Big Ten breakdown: Maryland a frontrunner again
Since the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, the state of collegiate women’s basketball in the Midwest has been elevated. The Big Ten is now one of the most competitive leagues in the nation, and will be well-represented in the NCAA Tournament at the season’s end.
The Michigan women’s basketball team lost in the WNIT semifinals last season and will face another uphill battle to make it to the NCAA Tournament this year. With the Big Ten only getting stronger, the Daily breaks down Michigan’s top conference competition.
No. 6 Maryland
Entering their second season in the Big Ten, the Terrapins are the strongest team in the conference. Led by juniors Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season) and Brionna Jones — both first-team All-Big Ten selections last season — Maryland is coming off of two straight Final Four appearances. Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year Brenda Frese, the Terrapins went 18-0 in the conference last season and show no signs of slowing down. Maryland could be knocked off in conference play this year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it ran the table once again.
No. 10 Ohio State
The Buckeyes return all five starters from last season, including four double-figure scorers. Coach Kevin McGuff said he wants his team to play even faster, which will give teams trouble since the starting lineup has all of last season’s chemistry to build on. Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, averaged 24.9 points last season and will only further develop after a stellar freshman year. Ohio State advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season and has its sights set on a possible Final Four appearance this year.
No. 24 Northwestern
At Big Ten Media Day in October, Wildcat coach Joe McKeown said, “You know, when I took the job, we were voted 12th, and there was 11 teams in the league.” Now he has turned Northwestern into a conference contender, with its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997 last season. Junior forward Nia Coffey, who averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, will give teams fits on defense. Senior Maggie Lyon will provide leadership at the point guard position and averaged 14.2 points in her junior year.
No. 23 Iowa
The Hawkeyes made it to the Sweet 16 last year but also lost the Big Ten’s highest scoring trio of all time from that team. Those shoes will be tough to fill, but the other two starters from last season’s squad, Whitney Jennings and Ally Disterhoft, will lead the way. Replacing 42.3 points per game from three starters will be a challenge, but coach Lisa Bluder knows how to replace talent through recruiting. She brought 5-foot-4 guard Tania Davis — a former Michigan Miss Basketball selection — to complement Jennings at the guard positions.
The Spartans were on the outside looking in at the USA Today Poll but drew a No. 24 ranking in the AP Poll. Injuries plagued them last season, at one point only being able to field seven players. The bulk of Michigan State’s scoring comes from junior forward Aerial Powers and junior guard Tori Jankoska. Powers was 10th in the nation in scoring last season, averaging 21.9 points, while Jankoska racked up 17.5 per game. The Spartans only finished one game above .500 last season but will finish well above that mark this year if they stay healthy.
Led by the third-winningest women’s college basketball coach of all time, C. Vivian Stringer, the Scarlet Knights can never be counted out as competitors. Stringer speaks very highly of freshman guard KK Sanders, who could become a special player over the duration of her career in Piscataway. Rutgers loses one of its two top scorers from last season, but the one returning, Kahleah Copper (16.3 PPG) will likely lead the team in scoring again.
The Cornhuskers started four seniors in 2014, and will miss their collective 350 career starts this season. Although Nebraska has drastically switched from a veteran team to a young one, coach Connie Yori will make sure the program stays on track in this transition. To reload, Nebraska recruited Jess Shepard, a Lincoln native who was the top-ranked forward in the country out of high school. She scored 42 points in the Huskers’ exhibition, proof that she’s making an impact and will make headlines right away.