An eventful opening week for the conference.
As of December 31, nine Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 50 of the NCAA RPI, as well as four teams in the top 25. Eight teams were either ranked or received votes in the latest Associated Press polls, and nine teams have already reached double-figure win totals overall. The conference also has eight players averaging at least 15 points per game.
If the opening week of conference play is any indication of the season to come, it’s sure to feature heavy parity across the board. Two games into the Big Ten schedule and just three teams have emerged unscathed at 2-0 — No. 14 Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue.
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Some notable early results around the league:
Northwestern emphatically collected its second conference win of the season on Tuesday, throttling No. 11 Maryland at home, 81-58. The Wildcats upset the Terrapins largely because of the 24 points of junior Lindsey Pulliam, who ranks second in the Big Ten at 19.1 points per game. Sophomore Veronica Burton also chipped in 23 for Northwestern, the only team in the conference with one loss.
Maryland’s poor shooting was its kryptonite — the Terps shot just 30.5% from the field, including just 4-for-18 from three-point range after going just 2-for-11 at home against Michigan last Saturday. They also turned the ball over 24 times, including 15 in the first half.
“Northwestern was sensational,” Head Coach Brenda Frese said. “They punched first and had a tremendous game plan. They played extremely hard for 40 minutes. It’s disappointing for us. I don’t think we responded well on the road, first conference game. We turned the ball over too many times and put ourselves in a difficult hole to climb out of.”
Ohio State — 1-1 in league play — continued its season of inconsistency Tuesday by upsetting No. 24 Minnesota on the road, 66-63. The win marked No. 400 overall for Head Coach Kevin McGuff. He has 145 wins with the Buckeyes, having been with the program since 2013.
Earlier this year, Ohio State suffered disappointing losses to Ohio at home and to South Dakota at the South Point Shootout. They seemingly reversed the narrative of their season by securing a signature Big Ten / ACC Challenge victory over then-No. 2 Louisville on December 5, but fell on the road to Purdue last Saturday, 66-50. The Buckeyes followed up that setback by overcoming a seven-point deficit with six minutes remaining in Minneapolis to beat the Golden Gophers.
“We stuck together and made plays down the stretch which was really nice to see,” said McGuff. “This is a really tough place to play and it’s always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten. I’m proud of how we played tonight and I hope this can help us take a step forward and we continue to get better.”
Ohio State and Maryland will meet in a nationally-televised matchup on January 6, another opportunity for the Buckeyes to pick up a signature win and establish consistency in a year where they’ve struggled to find it.
Iowa got its first win in league play in dramatic fashion by routing Illinois at home on Tuesday, 108-72. The 108 points scored by the Hawkeyes — who shot the ball at a 65% clip on the night — set a new program record. Senior Kathleen Doyle posted a career-high 33 points on 11-for-14 shooting, while three other Iowa players scored in double figures. Doyle ranks fourth in the conference in scoring at 17.2 points a night.
The Hawkeyes, who lead the nation in assists per game, dished out 34 of them on Tuesday including seven by redshirt junior Alexis Sevillian.
“It’s a philosophy we try to bring to practice every day,” Head Coach Lisa Bluder said. “Celebrate the assist and understand if I can set my teammate up for a great shot, that is just as fun as me taking an average shot. If you have players buy into that philosophy, it’s a fun style.”
Although Penn State is winless in conference play thus far and sits at just 6-7 entering 2020, one bright spot for first-year Head Coach Carolyn Kieger is the play of junior guard Kamaria McDaniel. McDaniel has steadily improved every year, doubling her scoring averaging from a season ago from 9.4 to 18.8 points per game, third in the Big Ten behind Northwestern’s Pulliam and Rutgers’ Arella Guirantes (19.7 ppg). McDaniel went from starting in just four contests in 2018-19 to starting aIl but one matchup in 2019-20.
If there is one area where McDaniel may improve, it’s her efficiency from the field — the junior is shooting just 40% from the field and just 24% from behind the arc. However, as a player averaging 33.7 minutes per game this season, she’ll be provided ample exposure to Big Ten defenses and opportunities to adjust accordingly as the conference schedule progresses.
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