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Many of us follow just our own school’s Big Ten women’s team, if we tune in at all (I myself admit to mostly being a serial boxscore watcher and an “if it’s on” kind of guy). Which is really dumb, as I reminded myself once again when listening to radio yesterday in the Twin Cities. Because there are lots of great storylines in the Big Ten this year!
Here are a few:
Seriously, Rutgers is ROLLING
OK, so an undefeated-in-the-B1G Rutgers Scarlet Knights team is less surprising in women’s basketball than perhaps any other sport.
But still, considering that the Knights are coming off a 20-12 (7-9) season in which legendary head coach C. Vivian Stringer declined the WNIT to focus on their future, this season (1) still stands out for just how hot Rutgers has started, and (2) reminds us all that Coach Stringer is an absolute damn genius.
We took note when Rutgers knocked off Maryland IN COLLEGE PARK near the start of Big Ten play, and now, with the Scarlet Knights winners of 9 straight, at #20 in the nation, and projected at a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to pay attention.
Consecutive games at #17 Michigan State in a Sunday matinee, followed by at Iowa next week, though, will tell us a lot about if the Knights are for real. Speaking of...
Have you heard about Megan Gustafson?
If not, wait about 2 seconds and an Iowa fan will tell you. And it’s for good reason.
The #22 Iowa Hawkeyes have stumbled a bit in Big Ten play, but their ace on the inside just keeps rolling. The 6’3” Port Wing, WI, native is a force inside, having racked up double-doubles in all but one game this year—averaging 26.4 ppg and 12.9 rpg. I caught a Hawk Talk interview one night in Iowa City where head coach Lisa Bluder openly acknowledged that the program was all-in on hyping Gustafson’s player of the year, All-American candidacy, and if it doesn’t work, I don’t know what else she can do.
For all that, though, the Hawks have scuffled because they really can’t shoot from distance (33% on the year), and opponents definitely employ a collapsing defense and physical, physical defense against Gustafson and frontcourt partner Hannah Stewart.
Parity, then Maryland
Yes, yes the Maryland Terrapins are still on top of the conference, even if Rutgers sits atop the standings. Brenda Frese’s team is ranked 9th in the country at 15-1 (4-1), with only the loss to Rutgers blemishing their campaign. While Kaila Charles (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, is still the straw that stirs the drink for the Terps, freshmen Taylor Mikesell (14.9 ppg) bombs away from deep and Shakira Austin patrols the boards for an ever-dangerous Maryland squad (11.3 rpg).
After that, though, there’s a lot of parity up and down the Big Ten. No one is winless in conference, and four of the top 20 teams in NCAA RPI (Iowa, Rutgers, Indiana, Maryland) are B1G schools. In fact, only Minnesota (102), Ohio State (112), Illinois (147), and wisconsin (153) are outside the Top 100. Should be a wild ride to the finish in the Big Ten.
Notes and Nuggets:
- Perhaps the entire reason I started writing this piece—the Minnesota Golden Gophers have a new, celebrity coach! Program legend and former WNBA star Lindsay Whalen retired, took the reins, and promptly brought the Gophers to former glory in the non-conference with an 11-0 run. They’ve come crashing back down since, though, going 1-4 in conference.
- The Indiana Hoosiers cracked the rankings at #25 for just the fifth time in program history. Congrats to the Hoosiers! They celebrated with a 75-69 loss to my Northwestern Wildcats.
Currently there are 6 Big Ten teams projected in March Madness, just behind the SEC and ACC’s 8 teams each. That’s down from 7, as Minnesota has tumbled to the First Four Out after its four-game conference skid.
Maryland Terrapins (3 seed, College Park regional vs. VCU Rams)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5 seed, Ames regional vs. James Madison Dukes)
Iowa Hawkeyes (5 seed, Austin regional vs. Penn Quakers)
Indiana Hoosiers (6 seed, Corvallis regional vs. Northern Colorado Bears)
Michigan State Spartans (6 seed, Syracuse regional vs. Kansas Jayhawks)
Purdue Boilermakers (11 seed, Milwaukee regional vs. Tennessee Volunteers)
That’s what we’ve got—what storylines should Big Ten fans be aware of in women’s basketball this year?