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Big Ten notebook: Ohio State clinches share of conference title, the Iowa-Indiana-Illinois triangle and more

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A 79-66 win over Maryland on Sunday allowed the No. 2 Buckeyes to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title with their 14th win in a row, while No. 4 Iowa, No. 14 Indiana and unranked Illinois all beat up on each other this week and Nebraska and Michigan State kept pace with each other for fourth place.

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Here’s your week 16 roundup of Big Ten action:

What everybody’s talking about: Ohio State’s run continues

Last season, the Buckeyes looked like they peaked a little too early. After a win over Northwestern on Jan. 19, 2023, Ohio State improved to 19-0, but the team subsequently finished the regular season just 4-6. The Buckeyes rallied to reach the Big Ten Tournament championship game and then the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, but February and early March were a grind. 

That couldn’t be further from the case this season. After beating the Terps by 13 on Sunday, Ohio State’s now won 14 games in a row, including victories over Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan State (twice) and Maryland (twice). The Buckeyes (24-3; 15-1 Big Ten) are rolling, and there’s no sign they can be slowed down anytime soon.

Graduate guard Jacy Sheldon (17.9 points, 3.5 assists) and sophomore forward Cotie McMahon (14.1 points, 6.5 rebounds) receive the most attention, but it’s Ohio State’s depth this year that’s elevated its play. Reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Duke transfer Celeste Taylor has proven to be an immensely valuable addition, averaging 9.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, while junior guard Taylor Thierry’s averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. Add in graduate forward Rebeka Mikulasikova’s ability to stretch the floor, and Ohio State has numerous options to turn to on the floor.

But it’s not just the individual talent, as Big Ten Network analyst Meghan McKeown explained to The Next earlier this week. It’s the Buckeyes’ ability to not just rely on one style of play to win that’s positioned them atop the Big Ten.

“I just think that they are dangerous because they can turn you over, but also they can win in different ways,” she said. “They can win by running fast and outscoring you, but they can also grind it out in the half-court with you which is really scary to think that they are as multifaceted as they are.”

Read more from a Q&A with McKeown here.

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This caught my attention: A rollercoaster week for Indiana and Iowa

Right below Ohio State in the standings, both the Hoosiers (22-4; 13-3 Big Ten) and Hawkeyes (24-4; 13-3 Big Ten) suffered slipups this week that made the Buckeyes’ position at the top of the standings a bit more comfortable. On Monday, Indiana lost an ugly game, 86-66, on the road against Illinois (more on the Illini below). It was only the Hoosiers fourth loss of the season, but three of those four losses have come by at least 20 points, and this one could endanger Indiana’s hopes of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Bloomington. 

Still, the Hoosiers bounced back in their marquee matchup with Iowa at Assembly Hall on Thursday night with an 86-69 win. Sara Scalia scored 25 points (7-of-14 shooting), Mackenzie Holmes added 24 points, nine rebounds and four blocks and Yarden Garzon had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. 

Perhaps more impressively, Indiana held Caitlin Clark to 24 points on 8-of-26 shooting, though she did also have 10 rebounds and nine assists. 

Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes returned home to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday against Illinois and lit up the scoreboard in a 101-85 win. Clark led the way with her fifth triple-double of the season (24 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists), but she received support from Hannah Stuelke (20 points, nine rebounds), Molly Davis (17 points, five assists) and Kate Martin (13 points, six rebounds, four assists). Overall, Iowa shot 17-of-37 (45.9%) from 3-point range.

Other notable headlines

Illinois picks up a big win, but a tall climb ahead still remains

The Illini (13-13; 7-9 Big Ten) had been waiting for a win like the one they picked up over Indiana on Monday for awhile now. After making a surprise run to the NCAA Tournament last year, it’s been a grind for Shauna Green’s program this season, dealing with injuries and more inconsistency even though most of the roster is the same.

At 13-13 overall and 7-9 in the Big Ten, it’ll probably take back-to-back wins to close out the regular season and a run to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for Illinois to even have a shot of snagging an NCAA Tournament bid. Still, Green’s proud of the work her team’s continued to put in even though the ball hasn’t always bounced their way this year.

“It’s been challenging,” Green told The Next earlier this week. “It’s been my most challenging year in my years of head coaching, but I also think it’s probably been the most growth I’ve had personally and trying to figure out how to keep a team together, how to continue to motivate and lead through tough times.”

Read more on Illinois here

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Michigan State and Nebraska continue taking care of business

Although both the Spartans (20-7; 10-6 Big Ten) and Huskers (19-9; 11-6 Big Ten) have struggled to break through against the three top teams in the conference, they’ve continued to win games against the teams below them in the standings down the stretch. 

Michigan State took down Rutgers, 93-57, on Saturday, setting a program record for most 3-pointers made in a season in the process (253). Since the Spartans’ 15-point loss to Ohio State a couple weeks ago, they’ve won three in a row and close out the regular season hosting Illinois and playing at Wisconsin.

Nebraska, meanwhile, beat Minnesota, 70-51, on Saturday, also the Huskers’ third win in a row after a loss to Ohio State on Feb. 14. They’ll play at Illinois to close out the regular season next Sunday. Because Nebraska beat Michigan State on Dec. 9, a Huskers’ win over the Illini would clinch the double bye awarded to the top four teams in the conference for the Big Ten Tournament. 

Maryland misses chance for résumé-boosting win

Despite the best efforts of Bri McDaniel (21 points) and Brinae Alexander (16 points), Maryland couldn’t pull off the upset in Columbus on Sunday. The loss drops the Terps to 16-12 overall and 8-8 in conference play, with regular season games remaining against Wisconsin and Indiana. 

Maryland’s NCAA Tournament hopes will likely be determined by three factors: solid wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule (Syracuse, George Mason), if the Terps can beat Indiana next Sunday and how far they go in the Big Ten Tournament.

Right now, Maryland’s best conference wins came on the road against Minnesota before Sara Braun’s injury derailed a fantastic season for the Gophers, twice against Illinois and at home against Penn State. A win over Ohio State would’ve gone a long way to making a tournament bid more likely, but the Terps still have a couple chances left to move the needle in their favor.

Notable games coming up this week:

  • Wednesday: Michigan plays Ohio State at 7 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Illinois plays Michigan State at 8 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Ohio State plays Iowa at 1 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Maryland plays Indiana at 3 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Nebraska plays Illinois at 3 p.m. ET

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Editor’s note (Feb. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this story misstated the name of a Maryland player. She is Bri McDaniel, not Bri Alexander.

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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