Battle of the Bigs in the Big Ten
These players could be a deciding factor in their teams’ postseason success
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Four of the Big Ten teams ranked in the AP Women’s Top 25 Poll have a veteran post on their roster who’s playing a major role in their team’s success. We take a closer look at these players, compare their strengths, see how they’ve stacked up against each other, and discuss how their future performances could affect their teams’ ability to prevail down the stretch.
Monika Czinano, Iowa
Over the past few years, Czinano has become one of the most reliable players in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-3, fifth-year senior has started for the Hawkeyes since her sophomore year and amassed over 2,100 points and 650 rebounds. One of the country’s most efficient players on offense, Czinano has finished in the nation’s top 10 in field-goal percentage and points per scoring attempt in each of her last three seasons. And this season, she continues to contribute night after night. Averaging 18.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, and ranking 13th in the country in field-goal percentage (66.4%), Czinano has been limited to single-digit scoring in only three games.
Czinano’s consistent play has no doubt been a key factor in Iowa’s Big Ten success. In the Hawkeyes’ recent 83-72 upset over Ohio State, she had 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go along with four rebounds even though she was in foul trouble for a large portion of the game. When Czinano matched up against another prominent post in Iowa’s 94-85 win over Michigan, she contributed 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting and had five rebounds and eight assists.
Iowa (9-1) is currently ranked second in the Big Ten, with its sole conference loss coming against Illinois. But the Hawkeyes still have several tough matchups in the regular season, including two against Indiana, the current conference leader. If Czinano continues with her uncompromising production and can stay out of foul trouble, her team’s chances of moving up the conference ladder, as well as a deep run in March, look very bright.
Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana
As Indiana’s leader in average points (22.0), rebounds (8.0), blocks (1.7), and field-goal percentage (68.4%), it seems like there’s nothing Holmes can’t do this season. And the 6-foot-3 senior isn’t just one of the best players on her team, she’s one of the best in the country. With nine double-doubles, she’s ranked fifth in player efficiency rating (42.0) and fourth in win shares (8.3). Among those who have averaged 20 points per contest in a season, Holmes is on pace to finish with the third-highest field-goal percentage since the 2009-10 season (behind Megan Gustafson’s 2018-19 campaign).
During Big Ten matchups, Holmes’ production has only increased—averaging 24.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest—and it’s been a determining factor in the Hoosiers’ recent conference wins. In their 92-83 victory over Michigan, Holmes put up 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. And when she went against Ohio State, she scored 26 points on 11-for-13 shooting and grabbed four rebounds.
With its recent 78-65 win over Ohio State, Indiana is now ranked first in the Big Ten and should move up in the AP Poll today. But the Hoosiers still have several tough games left in the regular season, including additional matchups against Michigan and Ohio State and facing Iowa twice. If Holmes continues to bring stellar performances, though, Indiana not only has a great chance of improving upon its record, but it also has a great shot at making it all the way to Dallas in March.
Emily Kiser, Michigan
Kiser is one of the most improved players on the Wolverines’ roster, and her increased production—especially after one of the best players in program history, Naz Hillmon, went on to the WNBA—has been a critical piece to the team’s success this season. The 6-foot-3 graduate student has become a valued and trusted leader, who’s able to contribute in many different ways. She’s led the team in scoring in eight games, averaging 15.0 points while shooting 51.4% from the field. She’s also been the team’s top rebounder ten times, averaging 7.5 per game, and held the team-high in assists five times, averaging 2.3 per game.
Although Michigan has four losses against Big Ten opponents, Kiser’s production has remained relatively solid. She pulled down 10 rebounds and scored 10 points in the team’s 66-57 loss against Ohio State, and she had 15 points and five rebounds in the team’s 92-83 loss to Indiana. In the 94-85 loss to Iowa, Kiser had one of her best games, contributing 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.
The Wolverines are currently tied for fifth in Big Ten conference play and held the No. 13 spot in last week’s AP Poll. But they have plenty of chances to improve their position, including when they face Indiana and Ohio State each one more time this season. And if Kiser is able to play at the top of her game—knocking down shots, being relentless on the boards, and making the right kick-outs—Michigan will be a much tougher out for both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Rebeka Mikulasikova, Ohio State
The 6-foot-4 senior from Slovakia is having the best season of her career, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Ohio State needed everyone to step up after Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene were sidelined with injuries, and Mikulasikova has done just that, averaging 12.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. In addition, her improved ability to shoot from beyond the arc has been a huge boost to the Buckeyes’ half-court offense, not only by adding points but also by stretching the floor and pulling away their opponents’ top rim protectors.
But Mikulasikova needs to keep working on her consistency. Although she’s had six 20-plus point games, she hasn’t played her best against top Big Ten opponents. In Ohio State’s win over Michigan, she grabbed five rebounds but shot 1-for-7 and only scored three points. She also had a subpar outing in the Buckeyes’ loss to Iowa, only getting off four shots to score eight points and pulling down one rebound. And in the team’s recent loss to Indiana, she shot 1-for-6, adding just three points and two rebounds.
With its three recent losses, Ohio State moves down to fourth place in the Big Ten, and they still have several tough matchups ahead before postseason play begins. While Jacy Sheldon’s return from her injury will provide additional firepower, the Buckeyes are going to need Mikulasikova to be playing at her best night after night if they’re going to contend for the Big Ten title or make a run for the Final Four.
Throughout the season, all four of these post players have repeatedly shown they are vital pieces to their teams’ success. But with just a little over a month until postseason play, their continued contributions will be more important than ever and key factors in determining how far their teams can go.
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.