As of Tuesday, four teams teams remain undefeated and five teams only have one loss. With everyone bunched so close together, how are a power rankings to decide who rises and who falls? To bring order to the chaos, I'll be using my patented Basketball System - or B.S. for short. Get ready for more B.S. than you can handle, and welcome to Week Three.
High rise of the week: Michigan (+4)
Free fall of the week: Indiana (-3)
Big Ten Week Three Power Rankings
1. Maryland Terrapins (6-0. Last Week: 1)
After a cakewalk against the likes of Umass, High Point, and Detroit Mercy, Maryland just wrapped up the only-slightly-tougher-dessert part of the schedule (rhubarb pie?) against San Diego State and Old Dominion, before getting to the meat and potatoes on Wednesday: the #20 ranked Syracuse Orange. The Terps are still the heavy favorites, but the Orange are the first nationally ranked opponent to test the Maryland Juggernaut. Maryland stays undefeated? Wonderful. The Connecticut Huskies are waiting after Christmas.
2. Northwestern Wildcats (6-0. LW: 2)
Ashley Deary was the Big Ten Player of the Week last week. She averaged 21 points, 9.5 assists, and an awesome 5 steals per game in a pair of wins over the Idaho State Bengals and Western Michigan Broncos. She's always been a defensive destroyer, but is showing a much-improved offense to match. She's averaging almost twice as many points this year as last, and the biggest difference is her shooting from three. Deary shot 27% from deep her freshman and sophomore years. This year, she's gone 10-20. She won't make 50% of her threes forever, but with her stellar defense (including a conference-leading 4.8 steals per game), even a 3FG% that settles around 38% might be enough to earn her All Conference honors.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (4-2. LW: 6)
They had to play the zero win, three loss Wagner Seahawks, but the Buckeye's finally out-rebounded their competition! Really, they out-everythinged the Seahawks in a 106-47 smackdown. More exciting than the Buckeye's finally winning the post battle (against a team whose tallest player was only 6'2") was the Buckeye's decisive victory over the #12-ranked Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday, 95-80. 6'1" Texas forward Courtney Williams had 21 points on 21 shots, and big Aggies center Khaalia Hilsman only had 2 points on five shots. It doesn't prove OSU could handle Nebraska's Jessica Shepard or Maryland's Brionna Jones, both of whom are taller than Texas' Williams and more skilled than Texas' Hilsman, but it's a start.
4. Michigan State Spartans (4-1. LW: 3)
She's back, baby! Aerial Powers, the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten last season (and leader of the "best names" rankings), has been coming off the bench since coming back from injury, and on Friday, she made those limited minutes count. Powers had 20 points on only 11 shots, and added 6 rebounds and 4 assists in a measly 14 minutes of game action. She remains one of the best scorers in the conference, but the crazy thing is, she might not be the best scorer on her own team. Tori Jankoska, the 5th leading scorer in the Big Ten last year, has been even better this year, averaging 22 points a game. With their powers combined, they led the #5 Baylor Bears Saturday after three quarters, although the upset bid fell apart in the 4th.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1. LW: 4)
Before her recent disappearing act, true freshman Megan Gustafson had been destroying opposing bench units. She was leading the Hawkeyes in Points Per 40 Minutes and True Shooting Percentage, and was averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds in less than 20 minutes a game. Her offensive game looks polished, but her defense has occasionally verged on "wild flailing"; against Northern Iowa, she picked up 4 personal fouls in only 10 minutes of game action; and against Wright State, another 3 fouls in only six minutes. In Iowa's double overtime loss against the George Washington Colonials, she only played ten minutes despite not getting in foul trouble- the clearest sign yet that coach Bluder doesn't trust her. Even worse for Hawkeyes fans, backup guard Tania Davis only played 5 minutes, while the three starting guards played 47, 47, and 39 minutes. The starting five remains solid, but the bench is becoming a problem.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (5-1. LW: 7)
In back-to-back road games, the Boilermakers beat the then #22 ranked Louisville Cardinals before losing to the #16 ranked Stanford Cardinals in overtime. Purdue should be pushing its way into the top 25 soon. Having said that, a team that starts four guards should be shooting better than 34% from three. But anecdotally, it's felt like the offense is generating open looks, and the shots just haven't been dropping; those guards got going against Stanford, going 9-23 from deep. Was this a blip, or a glimpse of Purdue's true talent? Until women's basketball gets that fancy Sports VU data (maybe in the lifetime of my grandchildren's grandchildren), I can't prove that they're actually generating better shot opportunities than other teams. For now, I'll defend them on aesthetic grounds: all those guards whipping around all those passes makes for some beautiful basketball.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-1. LW: 5)
Jessica Shepard (last week's Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week) showed some encouraging signs in a loss to Connecticut. She was 5-9 from shooting, the only Cornhusker to shoot better than 50% during this ugly blowout. She only picked up two personal fouls, which is no small feat when you spend much of the game guarding the best all-around player in the country, Breanna Stewart. The five turnovers don't worry me (because freshman) and the 5 rebounds, while not great, don't worry me (because Connecticut.) However, we have to talk about her defense, especially her transition defense. Shepard is certainly in better athletic condition than, say, me, but by the standards of NCAA women's basketball she's slow and out-of-shape. Her footwork, agility, and shooting are not in question, and her post game is very advanced, but I wonder if she can be a defensive force without improving her conditioning.
8. Michigan Wolverines (6-0. LW: 12)
What do Hallie Thome, Nicole Munger, and Boogie Brozoski all have in common (aside from the obvious, that they play for Michigan, and have names that make it sound like they're detectives on Law and Order?) They're all freshman averaging 9 points a game. Thome especially looks like a star. She's one of the tallest players in the conference at 6'5", and she's been crazily efficient, making 36 of her 47 field goal attempts. Last week, I ragged on the Wolverines for leading the conference in turnovers, but they're improving; this week, they're 11th instead of 14th. That's not the story, though. The story is that they're leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage (thanks again, Thome) and tied for first in assists. I'm done sleeping on the Wolverines. This is the highest rankings jump of the week.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1. LW: 9)
Rachel Banham is playing out of her mind, averaging 24 points and 6 rebounds per game, and leading the conference in scoring. The fifth year senior tore her ACL after ten games in 2014-15 and received a medical exemption to come back this season. She seems to have spent the entirety of the intervening eleven months in the gym. Last week, I was skeptical of Mikayla Bailey's breakout, and she's already showing signs of regression. But I think I was wrong in one sense: I looked at Banham's assist totals (2.3 per game) and thought that was the extent of her impact on her teammates. But the more games I watch, the more I think the sight of Banham barreling to the rim or popping out for a three is scrambling defenses, creating open shots for Bailey and the rest of the Golden Gophers.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-0. LW: 10)
Cierra Rice was the Co-Freshman of the Week last week, going 6-6 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, to tally a career-high 21 points against Tennesee-Martin. She added 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Against the Tennessee State Lady Tigers she had 10 points and 8 rebounds. Rice is the first Fighting Illini to earn this honor since Chatrice White did it last year. I'm still skeptical of Illinois overall; the bench is paper thin, and two or three starters are only about as solid as cardboard. If they win against undefeated Miami on Wednesday, we'll talk.
11. Indiana Hoosiers (4-2. LW: 8)
Wins are good, but as far as that goes, squeaking past the IPFW Mastodons by only seven points is about as bad as wins get. How much would you bet that Maryland wins this game by 40 points? That Northwestern or Michigan State wins by at least 20? The Hoosiers actually got outscored in the second half! They followed that underwhelming performance with a loss to the Ohio Bobcats. Losses, in case you were wondering, are worse than even bad wins. Indiana definitely has talent (particularly Tyra Buss, who continued her James Harden impression, shooting another 23 free throws in those two games) but this team can't defend and can't hang on to the ball. That Chattanooga upset is looking more and more like a fluke.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-2. LW: 13)
Rutgers looked better this week, beating the Temple Owls, Tulane Green Wave, Virginia Cavaliers and Green Bay Phoenix, but still committed more turnovers than their opposition, and the team has yet to draw more fouls than they commit. It's a tale of two superstars: After a 30 point outburst in the opener against the Saint Joseph's Hawks, but before a 28-point deluge against the Tulane Green Wave, Kahlea Copper had 41 points on 41 field goal attempts over three games. That's the kind of efficiency we associate with late-career Kobe Bryant. I think Copper's bad games are a symptom of playing in an anemic offense, rather than the cause, but it's safe to say, as Copper goes, so go the Scarlet Knights.
13. Penn State Lady Lions (3-3. LW: 11)
Here's a fun fact: I had never heard of the CS Northridge Matadors until Friday night. Penn State looked competitive against the #4 Tennessee Lady Vols, and they looked about as good Friday... in a loss... to a team that was winless so far this season. The good news is that highly touted prospect Teniya Page managed a game- and career-high 26 points, to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The bad news is that the rest of the team looked as hapless as the underperforming squad from a year ago. Peyton Whitted, who seemed to be having a breakout season, had 8 points on only 3-10 shooting. Throw in a loss to the Brigham Young Cougars, and an NCAA tournament appearance is rapidly slipping away.
14. Wisconsin Badgers (2-3. LW: 14)
Good news for the Bad News Badgers: They beat the Delaware Blue Hens! What else is good in Wisconsin? Well, it's been unseasonably warm. It's hunting season; lots of people like that. Uhh... I'm sorry, I'm out of good things to say. Wisconsin followed up their win with a loss to the 1-4 San Diego State Aztecs. Wisconsin is last in the conference in turnovers and in every shooting statistic: 2PT%, 3PT%, even FT%. They are 10th in rebounds and 12th in assists and steals, and they have done all this against one of the easier schedules in the Big Ten. Even when the Badgers win, everyone who watches them loses.