As the Big Ten brims with talent, NU women eager for shot at league-leading Ohio State

Luke Mullin and Amie Just have the latest episode of the Life in the Red Podcast.

Is women’s basketball in the Big Ten Conference really good this season?

That question may not be fully answered until the NCAA Tournament is over, but the league is off to a strong start with its national recognition.

The Big Ten currently leads all conferences with six ranked teams, including four in the top 15. And Nebraska fans will get to see the league’s highest-ranked team when the Huskers play No. 3 Ohio State at 1:30 pm on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The game is on Big Ten Network.

The other ranked teams are No. 6 Indiana, no. 9 Maryland, no. 12 Iowa, no. 17 Michigan and No. 24 Illinois.

At 17-0, Ohio State is one of just three teams in the nation still undefeated two months into the season. The others are no. 1 South Carolina and No. 5LSU.

An example of the Big Ten’s depth is that three times this season an unranked league team has taken down a ranked squad. Nebraska upset Maryland, Illinois stunned Iowa and Michigan State took down then-No. 4 Indiana.

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“It’s always been such a competitive league from top to bottom, but I think this year that’s really proving to be the case,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. “You see that with Illinois making a run, and Minnesota has got some really good freshmen that are fearless and come out and play hard and aggressive. There’s just a lot of competitiveness from top to bottom.”

Still, the Big Ten’s reputation could use a boost by getting one of its teams to the NCAA Final Four in late March, or at least multiple teams to the Elite Eight.

A Big Ten program has not reached the Final Four since Maryland in 2015, and that came in the Terrapins’ first season in the Big Ten. Maryland in 2006 and Purdue in 1999 are the only current Big Ten programs to claim an NCAA championship, although most conferences haven’t fared a lot better in a sport where UConn and Tennessee have combined for 19 NCAA titles.

Last season, the Big Ten had three teams in the NCAA Sweet 16 round: Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. Michigan reached the Elite Eight before losing against Louisville. In the second round, Creighton knocked out league co-champion Iowa.

This season, the Buckeyes are off to their best start ever. Illinois is ranked for the first time in 22 years. Michigan State is just 2-4 in the league but showed it can be dangerous when it tied a Big Ten record by making 19 three-pointers against Maryland.

The Big Ten also has two of the highest-scoring teams in the nation with Ohio State (No. 5 in scoring at 87.0 points per game) and Iowa (No. 6 at 86.9 per game).

With talent all around, every game is a major challenge for teams like Nebraska trying to win enough league games to make the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) is currently projected by ESPN to be on the “bubble” of the tournament field.

Nebraska made the tournament last season with an 11-7 record in the Big Ten.

“I think both the top of the league and the bottom of the league have improved,” Williams said. “Those top teams in our league are as strong as ever, or stronger.”

The biggest challenge for Nebraska on Saturday will likely be the Buckeyes’ pressure defense. Ohio State ranks fourth nationally in steals per game at 13.8. Opponents average 23.9 turnovers per game against Ohio State.

Guard Taylor Mikesell, who averages 3.2 three-pointers and 18.8 points per game, leads Ohio State. Six players average double-figures scoring.

Ohio State (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten); ppg

G – Rikki Harris 5-10 Jr. 7.0

G – Taylor Thierry 6-0 Sun. 12.3

G—Taylor Mikesell 5-11 Sr. 18.8

F – Cotie McMahon 6-0 Fri 12.9

F – Rebeka Mikulasikova 6-4 Sr. 13.8

Nebraska (11-6, 3-3); ppg

G – Jaz Shelley 5-9 Jr 14.0

G – Maddie Krull 5-9 Sun. 4.8

G – Sam Haiby 5-9 Sr. 7.0

F – Isabelle Bourne 6-2 Jr. 11.3

C –Alexis Markowski 6-3 Sun. 12.2

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