All 14 Big Ten schools will participate in the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Women’s Basketball Challenge on Wednesday and Thursday. This matchup of two of the nation’s top women’s basketball conferences will feature 20 schools that competed in postseason play last year — 10 from each conference, including the reigning NCAA champion (Notre Dame) and WNIT champion (Indiana). Fans are invited to join the social media conversation for this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge through the event’s official hashtag (#WACCB1G).
Each of this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge games will be televised on either linear or digital networks, with BTN carrying four games (Michigan State-Virginia and Wisconsin-Duke on Wednesday; Maryland-Georgia Tech and Minnesota-Syracuse on Thursday) and ESPN2 broadcasting Thursday’s Iowa-Notre Dame contest. The other three Big Ten-hosted Challenge games will be televised live on BTN Plus, while the remaining six ACC-hosted Challenge matchups will be shown on ACC Network Extra.
Eleven of the 14 games in this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge (including all nine games on Thursday) will feature at least one school that is either ranked or receiving votes in one of the major national polls, highlighted by a pair of contests on Thursday between Top 25 programs — No. 14/15 Iowa visits No. 1/1 Notre Dame and No. 20 (AP) Minnesota plays host to No. 12/12 Syracuse.
Last year’s Challenge (won by the ACC, 10-4) may have proven to be one of the most competitive in the series’ 11-year history, with 10 of the 14 games decided by 10 points or fewer, including four games decided by one point. What’s more, in eight of the 14 Challenge games, Big Ten schools either led or were tied in the fourth quarter.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has ended in a tie three times (all in the past seven seasons), finishing in a 7-7 draw in 2014 and 2015, as well as a 6-6 deadlock in 2011, with the ACC winning the other eight Challenges. The Big Ten schools with the most success in the Challenge have been Maryland (10-1 all-time, including a 3-1 record as a Big Ten member), Michigan (8-3), Indiana and Wisconsin (both 6-5).
The Big Ten has continued its strong start this season with a 61-16 (.792) composite record, matching the best start in conference history set twice before (2006-07 and 2017-18). Eleven of the 14 Big Ten schools started 3-0 or better this year, including eight programs that got off to 4-0 starts. What’s more, the Big Ten has five wins over Top 25 opponents, is 12-3 on the road and has been sharp in close games this year, going 8-3 in contests decided by one possession or in overtime. This year’s strong conference start includes notable debuts by Wisconsin (which got off to its best start since 2006-07 at 6-0), Indiana (which is 5-0 for the first time since 2014-15 and has won 11 in a row and 20 of its last 22, dating back to the final two months of last season) and Minnesota (which is 5-0 for the second year in a row).
Five Big Ten schools are ranked or receiving votes in the current Associated Press or USA Today/WBCA polls, led by No. 7 (AP)/No. 8 (USA Today) Maryland. Iowa is also ranked in both polls at No. 14/15, while Minnesota is ranked No. 20 in the AP poll (its highest rank in the media balloting since it was No. 20 on Feb. 27, 2006) and is receiving votes in the coaches’ poll. In addition, Michigan and Northwestern are receiving votes in both polls.
Minnesota has held its five opponents to a combined 235 points (New Hampshire-47, Xavier-53, San Diego-48, Arkansas-Pine Bluff-42, Cornell-45), the fewest points allowed by the Golden Gophers in their opening five games since the 1973-74 season, when they allowed a combined 230 points (the only time they held four of their first five opponents to fewer than 50 points). Minnesota has also held three consecutive opponents to fewer than 50 points for the first time since Dec. 30, 2004-Jan. 13, 2005, when the Golden Gophers had a five-game streak of holding opponents below 50 points.
Big Ten schools lead the nation in rebounding (Maryland - 52.33 rpg.) and assists (Iowa - 25.0 apg.) as of Tuesday. The Hawkeyes are also second in the country in field goal percentage (.560), while the Terrapins are No. 2 nationally in rebounding margin (+19.7 rpg.). In the individual rankings, Iowa’s Megan Gustafson is second in the country in field goal percentage (.768), Maryland’s Shakira Austin is second in blocked shots (3.83 bpg.) and Nebraska’s Taylor Kissinger is second in three-point percentage (.667).
Maryland and Wisconsin both earned tournament titles over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Terrapins claimed top honors at the Puerto Rico Clasico in San Juan, while the Badgers won the championship at the Nashville-based Challenge in Music City, securing Wisconsin’s first regular-season tournament title since the 2009 World Vision Invitational.
Several Big Ten women’s basketball programs spent the Thanksgiving weekend not only in action on the court, but giving back to the local communities hosting their holiday tournaments. Maryland lifted the spirits of patients at San Jorge Children’s Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while Michigan did likewise at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Purdue visited students at Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Iowa rallied from a 24-point first-half deficit to defeat No. 25/20 West Virginia, 84-81 on Nov. 23 at the Junkanoo Jam in Bimini, Bahamas. It was the largest comeback win in Big Ten history, topping the previous record of 21 points by Nebraska against Creighton on Dec. 6, 2015. The Hawkeyes also tied the fifth-largest comeback victory in NCAA Division I history and it was the largest rally to win at the Division I level since Jan. 7, 2015, when TCU erased a 25-point deficit to down Iowa State.
Big Ten women’s basketball programs produced 67 students that earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2017-18, the 11th consecutive season at least 45 women’s basketball students received the award.
The Big Ten returns to an 18-game conference schedule this year, with each school playing five opponents twice (home-and-away), while playing the other eight schools once (four at home, four on the road). 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 women’s basketball programs will be featured on national television at least 78 times during the 2018-19 season. BTN will televise at least 69 games and ESPN2 will carry nine contests. In addition, for the fifth consecutive year, every Big Ten women’s basketball conference game, including 126 regular-season contests and all 13 Big Ten Tournament games, will be produced and distributed by BTN, BTN Plus or an ESPN network.