2.5
12 Northwestern 0-2 6-7 3.5
13 Rutgers 0-4 6-10 4
14 Wisconsin 0-4 4-11 4

Standings through Monday, Jan. 2

AP Poll

When looking at the Big Ten standings, there’s one clear omission in the AP Poll. The Fighting Illini received votes, but only enough to be the first team left off the Top-25 poll.

3 - Ohio State (NC)

6 - Indiana Hoosiers (-2)

13 - Maryland Terrapins (+3)

14 - Michigan Wolverines (NC)

16 - Iowa Hawkeyes (-4)

Conference Schedule

With it only being conference games from here on out, every week features games that impact the conference standings.

Tuesday, Jan. 3

Thursday, Jan. 5

  • No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes at Minnesota Golden Gophers - 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Northwestern Wildcats at Illinois Fighting Illini - 9:00 p.m. ET

Saturday, Jan. 7

  • Michigan State Spartans at No. 13 Maryland Terrapins - 1:00 p.m. ET
  • Purdue Boilermakers at Penn State Nittany Lions - 2:00 p.m. ET
  • Nebraska Cornhuskers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights - 2:00 p.m. ET
  • No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes at No. 14 Michigan Wolverines - 4:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Jan. 8

  • Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes - 1:00 p.m. ET
  • No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers at Northwestern Wildcats - 3:00 p.m. ET
  • Minnesota Golden Gophers at Wisconsin Badgers - 4:00 p.m. ET

Basketball Front and Center

Now that the Big Ten football schedule is done for the fall season, basketball reigns supreme. On March 12, a little over two months away, the NCAA March Madness selection show airs live on ESPN.

There’s a lot of time and basketball between the start of 2023 and the selection show, but currently the conference has seven teams in ESPN’s Bracketology lining up for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Will all seven make it? Will anyone else enter the conversation at the top of the Big Ten between now and then?

There are no clear answers at this point of the season, so sit back and enjoy as the 12 teams battle it out each week.