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Big Ten preview: Iowa the team to beat, faces serious competition

Are you ready for Caitlin Clark to dazzle once again? For Grace Berger to put it all on the line for one more shot at the Final Four? The Big Ten season should be an exciting one.

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Iowa and Indiana are the two highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Big Ten conference has unexpectedly become a significant presence in the world of women’s college basketball in recent years. Last year Iowa and Ohio State shared the conference’s regular-season title and the Hawkeyes won the conference tournament. Along the way, their fast paced style of play led by phenom Caitlin Clark garnered attention beyond the realm of women’s basketball. Iowa is only expected to grow this year. Its core returns and has it ranked No. 4 in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten.

Even as the Hawkeyes are destined for continued ascendance, they won’t be alone as the Big Ten expects to remain a competitive conference. A nation-leading six teams are ranked in the Top 25 preseason rankings and each got a taste of what success can look like last year.

Following Iowa will be No. 11 Indiana, which is coming off a second straight appearance in the Sweet Sixteen. Under head coach Teri Moren and led by guard Grace Berger and forward Mackenzie Holmes, the Hoosiers are knocking on the door of hardwood greatness in a state known for that. With the addition of transfer players in guard Sara Scalia (Minnesota), guard Sydney Parrish (Oregon) and forward Alyssa Geary (Providence), the Hoosiers will look to be not only a team with potential but also with versatility in their game that can keep them in the hunt.

Ohio State enters at No. 14 and was on par with the Hawkeyes last year in more ways than one. The Buckeyes bring a similar style of play in terms of their quickness, agility, and flexibility. Guard Rikki Harris is expected to repeat a successful 2021-22 season and Jacy Sheldon, Braxtin Miller and Rebeka Mikulášiková are sure to be a decent core. If they can remain healthy, we may see them be on par with the Hawkeyes again.

Not to be outdone, Maryland comes into the season with high expectations as well. Not only are they coming in at No. 17, but also as the one school that has built considerable stature since joining the Big Ten in 2014. The Terrapins have won six Big Ten titles and five Big Ten Tournament championships and last year made it to their second straight Sweet Sixteen. Their physical style of play led by Diamond Miller gave the Hawkeyes a run for their money and forced them to step up their aggressiveness. Their perseverance even after a season riddled with injury is something to savor and something that can potentially get them over the hump this year.

For the first time since 2014-15, Nebraska has been ranked in the preseason top 25 (at No. 22). With junior sensation Isabelle Bourne and graduate student Sam Haiby at the helm, the Cornhuskers should be a solid team.

Out of all these teams, it was Michigan that went the furthest last year, as they reached the Elite Eight. The Wolverines had a stellar team built around then-senior Naz Hillmon, who is now in the WNBA. It will quite a journey for them to get back to the top. However, with a history poise, grit, and determination, the Wolverines are never to be counted out.

Coverage of the Big Ten will likely be dominated by Iowa throughout much of the season. But the Hawkeyes will have their work cut out for them as these five other schools have each proven to be effective at ensuring that the Big Ten title is up for grabs.