With football season dwindling, there is only one thing that can fill the void that will be left in the hearts of Big Ten fans across the country: basketball – and maybe a little bit of hockey.
Coming off its seventh straight 20-plus win season – the sixth straight under coach Kim Barnes Arico – the Michigan women’s basketball team is primed to continue its recent success in what should be a wide open Big Ten race. If Barnes Arico achieves another 20-win season this year, she will become the first Wolverines basketball coach, men’s or women’s, to record seven-straight 20-plus win seasons.
Michigan, which went 10-6 in the Big Ten and 22-9 overall last season, is coming off of a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten and a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. To reach their goal of the first Big Ten title in school history, the Wolverines will have to get through the likes of defending-Big Ten champions Ohio State, perennial powerhouse No. 9 Maryland and an up-and-comer in No. 13 Iowa.
Ohio State: Last season: Big Ten champions (13-3, 27-6)
Coming off its conference-leading fifteenth Big Ten championship – its second in a row – Ohio State will be in a different position from last year. It is going to be hard for the Buckeyes to move on after losing all five starters from last season to either graduation or transfers, including three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell. In fact, just four players return from Ohio State's 2017-18 campaign: graduate forward Makayla Waterman (3.5 points per game), senior guard Karlie Cronin (0.1 points per game), junior guard Jensen Caretti (2.4 points per game) and sophomore forward Savitha Jayaraman (0.5 points per game).
The Buckeyes, though, will not lack college experience; they bring in a plethora of graduate transfers – five to be exact. Graduate guards Carmen Grande and Carly Santoro should have the most immediate impact – they have combined for over 150 starts in their collegiate careers and scored 11.5 and 12.8 points per game last season, respectively. Santoro also averaged 8.7 rebounds per game, and Grande was second in the nation with 9.2 assists per game last season.
Another likely contributor, graduate guard Ashanti Abshaw, who averaged 17.1 points per game in her three seasons at Cleveland State, injured her ACL in late October and will be out for the season.
Ohio State beat Michigan 96-87 in their lone matchup last year and will travel to Michigan this season on Jan. 20.
No. 9 Maryland: Last season: Second-place finish in the Big Ten (12-4, 25-7)
Since joining the Big Ten ahead of the 2014-2015 season, the Terrapins held at least a share of the Big Ten title in each of their first three seasons before finishing second in the conference last year.
Maryland coach Brenda Freese, who has been with the team since its days in the ACC, has led the Terrapins to the NCAA Tournament in 14 of her 16 seasons in College Park – including all four seasons since Maryland joined the Big Ten. While last year may have been seen as a step down for the Terrapins, Freese’s squad will look to bounce back in a big way after losing just three players – only one of whom was a consistent starter.
Similar to last year, Maryland will place a heavy workload on junior guard Kaila Charles, who averaged 17.9 points per game to go with 8.1 rebounds per game in 2017-2018. In addition to Charles, Freese brings in the fifth-ranked recruiting class, per ESPN. Highlighted by fourth-ranked recruit forward Shakira Austin, and another five-star recruit in guard Taylor Mikesell, the Terrapins will look for early contributions from their freshmen.
This year’s Maryland team is set to be an improvement on last year’s team as the Terrapins come into the season as the early season favorites to capture yet another Big Ten championship.
In last season’s bout, Maryland beat the Wolverines 83-70 and will host Michigan on Jan. 12.
No. 13 Iowa: Last season: Fourth-place finish in the Big Ten (11-5, 24-7)
After a disappointing first-round exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes head into the 2018 season full of motivation and experience. Iowa returns four of last season’s starters, including the preseason Big Ten player of the year, senior guard Megan Gustafson, and junior guard Kathleen Doyle, another preseason all-Big Ten selection. The Hawkeyes, however, will play the first month of the season without Doyle, who suffered a fractured left hand in practice a week ago. In her place, Iowa will rely on senior guard Tania Davis, who is coming off of an ACL injury which sidelined her for the majority of last season.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is in her nineteenth season at the helm of the Hawkeye women’s program and has a record of 367-210. Seeking her third Big Ten championship, Bluder has Iowa in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2014, when it debuted as the No. 19 team in the country.
The Hawkeyes defeated Michigan in their one matchup last year, 82-72, and will host the Wolverines on Jan. 17 and visit Ann Arbor on Jan. 31.