It’s Big Monday in the Big Ten.
There is no shortage of high-stakes games this week (we recommend doing all your errands Tuesday night), and it begins Monday with two top-15 matchups. No. 10 Iowa (15-4, 7-1) will face No. 2 Ohio State (19-0, 8-0) in Columbus, Ohio, on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET. And No. 6 Indiana (17-1, 7-1) is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play No. 13 Michigan (16-3, 6-2) at 8:15 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.
The four teams involved are within the top five of the conference standings and are the top four in Big Ten winning margin. They are three of the best offenses and defenses in the league.
This week will begin to separate those teams at the top given that none of the top three have played each other yet. These games will go on to determine the regular-season conference champion and seeding for the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State is undefeated in Big Ten play, averaging 86.3 ppg (second) and allowing 62.9 ppg (fourth), but has played only two of the top seven teams in the 14-team conference. After facing Iowa, the Buckeyes will play Indiana on Thursday and Maryland the week following. Additional games against Indiana, Michigan and Maryland are still on the schedule.
Indiana is allowing the fewest points of anyone in the conference (58.6 ppg) but has a loss to Michigan State (11-9, 3-6). The Hoosiers had to play overtime to overcome Nebraska (12-8, 4-5) and have six games on the schedule against the current top-five teams. That's tied with Ohio State for the most of the conference leaders.
Iowa has the league’s best offense (87.9 ppg) and most dangerous deep shooter (Caitlin Clark’s 26.7 ppg are third in D-I) but struggles defensively. Its 70.6 ppg allowed are 10th in the conference, trailing Indiana by 12 points. Iowa, which took a loss to upset-minded Illinois (16-4, 6-3), will have time off after the OSU game before facing Maryland on Feb. 2. The Hawkeyes still have two games against Indiana and two against the Terrapins.
Maryland is an outlier at fourth in the standings, given its offensive and defensive rankings and a seventh-ranked winning margin, which is the only single-digit one of the group. The Terps have lost to Nebraska and Indiana and have not played Illinois. They still have two games each against Ohio State and Iowa that could push them out of first-place contention.
Michigan is the second-best defensively to rank fourth in winning margin and has already played both Ohio State and Iowa, losing by nine to each. Like Maryland, it has yet to play Illinois.
The Fighting Illini are one of the most surprising turnaround teams of any conference after finishing the 2021-22 season last at 1-13 in Big Ten play. Illinois ranks fifth offensively (79.6 ppg) and defensively (63.2 ppg) in conference contests. Its 40.3% clip from 3-point range leads the conference, and it averages 41.2 rpg to rank second. The team has kept it to single digits against the top three teams in the standings and is winning in the conference by an average of 16.4 ppg (fifth).
Illinois lost by six points to Ohio State, lost by margins of four and 11 to Indiana and defeated Iowa by four. It has a great chance to upend Maryland and Michigan to slide into the top five and make it interesting down the back end of the season.
Winner: Maddy Siegrist and Sister Rose Marie
Maddy Siegrist is now Villanova’s all-time leading scorer after reaching 2,414 points in a 73-57 win over Creighton on Friday. She broke the mark of 2,408 set by Shelly Pennefather from 1983 to '87. Kerry Kittles is third all time at 2,243 points from 1992 to '96 and holds the record for the men’s program.
Siegrist has a special relationship with Pennefather, who won three Big East Player of the Year trophies and the National Player of the Year award in 1987. Pennefather became a cloistered nun in 1994 and is now Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen wrote of the two Villanova superstars meeting, which had to be done through a screen separating visitors in a house attached to a chapel in Virginia. Former head coach Harry Perretta, Pennefather’s coach who was there for Siegrist’s first season, and senior associate athletic director Lynn Tighe, who played with Pennefather, also visited. It was at their first meeting that Sister Rose Marie was told Siegrist broke her freshman scoring record.
“Well, why don’t you get them all?” Sister Rose Marie told Siegrist of her scoring records, via the Inquirer. “I don’t need them in here.”
Siegrist, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, is two points away from becoming the leading scorer in the history of Philadelphia Big 5 women’s basketball, per Villanova. The other four programs are Temple, Saint Joseph’s, Penn, La Salle and Drexel. She has scored 20 points in all 21 games and is averaging a Division I-best 28.5 ppg with 9.6 rpg (31st).
Villanova (18-3, 9-1 Big East) is off until Sunday, when it travels to Hartford with a chance to take down Big East leader UConn (17-2, 10-0).
Loser: Louisville’s fourth quarter
It’s the little moments that make a season, and the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 63-51 loss to NC State can sum up a lot for Louisville.
The Cardinals were outscored 15-4 after entering the final quarter trailing by one point. Through the first eight minutes, their only point was a free throw by Morgan Jones. Their only bucket came with 1:35 on a steal-and-score from her. And by the buzzer, they were 1-of-16.
Louisville is the ACC’s best-shooting team at 48.9%, and NC State’s defense is middling, allowing teams to hit 39.3% of their shots. The 3-point difference is even more stark between them. This was a case of the Cardinals’ offense stumbling when they needed it, which can’t happen for a team that makes up for OK defense. It was their second-worst overall shooting percentage (30.3%) of the season and their lowest assists total (six). In only four games have they dished out fewer than 10.
The loss is a tough one for Louisville (15-7, 6-3) since it would've been the biggest win of the season in the tournament selection committee’s eyes. Losses against South Dakota State and Middle Tennessee hurt. Their most defining win might be against Florida State two weekends ago.
Loser: Timing of UConn vs. Tennessee
The meeting of two storied powerhouses will always be worth a watch, but this year, it could be without the stars.
Connecticut will travel to Knoxville for a Thursday night feature on ESPN against Tennessee (16-6, 8-0 SEC). The Huskies lead the series 16-9 and have won all three games since the series came back in the 2019-20 season.
UConn will likely be without its early Player of the Year contender, Azzi Fudd, after the sophomore reinjured her knee. The team said it will not release a timeline for her return.
Tennessee senior starter Jordan Horston (15.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg) did not travel with the team for its win against Missouri on Sunday due to illness, head coach Kellie Harper said. The team is already without center Tamari Key, who is out for the season after doctors discovered blood clots in her lungs.
While it’s disappointing that the biggest stars might be sidelined, that opens the door for a new star in the rivalry’s lore.
Winner: Didi Richards in the booth
Athletes squeezing onto press row for in-game TV appearances can be distracting and boring. Didi Richards was neither.
Richards literally yelled “yes” into her headset at the end of the third quarter when Jana Van Gytenbeek made a 3-pointer for her alma mater Baylor Bears. And she exhaled a disappointed “oh my gosh” when Texas answered.
The New York Liberty guard joked that she should be sponsored by Wendy’s for going 4-for-4 in Big 12 championships and shouted out a local Brooklyn eatery near Barclays Center.
“I want to also put out there I’ve also never lost to the University of Texas in my life. I have not,” said Richards, who went 9-0 against the Longhorns. “And I don’t plan on it ever happening.”
When it was noted that Baylor ended its 13-game winning streak against Texas last year, the first season since Richards left, she popped in with a, “Ya know, I didn’t want to say that.”
It was also nice to hear with such honesty a former player’s analysis of how the younger players have grown. She was complimentary of the defense of Jaden Owens, who used to guard her in practice. And she was animated talking about junior guard Sarah Andrews, who blocked a shot late in the third, and her increased ability to get back on defense since freshman year.
Loser: Texas, if without Rori Harmon
Baylor (13-6, 4-2) could have used Richards as it fell to Texas 68-55. The Bears were out-rebounded by 14 and committed 20 turnovers.
Texas is surging back into the Big 12 lead, but star point guard Rori Harmon went down with an injury late in the game. She was at the front of the handshake line but appeared to be walking gingerly. Head coach Vic Schaefer did not want to give “premature updates” immediately after the game and said Harmon will be looked at, “and we’ll go from there.” The sophomore guard was “day-to-day” with a foot injury to start the season.
Texas struggled without her, going 2-3 and averaging 70 ppg with more turnovers. With her in the lineup, it is 11-3 and averaging 11.3 more points (81.3 ppg). Its turnover margin is +8.1 versus +2.
“She just sets the tone,” Schaefer said, via The Daily Texan. “She’s playing her guts out, out there on the ball, and there’s so much value to that that you just can’t take it for granted. She knows I don’t take it for granted.”
The Longhorns (14-6, 5-2) bounced back from losses against UConn, Marquette, Louisville and South Florida to defeat USC, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. Hopefully, Harmon will be ready for a game against conference-leading Oklahoma (16-2, 6-1) on Wednesday.
Winner: Recruits joining early
UConn is adding another body to its diminished roster.
Jana El Alfy, a 6-foot-4 prospect from Egypt, will enroll for the spring semester at UConn, the team announced Monday. El Alfy committed to the Huskies in November as a Class of 2023 recruit.
She averaged 24.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in a silver-medal-winning campaign at the FIBA U18 African Championship last year and led Egypt to gold at the U17 African Championship in 2021. She participated in the NBA Academy Women’s Camp, and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said in November that the young player wants to be a trailblazer for players from her country.
The spring semester began a week ago, but course registration is open until Jan. 30, and El Alfy began classes Monday, a day after arrival. The program said she is "not expected to participate during the 2022-23 season" but can practice and travel.
UConn could use her since it has exactly the Big East minimum of seven available players. It will benefit from another player in practices while building chemistry and production for next season, when Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady return from injury. It would also be beneficial for El Alfy to gain experience against NCAA-level players.
She joins a small group of early enrollees over the past handful of years who have taken an early start at school. Saylor Poffenbarger enrolled early at UConn in January 2021 and a year later transferred to Arkansas.
Olivia Miles, who enrolled early at Notre Dame in 2021, has three collegiate triple-doubles already. Her 7.2 assists per game rank sixth in the nation (first in the ACC). Cassandre Prosper, a member of the Canadian youth national teams, joined the team in December and is averaging 10 minutes per game over seven contests for the Fighting Irish.
Must watch this week
Iowa (15-4, 7-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (19-0, 8-0), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 — Neither team has played a top-four team in the Big Ten standings until now.
Oklahoma (16-2, 6-1 Big 12) at Texas (14-6, 5-2), 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network — The Big 12 standing leaders will play the first of two times this season. They meet again Feb. 25 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Ohio State (19-0, 8-0 Big Ten) at Indiana (17-1, 7-1), 8:30 p.m. ET — The Big Ten standings could change by then, but the two lead the conference at the moment and have the best winning margins.
Florida State (18-4, 7-2 ACC) at Notre Dame (16-2, 7-1), 8 p.m. ET, ACCNX, and Virginia Tech (16-3, 6-3 ACC) at Duke (17-2, 7-1), 8 p.m. ET, ACCN — The ACC’s top two teams in Duke and Notre Dame will host the third- and fourth-best in the conference standings, respectively. The ACC is jam-packed with three teams joining the Hokies at three losses apiece and NC State rounding out the plus-.500 group at 5-4.
Villanova (18-3, 9-1) at UConn (17-2, 10-0), 2 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network — Villanova has the best chances at giving UConn a conference loss at the moment.
What else to watch this week
DePaul (11-9, 4-5 Big East) at UConn (17-2, 10-0), 7 p.m. ET, SNY
Indiana (17-1, 7-1 Big Ten) at Michigan (16-3, 6-2), 8:15 p.m. ET, BTN
Michigan (16-3, 6-2 Big Ten) at Maryland (16-4, 7-2), 6:30 p.m. ET
UConn (17-2, 10-0 Big East) at Tennessee (16-6, 8-0 SEC), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
USC (15-4, 5-3 Pac-12) at Utah (16-2, 6-2), 9 p.m. ET
UCLA (17-3, 6-2 Pac-12) at Colorado (15-4, 6-2), 9 p.m. ET
Oklahoma (16-2, 6-1 Big 12) at Iowa State (13-4, 5-2), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+
UCLA (17-3, 6-2 Pac-12) at Utah (16-2, 6-2), 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Duke (17-2, 7-1 ACC) at Florida State (17-2, 7-1), 2 p.m. ET, ACCN
USC (15-4, 5-3 Pac-12) at Colorado (15-4, 6-2), 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Notre Dame (16-2, 7-1 ACC) at N.C. State (15-5, 5-4), 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Oregon (13-6, 4-4 Pac-12) at Stanford (19-2, 7-1 Pac-12), 4 p.m. ET
AP Top 25 Poll (as of Jan. 23)
1. South Carolina (20-0)
2. Ohio State (19-0)
3. Stanford (19-2)
4. LSU (19-0)
5. UConn (17-2)
6. Indiana (17-1)
7. Notre Dame (16-2)
8. UCLA (17-3)
9. Utah (16-2)
10t. Iowa (15-4)
10t. Maryland (16-4)
12. Virginia Tech (16-3)
13. Michigan (16-3)
14. Oklahoma (16-2)
15. North Carolina (14-5)
16. Duke (17-2)
17. Gonzaga (19-2)
18. Iowa State (13-4)
19. Arizona (15-4)
20. NC State (15-5)
21. Villanova (18-3)
22. Illinois (16-4)
23. Middle Tennessee (16-2)
24. Florida State (18-4)
25. Colorado (15-4)