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Big Ten Update: Indiana’s dominance and Caitlin Clark’s Luka Dončić-esque performances

The No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers continue to breeze through conference play, while the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Caitlin Clark is putting on a show nightly.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Checking in on the teams in the Big Ten:

No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers (21-1, 11-1 Big Ten, No. 1 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Indiana has been dominating, in large part thanks to the brilliance of Mackenzie Holmes.

Holmes is seventh in the nation in scoring, averaging 22.3 points per game. Over IU’s last six games, she has upped that average to 26.5 points per game, leading to huge wins over ranked opponents Illinois, Michigan and then-No. 2 Ohio State. Holmes was named ESPN’s Player of the Week on Jan. 30.

She’s also the Hoosiers’ leading rebounder and shot-blocker, averaging 7.8 boards and 1.8 blocks per game.

Opponents must construct their game plan around Holmes, which opens the door for IU’s leading 3-point shooters, Yarden Garzon and Sydney Parrish.

The Hoosiers still have to play Iowa twice this season, as well as Ohio State and Michigan one more time each. The showdown between two of the NCAA’s best players, Holmes and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, is long-awaited. IU-Iowa will be a fun Big Ten storyline to round out the conference season. The teams are on a potential collision course to meet in the B1G tournament championship game.

Syndication: The Herald-Times
IU’s Mackenzie Holmes (No. 54) and Grace Berger (No. 34)
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes (18-4, 10-1 Big Ten, No. 2 seed ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Caitlin Clark is still being Caitlin Clark.

She’s leading the Hawkeyes on a current six-game winning streak, averaging 27.2 points per game in conference play.

Clark dropped a 28-point, 15-assist triple-double on the road against Ohio State, which was then the No. 2 team in the nation. She’s second in the country in scoring, behind only Villanova senior Maddy Siegrist. She’s also No. 2 in assists per game, averaging 7.9 dimes each time she steps out onto the floor.

Clark added a whopping 42 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against No. 8 Maryland on Thursday. That made Clark the only Division I player, in the men’s or women’s game, to have multiple 40-point games this season.

Clark is leading the train for the soaring Hawkeyes. There’s no telling where the ceiling stops for this team with Clark at the helm. She was just named to the late-season watch list for the Wooden Award, which honors the nation’s most outstanding player.

No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes (20-3, 9-3 Big Ten, No. 2 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Speaking of Clark, she was the driving force for the tailspin that the Buckeyes are currently finding themselves in.

Starting with Clark’s triple-double performance in a loss to Iowa, the Buckeyes have dropped three of their last four games. A quick fall in the rankings and conference table for the previous No. 2 team in the country.

OSU took care of business in a get-right game against Wisconsin on Wednesday, and will look to use that momentum to get back on track.

Buckeye senior guard Taylor Mikesell has cooled off a bit after dropping 31 points against Illinois on Jan. 8. Over the past few games, she’s shooting well below her 39 percent season average from three. The Bucks will need Mikesell to bring back the more efficient stroke from deep to right the ship heading toward postseason play.

The play of sophomore forward Taylor Thierry has been encouraging as of late. She recorded a 13-point, 12-assist double-double against Indiana after going for 20 points and nine rebounds against Iowa a few days prior.

During OSU’s recent win over Wisconsin, Thierry had a career night, dropping 25 points to go along with seven boards. Thierry’s increasing presence on offense, as well as her work on the glass, are huge positives for one of the conference’s best teams.

No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten, No. 4 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

The Wolverines have had a tough draw as of late. They played Indiana and Maryland in the same week, dropping both games. But, the contests weren’t total losses.

Leigha Brown dropped 31 points against Indiana. More remarkably, she only took two 3-point attempts during the 30-piece effort. Brown has been the Wolverines’ best player of late.

She leads the team in assists by a wide margin, serving as the primary playmaker to add to her scoring ability. Brown has had numerous games with 10-plus assists this season, while also being active on the glass. Earlier this season, she was two assists away from a triple-double alongside a 22-point, 10-rebound night.

Laila Phelia and Emily Kiser make up the team’s version of a ‘big three’ alongside Brown. Each of the three is averaging close to 17 points per game on the season. Alongside Brown’s facilitating, Kiser leads the team in rebounding while Phelia is the leading scorer by a tight margin.

Brown led Michigan to a bounce-back win against Illinois prior to a rivalry game in East Lansing against Michigan State, which is coming up on Sunday.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wichita Regional Michigan v South Dakota
Leigha Brown
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (18-5, 9-3 Big Ten, No. 3 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Maryland’s Diamond Miller is another one of the country’s top players. She leads the Terps in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks.

In the team’s most recent game, a loss to Iowa, Miller scored 27 points, which was somehow outshined by Clark’s 42.

Maryland was streaking before running into Iowa, winners of five straight, including a victory over Michigan.

To round out the regular season, the Terps have to play Iowa once more, as well as Ohio State twice.

It won’t be an easy final stretch for Maryland, but when you have a player like Miller, anything can happen.

Illinois Fighting Illini (17-6, 7-5 Big Ten, No. 9 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

The Fighting Illini are on the heels of a blowout loss at the hands of Michigan, which came by a score of 74-57.

The team has looked good on some nights, and not so much on others, making for an average Big Ten stretch of late.

Thanks to early season success, and a resume cornerstone win over Iowa on Jan. 1, Illinois is still looking to make some noise heading into the postseason.

Maryland is the only team that Illinois has to play for the remainder of the season that has a better record, giving the Illini a chance to get right. Other than Maryland, they play Nebraska twice, along with Minnesota, Penn State and Rutgers to round out the conference schedule. I see a potential rise for Illinois heading into the Big Ten tournament and further postseason play.

Purdue Boilermakers (15-6, 6-5 Big Ten, No. 10 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Purdue is on a three-game winning streak, most notably taking down No. 2 Ohio State in its most recent game.

The Boilermakers have a tough test to keep the winning going, as they draw the B1G’s best team in Indiana on Sunday.

Abbey Ellis has been huge as of late for Purdue, being the team’s leading scorer in four of their last 5 games, including when she scored 26 points against Ohio State on 5-for-8 shooting from three.

Ellis is the team’s best 3-point shooter, with a 41.8 shooting percentage from distance, slightly above that of Caitlyn Harper (41.2 percent).

The team’s leading scorer, Lasha Petree, is also a strong shooter from three.

Purdue will need to lean on the trio of Petree, Ellis and Harper to continue its winning ways and make noise in the Big Ten.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-9, 5-6 Big Ten, “last four in” in ESPN’s Feb. 3 Bracketology)

Nebraska has had a tough schedule of late, which has put it into a rut in conference play.

The Huskers are still expected to make the NCAA tournament at time of writing, however their bubble is too close to popping for comfort.

The good news is their schedule is easing up as they round out conference play. Michigan and Iowa are the only ranked opponents left on Nebraska’s schedule in their last seven games.

If the Huskers can take care of business, they can solidify their spot in the eyes of the tournament committee.

Michigan State Spartans (11-11, 3-8 Big Ten, No. 41 in the NET rankings)

The Spartans are slumping in conference play, having dropped six of their last seven games. Like with Nebraska, MSU’s schedule is going to ease up as it moves toward the end of the regular season.

The budding presence and playmaking ability of sophomore guard Deedee Hagemann has been a positive for the Spartans of late. She leads the team in both assists and steals per game and has served as Sparty’s leading facilitator in each of the last three games.

MSU still has a handful of tough tests in the regular season, including the rivalry game at home against Michigan on Sunday.

The Spartans have work to do, but if they round out the season strong and have a good showing in the conference tournament, the Spartans can push their way right into bubble conversations.

Penn State Lady Lions (13-10, 4-8 Big Ten, No. 79 in the NET rankings)

Penn State has had a tough time as of late, only winning three of their last nine games. Like Michigan State, it has an opportunity to turn the ship around heading into the postseason.

Penn State plays the Spartans twice prior to the end of the season, with those possibly being swing games as both teams vie for conference notability.

For the Lady Lions, Makenna Marisa has been outstanding. She’s averaging 18.4 points per game, a number that’s good for 35th in the entire country. However, the next-best scorer for PSU is averaging only 11.1 points per game.

Marisa also leads the team in assists by a wide margin. She is doing it all for the Lady Lions, dropping 20-point games in bunches as of late. How she moves off of an off-ball screen to get a clean look behind the arc here is a thing of beauty.

Get Marisa some help!

Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-13, 2-9 Big Ten, No. 110 in the NET rankings)

Minnesota has won only one of its last nine games. This year’s Gophers team seems to be in a different stratosphere than those ahead of them in the conference standings. However, they don’t have an extremely difficult schedule throughout the rest of the regular season. Based on recent play, Minnesota should hope to find at least one or two wins to get the vibes right heading into next season.

A bright spot for Minnesota has been the play of Alanna Micheaux. The sophomore forward is averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Her rebounding average is the 77th best in the country. Micheaux has had three games with 14 rebounds or more in the past two weeks.

Northwestern Wildcats (8-14, 1-10 Big Ten, No. 115 in the NET rankings)

The Wildcats finally found their first Big Ten win of the season after dropping their first nine games in conference play. They found a way to beat Wisconsin on the back of a 23-point, nine-rebound night from Paige Mott.

Before the season closes, Northwestern has a couple of opportunities to find some additional wins as it plays Rutgers, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, based on its showings to begin conference play, I’m not so confident.

Wisconsin Badgers (7-16, 2-9 Big Ten, No. 125 in the NET rankings)

The Badgers have struggled in conference play as well. They haven’t won a Big Ten game since rattling off two in a row over Minnesota and Michigan State to snap their 0-4 start in the conference.

Wisconsin has slid since then, only finding a win in a non-conference game against Valparaiso. Through the end the season, the Badgers play Rutgers twice, as well as Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan State. They’ll look to find some additional conference wins for a boost rounding out the regular season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-14, 3-8 Big Ten, No. 148 in the NET rankings)

Rutgers has had a roller coaster of a season so far. It is one of the conference’s weaker teams; however, it has registered wins over Nebraska, Minnesota and, most notably, Penn State.

Their win over the Lady Lions came in an overtime thriller on Jan. 26. It was a high-scoring affair and the Scarlet Knights prevailed, 86-82.

Freshman Kaylene Smikle is a really good player. She averages 17.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and close to two steals per game.

The country’s 59th best scorer in terms of average, Smikle can go off on any given night. She’s yet to score 30 points in a game this season, coming oh so close against Maryland with 29. I’m guessing that we’ll see her go for 30 in one game this season, giving the Scarlet Knights something to cheer for.