Big Ten Recap: Michigan on the March
The Wolverines’ win streak hits 7 while injuries hamper Indiana, Iowa and Maryland
We’re starting to get a little separation at the top.
This week’s marquee Big Ten games gave us some clarity, but as has been the case this season in the Big Ten, there’s still plenty of competition. Michigan staked a strong claim to conference leadership with a 65-50 win over Indiana, which included holding the Hoosiers to six points in the third quarter. Yes, IU was without Mackenzie Holmes, and there’s not much frontcourt depth on the roster, but even the presence of Holmes might not have overcome a dominant rebounding effort by the Wolverines.
How much Indiana missed Holmes can be summed up with this number: 32. That’s the rebound advantage that Michigan enjoyed, pulling down 52 to the Hoosiers’ 20. It’s the largest margin in a game between those two teams during the Her Hoop Stats era (since the 2009-10 season), although Big Ten teams have posted similar margins against non-conference opponents. Michigan had nearly as many offensive rebounds (14) as Indiana had defensive boards (15). And it wasn’t like the Wolverines were generating so many offensive rebounds with poor shooting: they hit 47.3% of their shots, which was the first time that a Big Ten opponent had crossed the 45% mark against Indiana this season.
Ohio State outlasted Iowa on the road, 92-88, withstanding a 43-point barrage from Caitlin Clark, who was helped by a 23-point effort from Monika Czinano. The Buckeyes had four players score in double-figures, while the Hawkeyes had just two. Clark and Czinano took 77% of their team’s shots from the floor and 27 of their 36 free throws. The surprise here is that McKenna Warnock, who scored in double-digits in 72% of Iowa’s games last season, has only reached that mark in half of the team’s games this season, and just once since Jan. 9. Warnock didn’t play in Iowa’s blowout win over Wisconsin on Feb. 3 after injuring her left hand against Penn State (Gabbie Marshall also sat out due to an injury, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette). Without one or both of them, Iowa will need to rely on a relatively untested bench. Or maybe we’ll get to see more 40-point games from Clark?
For Ohio State, winning or losing happens from the perimeter. The Buckeyes are fourth in the Big Ten in terms of percentage of points they get from three-pointers (Minnesota is tops), and they got a big boost against Iowa from Rebeka Mikulasikova, a forward who had made seven 3s coming into the game and then hit 5 of 6 from long range on the way to a crucial 17 points in 21 minutes. Two years ago Mikulasikova shot 46% on 3-pointers, but in all of last season she made four. Another option on the outside would make Ohio State even harder to defend.
Over the next month, the teams currently in the top seven in the conference standings have varying paths to the finish, but you’d have to like Ohio State’s position. The Buckeyes have games against Nebraska and Michigan State, but avoid the other top teams. Michigan has five games against the top seven, while Maryland and Iowa have four each. Indiana has only played eight conference games (three were postponed but it’s unclear when they will be made up), but given the absence of Holmes the Hoosiers will have their hands full.
Maryland’s path gets harder if Ashley Owusu, who suffered an injury against Michigan State, isn’t able to return quickly. Her absence would effectively give the Terps a six-player rotation in a stretch run that starts with a deep Nebraska team and ends with Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana.
Let’s take a moment to highlight Purdue’s Jeanae Terry, the Illinois transfer who has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Boilermakers this season. Terry’s not Purdue’s leading scorer, but she leads the team in rebounds and assists and has recorded two triple-doubles this season (most recently in a 80-66 win over Minnesota on Jan. 27). Her per 40-minute averages: 10.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists. She is one of just seven Division I players to average 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists this season.
Her lack of a three-point shot - just 2% of her scoring comes from long range - limits her offensive game, but she’s effective at getting to the foul line and twice this season has made buzzer-beating shots to deliver victories to the Boilermakers, who are one win away to doubling their total from last season.
Games To Watch
Iowa at Michigan (Sunday, Feb. 6)
HHS Prediction: Michigan 78 - Iowa 73 (Michigan with a 63% chance to win)
Iowa will play Michigan twice in the next three weeks, beginning with a trip to Crisler Arena on Sunday. The Hawkeyes are already one of the Big Ten’s weaker offensive rebounding teams, and that task probably gets harder against Michigan’s frontcourt. But if Iowa can control its own defensive boards, they’ll have a good shot. A Michigan win puts them in a great position for the conference title.
Nebraska at Maryland (Sunday, Feb. 6)
HHS Prediction: Maryland 83 - Nebraska 75 (Maryland with a 72% chance to win)
The Cornhuskers will be playing their fourth game in nine days when they travel to Maryland, and will have the advantage of a much deeper bench. The Alexis Markowski-Angel Reese matchup looks like a fun one for the next couple of years.
Nebraska at Ohio State (Thursday, Feb. 10)
HHS Prediction: Ohio State 79 - Nebraska 77 (Ohio State with a 57% chance to win)
This seems like a potential shootout between two of the Big Ten’s better offenses. After this game, the Buckeyes are on the road for three of their final four games, so a win would be a nice launching pad.