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Preview: No. 6 Michigan, No. 21 Iowa meet with Big Ten regular-season championship on the line

The Michigan Wolverines have been ranked as high as No. 4 and the Iowa Hawkeyes fell out of the rankings at one point this season, but Caitlin Clark has the ability to help her team catch fire entering the postseason.

Iowa v Michigan
Caitlin Clark (left) and Naz Hillmon
Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Two Big Ten programs, Michigan and Indiana, have enjoyed the best seasons in their history over the past two years and the Hoosiers’ great success extends back to 2019-20 as well. The Wolverines made their first Sweet 16 last year, while the Hoosiers made their first Sweet 16 and Elite 8. This year, both teams have been ranked as high as No. 4 in the AP poll.

Now, on Sunday, one of those teams has the opportunity to win a Big Ten regular-season championship, something that has almost exclusively been reserved for Maryland since the Terrapins joined the conference in 2014-15.

And that team, due to late-season collapse by Indiana, is Michigan, which has never won it. Led by All-American and projected first-round WNBA pick Naz Hillmon, the No. 6 Wolverines have reached this moment, defeating the No. 13 Terps by double digits twice along the way.

Michigan nearly had a late-season collapse itself, losing to a Michigan State team that isn’t even on the bubble of ESPN’s bracketology and a Northwestern squad that is the last team in the projected tournament field in consecutive games on Feb. 10 and Feb. 13. However, the Wolverines regrouped for their second win over Maryland last Sunday and revenge against the Spartans on Thursday, setting up a winner-take-the-crown matchup with the No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes.

For Iowa (19-7, 13-4 Big Ten), they’d have to share that crown with Ohio State if the Buckeyes also win on Sunday, but Michigan (22-4, 13-3 Big Ten) controls its own destiny when it comes to winning the title outright.

Iowa, like Michigan, went to the Sweet 16 last year. It also went to the Final Four in 1993 and the Elite 8 in 2019, with the latter run coming during the senior season of legendary center Megan Gustafson. The Hawkeyes boast nine Big Ten regular season championships, so this level of success is more familiar to them. But Hawkeyes fans probably didn’t expect the program to feature a player on pace to be even greater than Gustafson so soon after 2019.

They have that player in Caitlin Clark, who is capable of single-handedly swinging the balance of Sunday’s game.

Clark leads the nation in both points (27.1) and assists (8.2) per game and has helped the team move past a 3-4 stretch from Dec. 2 to Jan. 6 that knocked it out of the rankings on Jan. 10.

Iowa lost to Michigan 98-90 on Feb. 6, but has already started to catch fire lately with back-to-back wins over No. 10 Indiana on Feb. 19 and Feb. 21.

Game information

No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (22-4, 13-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes (19-7, 13-4 Big Ten)

When: Sunday, Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Iowa City, IA

How to watch: ESPN2/M Go Blue TV or Hawkeye Radio Network

Key to the matchup: Rebounding. The story of this game going in is Iowa’s offense vs. Michigan’s defense. The two teams’ scoring margins are almost identical, with the Hawkeyes having an 0.4-point edge. That suggests things will be even. But Michigan has the edge on the boards (10.6 margin to 4.2) and hopes that dominance on the glass will help it prove that there is a reason it is ranked 15 spots higher. It will be on Naz Hillmon (9.1 rebounds per game) and Emily Kiser (8.3) to get the job done.