December 17, 2023 

Big Ten roundup: Another Caitlin Clark masterpiece, Illinois loses to Missouri and more

Several teams facing question marks as non-conference schedule winds down

It was a lighter week across the conference as teams shifted back into the final stretch of non-conference play. Caitlin Clark led Iowa to a 29-point win over Cleveland State, and Illinois followed up a blowout loss to Michigan last week with a narrow defeat against Missouri. Also this week, I’m checking in on Wisconsin and Rutgers, two programs coming off rough 2022-23 seasons and relying on young talent to take a leap forward this year.

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

What everybody’s talking about

Clark could probably headline this roundup every week, and she left little choice this time around with her 38-point masterclass in Des Moines on Saturday night. Facing a 9-1 Cleveland State team, albeit without star player Destiny Leo who was declared out for the season recently, Clark shot 13-of-21 from the field, including 9-of-16 from beyond the arc, while climbing to ninth on the sport’s all-time scoring list.

Saturday was Clark’s fourth game scoring at least 35 points this season; no other player has more than one such performance this year.

Clark and the Hawkeyes will have one more non-conference tuneup on Thursday against Loyola Chicago before their Big Ten home opener against upstart Minnesota on Dec. 30.

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This caught my attention…

The 2023-24 season had all the makings of being a massive success for Shauna Green and Illinois, but so far, it’s been a surprisingly uneven start for the Fighting Illini. After a disastrous 84-48 loss at home to Big Ten foe Michigan last Sunday, Illinois once again fell on its home court this Sunday, this time in a 69-66 loss to Missouri.

Now 5-4 this season, Green’s group still has plenty of time to turn things around. But the early struggles from a team that returned all five of its starters this year are certainly a bit of a surprise.

Illinois has had key matchups with Marquette and Notre Dame, in addition to games with Michigan and Missouri; the Illini have lost all four of those games against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents.

The team will have another chance to pick up its first Power Five win of the season on Wednesday when they travel to Florida for the West Palm Beach Classic and a contest with Arkansas.

Other notable headlines

Serah Williams posts third double-double of the season against St. Thomas

Wisconsin’s Serah Williams doesn’t receive as much attention as some of the other top players in the conference, but the sophomore forward has played an outsized role in any success Wisconsin has had this season. In the Badgers’ 78-55 win over St. Thomas on Wednesday, Williams had her third double-double of the year, scoring 21 points and corralling 14 rebounds. 

Now 6-4, Wisconsin hasn’t yet had a notable win after last season’s 11-20 finish. The Badgers have lost tight games against Arkansas (currently 9-3) and Butler (currently 7-3), in addition to their 22-point loss at home last Sunday to Iowa.

Before the season, Wisconsin head coach Marisa Moseley said she’d be relying on contributions from her incoming freshmen to help the program build off its strong end to the 2022-23 season. So far, she’s seen mixed results from that group. Guard D’Yanis Jimenez has headlined the quartet of newcomers, averaging 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. 

Moseley’s received more from two of her other sophomores, Ronnie Porter and Sania Copeland. Neither played a ton last season, but both are now playing more than 30 minutes per game and averaging 10.6 and 9.7 points per game respectively.

Kaylene Smikle also following up a strong first season with an impressive sophomore campaign

Like Wisconsin, Rutgers had a subpar 2022-23 season but had a roster featuring a standout freshman for the program to build around. Smikle averaged nearly 18 points per game last year, and she’s picked up roughly where she left off, currently averaging 17.1 points per contest.

In spite of Smikle’s success, the Scarlet Knights are still just 6-8 on the season. Like last season, the weight of the offense has largely been placed on her shoulders. Junior Destiny Adams is the only other player on the team averaging double figures in scoring, and if Rutgers can’t find other contributors on offense, it’s going to be another long season for head coach Coquese Washington in Piscataway.

Purdue follows up Minneapolis disaster with brutal performance against Notre Dame

Another program relying on young talent to carry the load, the Boilermakers struggled mightily from start to finish on Sunday in South Bend, losing to their in-state rivals, 76-39. Purdue shot just 24.6% from the field and turned the ball over 21 times in the 37-point defeat.

The Boilermakers lost their Big Ten opener last Sunday in backbreaking fashion when fifth-year guard Jeanae Terry committed a foul on Minnesota’s Amaya Battle in a tie game with three seconds left to put Battle at the free throw line.

A year after its surprise run to the NCAA Tournament, Purdue has lots of work still to do to reach that level of play this season.

Notable games coming up this week:

  • Monday: Ohio State plays UCLA at 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Illinois plays Arkansas at 11 a.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Maryland plays James Madison at 2 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Michigan plays Florida at 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Nebraska plays Kansas at 7:30 p.m. ET

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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