After last week’s season start, Big Ten teams except Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern and Purdue were able to get two contests in by Sunday.
The nonconference schedule is a pivotal part of the season. Coaches can schedule top-tier caliber opponents early, to gain insight into their teams’ mettle, or they can ease into the season, scheduling opponents which increase their teams’ confidence. With the diversity of opponents and match ups taken into consideration, here are a couple of things we learned from the first week, of Big Ten nonconference play.
Top 25 turbulence
The Associated Press preseason rankings listed five Big Ten member squads in the top 25: No. 4 Maryland, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 23 Minnesota, No. 24 Indiana and No. 25 Michigan. Preseason rankings are heavily skewed by confirmation bias. The prior year performance of the top 25 teams is fresh in the pollsters’ minds, and that performance is reflected in the following seasons’ initial rankings. That being said, preseason rankings are a way to generate off-season buzz and provide fans plenty of fodder to mull over. Now that week one is in the books, two Big Ten teams shaken by opening week turbulence are Maryland and Minnesota.
The Terps cruised to a 119-56 opening day victory against an over-matched Wagner squad. Head coach Brenda Frese decided to amp up the scheduling ante and challenge her team in the second game of the season. A resilient, eighth-ranked South Carolina team dealt the Maryland a rare Xfinity Center loss. They had an atypical afternoon converting baskets, shooting 31.4 percent from two and converting on 12.5 percent of their three-point attempts. Coach Brenda Frese was optimistic about the loss.
“You know, I thought South Carolina really came in ready to make their presence known and they did,” she said. “They took control of the glass early, they got to the free-throw line and really set the tone. I thought for us, shooting under 30 percent for most of the game and to be out-rebounded is really uncharacteristic of our play.”
“But again this is a game, second game of the season and we knew that this early type of game you find out where you’re at. As a team, I think we learned a lot of things that we’re going to be able to utilize moving forward that’s going to help make us better.”
The loss dropped Maryland four spots to eighth, in this week’s AP poll.
Minnesota was mauled by a Missouri State Bears team in Williams Arena on opening day. The unranked Missouri Valley Conference foe converted 55 percent of their field goals, went 40 percent from beyond the arc and iced the game down the stretch shooting a perfect 17-17 from the free throw line. Bears guard Brice Calip led the attack with 24 points, and nailed all seven of her free throws. The Gophers never led in the game, and the loss dropped them out of this week’s poll.
Indiana moved up to a program-best 21st in this week’s rankings, but will experience their own turbulence later month month, as they face South Carolina, defending champions Baylor, and Washington State. The Hoosiers’ schedule is a perfect example of testing the mettle of a team, as they gave themselves four games to find a groove.
Nothing excites a fan base like a fresh-face that can provide valuable minutes and produce from the get-go. This year there is a plethora of talent in the freshman ranks:
Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes is the Big Ten Freshman of the Week after she led her team in scoring against Nicholls State, with 22 points. In her first outing against Mount Saint Mary’s, the 6-3 Holmes played 19 minutes and scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had one block. Through two games, she is converting 77.7 percent of her free throws and 83 percent of her field goal attempts.
Wisconsin’s Julia Popislova hails from Prague, Czech Republic. Over two games she has played 53 minutes and converted 56.3 percent from two, 43 percent from deep, and her assist-to-turnover ratio is a stellar 2.25. The ability of a guard to involve her teammates is a key factor for more playing time, and so far, she has handled the ball exceptionally well.
I will be keeping an eye on this class.