Women’s basketball: state of the Big Ten down the stretch

Sam Britten, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

The Big Ten started out looking uncompetitive, having only two ranked teams before the season began. Where does it stand now? Well, it’s kind of the same. The conference has bounced up and down, looking elite at its best, but poor at its worst. It’s tough to say if it’s just a bunch of teams beating up on each other, or if the conference just genuinely isn’t good. Here are six teams to watch in the last few weeks of conference play.

Iowa (12-3)

The No. 10 Hawkeyes started out as a good team, but have since evolved into a top-1o team and conference title contender when it’s all said and done. The winners of five straight have looked like a different team since they lost in East Lansing back in December. They have significant victories over No. 23 Minnesota, No. 14 Rutgers, No. 23 Michigan State and No. 7 Maryland.

Senior forward Megan Gustafson is one of the best players in the nation, averaging 27.4 points and 13.1 rebounds per game while shooting above 70 percent from the field. In addition to Gustafson, Iowa has three players averaging above 10 points per game that are all shooting above 40 percent. The Hawkeyes are now in the driver’s seat after their victory over Maryland, owning very good odds to put a trophy in their case in a few weeks.

Maryland (12-3)

The Terrapins were the obvious pick to win the Big Ten before the season started, coming in at No. 9 in the AP Top 25 and climbing as high as No. 4 before falling to Rutgers. Maryland is still a great team and its record shows why, but after looking at the quality wins the Terps have, some might leave scratching their heads. Maryland is 2-2 against ranked teams and 14 of its 23 wins are against teams that aren’t above the .500 mark.

Sure, there are probably some teams out there that have a worse record against teams above .500, but Maryland hasn’t taken advantage of its opportunities to prove its ranking. The Terps were recently handled by Iowa in a 13-point loss. Nevertheless, this is still a very strong squad with one of the best team shooting percentages in the country. There are three games left in the regular season for the Terps, all of which are easy opportunities to gain momentum before the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers (10-4)

Yes, Rutgers is good at something this year…well, at least they have the potential to be. The Scarlet Knights weren’t on anyone’s radar until they upset No. 4 Maryland in College Park, rattling off six more wins after that to cap a 10-game winning streak before falling to No. 17 Iowa. Don’t get me wrong, the Scarlet Knights do have their issues, and losing their last three games should keep fans skeptical, but a team that holds its opponents to a 35.7 shooting percentage and 56.2 points per game says something.

Rutgers currently sits at third in the Big Ten and still has a good chance to take a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but the path ahead isn’t a walk in the park. The Scarlet Knights will have to face an Indiana team that has surprised some teams, travel to Ann Arbor to play a Michigan squad that has very quietly won six games in a row and play a Minnesota team that they previously lost to earlier in the year. Don’t let the record fool you, Rutgers is slipping, but the only team stopping them is the Scarlet Knights themselves.

Michigan State (7-7)

One of the teams with the most potential has been consistently inconsistent. The Spartans look great, even scary at home, but they look lost and confused on the road. The Spartans are 1-7 on the road in the Big Ten, including embarrassing losses at Wisconsin and Nebraska in the past week. A perfect 13-0 record at home is great, but it doesn’t mean much if a team can’t get it done against sub-.500 teams, regardless of where the game may be.

There are still glimmers of hope when Shay Colley dribbles past defenders and Nia Clouden shows promise as a young player, which is why Michigan State still has potential. The Spartans have four games left, three of them being at home, but the perfect home record may be challenged when Michigan comes to the Breslin on Sunday for a revenge game. When Michigan State is good, they’re great, and they can make a statement this year, but they need to show they can win on the road first.

Michigan (9-6)

As previously stated, the Wolverines have very sneakily won six games in a row, with one of those wins being against Iowa. They’ve also climbed into fourth place in the Big Ten standings, and have a few strong opponents ahead of them to show how good of a team they are. The Wolverines will host Rutgers on Thursday and travel to East Lansing on Sunday with revenge in mind.

Considering almost every team in the Big Ten only has three more games, two more wins would likely seal a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament and continue to build a better resume for Michigan when March comes around. One thing is for sure, the Wolverines are getting hot at the right time.

Minnesota (8-7)

Minnesota has dealt with stretches of inconsistency this season, starting out unranked, but with loads of potential. The Golden Gophers didn’t lose until the end of December, but then proceeded to lose six of their next seven games. Minnesota climbed to as high as No. 12, but continually fell in the rankings each week and has yet to get back into the polls.

Kenisha Bell and Destiny Pitts have been the team leaders, averaging 18.8 and 14.7 points per game, respectively. Taiye Bello also pitches in, grabbing 12.5 rebounds per game. The Gophers have since won six games straight and have a big game this Thursday when they travel to Maryland. They might need some luck to earn a top-four seed in the Big Ten, but it’s still a possibility.

The Big Ten has had a so-so year with teams falling in and out of the rankings, but the conference has ultimately proven it has the potential to be great in the near future. A lot of teams have seemed to just beat up on each other, but there seems to be a lot of contenders that could make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and maybe even win a few games in March.