A team from the Big Ten has not won the NCAA women’s basketball championship since 1999, when a Purdue team led by Ukari Figgs won the whole the thing.
Since then, the Big East, the Big 12, the ACC, the SEC and the American have all had teams take home the national title. A Big Ten team hasn’t appeared in the national final since 2005, when Michigan State fell to Baylor.
And while Iowa and Megan Gustafson tore through the Big Ten tournament and made a run to the Elite Eight this past season — en route to her winning the Naismith and AP Player of the Year awards — it was still another season where the Big Ten came up short of the ultimate prize.
Could the conference’s fortunes turn in the 2019-2020 season? Maybe.
While Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana have opportunities to improve next season, there’s really one Big Ten team whose chances of making the Final Four stand out among the rest.
That team is based in College Park, Maryland.
NATIONAL STATS: Individual and team leaders in the 2018-19 season
18-19 Record: 29-5 (15-3 Big Ten)
18-19 Finish: Big Ten regular season champs; Lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to UCLA
Returners (PPG): Kaila Charles (17.1), Shakira Austin (8.4), Taylor Mikesell (13.4), Stephanie Jones (12.8), Blair Watson (8.3)
Outlook: The Terps are the Big Ten team that has most recently taken home hardware in April, winning the national championship in 2006 as a member of the ACC. This past season, they won the Big Ten regular season title, but slipped up in the conference tournament against Iowa and the NCAA tournament against UCLA.
Still, Brenda Frese’s team is built to accomplish big things next year. Maryland’s top five scorers are all back, anchored by a trio of rising seniors in Charles, Jones and Watson. Charles is a near-lock to be a preseason All-American, Jones is a veteran in the post and an efficient scorer and Watson can do a little bit of everything, in addition to being a solid three-point shooter.
✔️ All-Big Ten Honorable Mention
✔️ All-Big Ten Defensive Team
✔️ All-Big Ten Freshman Team
✔️ Broke 40-year-old block record with 89 this season
— Maryland Women’s Basketball (@umdwbb) April 23, 2019
At 6-foot-5, Austin is on track to become a double-double machine as a sophomore. She averaged 9.5 boards per game as a freshman and also led the Terps in blocks, swatting away a single-season program record 89. Mikesell became the Terps’ best 3-point shooter as a freshman, knocking down 41.1 percent of her shots from distance. Mikesell’s 95 connections from behind the arc were also a single-season program record. Channise Lewis, who led the Big Ten in assists, also returns for the Terps.
✔️ Led the Big Ten in total assists (182)
✔️ Led the Big Ten in assist/turnover ratio (2.8)
✔️ More assists this year than any sophomore in program history
— Maryland Women’s Basketball (@umdwbb) April 24, 2019
Maryland should also get a boost from another strong incoming recruiting class, which is headlined by Ashley Owusu, who is pegged by ESPN as the fifth best player in the nation and the overall top point guard. The Terps are also set to get five-star guards Diamond Miller, Zoe Young and Faith Masonius, all ranked inside the top 50 recruits in the nation by ESPN.
According to Her Hoop Stats, Frese’s Terps had the 21st best offense last season and the 26th best defense. To make the Final Four, they’ll need to improve in both areas. The Terps are certainly equipped with the roster and the coaching to make those improvements, which could lead to a deep NCAA tournament run next season.
Take a look back at a special season with the video from our banquet! 🐢❤️🏆 pic.twitter.com/m4nvYqWxmi
— Maryland Women’s Basketball (@umdwbb) April 18, 2019
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.