It’s the matchup that Big Ten fans have been waiting for since the beginning of the season.
Before the beginning of the season, in fact — ever since No. 7 Maryland and No. 14 Iowa were picked to go 1-2 in the preseason rankings. With Ohio State, the Big Ten regular season champion for the past two seasons, falling out of contention early, it’s been clear for several weeks that this afternoon’s meeting between the Terrapins and the Hawkeyes would have serious implications for the final standings.
Both teams have had their downfalls: Each has a loss to fellow top-25 team Michigan State, while Iowa’s remaining conference losses came to Purdue and Michigan, and Maryland’s came to Rutgers.
But both the Terps and the Hawks are also on pace to improve their 2017-18 records behind two of the top-three scoring offenses in the Big Ten, the top two field-goal percentage averages in the Big Ten (with Iowa coming in at No. 1 nationally) and in general among the top three of any offensive statistic in the conference.
Compared to Maryland, though, who comes in at No. 1 in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and No. 2 in scoring defense, Iowa will have some work to do on the defensive end. While the Hawkeyes can make their shots just fine — just ask their center, Megan Gustafson, the nation’s hottest shooter — they come in at 11th in scoring defense and 9th in field goal percentage defense in the conference.
Now, considering both teams are wired as high-output teams on the offensive end, Maryland likely won’t hold Iowa to 58.2 points on 35.6 percent shooting, the Terps’ defensive averages this season. But if the Hawks can’t hold players like Kaila Charles in check — she leads Maryland in scoring and dropped a game-high 24 points on Iowa last season — they could see the game get away from them. Thursday, the Terps did just that against Nebraska, going on a 20-0 run in the second half to put the game away.
Gustafson had just 15 points in last season’s loss, which led the team, but was well below her season average. She knows she’s the X factor for Iowa, and the trust her teammates have in her to “take over a game” is obvious, as she’s scored 30 or more points in eight games this season — the most in the nation. None of that is to overshadow Iowa’s other three players averaging in double figures this season: Kathleen Doyle, Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis, each of whom lead the team in some statistic, it’s just the reality of her dominance.
Whether this game is a high-scoring melee or a defensive grind, it should be close throughout, and more than worthy of its coveted ESPN2 slot. And if the home crowd can pick up the Hawkeyes the way they have all season long, it could just be a nationally-televised upset.
No. 7 Maryland Terrapins (23-2, 12-2) at No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-5, 11-3)
When: Sunday, Feb. 17, at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA
How to watch: ESPN2
Elsewhere in the Big Ten:
- Michigan’s Hallie Thome is sitting at 1,999 career points and looks to become the fourth Big Ten player this season to hit the 2,000-point milestone. The Wolverines visit Illinois this afternoon (3 p.m. ET, BTN Plus).
- Megan Gustafson took home her 20th and 21st career Big Ten Player of the Week honors this month for Iowa and notched her 78th career double-double on Feb. 14, both of which broke Big Ten records set by Jantel Lavender during her career at Ohio State.
- Besides Big Ten Player of the Week, Gustafson was also named espnW Player of the Week on Feb. 10 and is the sole Big Ten representative of the ten Senior CLASS Award finalists.
- For the fifth time this season, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, averaging 18.5 points and 11 rebounds in the Wolverines’ wins against Penn State and Nebraska last week.
- The Big Ten Honor Roll recipients were Hillmon, Minnesota’s Kenisha Bell and Nebraska’s Leigha Brown.
- Penn State’s Teniya Page is a finalist for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which honors the country’s best shooting guard.
- For the first time since the 2012-13 season — two years prior to expanding to 14 teams — all of the Big Ten schools have at least 10 wins on the season.