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This is the best the Big Ten has ever been in women’s basketball. With five teams ranked in the Top 25 — including three in the Top 10 — the league is bound to be competitive.

Last season many teams in the conference didn’t play each other due to COVID-19 related complications, but this year with a regular schedule each team in the league will get a chance to clash.

No. 4 Maryland

The defending Big Ten Champions and Big Ten Tournament Champions will be looking to repeat this season. Coming in at No. 4 in the preseason polls, Maryland is a powerhouse. Brenda Frese, last year’s AP National Coach of the Year, is returning for her 20th season as the Terrapins’ coach.

Maryland is also returning their one-two punch of junior guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller. Owusu and Miller each earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season and averaged over 17 points per game apiece last season. Despite what my colleagues at The Daily may say about Maryland not winning the Big Ten this year, they are the best team in the Big Ten until proven otherwise.

No. 8 Indiana

Behind Maryland, Indiana is the next-highest ranked Big Ten team coming in at No. 8. The Hooisers will look to capitalize on their impressive run in last season’s NCAA Tournament after making it to the Elite Eight. They’ll also be hungry for another chance in the Big Ten Tournament after last season’s upset loss in the first round to Michigan State.

The Hooisers are returning all five starters, including two players  — guard Ali Patburg and guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary — who decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s offer for an extra year of eligibility due to Covid-19. Patburg will begin her seventh season at Indiana, a very experienced veteran player, and Cardaño-Hillary is a fifth-year graduate student.

All-American Honorable Mention and All-Big Ten First Team junior forward Mackenzie Holmes will also return as Indiana’s leading scorer and one of the best forwards in the league. Alongside her, senior forward Aleksa Gulbe and junior forward Mackenzie Holmes round out the starting lineup.

Depth was a struggle for Indiana last season, especially late in the NCAA tournament. With six transfers throughout the off-season, the Hooisers bench will look much different this season. Junior forward Caitlin Hose is a key addition to the roster as a transfer from Georgia. Three new freshmen will also add valuable depth to the bench.

No. 9 Iowa

For most, Caitlin Clark is the player that comes to mind when thinking of Iowa. The sophomore guard dominated behind the 3-point line last season. She earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season and led the nation in six categories — assists, field goals made, total points, points per game, 3-pointers attempted and 3-pointers made.

Alongside Clark, the Hawkeyes return the entire starting lineup. Iowa was a young team last season with only one senior and will remain  young this season — but this time with more experience. Sophomore guard Kylie Feuerbach will be a valuable addition to the team, transferring from in-state rival Iowa State. 

As a whole, Iowa will look to capitalize on its Sweet Sixteen appearance last season after losing to powerhouse Connecticut. They’ll also be looking toward the Big Ten Tournament after losing to Maryland in the championship game. This is a team that has the potential to be good, but can only go as far as Clark can take them.

No. 17 Ohio State

With the Buckeyes retaining their core players, they are expected to be extremely competitive this year and might be a sleeper pick for the Big Ten championship.

Ohio State returns three all-conference selections in Jacy Sheldon (second team), Madison Greene (honorable mention) and Kateri Poole (all-freshman) from last season’s roster. The Buckeyes lost first-team Big Ten Dorka Juhász as she transferred to Connecticut, but they should have the requisite depth to soften the blow of her departure. Additionally, senior guard Taylor Mikesell joins Ohio State after spending the last year at Oregon, where she averaged 9.7 PPG last season, and starting her career with two years at Maryland. 

Penn State

This will be Penn State’s third year under Nittany Lions coach Caroyln Kieger, who has had minimal success, posting a record of 16-38. Despite the team’s struggles over the past two seasons, Kieger expects the team to take a step this season and believes that she will see growth in her third season. 

Graduate-student guard Kelly Jekot returns after an ACL injury last season. Jekot averaged 15.5 PPG last season, this will be her sixth season with the Nittany Lions. Besides Jekot, freshman guard Maddie Burke, the reigning sixth player of the year, will look to build off her stellar freshman year.  

Penn State brought two transfers in sophomores Alli Campell from Notre Dame and Alli Bringham from George Washington, each of whom should help make the Nittany Lions more formidable.

Purdue

Last season finished with a disappointing 7-16 overall record (4-14 Big Ten), Purdue’s worst record since the 2014-15 season. 

Following the retirement of long tenured head coach Sharon Versyp, as a result of being investigated by Purdue University for her behavior, the Boilermakers will have a new coach in Katie Gearlds. This will begin a new era of Purdue basketball. 

Despite losing many players from last year’s team, senior Cassidy Hardin, who has notched 76 3-pointers in her career, returns. Additionally, sophomore guard Madison Layden, who received Big Ten All-Freshman Team honoree will look to build off her stellar rookie year. She led the team with 45 3-pointers last season. Purdue also brings in Big Ten transfer junior Jeanae Terry from Illinois, where she scored 8.2 PPG during her Illinois tenure.

Outside of these three players, there is not that much to highlight. With this being a transition year from Versyp’s tenure, this team is expected to go through some bumps and bruises early in the season and finish near the bottom of the conference. 

Rutgers

Last year, Rutgers finished the season 14-5 and was ranked No. 21. Their record however does not tell you the story of what happened during their season. Rutgers started the season 5-3 before their season altered due to cancellations caused by the pandemic. Despite not playing for over a month, Rutgers returned with a purpose, winning nine straight games to finish the regular season 14-3. But, the Scarlet Knights proceeded to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

This will be a completely different team however as the Scarlet Knights lose their top five scores from last season. Rutgers brings in eight new players, with six being transfer students. Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer is entering her 27th season with Rutgers. Despite all the turnover, Rutgers still hopes to remain competitive and make the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. 

Michigan State

Michigan State struggled last year in both the regular season and the postseason. Last season they went 8-7 in the Big Ten but made a run in the Big Ten Tournament, upsetting Indiana in the quarterfinals. They ultimately lost to Iowa in the semifinals and went out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a loss to Iowa State.

While last year’s team struggled, this year the Spartans will return their entire starting lineup with a few key additions. First-Team All-Big Ten senior guard Nia Clouden returns alongside graduate-student forward Alisia Smith. The new freshman class includes guard DeeDee Hagemann, who was a five-star recruit and will likely make an immediate impact in the starting lineup. Michigan State also gains experience in Tamara Farquhar, a graduate-student transfer from Purdue.

With an upperclassmen heavy roster the Spartans are hungry for another shot. After six COVID-19 related cancellations and postponements, Michigan State will look forward to a full schedule and a chance for a better run in the NCAA Tournament.

Nebraska

Unlike the majority of teams in the Big Ten, Nebraska has seen considerable turnover in its roster. The Cornhuskers only have two upperclassmen plus a transfer from Oregon, sophomore guard Jaz Shelley. Nebraska also has eight new freshmen on their roster, which could make for a difficult transition for the team at large.

The Cornhuskers struggled in the postseason in both the Big Ten Tournament losing in the Quarterfinals and in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Despite their young team, they’ll look to compete in an increasingly competitive conference.

Illinois

Illinois won a grand total of two games in the conference last season. Coach Nancy Fahey is returning for her fifth season of what has been a very underwhelming stint. The Fighting Illini are returning their top scorer from last season 一 junior guard Jada Peebles. Joining Peebles will be fifth-year senior center Eva Rubin. Rubin was a consistent starter for Illinois last season, averaging 7.3 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game. 

The Fighting Illini weren’t competitors for a Big Ten Championship last season, and, after losing two starters in Jeanae Terry and Kennedi Myles, they won’t be competing for the championship this year either.

Northwestern

Last season Northwestern experienced moderate success due to it’s elite backcourt of Veronica Burton, the reigning two-time  Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Lindsey Pulliam. After losing Pulliam to graduation, the Wildcats have some massive shoes to fill. 

Still, the Wildcats will be looking to build off of last season’s campaign. With forwards Courtney Shaw and Paige Mott returning, frontcourt depth should not be an issue. Northwestern also rosters four seniors, and a team with experience and leadership can never be taken lightly in the Big Ten. While they likely won’t be winning any titles, this Wildcat team could cause more serious competitors real problems on the wrong night.

Minnesota

Minnesota finished their Big Ten schedule at 7-11 last season. The Golden Gophers decided to run it back with essentially the same team as last year. After losing Justice Ross, a role-player, and bringing in just two freshmen recruits, Minnesota has had very little roster turnover. Leading the charge is second-team All-Big Ten guard Justice Powell who averaged 14.5 points per game and 5.4 assists per game last year. 

With another year to learn and grow as a unit, the Golden Gophers should be better. Lindsay Whalen is still a relatively new coach 一 entering just her fourth year as Minnesota’s head coach 一 so we’ll see if she has what it takes to bring this experienced squad to the next level.

Wisconsin 

Last season, Wisconsin ended the year 5-19 (2-18 Big Ten), finishing dead last in the Big Ten. This led to the dismissal of Badgers coach Jonathan Tsipis and the hiring of new coach Marisa Moseley from Boston University. The team loses three players, one player to graduation and two to transfers. Wisconsin loses Imani Lewis (All Big Ten Second Team) to transfer but returns the main core of players. Junior guard Sydney Hillard highlights the list as she received All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last season.

They bring in one transfer student this season in Katie Nelson from Boston University. With the loss of Lewis, Nelson is expected to be a major contributor to this Wisconsin team. She averaged 12 PPG at Boston University. 

With this being a new head coach and minimal changes made to the overall roster, this team isn’t expected to stay in the bottom standings of the Big Ten.