February 22, 2022
How each of the Big Ten contenders can win the league
A team-by-team guide to glory in regular season's final week
A week before the conference tournament, the Big Ten currently has five teams ranked in the Associated Press’ top-25 poll. Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State and Maryland are all breathing down each others necks for the conference lead. The Wolverines (for now) are on top of the Big Ten but have a narrow half game lead over the Terrapins, Buckeyes and Hawkeyes while the Hoosiers trail by one game.
The state of the Big Ten has never been stronger and the race to come out on top of the conference is ramping up. There is nothing more emblematic of this than the last 72 hours between Indiana and Iowa.
The Hawkeyes, who have fallen as low as 22nd in the AP’s poll this season, dealt Indiana two punishing blows that now leaves the Hoosiers outside of the top-four in the conference. Despite a 42-point fourth quarter outburst from Indiana, Iowa pulled off an 96-92 upset in Bloomington on Feb. 19 before coming back down 10 points at home last night to pull within a half game of Michigan. The Hawkeyes have rebounded nicely since losing to Maryland on Feb. 14 and Michigan on Feb. 6. They control their own destiny in the final two games of the regular season. If they beat Rutgers and upset Michigan, the Hawkeyes would clinch bragging rights heading into the tournament. With Caitlin Clark averaging the most points and assists per game in the country, anything is possible with this team that complements her skillset very well.
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Then there’s the Hoosiers, who really needed junior Mackenzie Holmes to be reinserted into the lineup. She made her return to action on Feb. 17 versus Northwestern after missing eight games with a knee injury. Holmes’ presence on the block was sorely missed during her recovery. Per Synergy Sports, her 1.146 points per possession in the paint ranked in the 95th percentile heading into Indiana’s matchup against Iowa and the flow of the Hoosiers’ offense had been disrupted without her.
However, Holmes is still recovering and losing to Iowa twice in a four-day span is not what the Hoosiers were hoping for with the playoffs coming up. They have one more game versus Maryland on Feb. 25 to find their groove but after a strong start to the season, Indiana has limped to the finish line. They have lost three out of their last four games after ranking fifth in the AP’s poll.
Michigan is looking down at the rest of its conference foes mainly due to the play of Naz Hillmon. Scoring 23.9 points a game on only 14.4 shots a game, she has been the driving force all season for the Wolverines. They will play their interstate rivals in Michigan State on Feb. 24 and try to avenge their most recent loss to the Spartans, who upset them in East Lansing less than two weeks ago. Michigan State has struggled on the road (4-6) and has given up 7.3 three-pointers a game to opponents this season. However, they are playing a Michigan team that is only attempting 15.1 threes a game. The Wolverines should win this matchup but if they don’t, the Hawkeyes looked hungry versus their most recent bout versus Indiana. They are going to come into that matchup swinging when they the Wolverines on Feb. 27.
Despite their most recent loss to Michigan, Maryland has looked like a different team since Diamond Miller has returned to the lineup. After dealing with a knee injury for most of the season, she is now averaging 13.9 points per game. Angel Reese has also been on a tear is pulling down an absurd 5.2 offensive rebounds per game in conference play this season. The Terrapins have won eight of their last nine games and are hoping Iowa loses to Rutgers and beats Michigan to be crowned regular season conference champions.
The last part of the equation is the Buckeyes, who have the easiest schedule compared to the previously listed teams. Ohio State is facing Penn State and Michigan State this week and is looking for their arch rivals in the Wolverines to fall apart in their last two games of the season. The Buckeyes are looking for this scenario to win the conference:
- Win out the rest of the season
- Michigan State beats Michigan
- Indiana beats Maryland
- Iowa loses to Rutgers, beats Michigan
As we have seen throughout this entire season, crazier things have happened in the Big Ten. The last week of regular season play will be full of drama heading into the conference tournament. The only question that remains is who will come out on top.