Big Ten Women’s Basketball Bracketology: Indiana shows its contender credentials

Here is the blurb I wrote in this series just last week about the Indiana Hoosiers’ play:

“Something has felt a little off with the Hoosiers for a while now… This is not the same caliber of team as the one that entered last season’s Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, and this certainly won’t challenge Ohio State and Iowa for the conference title.”

Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and admit when a team proves you wrong. Indiana looked every bit the part of a Big Ten contender in dispatching Iowa 86-69, flying around on defense and running pristine offensive actions.

The victory was a massive one for both the Hoosiers’ mindset and their place in the standings, as they took a half-game lead on the Hawkeyes for second in the Big Ten standings. But Indiana was not the only team that benefitted from the result. For more information on the final week of the regular season, read below:

Ohio State: 1-seed

Games this week: vs. Michigan on Wed. (Peacock), at Iowa on Sun.

The No. 2 Buckeyes did what they needed to do by getting two wins against potential bubble teams in Penn State in Maryland this week. Indiana’s win over Iowa gave the Buckeyes a two-game edge in the conference standings. If Ohio State takes care of business at home against rival Michigan on Wednesday, it will enter the Big Ten Tournament as its No. 1 seed regardless of the outcome of its regular season finale against Iowa.

Iowa: 2-seed

Games this upcoming week: at Minnesota on Wed. (Peacock), vs. Ohio State on Sun.

The No. 4 Hawkeyes’ loss at Indiana is not a bad loss on its face, but it did raise a concern for Iowa’s case as a title contender: What does Iowa do when Caitlin Clark is having an off night? The Hawkeyes hung around for a bit, in part because of Clark’s nine dimes, but it was clear that they did not have the firepower to make up for low-production game from their star. That could come back to bite them when they face teams with multiple high-level defenders.

Caitlin Clark Record Tracker: Points, assists, rebounds and award milestones for Iowa superstar

Indiana: 3-seed

Games this week: at Northwestern on Tue., vs. Maryland on Sun. (Peacock)

The No. 14 Hoosiers’ offensive efficiency was on full display against Iowa; led by 49 combined points from Sara Scalia and Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana shot 51.6% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point range. However, it was the Hoosiers’ defensive performance that inspired the most confidence for their big-game outlook, as they held a high-powered Iowa offense to 38.8% shooting and limited Clark to 24 points on 26 shots.

Michigan State: 7-seed

Games this week: vs. Illinois on Thu., at Wisconsin on Sun.

The Spartans extended their win streak to three in defeating Purdue and Rutgers last week. More importantly, they stay in range of that crucial No. 4 seed that would earn them a bye to the third day of the Big Ten Tournament. They are tied in the loss column with Nebraska, to whom they lost their only regular season meeting, so they need to beat Illinois and then hope the Illini can come up big on the final day of the regular season.

Nebraska: 8-seed

Games this week: at Illinois on Sun.

The Spartans are hoping that the Cornhuskers are not locked in, but this last week gave no indication of any such mental lapse. Wins by 20-plus over Northwestern and Minnesota must have Nebraska feeling confident, and they have over a week to prepare for their road showdown at Illinois. As of now, the Cornhuskers are the final team on this list that can feel secure in the NCAA Tournament field.

Michigan: 10-seed

Games this week: at Ohio State on Wed. (Peacock), vs. Purdue on Sun.

It is the slimmest of margins that separates Michigan and Maryland in these projections. The Wolverines have the head-to-head win in the season series, a two-point, overtime nail-biter back in January. Michigan will be hard-pressed to build on its win over Northwestern, though; as outlined above, the Buckeyes will be quite motivated for their date in Columbus.

Maryland: 10-seed

Games this week: vs. Wisconsin on Thu., at Indiana on Sun. (Peacock)

The Terrapins face a tough road game of their own in the final week, going up against an Indiana team that will at least be battling for the No. 2 seed in the conference. Maryland is tied with Michigan in Big Ten play and has better advanced metrics, so they could jump ahead of the Wolverines simply if they are more competitive in their matchup against a ranked foe.

Penn State: 11-seed (First Four)

Games this week: at Purdue on Wed., vs. Minnesota on Sun.

A six-game losing streak will see you lose ground fast in both the Big Ten standings and Bracketology projections. At the end of January, Penn State was eyeing at least a 7-seed, maybe better. The Nittany Lions have lost every game they have played in February with just one more chance to get a win in the month. They still have the conference tournament to make an impression, but they are hanging on by a thread.

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