Mackenzie Holmes is a serious Big Ten Player of the Year candidate

Mackenzie Holmes is one of the most decorated players in Indiana women’s basketball history.

She’s earned All-Big Ten honors in each of her three seasons in Bloomington — one All-Freshman team, one first team, and one second team. She was named an All-American honorable mention by the Associated Press in 2021 and by WBCA in 2022.

The senior has been named to numerous watch lists during her career, along with several player of the week awards. She’s statistically one of the best players to ever don an IU uniform.

And after another dominant performance Wednesday at Illinois, it’s time to start wondering if she can do something no Hoosier has ever done before.

Can Mackenzie Holmes be IU women’s basketball’s first-ever Big Ten Player of the Year?

Her case is growing. She recorded her eighth double-double of the season Wednesday in Champaign, with 30 points on a 12-of-20 line, 10 rebounds, six steals, and two blocks.

Holmes has been turning in those types of performances with such regularity, it’s becoming her standard.

IU head coach Teri Moren has said Holmes’s confidence is at an all-time high, and it has a lot to do with finally being fully healthy after her knee injury from last year.

“I do feel like she has a maturity about her, but she also feels this responsibility that she has to show up for us,” Moren said. “If there’s any area that she’s grown the most, it’s been mentally, with understanding that she has a responsibility to this team to be able to show up every night and play really, really good basketball in order for us to win.”

Holmes is clearly the best forward in the conference this season, in a league with many other high-caliber forwards like Iowa’s Monika Czinano, Maryland’s Diamond Miller, Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski, and others. Nobody has been able to truly stop Holmes this season — opponents just try to limit her as much as possible.

But that’s difficult. The senior is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Holmes is shooting 68.08 percent on field goals this season, which ranks third in the nation and narrowly second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State guard Taylor Thierry. Holmes already owns the best single-season field goal percentage in IU history, with her 63.4 mark set as a freshman in 2019-20.

Many teams try to limit her touches through double-teams, aggressively denying entry passes. And that’s where Holmes benefits from playing on such a good Indiana team — if opponents focus on her too heavily, they’ll get burned by her teammates.

So Holmes just feasts, in almost every game IU plays. She’s averaging 21.72 points per game, which is ninth in the country and second in the Big Ten. That scoring average would be the third-best single-season mark in IU history, better than any season from program all-time scoring leader Tyra Buss.

At full strength, she’s so hard to stop. She can finish with both hands, scores from so many different spots around the paint, can knock down some mid-range shots, and draws fouls.

Holmes is also fourth in the Big Ten with 8.22 rebounds per game, and she leads the conference with 1.72 blocks per game. She’s one of the top shot-blockers in Indiana history, and she’s been at it again this year.

When fellow All-American Grace Berger suffered a knee injury, Holmes stepped up her game even more. In the eight games Berger missed, Holmes raised her scoring to 22.5 points per game.

Holmes was the biggest reason that Indiana continued to thrive during those six weeks.

It’s nearly the halfway point of the Big Ten slate, and Holmes has to be one of the two favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year. It’s her and Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, last season’s Player of the Year. Clark racks up numbers, with 26.74 points and 7.47 assists per game, both of which lead the Big Ten.

There’s a lot of action left in conference play. Indiana and Iowa face off in Bloomington on February 9, and in Iowa City on February 26. IU also has two games against conference leaders Ohio State, and against fourth-place Michigan. So there’s a lot of time for Clark, Holmes, and others to get even better and strengthen their cases.

But if Holmes keeps putting up the numbers she has so far through those difficult matchups, she will be a very real candidate for the conference’s top honor. And while IU has bigger team aspirations for this remarkably successful season, it would be quite an accomplishment for Holmes to be IU’s first-ever Big Ten Player of the Year.

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