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Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings: Beginning of conference play

Conference basketball is all that’s on the calendar between now and the start of March Madness, so here’s where teams sit.

Ben Cole - Land-Grant Holy Land

Big Ten conference play is back in a big way to start 2023, and already teams are grabbing attention. Not only is the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team the only remaining undefeated squad, but upsets to the Iowa Hawkeyes and Indiana Hoosiers thrust teams like the Illinois Fighting Illini into the discussion.

To organize the madness, Land-Grant Holy Land brings you Big Ten women’s basketball power rankings. It’s an arbitrary list based on the vibes of teams at the current moment of the season.

Check out the first edition here, created before conference play hit its stride. Now, with most schools playing four Big Ten games, it’s time to see where the teams land.

1 - Ohio State Buckeyes

Last Ranking: 2 (+1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/5 at Minnesota & 1/8 vs. Illinois

No. 1 on the list is the easiest choice. The Ohio State Buckeyes are the lone undefeated team in the conference. Add to that the Scarlet & Gray having four wins against ranked opponents, and two within 10 days of one another.

On top of that, they’re doing it with two guards injured, including Madison Greene out for the season, announced before the two new ranked wins to close out 2022.

Rikki Harris (1) is leading the Buckeyes attack with absences to Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene
Ben Cole - Land-Grant Holy Land

Can Ohio State continue their play as the roster changes and tougher Big Ten opponents appear on the schedule?

2 - Indiana Hoosiers

Last Ranking: 1 (-1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/8 at Northwestern & 1/12 vs. Maryland

It’s easy to agree for most people who watch the Big Ten that, when healthy, the Indiana Hoosiers have the ability to win the conference. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, that isn’t the case this year.

Guard Grace Berger has been out six weeks, and it led to Indiana’s first loss of the season against the Michigan State Spartans. Once the Crimson are back at full health, upsets like that are less likely to happen.

Following their loss to the Spartans, the Hoosiers bounced back with a win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Center Mackenzie Holmes scored 22 in the win, as she leads the Hoosiers and sits second in the conference averaging 20.9 points per game.

3 - Maryland Terrapins

Last Ranking: 4 (+1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 vs. Michigan State & 1/12 at Indiana

As long as the Maryland Terrapins have guard Diamond Miller, they’re going to keep on winning. Miller is first in blocks per game, fifth in scoring and 11th in rebounding this season. That includes three double-doubles and a buzzer-beating shot to beat Notre Dame in the ACC/B1G Challenge.

Maryland are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and even though one of those losses was a lopsided defeat to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Miller and the Terrapins also beat a ranked Notre Dame and UConn side in the stretch.

In their two-game return to Big Ten play, Maryland won both games by double-digits, but against teams in the bottom half of the standings in Rutgers and Minnesota. In the next stretch of competition, Maryland has one of the more difficult pair of games playing a surging Michigan State team at home and the Hoosiers in Indiana.

4 - Michigan Wolverines

Last Ranking: 3 (-1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 vs. Iowa & 1/10 at Purdue

If not for Maryland’s current form, the Michigan Wolverines wouldn’t lose a spot in the rankings. Michigan beat the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels and narrowly lost to the No. 3 Buckeyes, but the UNC win is looking less impressive as the days go on.

The Tar Heels lost their next two games, and are on a three-game skid. UNC’s also lost big to the Indiana Hoosiers in the ACC/B1G Challenge, taking a little luster away from the Maize & Blue’s win over the powder blues.

Since losing to Ohio State though on New Year’s Eve, Michigan beat the Penn State Nittany Lions Tuesday. Now, the Wolverines have the chance to reinforce their spot near the top of the conference against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

5 - Illinois Fighting Illini

Last Ranking: 7 (+2)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/5 vs. Northwestern & 1/8 at Ohio State

The Illinois Fighting Illini are the surprise team of the season in the Big Ten. Under new head coach Shauna Green, Illinois are 13-2, well on their way to their first winning season since 2012-13. Green and the Illini are doing it with a pair of transfers too.

Former NC State guard Genesis Bryant’s won B1G Player of the Week for two straight weeks. Since starting for the Illini in mid-December, Bryant averages 20 points and six assists a game. In the streak of four starts, Bryant threw a triple-double into the mix against the Florida Atlantic Owls.

Green and the Illini grabbed attention last week, defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes in Champaign, Illinois. It wasn’t a last second steal either. The Illini held the lead for the last 23 minutes of game clock.

Their form this year makes their trip to Columbus on Sunday must-watch Big Ten basketball.

6 - Iowa Hawkeyes

Last Ranking: 5 (-1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 at Michigan & 1/11 vs. Northwestern

There’s still plenty of time for the Iowa Hawkeyes to bounce back from their current sixth place spot in the standings, but it’s been a rough start to the year.

It hasn’t been due to injury either. Guard Caitlin Clark, consensus First Team All-B1G and Naismith Player of the Year finalist in 2022, had a minor ankle knock but didn't miss any time. Clark also leads the conference, and her own NCAA career high, with 27.1 points per game.

Clark and center Monika Czinano are playing their best college basketball of their careers, but beyond that it’s been tough for Iowa to pull out victories. In their last 10 games they have three losses, two to ranked sides and their last game against Illinois.

Losing to teams they should beat happened last year too, so don’t count Iowa anywhere close to out yet.

7 - Michigan State Spartans

Last Ranking: 10 (+4)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 at Maryland & 1/11 vs. Wisconsin

The Michigan State Spartans made the biggest leap in the power rankings this time around, jumping four spots. That leap also matches their current winning streak.

Sparty played the Buckeyes tough, with Ohio State winning with their closest margin in a conference victory by only six points. Impressive considering the Scarlet & Gray averaged double-digit wins up until that point.

Since that loss, the Spartans are continuing their tough play. While two of those four were against small non-conference opponents, the other two featured a win against the Indiana Hoosiers.

Michigan State is a team to watch down the stretch, and fans of the Big Ten will see what they’re made of this week when they travel to Maryland on Saturday.

8 - Purdue Boilermakers

Last Ranking: 6 (-2)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 at Penn State & 1/10 vs. Michigan

West Lafayette’s own Purdue Boilermakers have a better record than the Spartans, but sit below them in the power rankings because they can’t seem to get a marquee conference win.

To be fair to Purdue, they did beat a Syracuse University team that has a 10-4 record — a vast improvement from the Oranges’ 11-18 record last year. However, when Big Ten teams come calling, the Boilermakers keep falling.

With losses to in-state rivals, the Hoosiers, and a narrow defeat at home to the Terrapins, Purdue’s best win in-Big Ten play comes against the Spartans. In that game, it took overtime for Purdue to scrap out the three-point win.

Tuesday’s game against Michigan will be an interesting test for a Purdue team that’s capable of much more than their current output.

9 - Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last Ranking: 11 (+2)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 at Rutgers & 1/11 vs. Penn State

Coming up at nine are the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska started the year with expectations, fell hard in a week’s time, but have begun climbing back. That was until last week.

During their climb, the Cornhuskers slipped. Nebraska lost to the Michigan Wolverines and Indiana Hoosiers in back-to-back games. Sure, it’s a tough stretch, but in both games Nebraska looked like they could win.

The Cornhuskers played confidently in both matchups for roughly three quarters before their opponents showed their experience. Michigan pulled away for a 17-point win, but Indiana needed overtime before eventually pulling away.

Syndication: The Herald-Times
Maggie Mendelson (44) in Nebraska’s overtime loss to the Indiana Hoosiers
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Someone to watch on the Cornhuskers is center Maggie Mendelson. The 6-foot-5 dual-sport athlete joined Nebraska’s basketball team at the end of the Nebraska volleyball season. Mendelson has averaged 5.5 points per game in four appearances, but it’s not bad for a 17-year-old who graduated high school a whole year early to compete at Nebraska.

10 - Penn State Nittany Lions

Last Ranking: 9 (-1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 vs. Purdue & 1/11 at Nebraska

Penn State is on a high on the football side of things, winning the Rose Bowl on Monday. For the women’s basketball team, things aren’t going as great.

The Nittany Lions are similar to the Cornhuskers in their games this season. They’re competing for a majority of the game until their opponent takes over. In their 10-5 record, three of them are against Big Ten teams, including Indiana, Minnesota and an early afternoon defeat on Tuesday, in a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Michigan ultimately won by 10 points, but guard Makenna Marisa and the Nittany Lions fell in the final quarter.

11 - Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last Ranking: 8 (-3)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/5 vs. Ohio State & 1/8 at Wisconsin

The toughest spots to fill in the power rankings were at 10 and 11. It’s a toss-up really between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Penn State Nittany Lions. Both teams are younger and have better records because of the teams they’ve faced — which explains them needing two overtimes to decide a winner in their first Big Ten games of the season.

Minnesota starts two freshmen in guard Mara Braun and forward Mallory Heyer, and both are having great first seasons. They’re setting up the Golden Gophers to be a tough competitor in the next few seasons, but right now beating teams like Eastern Illinois and then getting blown out by 22 points to Maryland is about where Minnesota should be in their development.

12 - Northwestern Wildcats

Last Ranking: 12 (NC)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/5 at Illinois & 1/8 vs. Indiana

Northwestern starts the first of three teams in the conference with no wins in the Big Ten. The Wildcats break the tie because they’ve only played three games in-conference so far.

The Wildcats kept it close against the Spartans, but now face a tough stretch that’s liable to terrorize Northwestern. After facing Illinois and Indiana within three days, they travel to the Iowa Hawkeyes. It gets slightly easier welcoming Purdue, but then its another game against the Buckeyes followed by the Fighting Illini.

13 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Last Ranking: 14 (+1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/7 vs. Nebraska & 1/12 at Minnesota

Rutgers has a long way to go in their development with a new head coach at the helm. The Scarlet Knights have no wins against a Power Five school, but to their credit have faced three of four conference teams that any team in the conference could lose to: Illinois, Ohio State and Maryland.

As the Scarlet Knights begin playing the Northwesterns and Wisconsins of the world, wins will come their way and maybe some motivation to build off of going into the 2023-24 season.

14 - Wisconsin Badgers

Last Ranking: 13 (-1)
Upcoming B1G Games: 1/8 vs. Minnesota & 1/11 at Michigan State

Wisconsin. Oh, Wisconsin. The Badgers are 4-11 this year, and are losing in Big Ten play by an average of 21.8 points per game.

Maybe a rivalry game against Minnesota this week will show a different side of the Badgers, but right now their lone win in the last 10 came against St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

While its been a tough season for Wisconsin, they did have a trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam. That’s an experience that nobody can take away.