LINCOLN — Amy Williams has a word for how she’d describe Big Ten women’s basketball in 2020.
“Crazy,” the Nebraska coach said after NU slid into a tie for second in the league after a 65-50 win over Wisconsin. “Crazy. Just incredibly competitive every single night out.”
OK, so rarely is any coach ever going to disparage, in the slightest, her league. But Williams, whose team plays at Rutgers on Sunday, has facts backing her up.
Nine of the league teams already have double-digit wins. Ten of them — including Nebraska — were a part of the NCAA tournament field according to ESPN’s Bracketology released Friday. Ten have RPIs ranked in the top 52. And unlike some previous years, when a dominant Maryland team would lap the field, the Big Ten title appears up for grabs. The Terrapins are 2-2 in the conference after a narrow loss to Iowa Thursday night. The Hawkeyes, like the Huskers, Scarlet Knights and Northwestern, are in a big logjam for second at 3-1.
Indiana, ranked 12th nationally, is atop first at 4-0. Just one team — Illinois — is winless in the league.
“I just think every team has just proven it in their nonconference schedules and now, in the early part of the conference,” Williams said. “To be this early and only have one team that’s still unbeaten, that’s crazy.”
Williams knew, given the toughness of the league, NU would have to protect its home court early in the slate. Nebraska did that, beating Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Now the schedule shifts significantly. Four the next six games are on the road, including the East Coast two-step. The Huskers (13-2 overall) head to Rutgers (13-2) on Saturday, play there Sunday, return to start spring semester classes, leave for Maryland on Wednesday and play there Thursday. The Huskers have never beaten the Terrapins in College Park or anywhere else, for that matter.
A handful of Husker players made faces when asked if they’d rather not have to play back-to-back road games during the first week of classes.
“It’d definitely be nice to just stay there and not come back,” sophomore forward Leigha Brown said.
Nebraska won’t give back the month it spent at home, though, where the floor at Pinnacle Bank Arena was never dismantled because the Husker men and women played so often in December and early January.
“Everybody in the league could take a peek at their schedule and find a segment and kind of crinkle their nose at this or that, and it all balances out in the end,” Williams said. “You have to play those games sometime. Right now, we’re going to go with it.”
Rutgers, coached by legend C. Vivian Stringer, is annually one of the top defensive teams in the Big Ten. Its lone league loss was to Indiana. Rutgers is allowing just 57.8 points in conference play, but it’s Nebraska that, through four games, has the top field-goal percentage defense. Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin combined to shoot just 35.3% from the floor.
NU’s general commitment to defense and rebounding has improved since a 78-70 overtime loss at Michigan State, a game Williams and players agreed they should have won.
“The past couple games have definitely been a lot better,” Brown said “Toward the beginning of the season and in the middle, we had trouble finishing plays, getting those 50-50 balls. In these past couple games, we’ve done that, and that’s been the difference-maker.”