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This week in the Big Ten: No. 18 Minnesota, No. 23 Michigan State try to dig out of dismal conference starts in tonight’s top-25 matchup

Plus, the big moves by Big Ten teams in this week’s AP Poll, Indiana and Rutgers leading the way in conference play and Brenda Frese grabbing her 500th career win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Indiana vs Michigan State
Michigan State guard Shay Colley (#0) was the one bright spot in the Spartans’ Jan. 3 loss to Northwestern, as she scored a season-high 28 points.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Just one week ago, Minnesota and Michigan State were both in the top 15 of the AP Poll, and things were looking up. The Golden Gophers were undefeated, 12-0, after vanquishing their first Big Ten opponent under head coach Lindsay Whalen in similar dominant fashion to how they’d taken care of their opponents all season long.

Meanwhile, the Spartans — whose only loss at the time had come early in the season to the now-No. 8 team in the country — were still riding a high from upending the Oregon Ducks on Dec. 9 and dominating Iowa in their Big Ten opener on Dec. 30.

Now, however, both Minnesota and Michigan State find themselves in the losing half of the conference standings after dropping their second and third conference games and taking significant tumbles to No. 18 and No. 23 in the poll, respectively. One of these teams will get a win tonight, and one will fall into an unprecedented three-game losing streak.

Considering how the Big Ten season has gone so far in such a short few weeks, maybe such a tumble would not be that unprecedented.

Maryland, while 3-1 on the season, picked up its first loss of the year to Rutgers in an upset significant enough to drop them from No. 4 to No. 9 in the poll in a single week. It was also good enough for the Scarlet Knights to earn AP votes for the first time this season, putting them just outside the poll at 27th.

The two Big Ten teams with the best movement in the poll this week? Iowa (which moved up from No. 19 to No. 17, leapfrogging Minnesota in the process) and Indiana (which entered the poll for the first time since 2016-17 and just the fifth time ever).

Right now, the Hoosiers and the Scarlet Knights are the only two teams with unblemished records in Big Ten play, though Maryland, Iowa and Purdue are creeping close behind at one loss apiece. But of course, even Ohio State’s 0-3 record makes them still very much in the hunt at this point in the young season.

With plenty of Big Ten play to come — each team is playing two more games than last season for a total of 18 games each — it’s far too early to make any definitive predictions, especially considering how tumultuous these first few weeks have been. But it has certainly been fascinating to see which teams are hanging with the big guns thus far, and which have already succumbed to seemingly stunning upsets.

Tonight’s top matchup

No. 18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-2, 1-2) vs. No. 23 Michigan State Spartans (11-3, 1-2)

When: Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI

How to watch: BTN Plus

Notes: The Spartans are going for their seventh straight win against Minnesota in East Lansing, where both of their big upsets this season have taken place. Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers haven’t beaten a top-25 team on the road in nearly 10 years.

More Big Ten games to watch this week

No. 25 Indiana Hoosiers (14-1, 3-0) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (4-8, 0-3)

When: Thursday, Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH

How to watch: Big Ten Network

Notes: The Hoosiers seem well on their way to improving upon last season’s 9-7 Big Ten record, which featured two losses to Ohio State. With the Buckeyes struggling this season, this could be a defining game for the defending WNIT champs to prove that they not only are ready to improve upon last season, but prepared to make a run for the conference championship.

No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes (11-3, 2-1) vs. No. 18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-2, 1-2)

When: Monday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: Minnesota won’t be catching many breaks as they contend with back-to-back top-25 matchups, especially if the meeting with Michigan State goes south. The good news is that the Gophers will be at home, where they still played Illinois close in their only loss there this season. But they must play Iowa tough, especially senior center Megan Gustafson. In the teams’ last meeting at the Big Ten Tournament, despite the Minnesota win, Gustafson put up a career-high and tournament-record 48 points. If — nay, when — the Hawkeyes put Gustafson front-and-center once more, the Gophers have to be ready for her, or at least be able to score enough points to nullify the efforts of the NCAA’s top scorer.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten:

  • Maryland head coach Brenda Frese picked up her 500th career win on Tuesday as the Terrapins routed Nebraska, 81-63. Frese began her career with three seasons at Ball State and Minnesota before coming to Maryland in 2002, where she led the Terps to a national championship in 2006.
  • Tonight’s other matchup pits Rutgers and Illinois against one another as the Scarlet Knights try for a 4-0 start for the second season in a row (8 p.m. ET, BTN Plus).
  • Guess who? After a one-week absence from the Big Ten Player of the Week honor, Iowa senior center Megan Gustafson rose to the occasion once more, earning the award for the seventh time this season. Against Nebraska on Jan. 3, Gustafson scored 28 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked 5 shots in the Iowa win.
  • The Big Ten Freshman of the Week is Nebraska forward Leigha Brown, who put up a career-high 20 points in the above-mentioned game against the Hawkeyes as well as a temporary career-high of 19 points against Ohio State on Dec. 31. Brown, now the Huskers’ second-leading scorer, came off the bench in both games (and, in fact, has done so in every game this season).
  • Indiana junior guard Ali Patberg, Northwestern senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and Rutgers senior forward Stasha Carey were all named to the Big Ten Weekly Honor Roll for their performances in their teams’ undefeated past weeks.