The 36th season of Big Ten women’s basketball tips off Thursday with all 14 conference schools in action. Maryland and Ohio State are the defending Big Ten champions, having shared last year’s title with matching 15-1 conference records.The Big Ten features a 16-game regular season schedule that will culminate with the 25th edition of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament Feb. 28-March 4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (tournament all-session tickets are now on sale — see page two of the PDF version of this release for more information).
Maryland enters the 2017-18 Big Ten season seeking to win a fourth consecutive Big Ten title, something that has been done three times in conference history. Ohio State is the most recent four-time Big Ten champion, winning six in a row from 2004-05 through 2009-10.
For the fourth consecutive year, every Big Ten women’s basketball conference game, including 112 regular-season and 13 tournament games, will be produced and distributed by BTN, BTN Plus or an ESPN network.
The Big Ten ranks No. 4 in Tuesday’sCollegiate Basketball News conference RPI index (found atRPIratings.com). What’s more, nine Big Ten schools are among the top 70 in the team RPI rankings as noted by NCAA.comand Collegiate Basketball News. Rutgers leads the group at No. 6, followed by No. 8 Ohio State and No. 24 Iowa. Maryland is next at No. 41, with Michigan State at No. 42, Michigan at No. 47, Minnesota at No. 56, Purdue at No. 57 and Penn State at No. 67.
The Big Ten has eight schools appearing in the top 70 of Tuesday’s Sagarin ratings, including six in the top 30. The conference contingent is led by No. 11 Maryland, No. 14 Ohio State, No. 20 Rutgers, No. 23 Iowa, No. 25 Michigan State and No. 27 Michigan. Also in the top 70 are No. 51 Minnesota and No. 69 Purdue.
Six Big Ten schools are ranked or receiving votes in the latest Associated Press orUSA Today polls, led by No. 12 (AP)/No. 11 (USA Today) Ohio State. Maryland is also ranked in both polls at No. 15/14, as are Michigan at No. 21/19 (the Wolverines have been ranked all eight weeks this season, the second-longest run in school history behind a nine-week stretch in 2001-02) and Iowa at No. 23/21, while Michigan State and Rutgers are earning votes in both polls. Ten of the 14 Big Ten schools have been ranked or receiving votes in the polls for at least one week this year.
No. 23/21 Iowa posted a 12-1 non-conference record, the Hawkeyes’ best start since 2010-11 (also 12-1) and the second-best start in head coach Lisa Bluder’s 18 seasons at Iowa (13-0 in 2004-05).
No. 21/19 Michigan went 11-2 in non-conference play, the fourth time in program history the Wolverines have won 11 non-conference games. It also ties Michigan’s best start since 2012-13, head coach Kim Barnes Arico’s first season at the school. With a 122-65 (.652) record in six seasons at Michigan, Arico is also poised to become the program’s career coaching wins leader, needing one victory to catch Sue Guevara, who went 123-72 (.631) at the school from 1996-2003.
All 14 Big Ten schools will head into conference play with winning or .500 records, including seven programs that earned at least 10 wins in non-conference action.
Six Big Ten schools carry active winning streaks of four games or more, led by No. 15/14 Maryland (nine games), and No. 21/19 Michigan and Rutgers (both seven games). For Rutgers, it’s the Scarlet Knights’ longest winning streak since a 12-game string that began with their six-game run to the 2014 WNIT title and continued with the first six games of the 2014-15 season, their first in the Big Ten.
Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers having already tied or surpassed their win totals from all of last year (when Illinois had nine wins, Nebraska had seven and Rutgers had six), while Wisconsin needs just two wins to tie last season’s victory count.
In Tuesday’s NCAA statistical rankings, four Big Ten schools rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense — Ohio State (2nd - 91.4 ppg.), Maryland (4th - 89.2 ppg.), Minnesota (9th - 87.6 ppg.) and Iowa (21st - 83.2 ppg.).
Among Tuesday’s other NCAA statistical reports, Iowa leads the nation in both assists (23.8 apg.) and fewest fouls (11.5 per game). Individually, the Hawkeyes’ Megan Gustafson is tied for the NCAA lead with 12 double-doubles, and Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell is the country’s top scorer (26.2 ppg.).
As of Tuesday, six of the nation’s top 25 scorers come from Big Ten schools, led by Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, who is No. 1 at 26.2 points per game. Iowa’s Megan Gustafson is 7th (22.2 ppg.), Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty is 12th (21.9 ppg.), Rutgers’ Tyler Scaife is 17th (21.2 ppg.), Indiana’s Tyra Buss is 20th (20.8 ppg.) and Minnesota’s Kenisha Bell is 22nd (20.8 ppg.).
Nine Big Ten students (representing six conference schools) have scored 30 points in a game this season. The Big Ten’s 30-point scorers this year include: Iowa’s Megan Gustafson (twice), Maryland’s Kaila Charles and Eleanna Christinaki, Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty, Minnesota’s Kenisha Bell (twice) and Carlie Wagner, Ohio State’s Stephanie Mavunga and Kelsey Mitchell (six times) and Penn State’s Jaida Travascio-Green.
Ten Big Ten programs rank among the top 50 in the nation in attendance, including six in the top 25, according to Tuesday’s NCAA statistics report. Purdue leads the way at No. 8 nationally (5,810 fans per game), joined by No. 10 Ohio State (5,517), No. 14 Maryland (5,249), No. 15 Michigan State (5,017), No. 21 Iowa (3,891) and No. 22 Nebraska (3,776). The other Big Ten schools currently among the top 50 in the nation in attendance are Penn State (26th - 3,468), Wisconsin (31st - 3,242), Indiana (43rd - 2,666) and Minnesota (47th - 2,596).
The 2018 NCAA Women’s Final Four will be played March 30 and April 1, right in the heart of Big Ten country in Columbus, Ohio, and co-hosted by Ohio State and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. This will mark the seventh time the Women’s Final Four is held within the Big Ten Conference footprint, with three visits to Indianapolis (2005, 2011, 2016), two others in the state of Ohio (Cincinnati-1997, Cleveland-2007) and the 1995 event in Minneapolis (the last time it was held in a city featuring a Big Ten institution).
Next season, the Big Ten will return to an 18-game conference schedule, following approval by the Big Ten Administrators Council in October. Under the new format, schools will play five opponents twice and eight teams once (four home, four away) each season. The model will also emphasize in-state rivalries and competition between regional opponents. Big Ten women’s basketball programs played 18 regular-season conference games for the first 12 seasons of Big Ten play (1982-83 through 1993-94) and returned to that format from 2007-08 to 2009-10 and again in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Big Ten programs produced 61 Academic All-Big Ten selections in 2016-17, the 10th consecutive season at least 45 women’s basketball students received the award. That list includes returning Academic All-Americans Amanda Cahill of Indiana and Carlie Wagner of Minnesota, plus Academic All-District honoree Kristen Confroy of Maryland.