The Big Ten hasn't sent a team to the women's Final Four since 2015. But this year, the league might open that door again.
Five Big Ten schools highlight this week's ESPN women's college basketball Power Rankings, and four key matchups will be played between those teams over the next several days. On Monday, undefeated Ohio State hosts Iowa (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App), and Indiana travels to Michigan. On Thursday, Michigan plays at Maryland, and Ohio State is at Indiana.
By week's end, the Buckeyes might have further solidified their place atop the Big Ten standings, or we could be looking at a bigger logjam.
Big Ten players are also dominating several NCAA Division I statistical categories, ranking in the top five in scoring (Iowa's Caitlin Clark, 26.7), assists (Clark, 7.5), assist/turnover ratio (Indiana's Chloe Moore-McNeil, 3.60), 3-pointers per game (Ohio State's Taylor Mikesell, 3.21), 3-point percentage (Indiana's Yarden Garzon, 49.43; and Illinois' Genesis Bryant (48.96) and field goal percentage (Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes, 68.09; Ohio State's Taylor Thierry, 66.89; and Iowa's Monika Czinano, 65.09).
Several Big Ten coaches have reached milestones this season. Iowa's Lisa Bluder became the leader in Big Ten victories with her 234th on Dec. 11. Michigan's Kim Barnes Arico became the fifth active Big Ten coach to reach 500 career wins on Dec. 28. Indiana's Teri Moren became her program's leader in victories (189) last Wednesday. And Maryland's Brenda Frese got her 600th win on Dec. 8.
Ohio State's Kevin McGuff thus far is one of the top candidates for national coach of the year. And Illinois' Shauna Green has engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in the country in her first year, hoping to lead the Illini to their first NCAA tournament since 2003.
The Big Ten put seven teams in the most recent Bracketology. As January winds down, the Big Ten's push toward March Madness remains compelling.
Cameron Brink and Haley Jones each score 25 as Stanford takes down top-10 foe Utah.
Player of the Week: Haley Jones, Stanford
After falling against USC on Jan. 15, the Cardinal were looking for a big bounce-back as they faced two ranked teams, Utah and Colorado. Jones, a senior guard, had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the 74-62 victory over the Utes on Friday, and 11 and 18 in beating the Buffs 62-49 on Sunday. Jones has had double-digit rebounds in seven of her past eight games.
Tennessee's Kellie Harper discusses Sara Puckett's game-tying 3-pointer and Rickea Jackson's go-ahead shooting in the final minutes of a 68-65 win past the Tigers.
Team of the Week: Tennessee
On Dec. 18, Tennessee lost at Stanford and fell to 7-6. But take into consideration that four of the teams the Lady Vols lost to were ranked at the time, and now all six of them are. That shows how challenging their nonconference schedule was.
Since, they have won nine games in a row, eight of them in SEC play. That includes this past week's 74-56 win against Florida on Thursday and a 68-65 nailbiter on the road against Missouri on Sunday. The Tigers led 65-60 with a minute left, but the Lady Vols scored eight points in the final 55 seconds to get the win.
It sets up the always-anticipated matchup with UConn on Thursday in Knoxville (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Huskies hold a 16-9 edge, but the series was in hiatus from after the 2007 season -- when Tennessee last beat UConn -- until it resumed in 2020. Tennessee has to follow up that emotional UConn game with a trip to LSU on Jan. 30.
North Carolina's Deja Kelly sinks a short jumper to extend the Tar Heels' lead in the final minute.
Win of the Week: North Carolina 61, Duke 56
It wasn't pretty on offense, especially in the first half when Duke had just five points in the first quarter and North Carolina just nine in the second. But the longtime rivals saved their best for the fourth quarter, when they each made big plays. But the Tar Heels made a few more in the game, led by Deja Kelly's 19 points. The crowd at Carmichael Area was loud as UNC handed the Blue Devils their first ACC loss this season. The rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium is Feb. 26.
Coach of the Week: Rick Insell, Middle Tennessee
In his 18th season at Middle Tennessee, Insell continues to pile up wins. With victories this past week over UAB, Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee is 9-0 in Conference USA play and 16-2 overall. In November, Middle Tennessee lost its season opener 76-75 on the road against Mercer, and fell to Texas Tech 72-67 in Las Vegas. Since, Middle Tennessee has won 14 games in a row.
Insell is a Tennessee prep legend for his 28 years coaching Shelbyville Central High School, where he went 775-148 with 10 state titles. He is now 421-148 at Middle Tennessee, which this season is led by Kseniya Malashka (16.2 PPG) and Savannah Wheeler (16.1).
Aliyah Boston scores 13 points and grabs 14 boards to set the South Carolina record for double-doubles.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (20-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Alabama Crimson Tide (Sunday)
There is out-rebounding an opponent, and then there is demolishing the opponent on the boards. That's what South Carolina did to Arkansas on Sunday: 74-17. Other than shooting 39.5%, there wasn't much to find wrong in the Gamecocks' 92-46 win. Same for their 96-48 victory over Vanderbilt last Thursday, when Aliyah Boston was 8-of-8 from the field. Her double-doubles in both games gave her a school record 73.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (19-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Iowa (Monday), at Indiana (Thursday), vs. Purdue (Sunday)
The Buckeyes crushed Northwestern 84-54 on Thursday in a light week before this week's marquee matchups. Rebeka Mikulasikova has a combined 43 points in her past two games and likely will need be a big factor against the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers. So far, the Buckeyes have found a way to answer every test thrown at them.
Rebeka Mikulasikova makes a nice move for the lay-in
3. UConn Huskies (17-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. DePaul (Monday), at Tennessee (Thursday), vs. Villanova (Sunday)
Speaking of tests, the Huskies have faced plenty and now are again without guard Azzi Fudd indefinitely after she reinjured her knee Jan. 15. Still, the Huskies have won 10 games in a row -- including routs of Seton Hall and Butler last week -- as Aaliyah Edwards is having a superb season. UConn's matchup with DePaul is rescheduled from Jan. 8, when the Huskies didn't have enough available players. So it makes it a busier week, including a nonconference showdown with Tennessee. Villanova was the only Big East team to beat UConn last season.
4. LSU Tigers (19-0)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Alabama (Monday)
The Tigers had a real battle with Arkansas on Thursday but won 79-76 thanks to a 19th consecutive double-double by Angel Reese (30 points, 19 rebounds) and four key free throws in the last 16 seconds by freshman Flau'jae Johnson. Can we read anything into the fact that LSU went to the wire with the Razorbacks but SEC co-leader South Carolina beat them by 46 points three days later? Admittedly, the Razorbacks were likely a bit worn down in their third game of the week after tight games with Vanderbilt and LSU. But it also shows just how daunting it is to face the Gamecocks. LSU, however, isn't going to focus on that until the week of Feb. 12, when they meet.
Angel Reese ties the program record with her 19th consecutive double-double (30 points, 19 rebounds) as the Tigers move to 19-0 with a 79-76 nailbiter over the Hogs.
5. Stanford Cardinal (19-2)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Oregon State (Friday), vs. Oregon (Sunday)
Along with the performance of Jones, our player of the week, the Cardinal had the usual big contributions from Cameron Brink (combined 39 points and 19 rebounds) and Hannah Jump (combined 34 points) in the wins against Utah and Colorado. Those victories reestablished Stanford alone atop the Pac-12 at 7-1.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (17-1)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Michigan (Monday), vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (Thursday), vs. Rutgers (Sunday)
We keep highlighting forward Mackenzie Holmes because she keeps lighting up the scoreboard. Her 30 points, 10 rebounds and six steals led the Hoosiers 83-72 in a tough game at Illinois. Indiana shot 55.6% against the Illini, with guard Grace Berger's 18 points her highest total since she returned Jan. 8 from a knee injury suffered in November. Things are clicking for the Hoosiers headed into this big week.
Olivia Miles preserves Notre Dame's four-point lead in the fourth quarter with this block.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-2)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Florida State (Thursday), at NC State (Sunday)
Like the six teams above them in the Power Rankings, the Irish stayed put from a week earlier, thanks to victories over Clemson and Virginia. Olivia Miles continues to stat-stuff like crazy, with a combined 32 points, 15 assists, eight rebounds and four steals in the two wins. Notre Dame is now tied atop the ACC with Duke.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (15-4)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Ohio State (Monday), vs. Nebraska (Saturday)
The Big Ten schedule is not road-friendly to Iowa this season, as it has some of its toughest matchups away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. So every road win is big, including the Hawkeyes' 84-81 overtime victory over Michigan State on Wednesday. They did it despite Czinano fouling out in regulation, although she did a lot to get them to OT: going 11 of 11 for 22 points. Clark had 26 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. However, starter McKenna Warnock suffered a rib-cage injury while setting a screen and her availability is in doubt for the showdown with Ohio State.
Diamond Miller gets up for the rejection
9. Maryland Terrapins (16-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Michigan (Thursday)
Seven weeks after a surprising blowout loss at home to Nebraska, the Terps got some revenge with a 69-54 win at Nebraska on Sunday in which they held the Huskers to 14 first-half points. That followed a 77-64 victory at Wisconsin on Thursday. Shyanne Sellers led Maryland with a combined 41 points and 18 rebounds.
10. Duke Blue Devils (17-2)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Virginia Tech (Thursday), at Florida State (Sunday)
Duke lost its first ACC game of the season last Thursday in Part I of its rivalry with North Carolina, 61-56. But the Blue Devils bounced back with a 62-50 win over Syracuse on Sunday. Shayeann Day-Wilson had 40 points in the two games. The only two losses for the Blue Devils this season -- to UConn and North Carolina -- are the only times they've allowed 60 or more points to foes.
Kiki Rice drops in smooth layup
11. UCLA Bruins (17-3)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Colorado (Friday), at Utah (Sunday)
While Washington and Washington State are in the lower half of the Pac-12 standings, they are still challenging teams to face, especially on the road. But UCLA went to Seattle and Pullman to defeat both last week and is in a tie for second place in the league with Colorado and Utah. And look who the Bruins face this week, with these games also on the road.
12. Oklahoma Sooners (16-2)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Texas (Wednesday), at Iowa State (Saturday)
It was a big week for Sooners senior Madi Williams, who had 19 points in defeating TCU on Wednesday and then 26 against Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Bedlam rivalry game lived up to the hype, with the teams combining for 23 3-pointers as Oklahoma won 97-93. The Sooners lead the Big 12 at 6-1, but Texas and Iowa State -- the teams Oklahoma faces on the road this week -- are tied in second place.
13. North Carolina Tar Heels (14-5)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Pitt (Thursday), at Clemson (Sunday)
After losing four in a row, including their first three ACC games, the Tar Heels have won five straight. Three were against ranked opponents, including Duke on Thursday. North Carolina didn't let up, though, with a 70-57 win over Georgia Tech on Sunday. Kelly had a combined 37 points in those wins, while Alyssa Ustby had 33 points and was 15-of-21 from the field.
14. Utah Utes (16-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. USC (Friday), vs. UCLA (Sunday)
The Utes had the misfortune of facing Stanford after the Cardinal's first Pac-12 loss of the season. Utah fell 74-62 at Stanford on Friday. The Utes rebounded by winning 87-62 over Cal on Sunday. Alissa Pili had a combined 45 points in those games for the Utes. She goes against her former team, USC, this weekend.
15. Michigan Wolverines (16-3)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Indiana (Monday), at Maryland (Thursday), at Minnesota (Sunday)
The Wolverines did nothing wrong to fall a spot; they won their lone game last week on the road against Rutgers, 81-58 on Thursday. They were just bumped down by North Carolina's jump. Emily Kiser and Laila Phelia combined for 48 points against Rutgers. This week, Michigan looks to make a statement, as do its fellow top Big Ten teams.
16. Iowa State Cyclones (13-4)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at TCU (Wednesday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)
The Cyclones dropped out of the Power Rankings last week for the first time this season after losing to Texas. This week, they return and replace the Longhorns, thanks to two wins by Iowa State and a 1-1 week from Texas. The Cyclones beat Oklahoma State 69-64 on Wednesday, followed by a 64-50 win over Kansas. Ashley Joens had a combined 36 points and 27 rebounds; she is Iowa State's career leader in games played, points, rebounds, 3-pointers, field goals, free throws and double-doubles.
Knocked out: Texas (No. 16)