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Big Ten update: How Laila Phelia, Cotie McMahon and Shyanne Sellers will impact conference play

Michigan junior guard Laila Phelia, Ohio State sophomore forward Cotie McMahon and Maryland junior guard Shyanne Sellers are three players who will determine the Big Ten standings.

Miami (OH) v Michigan
Laila Phelia began Big Ten play with a bang, scoring a career-best 26 points.
Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Now that Big Ten play has begun, it’s worth assessing which players are most important to their teams’ aspirations and ambitions.

The obvious answer is, of course, Caitlin Clark. As Zachary Draves has detailed, the Iowa senior guard has been spectacular. With her name already etched in the record books of women’s college basketball, she added another accomplishment as fourth-ranked Iowa rolled over Minnesota on Saturday, becoming the Big Ten’s all-time assists leader. She followed up that accolade with a game winner, draining a near-logo 3 to help the Hawkeyes escape against Michigan State on Tuesday.

Another player sure to influence conference outcomes? Indiana grad big Mackenzie Holmes. As Eric Nemchock recently analyzed, Holmes is a low-post scoring savant, possessing a deep bag of post moves that allow her to score extremely efficiently for the Hoosiers.

Here are three other players whose performances could swing their teams’ standing in the conference:

Laila Phelia, Michigan (11-3, 2-0)

NCAA Womens Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Michigan vs Mississippi
Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico and junior guard Laila Phelia.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan opened conference play with a statement win, defeating their rival, then-No. 17 Ohio State, for the first time in four tries, 69-60.

Laila Phelia was the force that propelled the Wolverines to the upset, playing all 40 minutes as she scored a career-high 26 points. So far, Phelia’s numbers have dipped slightly from last season, with the junior guard converting a lower percentage of her shots from 2-point range, behind the arc and the free throw line.

Efficiency, however, is not the source of Phelia’s offensive effectiveness. Her impact comes from her relentlessness, applying her athletic advantages to constantly put pressure on the opposing defense. She showed off her offensive arsenal against the Buckeyes, mixing in finishes at the rim, finesse buckets from the short midrange and fearless 3-pointers. When Phelia has it working, the Wolverines will be hard to beat.

The next team tasked with her slowing down? No. 14 Indiana (11-1, 2-0) and the aforementioned Mackenzie Holmes on Thursday night in Bloomington (7 p.m. ET, BTN). If Phelia and Michigan can solve the combination of Holmes’ rim protection and Chloe Moore-McNeil’s perimeter defense, it’s unlikely that any Big Ten opponent will underestimate the Blue and Maize.

Cotie McMahon, Ohio State (10-3, 1-1)

UCLA v Ohio State
Ohio State sophomore forward Cotie McMahon.
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s well known that Cotie McMahon is a big fan of the Grinch, with her fondness extending beyond the Kobe Grinches she often sports on the court. However, while the Grinch’s heart famously “grew three sizes that day,” it’s a bit unfair to expect the Ohio State forward’s game to leap three levels after a fantastic freshman season.

So far, McMahon has struggled through a bit of a sophomore slump. Last season, she arrived on the court in Columbus with a combination of composure, polish and savvy rare for a freshman. Her athleticism and intelligence—evident in her powerful pops to the hoop and precocious playmaking—made her an instant, high-impact contributor for the Buckeyes. This season, everything has seemed slightly off-kilter, with McMahon, now at the top of the scouting report for most opposing defenses, unable to find a groove or show the growth of her game. Foul trouble also has prevented her from establishing a rhythm in a number of games.

However, no one will be surprised when McMahon has that breakout game, when everything clicks and she again looks like one of the most talented players in the nation. And when that happens, the now-No. 20 Buckeyes not only will become the best version of themselves, but, quite possibly, the best team in the Big Ten. The next opportunity arrives Friday night (8 p.m. ET), when Ohio State heads to Northwestern (6-8, 1-2).

Shyanne Sellers, Maryland (10-4, 2-1)

Syracuse v Maryland
Maryland junior guard Shyanne Sellers.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

After a 2-3 start to the season, Maryland, quietly, seemed to have found their form, winning seven-straight games, including their conference opener over Northwestern on Dec. 10.

However, a trip to Lincoln for their first Big Ten road battle resulted in a loss to Nebraska, 87-81. The undersized Terrapins were overwhelmed by the Cornhuskers, bruised on the boards 48-30. The foul count also reflected the size disparity, with Maryland committing nine more violations.

It also was Shyanne Sellers’ least-productive game of the season. The junior guard converted just one of her seven field goal attempts. She also was responsible for five of the Terrapins’ 26 fouls, limiting her to 22 minutes. To overcome their size-based disadvantages and emerge as a threatening conference foe, Maryland needs Sellers to be great. And for most of the season, she has been. She’s done it all for the Terps, leading the team in all major statistical categories: 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Her elite efforts include: 28 points, 13 rebounds and five assists against George Mason; a near triple-double of 13 points, 10 assists and eights rebounds against Northwestern; 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists against James Madison.

While a former Maryland player may claim the nickname “The Engine,” Sellers serves as the engine for this iteration of the Terps. She has to fire on all cylinders if Maryland is to make noise in the Big Ten.

As Maryland bested Minnesota 72-64 on Wednesday night, Sellers again operated optimally, finishing with 15 points, eight assists, three boards and three steals. Saturday afternoon, she and the Terrapins host Purdue (9-5, 2-1) in College Park (4:30 p.m. ET, BTN).