This is quite possibly the most balanced and competitive the Big Ten Conference has been in women's basketball in quite some time. With Ohio State's first exhibition game coming on Wednesday, it's a good time to roll out Bucknuts' Big Ten Preview.
In a testament of the balance and expected even nature of the eleven teams this upcoming season, the preseason picks of the coaches and the media just further illustrate how even the conference is expected to be.
A total of five different teams were voted in the top three by the coaches and media combined, with Ohio State being the only one to be voted in the top three in the conference in both polls. The Buckeyes were picked to win the conference by the coaches and were picked second behind Purdue by the media.
The conference will most likely be split into about two separate echelons. The upper echelon features approximately six teams capable of not only making it to the NCAA tournament but having at least an outside shot of winning the conference title as well.
Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone talks about the Big Ten this season.
"Minnesota is obviously the team on top in the preseason, but I believe the Big Ten is a bit more open this year," she said a few weeks ago at the Big Ten media day. "I am extremely excited in that our conference has a legitimate chance at sending a large majority of teams to the postseason."
For the coaches, perhaps Minnesota might have been a favorite to begin with (although they were picked third behind Ohio State and Michigan State), but since being voted as the preseason favorites, they have suffered a major setback in the loss of preseason Big Ten player of the year, Janel McCarville.
McCarville broke a bone in her shooting hand a few weeks ago and is likely to be sidelined until late December. She should most likely be back in time for the Big Ten conference play to begin, but it's anyone's guess as to how they fare when she returns.
The Golden Gophers will be serving as the inspiration for the rest of the conference this season, coming off of a surprising Final Four run last season.
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster talks about the challenges in reaching the Final Four, something he would love to accomplish for the first time as the Buckeyes' head coach.
"I think there are two or three things necessary to get there," he explained. "One of them is you need a lot of talent, and the other is you need luck. When you look over the course of time, injuries have played a huge role. They've taken care of the talent, now they just need to take care of the luck."
Speaking of Ohio State, it's now time for my preseason predictions, and after a very spirited debate, I've decided to side with the Big Ten head coaches (whose opinions are probably worth a lot more in the first place), in awarding first place to Ohio State.
Here is the rest of my preseason outlook.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. OHIO STATE (12-4)
2. PENN STATE (11-5)
3. MINNESOTA (11-5)
4. PURDUE (11-5)
5. MICHIGAN STATE (10-6)
6. IOWA (9-7)
7. WISCONSIN (7-9)
8. INDIANA (6-10)
9. MICHIGAN (5-11)
10. ILLINOIS (4-12)
11. NORTHWESTERN (2-14)
In order for the Buckeyes to accomplish this tough task, however, they will need a little bit of that stroke of luck Coach Foster mentioned.
It all starts with Jessica Davenport, the 6-5 sophomore center who was voted as a preseason first-team all conference.
Davenport averaged 12.5 points a game last year as a freshman, and will have to completely provide the scoring punch down in the post with graduated senior LaToya Turner now departed.
The trio of Kim Wilburn, Brandie Hoskins, and Caity Matter form one of the top backcourt tandems in the conference. Matter is considered to be one of the finest, if not the best, shooters in the entire country. Wilburn and sophomore Hoskins are both terrific guards who can do many things to help a team win games.
Ohio State is hoping junior Michelle Munoz, daughter of NFL legend Anthony, will begin to live up to the hype this season that made her one of the country's top recruits out of high school when she signed with the University of Tennessee.
1. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Starters Returning - (4) PG Kim Wilburn 5-6 Jr. (6.4 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 A-TO, 91 STLS), SG Brandie Hoskins 5-9 So. (9.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 36.6% 3-PT), WG Caity Matter 5-9 Sr. (14.8 PPG, 34.9% 3-PT, 77.2% FT), C Jessica Davenport 6-5 So. (12.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 80 BLKS, 62.5% FG)
Starters Lost - PF Latoya Turner (12.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 57.1% FG)
Key Returnees - PF Michelle Munoz 6-0 Jr. (5.1 PPG, 46.6% FG, 2.7 RPG), F Stephanie Blanton 5-11 So. (3.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
Newcomers - Tia Battle 6-0 Jr. G/F (Transfer from Vanderbilt), Marscilla Packer 5-9 SG (Pickerington, OH), Alice Jamen 6-3 F (Cameroon, Africa; Mount De Chantal Aca.), Tamarah Riley 6-2 F (Detroit, Mich.)
Overview - With nearly 82 percent of the offense from last year's 3rd place
Big Ten finish, Ohio State on paper seems to have the most talented squad
heading into the 2004-2005 season. Losing oft-injured Latoya Turner will hurt
somewhat, but with talented sophomore Jessica Davenport, a preseason All-Big Ten
pick, ready to step up as a potential All-American, the Buckeyes should be able
to fill her void. Michelle Munoz will most likely replace Turner in the lineup.
Matter, Wilburn, and Hoskins form arguably the conference's top backcourt
tandem. Matter won the Seitz Award as the nation's top outside shooter just two
Projected Finish - 12-4 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament #2 Seed
Last Season - 21-10 (11-5 B10, 3rd place); Lost in 2nd round of NCAA tournament to Boston College
One of many teams with a significant argument for also being crowned Big Ten champion this season is Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have to find a way to replace the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer (in either men's or women's basketball) in Kelly Mazzante. Also gone is double-figure scorer Jess Brungo, who was a terrific defender and rebounder.
"We need to replace 4,000 career points with the graduation of Jess and Kelly," a resolved Penn State head basketball coach Rene Portland noted. "So I think this year we will need to generate points off our defense. We will have some changes to the playbook and mix up the attack. I feel that the offense will be a lot more balanced and more players will get involved in the offense."
Don't feel sorry for Penn State, however. Last year's regular season champs, as always, will be very talented and 5-11 senior guard Tanisha Wright should fill in nicely (as much as possible) for Mazzante.
2. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Starters Returning - (2) SG Tanisha Wright 5-11 SR. (14.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 57 STLS, 83.2% FT, 48.3% FG)
PG Jess Strom 5-7 SR. (10.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 35.4% 3-PT, 2.0 A/TO)
Starters Lost - SG Kelly Mazzante (20.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 62 STLS, 92 3-PT FG), F Jess Brungo (10.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 83.9% FT), C Reicina Russell (4.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 61.4% FG, 87 BLKS)
Key Returnees - F/C Amanda Brown 6-4 So. (3.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 54.7% FG), F Ashli Schwab 6-3 SR. (3.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 85.7% FT)
Newcomers- Lisa Etienne 5-6 G (Norwalk, CT.), Romana Vynuchalova 6-4 F/C (Bratislava, Slovakia; Club Istrobanka), Adrienne Squire 6-0 G (Indian Creek, IN.), Amber Bland 5-10 G (Boardman, OH.)
Overview - Yes, Kelly Mazzante, Penn State's all-time leading scorer as well as the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer in either men's or women's, is gone. But don't feel bad for the Nittany Lions this season as they will have plenty of firepower. Jennifer Harris, a 6-0 sophomore, will be looked upon to ease the loss of Mazzante while they return a pair of very good guards in Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom. Amanda Brown, a very good defensive center will take over for the departed Reicina Russell.
Projected Finish - 11-5 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament 3 seed
Last Season - 28-6 (15-1 B10, 1st place); Lost in Elite Eight of NCAA tournament to Connecticut
As Minnesota tries to duplicate their Final Four appearance, they will have to do so without their leading scorer, Lindsay Whalen. Whalen was the conference's third-leading scorer last season at 20.7 points a game.
McCarville, of course, will go a long way in easing that burden once she returns from her injury. In the meantime, the Golden Gophers are hoping to see a pair of Shannons (Schonrock and Bolden) step up with consistent scoring. Both guards are very good outside shooters.
A pair of talented sophomores, Kelly Roysland and Jamie Broback, are also expected to contribute mightily to this season's season, but their early success may depend on true freshman Lauren Lacy to settle in for McCarville until she returns.
3. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
Starters Returning- (3) C Janel McCarville 6-2 SR. (16.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 98
STL, 65 BLKS, 61.6% FG), PG Shannon Schonrock 5-6 Jr. (8.9 PPG, 3.1 APG, 37.3%
3-PT), SG Shannon Bolden 5-11 Jr. (6.0 PPG, 45.2% 3-PT)
Starters Lost- SG Lindsay Whalen (20.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 40.0% 3-PT, 51.4% FG), F Kadidja Andersson (9.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 53.8% FG)
Key Returnees- G Kelly Roysland 5-9 So. (5.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG), G Jamie Broback 6-3 So. (4.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
Newcomers - Brittney Davis 5-7 G (Portland, Ore.), Natasha Williams 6-3 F (Skokie, Ill.), Lauren Lacy 6-3 F/C (Olympia Fields, Ill.), Leslie Knight 6-0 F (Minnetonka, Minn.)
Overview - Gone is the Big Ten's third-leading scorer Lindsay Whalen, but back for the Golden Gophers is the Big Ten preseason player of the year Janel McCarville. McCarville will miss four to six weeks with a broken hand, but she should be back by the time Big Ten play begins. Minnesota made a surprising Final Four appearance last season by beating Duke in the Regionals, and they hope to build off of that by inserting a pair of talented sophomore guards in with three returning starters.
Projected Finish - 11-5 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament 3 seed
Last Season - 25-9 (9-7 B10, 5th place); Lost in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament to Connecticut
Purdue, like Penn State, will have to overcome quite a few losses this season in hopes of obtaining a Big Ten championship.
The Boilermakers lost four starters from last season's 27-3 squad, including their leading scorer, Shereka Wright.
However, although they have to replace nearly 50 points a game, they do return a pair of very good sophomores that came off the bench last season.
Head coach Kristy Curry raves about one of them -- guard Katie Gearlds.
"I'm excited for Katie this year, and I definitely think that she has to be allowed to make some mistakes and lead, and she knows I support her in every way," Curry said. "I have had numerous talks with Katie, and there is nobody else I would rather have leading my team. When you got Katie as a player you feel more at ease, because she is a strong leader."
Curry realizes how tough it is to replace the caliber of players she lost.
"I am really going to miss the players I lost, that was my first team class. We won Big Ten titles, went to the sweet sixteen, elite eight, and final four," she added. "I am excited who we have to play and the job we are doing with recruiting. We have been able to maintain and hopefully be as consistent as we can."
4. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
Starters Returning- (1) C Emily Heikes 6-0 SR. (6.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 46 STLS)
Starters Lost - F/C Shereka Wright (20.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 33 BLKS, 49.4% FG), G Erika Valek (8.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 36.5 3-PT), F Lindsey Hicks (6.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG), G Beth Jones (6.3 PPG, 43.3% 3-PT)
Key Returnees - SG Katie Gearlds 6-1 So. (10.6 PPG, 40 STLS, 45.7% 3-PT), PF Erin Lawless 6-2 So. (7.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 48.4% FG)
Overview - Don't be deceived by a potential fourth place finish and losing four starters. This Purdue team will be very good and have a great chance at winning the conference. The losses of Shereka Wright and Erika Valek will be greatly eased by the return of Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless, who were one of the more talented freshmen tandems in the nation last season. Emily Heikes gives the Boilers a tough post option underneath. Purdue needs Sharika Webb or freshman Tye Jackson to step up on the perimeter this season
Projected Finish - 11-5 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament 4 seed
Last Season - 29-4 (14-2 B10, 2nd place); Lost in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament to Georgia
Michigan State head coach Joanne McCallie could probably react in a number of ways to her team's being picked second in the preseason by the Big Ten coaches.
She could have been very excited and used it as a motivating tool, or she could have diminished the excitement by saying it means very little. Apparently, she has her sights set a little differently.
"To be honest with you, I'd love to be one in the pre-season and the post-season and I'd be really excited, but we're neither," McCallie explained. "We don't know anything about the post-season yet, and we're not number one on any of the pre-season polls. I just have to shrug and say, `We have a lot of work to do.'"
The Spartans do have a solid foundation to build off of, as they return 5-7 guard Lindsay Bowen, who the coaches dubbed a preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Including Bowen, the Spartans return their top five scorers from last year's team (four starters and their top reserve) and are very high on their incoming freshmen to provide solid minutes off the bench this upcoming campaign.
5. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Starters Returning - (4) PG Kristin Haynie 5-8 SR. (8.9 PPG, 4.0 APG, 85 STLS, 83.8% FT), SG Lindsay Bowen 5-7 Jr. (13.5 PPG, 2.4 APG, 86.5% FT, 37.7% 3-PT), G/F Liz Shimek 6-1 Jr. (10.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 30 BLKS), F Kelli Roehrig 6-4 SR. (9.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 54.5% FG), Starters Lost - F Julie Pagel (5.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 33 STLS)
Key Returnees - G Rene Hayes 5-10 So. (8.2 PPG, 48 STLS), G Victoria Lucas-Perry 5-9 So. (4.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
Newcomers - Courtney Davidson 5-4 G (Youngstown, OH.), Maggie Dwyer 6-0 G (Grand Haven, Mich.), Laura Hall 6-3 C (Temperance, Mich.), Danielle Doneth 5-5 G (Okemos, Mich.)
Overview - With the Spartans returning four starters, including each of their
top four scorers, they should be another team that is capable of making a run at
the Big Ten title. Kristin Haynie and Lindsay Bowen give the Spartans a
phenomenal backcourt, and Liz Shimek and Kelli Roehrig provide a formidable
frontcourt punch. Depth is one of the few concerns for the Spartans offensively.
Last season, Michigan State was solid if not spectacular on the defensive end,
holding opponents to 37.7 percent shooting from the floor.
Projected Finish - 10-6 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament 6 seed
Last Season - 22-9 (10-6 B10, tied 4th place); Lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Arizona
Once upon a time, it was a mere formality that the Iowa Hawkeyes would be one of the top teams in the Big Ten conference. Since then, the head coach responsible for such high achievements, Vivian Stringer, has long been at Rutgers.
Finally, however, head coach Lisa Bluder feels they are finally creeping back into the perennial contention.
"We'd love to make it back to the NCAA Tournament," Bluder said. "We've been there the past three out of four years and we'd love to get back in that picture again."
Iowa should have a solid chance to do just that as they return three starters including 6-3 senior post, Jamie Cavey.
Cavey is one of the league's top centers and averaged nearly 17 points a game this past season. Although Iowa does lose a pair of 16-point scorers from a year ago (Kristi Faulkner and Jennie Lillis), they are hoping that three juniors (Crystal Smith, Lindsay Richards, and Tiffany Reedy) step up in the process of filling that scoring void.
6. IOWA HAWKEYES
Starters Returning - (3) C Jamie Cavey 6-3 SR. (16.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 56.2% FG), F Johanna Solverson 6-2 Jr. (5.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG), G Lindsay Richards 5-9 Jr. (5.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 34.8% 3-PT)
Starters Lost - G Kristi Faulkner (16.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 44.2% 3-PT), F Jennie Lillis (16.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 43.4% FG)
Key Returnees - F Tiffany Reedy 6-0 Jr. (4.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG), G Crystal Smith 5-6 Jr. (3.9 PPG, 40.0% 3-PT)
Newcomers- Abby Emmert 5-9 G (Winterset, IA), Jenee Graham 5-10 F (Bollingbrook, IL), Stacy Schlapkohl 6-3 F (Durant, IA), Krista VandeVenter 6-2 F (Osseo, MN)
Overview - Head coach Lisa Bluder would love to make the NCAA Tournament for a fourth time in five years. This year's team should have an excellent chance of doing just that. In order to do it, however, they need a second consistent scorer to step up and join talented center, Jamie Cavey. As always, Iowa will be very tough, and will play very physical basketball. Don't be surprised to see Iowa have another good season.
Projected Finish- 9-7 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament 9 seed
WISCONSIN is looking to take a leap in this year's Big Ten standings, and they stand a good chance of doing just that as they return four starters.
Last year the Badgers were 4-12 in conference play, but with 5-8 guard Ashley Josephson, their leading scorer last season at 12.8 points a game returning, they hope to catapult themselves into postseason contention.
They also return 5-11 G Stephanie Rich (9.7 PPG), 6-3 senior F Ebba Gebisa (8.6 PPG), and 6-1 junior F Jordan Wilson (7.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG).
The Badgers need to improve offensively, as last year they only scored 55 points a game, and more importantly, only shot a mere 30 percent from beyond the arc.
INDIANA, despite their poor season last year, had a few reasons to be highly optimistic heading into the 2004-2005 season. One of those major reasons is now gone.
Jenny Demuth, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, was lost for the season due to a torn ACL. Demuth, a 5-10 guard, averaged 18.3 points a game last year as the fifth-leading scorer in the Big Ten.
Although the loss of Demuth hurts significantly, the Hoosiers do return nearly over two-thirds of their scoring from a year ago even without Demuth.
Returning is their second-leading scorer, Cyndi Valentin. Valentin, a 5-8 junior guard, averaged 15.5 points a game last season and was a 38.6 percent 3-point shooter.
Perhaps the biggest key in absence of Demuth, both literally and figuratively speaking, is the emergence of 6-7, sophomore center, Sarah McKay.
Last year, McKay averaged 5.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Indiana head coach Kathi Bennett is relying heavily on her to produce.
"We would like her to add some toughness to her game," Bennett said. "She has an awesome personality off the court, but we would like her to be more physical on the court."
MICHIGAN might have to find a way of replacing more than any team in the conference. And that's actually an understatement.
It's bad enough to replace four starters like Purdue has to do, but when you're a struggling program like Michigan, it hurts even worse to only have 16.8 points a game total returning from last season.
Injuries, defections, graduations, and every other departure imaginable has depleted Michigan's roster so much, they have a total of 10 players on the entire roster, only eight of which are scholarship players.
Although head coach Cheryl Burnett will have a tough task ahead of her, it all starts with 6-1 forward Tabitha Pool.
Pool averaged 13.3 points a game last season and will have to step up as Michigan lost the Big Ten's leading scorer, Jennifer Smith. Smith averaged 21.3 points a game last year and for good measure also grabbed 7.4 rebounds a game.
ILLINOIS has the chance to be significantly better than this very low ranking, but they also are capable of living up (or should I say, living down) to it as well.
The Illini are looking to senior forward Angelina Williams to provide another consistent effort in her last season in Champaign. Williams averaged 15.7 points a game last season. She also had 53 steals, which tied her for the most on the team with Tiffany Guthrie.
Guthrie, who averaged 14.1 points a game, also led the team with 92 assists last year. Illinois will have to replace their starting center, Cindy Dallas, however. Dallas averaged 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds a game last year.
NORTHWESTERN seems to be a good bet to once again bring up the rear in the Big Ten. Last year, the Wildcats finished just 1-15 in conference play, and although they return four starters… this may be a case of quality, but not quantity.
Returning for Northwestern is their leading scorer Samantha McComb. McComb averaged 11.2 points a game last year as a 5-8 guard.
Northwestern will, however, have to replace their top two shooters in Alex Mueller and Michelle Zylstra. Mueller started only five games last year although she did make 45 3-pointers off the bench.
Stay tuned for the upcoming Big Ten Men's Preview, which will have in-depth capsules and analysis, on all 11 teams. It will also feature staff analysis and predictions from Steve Helwagen, Dave Biddle, and myself.