September 25, 2023
One encouraging and one concerning stat for each Big Ten team as the season approaches
Optimism and caution for all 14 Big Ten teams
It’s the time of year when everybody’s optimistic. Teams coming off of deep NCAA Tournament runs think there’s more of that to come in the future. Teams that had rough years feel that with more experience under their belt and better injury luck, a postseason appearance is right around the corner.
Certain Big Ten teams are set up for stronger seasons than others. Iowa, for example, hopes to make another push for a national championship in what’s likely Caitlin Clark’s final season. Meanwhile, Northwestern is coming off of its worst season in over a decade and will need a lot to bounce its way to make a postseason tournament in 2023-24.
Still, from Iowa City to Evanston and across every other Big Ten town, there are both glimmers of hope and tales of caution roughly two months before the season begins. Here’s a list of one encouraging stat and one concerning stat for all 14 teams as the season draws closer.
All data points have been collected from Her Hoop Stats unless otherwise noted:
Encouraging: 107.5 – points per 100 possessions last season.
In head coach Shauna Green’s first season, the Illini loved to play fast; having Makira Cook and her elite shooting ability certainly helped. And while defense was also a major emphasis for Green from the moment she moved down to Champaign (“I tell them, ‘Hey, it’s not really that much fun right? But I can guarantee, if you want to win games – which is fun – we gotta defend,’” Green told The Next last December), it’s the offense that arguably took Illinois back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years.
The Illini’s points per 100 possessions ranked 11th-best in the country and third in the Big Ten, not far behind Iowa and Indiana and ahead of offensive powerhouses Ohio State and Maryland. With most of the offensive core, including Cook, returning this season, Illinois’ offensive prowess will likely be a key reason this team sees more success moving forward.
Concerning: 7.6% – steal rate in 2022-23.
For all the talk about needing defense to create offense, the Illini ranked 304th out of 361 teams in the country last season in steal rate. Surely there are other ways to turn defense into offense, like strong rebounding (which Illinois fared pretty well in last year), but steals are the most direct way of being able to get out in transition and convert easy points. If Illinois wants to take that next step and grab a single-digit NCAA Tournament seed, improving in this area will be key.
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Encouraging: 49.7% – field goal percentage last season.
Unsurprisingly, having one of the best post players in the country (Mackenzie Holmes) and elite shooters around her led to an awfully good shooting percentage for Indiana in 2022-23. Although the Hoosiers said goodbye to Grace Berger (who shot 48.4% from the field last year), returning Holmes, sharpshooters Yarden Garzon, Sydney Parrish and Sara Scalia and the do-it-all guard play of Chloe Moore-McNeil should result in the Hoosier’s shooting success once again propelling them to a top spot in the Big Ten standings.
Concerning: 138 – number of assists Grace Berger had last season.
Indiana didn’t have too many glaring shortcomings last season. However, entering 2023-24, it’s fair to wonder how Berger’s absence will impact the flow of the offense. She was second on the team in total assists last year, and if not for a knee injury that sidelined her for eight games in late November and early December, she would’ve likely led the category.
In her absence, Moore-McNeil proved to be a deft passer, and Garzon also showed some strength there, ranking third on the team with 95 assists (3.0 per game). Still, losing a player of Berger’s caliber always has to be a concern, regardless of who’s waiting in the wings.
Encouraging: 79 – number of 3-pointers Caitlin Clark made last season 25+ feet away from the basket.
According to CBB Analytics, nobody attempted or made more 3-pointers from that range than Clark last season. And, she was pretty good at it, converting those shots at a 42.9% clip (higher than her overall 3-point percentage of 38.9%). For comparison, Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist made just 30 such shots last year.
Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore made 61 but at a 35.7% rate. Clark’s elite range should only continue to make her nearly impossible to guard, as the Hawkeyes navigate life without Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock also on the floor to deflect some of the attention from her.
Concerning: 8.5 – number of offensive rebounds per game last year.
When a team has the best field goal percentage in the country (51.5%), that means fewer chances for offensive rebounds. But ranking 338th out of 361 is still lower than head coach Lisa Bluder wants her team to be. Sophomore Hannah Stuelke gaining more playing time in Czinano’s absence should help in this area.
The ultra-athletic post ranked in the 96th percentile last season in offensive rebound rate. “It’s a different type of five than we’ve had lately,” Bluder told The Next about Stuelke in May. “I just look forward to the challenge of incorporating a shorter, more athletic five into the mix than a Monika or Megan Gustafson was. It’s just a fun challenge for us.”
Encouraging: 2.1 – increase in win shares for Shyanne Sellers between 2021-22 and 2022-23.
With so much offensive production lost between Sellers’ freshman and sophomore seasons, she had to take on a bigger load last year for the Terps to reach the Elite Eight. The significant improvement in win shares – a metric that highlights the approximate number of wins a player is directly responsible for – signifies she was up to the task, helping reassure head coach Brenda Frese entering 2023-24.
Without star Diamond Miller, there will be even more weight on Sellers’ shoulders to put Maryland in position for success. “(She) just did a tremendous job of being able to score and play at both ends of the floor for us,” Frese told The Next in July. “No different going into this season. She’s going to play even more point guard duties for us. Great size at 6’, and she’s going to be asked to do even more this season for us.”
Concerning: 1,172 – number of points scored by Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers last season.
Replacing a large share of offensive production is something Maryland’s no stranger to. Of course, the Terps lost 87% of their offense entering last season and still made an Elite Eight run. But doing that year after year isn’t always sustainable. Even though Sellers will continue to take on a larger role, the other go-to scorers aren’t as clear.
The Terps did add Jakia Brown-Turner who averaged 9.1 points per game at NC State last season, and they return Brinae Alexander, Lavender Briggs and Faith Masonius, so that’s likely where more of the offense will need to come from if the Terps want to make another deep postseason run.
Encouraging: 2 – the Wolverines were just one of two teams in the Big Ten (Iowa was the other) to rank in the 80th percentile or above in field goal percentage in four of five shooting zones last year, as defined by CBB Analytics.
In other words, Michigan’s offense came from a diversity of spots on the floor, and Kim Barnes Arico’s team wasn’t overly reliant on one way of scoring the basketball. A strong field goal percentage has been a theme in Ann Arbor for some time now; since Barnes Arico took over before the 2012-13 season, the Wolverines have ranked in the top 30 in field goal percentage in all but one year (2014-15, when they ranked 40th out of 349). The sample size is large enough to validate this particular strength in Barnes Arico’s teams, and that should continue next season, even with quite a bit of roster turnover.
Concerning: 57% – a slice of Michigan’s offense from last season that’s no longer on the team. Losing more than half of your offense after a season always presents challenges. Those challenges become compounded when it’s not clear exactly how it will be replaced. Barnes Arico dipped into the transfer portal more than she had before, bringing in Elissa Brett from Bowling Green, Lauren Hansen from Missouri and Taylor Williams from Western Michigan.
Brett and Hansen both averaged double figures in scoring last season and were both in the 97th percentile or better in 3-pointers made. Combine that range with the inside play of Cameron Williams and the all-around play of Laila Phelia, and Michigan’s offense could be quite difficult to defend once again. Still, until we see how these new players mesh together, there’s definitely some uncertainty given the continuity Barnes Arico is used to working with.
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Encouraging: 2,439 – number of field goals new head coach Robyn Fralick’s team at Bowling Green attempted last season.
That mark, which ranked best in the nation, isn’t the be-all-end-all statistic. But in a Big Ten conference loaded with powerhouse offenses, a team like Michigan State will need to score at a high volume to compete next season. With Fralick’s offensive system, she likes prioritizing balance as well. Last year, Bowling Green had all five starters averaging double figures in scoring.
“We really, really work on fighting for the best shot and getting five people that play together,” Fralick told The Next in July. “I think it’s a fun way to play because it’s unselfish, and everybody touches the ball.” If she can replicate that at the Power Five level, the Spartans could stay competitive next season, even without a ton of experience on the roster.
Concerning: 3 – number of players on the roster who averaged double-digit scoring last season.
If Michigan State is somehow able to replicate – or at least come close to replicating – what Fralick did at Bowling Green last season, it will require multiple players to play at levels higher than they’ve ever played at before. BG transfer Jocelyn Tate and Western Michigan transfer Lauren Ross look to slot in well beside Moira Joiner, Gabby Elliott and DeeDee Hagemann, but it’s not clear that that will be enough offense for the Spartans to be a fearful unit this season.
Encouraging: 96 – the percentile Mara Braun was in for points per game last season. Having any player, let alone a freshman, rank that highly in scoring is massive. In what looks to be a rebuilding year under new head coach Dawn Plitzuweit, Braun should continue to be a major bright spot in Minneapolis. “Overall, as a group, we’ve had five weeks or so of workouts, and they’re really hungry,” Plitzuweit told The Next in May. “They want to do really well, and it was really fun to have a chance to work with them.”
Concerning: 7 – the number of players on the roster when Plitzuweit arrived in Minneapolis.
As is often the case when a new coach comes in, the Golden Gophers will welcome lots of new faces in 2023-24. For a team that won just four conference games last season and Janay Sanders, who averaged 13.6 points per game at App State last year, the only notable addition, it’s difficult to see how significantly things will turn around for Minnesota this season.
Encouraging: 23 – the margin of victory for the Cornhuskers in a win on the road at Maryland last December (90-67).
This wasn’t just an anomaly. Nebraska seemed to play its best against the toughest competition in 2022-23, also beating Illinois on the road, 90-57. Against Indiana, Amy Williams’ group pushed the Big Ten regular season champions to overtime. Against Ohio State, then ranked third in the AP Poll, the Huskers lost by just nine on the road. Against Iowa, it was a four-point road loss.
Against Michigan, it was five. Any coach will say there are no moral victories, but in a season of disappointment in Lincoln, it serves as proof that the Huskers weren’t that far off from being a top team in the Big Ten. Returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2024 will just require some more consistency.
“That’s something we’ve been really striving for this offseason is just knowing that our ability to show up, bring that same intensity and same consistency and same production each and every night, that’s a big part of it,” Williams told The Next in July. “That’s what NCAA Tournament teams need to do, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Concerning: 3.5 – number of turnovers per game Jaz Shelley averaged last season.
Turnovers have always been a weakness for Shelley (she averaged 2.6 in 2021-22), but finishing in the third percentile is a bit too problematic. No one questions her top-tier scoring abilities and the value she will inevitably bring to Nebraska in her final season, but a big part of establishing the consistency the Huskers lacked last year involves taking care of the basketball. If Shelley can’t bring down that average quite a bit, it could be an Achilles’ heel that holds Nebraska back once again.
Encouraging: 97 – percentile the Wildcats ranked in opponent’s pace last season. There weren’t a ton of positives to come out of Northwestern’s 9-21 season, but a silver lining could be that its defense was still able to slow teams down. The goal of head coach Joe McKeown’s “Blizzard” defense – a mix of man-to-man and zone principles – is to create chaos that leads to turnovers and easy buckets in transition.
While the defense still struggled overall to get stops – the team’s 71.1 points allowed per game was the worst mark since McKeown took over the program in 2008 – the fact that the Wildcats still were able to somewhat dictate pace suggests improved execution could lead to more positive results this season.
Concerning: 3 – number of returning players who averaged more than five points per game last season.
The defense wasn’t great, and the offense struggled even more, shooting just 26.7% from 3-point range and 38.3% overall. Losing the few bright spots, particularly Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw (who dealt with injuries for most of the season), will hurt.
Adding Maggie Pina and her great shooting abilities from Boston University should help address the problems from last year, but she’s not necessarily the type of player that McKeown can build the offense around. Instead, he’ll be banking on significant player development from Caroline Lau, Caileigh Walsh and Melannie Daley to help turn things around.
“We’ve been a great program for 10 years built on player development, built on classes coming in and getting better as a group, as a unit,” McKeown told The Next in April. “When you leave, there’s somebody behind you that has the experience or now the opportunity. That’s been our calling card.”
Encouraging: 20.1 – turnovers the Buckeyes forced per game last season.
With Kevin McGuff’s full-court press defense employed at maximum strength in 2022-23, it should come as no surprise that Ohio State ranked 14th in the country in this metric. The Buckeyes +6.4 average turnover margin per game played a massive role in the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since 1993, and it looks to be just as important for their success this season.
Besides Taylor Mikesell, all of the key contributors will return to Columbus. And while Mikesell’s offense will not be easy to replace, the defense likely won’t be impacted too much by her departure. McGuff dove into the portal and added Celeste Taylor from Duke who averaged 2.2 steals per game and was named the ACC’s defensive player of the year last season. In addition, Taiyier Parks, a Michigan State transfer, will also help solidify what should be another elite defense in 2023-24.
Concerning: 641 – number of fouls committed last year. Committing nearly 18 fouls per game and ranking in the bottom 80% in free throws allowed to opponents can make a big difference in a big conference game down the stretch or in an NCAA Tournament game. Ohio State’s hacking and whacking is an area it probably needs to clean up for the team to maximize its chances of another deep postseason run.
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Encouraging: 41.6% – Shay Ciezki’s 3-point shooting percentage in 2022-23.
Second among all Big Ten freshmen (behind Indiana’s Garzon), Ciezki was a major bright spot last season for a Penn State program hoping to take a leap forward in 2023-24. The Nittany Lions have not pieced together a winning season since 2016-17, and head coach Carolyn Kieger has gone all in on the transfer portal this offseason to try to turn around the program’s fortunes.
Ciezki, though, will be one of the three key returning players to watch, along with Makenna Marisa and Leilani Kapinus. Kieger told The Next in July that she’s amazed at Ciezki’s growth, even since the end of last season.
“Shay has had the largest growth in one year that I’ve seen out of anyone that I’ve coached,” she said. “Her growth between spring into now has been huge. She’s carrying herself with more confidence. She’s leading the team. She’s the first in every rep. She’s shooting the ball extremely well. She’s becoming very shifty. She’s working on her conditioning, her fitness, and I just expect her to have a phenomenal sophomore campaign here.”
Concerning: 6 – number of years since Penn State last finished a season with a winning record. It’s been quite a while since the Nittany Lions last fielded a strong team, and if portal acquisitions don’t pan out as hoped, it could be quite a while longer before the Nittany Lions end this streak. Marisa, who’s led the team in scoring each of the last two years, will be out of eligibility after the season, as will Ashley Owusu and Taylor Valladay, the two most likely high-impact transfers. With no freshmen coming in, a disappointing season in State College could extend the program’s drought for another several years.
Encouraging: 1.09 – Boilermakers points per scoring attempt rate from last season. Ranked 23rd in the nation, Katie Gearlds’ group showed tremendous progress on offense. The high rate of points per attempt suggests her team was both efficient and smart with its shots, and the success helped propel Purdue into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
Entering 2023-24, the Boilermakers have lost seven players from last year (including leading scorer Lasha Petree) and are welcoming in eight newcomers. The lack of roster consistency could throw a wrench in the offensive efficiency the team displayed last season, but continued success would be a sign that Gearlds’ offensive system is working.
Concerning: 8.9 – the average number of offensive rebounds per game last season. Like Iowa, Purdue had a high field goal percentage last season (45%, 30th in the country), so there were fewer opportunities for offensive boards. Still, not being able to generate those second chances matters, especially when the team averaged a -0.3 turnover margin per game last season.
The Boilermakers’ leading offensive rebounder in 2022-23 was guard Jeanae Terry. Finding a forward, like 6’2 Caitlyn Harper, who can become more of a force on the offensive glass could be key to Purdue continuing to progress in a positive direction.
Encouraging: 2.8 – offensive win shares for Kaylene Smikle last season. Second among Big Ten freshmen behind Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon in this category, Smikle was in the 94th percentile among all players nationwide and the only Scarlet Knights player to average double figures in scoring. Overall, she turned in a phenomenal first season with 17.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Rutgers still might have some work to do to loft itself into postseason contention, but Smikle should be the captain that steers the ship in New Jersey once again in her sophomore season.
“What impresses me the most is her competitive fire, especially on game day,” head coach Coquese Washington told The Next in June. “I’ve played with some of the best players in the history of the game; I’ve coached some really dynamic players. And one of the things that they all have in common is that competitiveness and that chip on their shoulder on game day where they’re not going to be denied, and that’s something that Kaylene Smikle has.”
Concerning: 14 – number of Big Ten games lost by double digits. Rutgers was 6-14 in conference play last season, and each loss came by at least 11 points. The Scarlet Knights also only had two wins by double digits, beating Northwestern in February by 14 and Nebraska in January by 12. For a team that only had eight players on its roster and hired Washington relatively late in the previous offseason cycle, the struggles weren’t exactly a surprise. Still, losing conference games by an average of over 13 points highlights how much work Washington and her staff have ahead to return Rutgers to Big Ten prominence.
Encouraging: 4 – number of wins the Badgers had in their last six games of the season. Overall, 2022-23 was another disappointment in Madison. In year two under Marisa Moseley, Wisconsin won three more games than the previous year but still started 7-18. It was the final push, four wins – including a defeat of Michigan – over the last six games that provided some reason for hope that the Badgers finally started to find their stride.
“It just felt like our prep, things were coming together,” Moseley told The Next in April about that stretch. “It all felt like we started to click on all cylinders. It was disappointing obviously to lose that Purdue game in the Big Ten tournament because we were up by so much; we were playing really great basketball. It’s one of those things where you want to keep that momentum going.”
Concerning: 14 – where Wisconsin ranked in the Big Ten last season in Her Hoop Stats defensive rating (96.8). Lackluster defense is a problem that long predates Moseley’s tenure as head coach. Over the last 10 seasons, Wisconsin has ranked worst, second-worst or third-worst in this metric every single year. Tightening up the defense is arguably the biggest obstacle Moseley faces in turning her program into a Big Ten contender, having to constantly face some of the top offenses in the country.
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.