Feb. 4, 2014
Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th Anniversary Spotlight: Northwestern’s Michele Ratay
Michele Ratay was named an honorable mention All-American and Academic All-American in 1997, the same year she earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The Buffalo Grove, Ill., native ranks in the top 10 of various Northwestern categories, including first in three-point field goals (244), third in points (1,798) and free throws made (442), fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.388), fifth in free throw percentage (.811) and ninth in assists (368). Ratay holds the Wildcat record for most three-pointers in a season, netting 85 in 1996. She was a two-time All-Big Ten selection (1995-96) and four-time academic All-Big Ten honoree (1994-97). Ratay led Northwestern to the WNIT final in 1996 and an NCAA Tournament berth in 1997.
Tipoff: Entering the second half of the conference season, four teams are within three games of conference leader Penn State, which carries an 8-1 mark in Big Ten play. The conference has shown its collective strength this season with 11 teams appearing among the top 85 of the latest RPI report, including nine squads among the top 60. Nine conference programs have at least one triumph against a ranked opponent, with three teams carrying three such wins this season, while numerous conference freshmen continue to leave their mark in their first year of competition. This week, all 11 contests will be available to a national audience, with six games televised by either BTN or ESPN2 and five others streamed by the Big Ten Digital Network.
A Look at the Standings: Now past the halfway point of the Big Ten season, Penn State holds a one-game lead over second-place Michigan State, with three other squads within three games of the conference leader. The Lady Lions enter the week with an 8-1 conference mark, followed by the Spartans with a 7-2 Big Ten record. Nebraska is third in the standings at 5-3, with Iowa and Michigan each carrying 5-4 ledgers in conference play. Purdue rounds out the top half of the standings, holding a 5-5 mark and ranking sixth in the Big Ten. Northwestern and Ohio State are tied for seventh at 4-5 in the conference, while Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin are 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Up in the RPI: Eleven Big Ten teams appear in the top 85 of the latest RPI report released by the NCAA on Monday afternoon, including nine teams among the top 60, which is tied for the most of any conference in the nation. Two conference squads rank among the top 11 in the latest rating, with Purdue appearing at No. 10, followed immediately by No. 11 Penn State, which climbed six spots from a week ago. Iowa moved up two spots from last week and is now No. 31, followed by No. 37 Indiana, No. 39 Minnesota, No. 42 Ohio State and No. 44 Michigan State among the top 50. No. 54 Nebraska and No. 58 Northwestern round out the group of nine Big Ten teams among the top 60 of the RPI.
Playing the Best: Six conference teams have won multiple games against top 25 foes this season, including three squads that have won three such contests. Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State each hold three wins over nationally ranked foes, including the Lady Lions and Spartans’ victories over nationally ranked Purdue last week. Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue each carry two top 25 wins this season, while Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska each have one triumph over a ranked foe. In total, the Wildcats and Buckeyes have faced seven top 25 teams, the most among all Big Ten programs, while Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Penn State have each faced six ranked opponents this season.
Point By Point: With its teams averaging 72.1 points per game, more than four points higher than the national average, the Big Ten ranks among the conference leaders in scoring this season. The Big Ten’s top five scoring teams rank among the top 50 nationally, each averaging better than 75 points per contest. Iowa is rated No. 21 in the nation and leads the conference at 80 points per game, followed by Penn State (75.9 ppg), Michigan State (75.5), Nebraska (75.4) and Purdue (75.1). Indiana is sixth in the conference at 73.0 points per game and Illinois is seventh at 70.9 points per contest. In the 12 contests last week, the winning squad scored 75 or more points nine times, including six games in which the victors scored at least 80 points.
Making An Impact: Nine Big Ten freshmen rank among the conference’s top 30 scoring leaders this season, with each averaging at least 12 points per contest. Indiana’s Larryn Brooks ranks fifth in the Big Ten and leads her team in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. Northwestern’s Nia Coffey and Christen Inman are two of the Wildcats’ top three scorers this season and rank among the Big Ten’s top 25, as Coffey is ninth at 15.4 points and Inman is 25th at 12.7 points per game. Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B. is 12th at 14.7 points per game. Michigan State’s Aerial Powers is the Spartans’ leading scorer, and ranks 17th in the Big Ten at 13.8 points per game, while teammate Tori Jankoska is third on the squad and 29th in the conference at 12.1 points per contest. Michigan’s Siera Thompson is 19th in the Big Ten and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game, followed by Illinois’ Jacqui Grant, who is 21st in the conference and third on the team at 13.4 points per game. Iowa’s Ally Disterhoft ranks 26th in the Big Ten at 12.7 points per contest.
Piling Up the Wins: Ten conference teams enter the week carrying at least 14 victories this season, with six having won 15 or more contests. Iowa and Penn State lead the way with 17 victories, while Indiana has 16 triumphs, its most wins in a single season since the 2008-09 campaign. Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue each carry 15 triumphs on the season, while four squads, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State, have 14 victories this season. The Wildcats surpassed their wins total from a season ago, when they won 13 contests.
Where We Rank: Four Big Ten teams appear among the latest Associated Press (AP) or USA Today Coaches polls. Penn State checks in the top 10 for the second time this season, jumping three spots in both polls to No. 9 in the AP rankings and No. 10 in the coaches poll. Nebraska returns to the AP poll at No. 22 this week and jumps to No. 21 in the coaches poll. Michigan State climbs to No. 24 in the writers poll, its first appearance in the AP top 25 since Nov. 26, and Purdue checks in at No. 24 in the USA Today poll and No. 25 in the AP poll. Michigan is receiving votes in the AP poll, while the Spartans are receiving votes in the coaches rankings.
Coaching Landmarks: Iowa’s Lisa Bluder is closing in on the all-time Hawkeye coaching record for wins, needing one more triumph to tie the program mark of 269 set by former mentor C. Vivian Stringer. Ranking among the top 25 of the NCAA’s active career leaders, Bluder boasts 624 career triumphs entering the week to lead all conference coaches. Two current conference mentors are their program’s all-time wins leader, Nebraska’s Connie Yori with 230 and Minnesota’s Pam Borton with 228 victories. In addition, Borton needs just three more wins to reach the 300 mark in her career, Northwestern’s Joe McKeown is six victories from 600 and Purdue’s Sharon Versyp is seven triumphs from 300.
Tournament Time: The Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins March 6, returns to Indianapolis and Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season. All 12 teams will take part in the annual event, with the tournament winner earning the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Championship. Four opening round games are scheduled for March 6, while the top four teams in the regular season standings will receive byes to the quarterfinal round on March 7, and the tournament championship game will be held on March 9. Detailed tournament ticket, bracket and lodging information can be found online at bigten.org.