February is here, and that means we are about one month out from the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament. That is where teams will make their final statement on seeding for the NCAA Tournament, but we might already be seeing the cream of the crop distinguish itself.
Everyone knew Iowa, led by superstar Caitlin Clark, was going to be among the conference’s elite entering the season. There was a little uncertainty outside of the Hawkeyes, though. Who would show themselves to be on that national championship contention level? Or would Iowa be the only team of that caliber to come from the Big Ten?
Sunday’s matchup between No. 8 Ohio State and No. 10 Indiana was a play-in of sorts for that conversation: a battle between the second- and third-highest ranked teams in the conference by the AP Poll. With the Buckeyes winning 74-69, they not only got the upper hand on the Hoosiers, but they also kept pace with the Hawkeyes as their regular season closing bout approaches.
For more on how this impacts the NCAA Tournament bracket projections, read on:
Games this upcoming week: vs. Penn State on Thu., at Nebraska on Sun.
Very few college athletes have ever been able to control important moments like Caitlin Clark does. On Wednesday, with the chance to jump two spots into No. 2 on the all-time scoring list in one night, Clark calmly picked her spots and easily surpassed Jackie Stiles and Kelsey Mitchell before halftime en route to a blowout win. Then, facing Iowa’s first resistance since the loss to Ohio State, Clark poured in 38 points with 12 assists to get past Maryland Saturday. At this point, Clark seems like she would be comfortable literally playing under a microscope.
Ohio State: 2-seed
Ohio State has won nine games in a row and is tied with Iowa atop the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes’ home win over Indiana Sunday continued their undefeated record against the four other highest-seeded teams on this list. They have a chance to further extend that streak in two road challenges this week. No one is playing better ball than the Buckeyes right now.
Games this week: vs. Michigan State on Thu. (Peacock), vs. Purdue on Sun.
Losing close at Ohio State is no travesty. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, their two matchups with the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes thus far have come away from Assembly Hall. They won’t see Ohio State again, but they get their chance at revenge on Iowa at the end of February. In the meantime, they need to keep pace or, preferably, make up ground in conference play.
Penn State: 7-seed
Games this week: at Iowa on Thu., at Wisconsin on Sun.
The Lady Lions had their win streak snapped at six games by Michigan Saturday. Penn State can take solace that it took a blistering-hot 47.1% mark from three for the Wolverines to take the win by five points, but a home loss to a lower-ranked team will kill the vibes. That’s not a great state to be in entering a mammoth matchup with Iowa.
Michigan State: 8-seed
Hopefully the Spartans enjoyed their rest during their one-game week featuring a blowout win vs. Rutgers, because they are in for one whale of a follow-up: They get the rare three-games-in-a-calendar-week slate, all against teams that expect to make the tournament, including two of the conference’s best three squads. We’ll be seeing a lot of what Michigan State has to offer.
Games this week: at Michigan on Tue., vs. Iowa on Sun.
Being Rutgers’ first conference victory — and in Lincoln, no less — is, admittedly, tough. The Cornhuskers have lost three of their last four and face teams currently slated to make the tournament in their next three. That includes Iowa and Ohio State back-to-back. It’s going to be tough sledding, but we’re going to see what Nebraska is made of.
Games this week: vs. Nebraska on Tue., vs. Rutgers on Sat.
The Wolverines did well to undo an ugly home loss to Illinois with a solid road win at Penn State during the week. It’s still a little bit difficult to nail down who this team is. In the last month, they were blown out by Minnesota and Nebraska but beat Maryland and Penn State. If Michigan can lock in some positive consistency, it won’t be an easy out come postseason play.
Maryland: 11-seed (First Four)
Games this week: at Rutgers on Tue., at Illinois on Sun.
The schedule finally eases up for the Terrapins, who have lost their last four against an incredibly difficult slate (at Michigan, at Penn State, vs. Indiana, vs. Iowa) but have shown glimpses. Maryland is down to 4-7 in the Big Ten, though, so there’s no time to waste: They have to take advantage of these lower-ranked teams now.
Minnesota: Out (on the bubble)
Games this week: at Michigan State on Mon., vs. Ohio State on Thu. (Peacock)
The Gophers have lost four of their last five after starting conference play hot, and now leading scorer Mara Braun is out indefinitely. A team that relies heavily on underclassmen is going to have its ups and downs, but Minnesota’s outlook for a difficult week is much worse without Braun in the lineup.
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