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Big Ten Preview: Free-for-all at the top in 2018-19

With reigning regular-season and tournament champion Ohio State not expected to repeat, this season’s conference titles are up for grabs in the best way.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Minnesota vs Iowa
Iowa senior Megan Gustafson was the nation’s top scorer and fifth-leading rebounder in 2017-18 and figures to be a first-round WNBA draft pick. But in spite of her success, Iowa has played just one NCAA Tournament game with her on the roster.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Last season in the Big Ten, Ohio State relied on the standout play of now-Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell to capture the regular-season and conference tournament titles. However, postseason tournament play wasn’t kind to the Buckeyes, as they were upset by Central Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, ending their season on quite the low note.

What does that mean for Ohio State this season? Well, for starters, they didn’t crack the top three in either preseason conference poll. And with just two games separating the top five teams in the Big Ten last season, they’ll have to work even harder this season to stave off the likes of preseason No. 1 Maryland, preseason No. 2 Iowa and either of the preseason No. 3s: Michigan (coaches’ poll) or Minnesota (media poll). More likely, though, is that a new champion is coming this season, and it’s anybody’s guess who that could be.

Teams in the Big Ten Conference

Here are the teams in the Big Ten, listed with their records, according to the 2017-18 standings:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes, 28-7 (13-3)
  • Maryland Terrapins, 26-8 (12-4)
  • Iowa Hawkeyes, 24-8 (11-5)
  • Minnesota Golden Gophers, 24-9 (11-5)
  • Nebraska Cornhuskers, 21-11 (11-5)
  • Michigan Wolverines, 23-10 (10-6)
  • Indiana Hoosiers, 23-14 (9-7)
  • Purdue Boilermakers, 20-14 (9-7)
  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 20-12 (7-9)
  • Michigan State Spartans, 19-14 (7-9)
  • Penn State Lady Lions, 16-16 (6-10)
  • Northwestern Wildcats, 12-20 (4-12)
  • Wisconsin Badgers, 9-21 (2-14)
  • Illinois Fighting Illini, 9-22 (0-16)

Biggest storylines heading into the season

With second-team All-American Kelsey Mitchell having graduated from Ohio State, last year’s regular-season and conference champions will have a massive hole to fill at the point guard position. This leaves plenty of room for perennial powerhouse Maryland, Iowa and Minnesota to make a move for either title as Ohio State adjusts to life without Mitchell.

At Iowa, this means taking full advantage of senior center Megan Gustafson, the nation’s top scorer last season and the 2018-19 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. While she’s widely expected to be taken in the first round of the 2019 WNBA Draft, a long and difficult Big Ten season looms first and foremost, highlighted by another meeting with Ohio State. That said, Gustafson did outscore Mitchell in last year’s game, an Iowa rout, which could spell trouble for the Buckeyes as they meet again on Feb. 10 (details below).

For Iowa fans, it would also be nice to see Gustafson play in a few more NCAA Tournament games. Despite Iowa’s successes with her on the court, she only played in her first tournament game last season, an upset loss to Creighton where she still stood out in a 29-point, 17-rebound performance. But with the Hawkeyes returning four starters, including Gustafson and junior point guard Kathleen Doyle — both of whom were named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team — they’re in a good position to make some noise this postseason.

A little further north, the talk of the Twin Cities since the April announcement is the hiring of former Golden Gopher and recently-retired Minnesota Lynx star Lindsay Whalen as Minnesota’s new head coach. Whalen will have big shoes to fill after four-year head coach Marlene Stollings’ departure for Texas Tech, but her familiarity with the program should give her a notable leg up as the team tries to remain competitive after last season’s top-three Big Ten finish.

Game information

Season openers

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. University of South Florida Bulls

Ohio State opens play in an Oct. 28 exhibition against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (NCAA Div. II).

When: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH

How to watch: BTN+

Maryland Terrapins vs. Coppin State Eagles

Maryland opens play in two exhibitions against Kutztown (Oct. 28; NCAA Div. II) and Clarion (Nov. 2; NCAA Div. II).

When: Friday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Xfinity Center, College Park, MD

How to watch: BTN+

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Iowa opens play in a Nov. 6 exhibition against Dakota Wesleyan (NAIA).

When: Friday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA

How to listen: Iowa Hawkeye Sports Network

Notable contests

Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

When: Friday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis

How to watch: BTN

Why to watch: Lindsay Whalen’s first Big Ten game as head coach of the Golden Gophers, while being her first big test of the season, should also be a smooth introduction to the conference. Minnesota easily beat Wisconsin at home last year, led by returning redshirt senior Kenisha Bell’s 24 points, and also picked up a ten-point victory in Madison.

Ohio State Buckeyes at Maryland Terrapins

When: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Xfinity Center, College Park, MD

How to watch: BTN

Why to watch: Though Ohio State dispatched Maryland on neutral ground last season en route to capturing the Big Ten tournament title, they also suffered a 30-point loss to the Terps in Maryland during a three-game skid. This meeting between last season’s top two teams in the conference should give an early indication of which team is most ready for another rigorous Big Ten campaign.

Iowa Hawkeyes at Ohio State Buckeyes

When: Sunday, Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH

How to watch: BTN

Why to watch: With the above Maryland game representing the second Big Ten loss in a row for the Buckeyes last season, their 14-point loss to Iowa was the third in that span. And since Iowa’s star Megan Gustafson returns this season, it remains to be seen how much of a role home-court advantage will play in Ohio State’s performance this time around. The Buckeyes will want to win for a variety of reasons, but Iowa could very well be the more confident team by this point in the season.

Click here to visit the Big Ten website.