Conference play up next for Wolverines

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 3, 2014

In college basketball, when the ball drops in Times Square, it marks more than just the start of a new year — it means its time for conference play.

The Michigan women’s basketball team starts its conference play Jan. 5 in Columbus against Ohio State (1-0 Big Ten, 11-6 overall). Last season, the two teams didn’t meet until the last game of the regular season where the Wolverines fell 66-55. This season, Michigan (0-0, 9-4) will have at least two chances to take down the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s offense was lackluster in non-conference play, ranking last in scoring offense among the members of the conference. So the Buckeyes relied on their defense to help carry the load, allowing 61.2 points per game, a shade better than the Wolverines’ 64.2. Ohio State needs its defensive presence for its best chance at winning, as the Buckeyes only sport one player averaging double digits in scoring — guard Ameryst Alston with 16.2 points per game.

Though Michigan averages more rebounds per game, Ohio State will have a height advantage on the Wolverines. The Buckeyes have six players at least six-feet tall, including 6-foot-6 center Lisa Blair. To balance the mismatch, Michigan will need its Big Ten-best rebounding margin to stay intact.

Following their trip to Columbus, the Wolverines have a difficult slate ahead as they move into the heart of conference play. Currently, four teams sit in the Top-25 with Indiana sitting just outside the rankings.

The Daily breaks down the rest of Michigan’s conference slate for the upcoming year.

No. 15 Penn State (0-0, 9-3): Though the Nittany Lions’ record is just one loss better than the Wolverines, two of Penn State’s losses came at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Notre Dame. Leading the way for the Nittany Lions is senior guard Maggie Lucas, the second-best scorer in the Big Ten. Lucas averages 21.1 points per game, including her 97.4-percent shooting from the free throw line, which is the best in the nation.

No. 17 Purdue (0-1, 10-3): The Boilermakers’ two losses came at the hands of No. 3 Duke and No. 4 Stanford, but won five straight leading up to Big Ten play, including a 109-point performance on Dec. 29. Fifth-year senior guard KK Houser and her 15.2 points per game leads the way to form one of the best backcourts in the county with sophomore guard April Wilson.

No. 18 Nebraska (1-0, 11-2): After starting the season 5-0, the Cornhuskers lost two in a row, but senior forward Jordan Hooper, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, helped right the ship as Nebraska has one five straight since.

No. 22 Iowa (0-1, 12-3): The Hawkeyes have been one of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten this season. Iowa lost only to No. 12 Colorado by three on the road and the Hawkeyes have posted an 8-0 record at home. Five players average double digits in scoring for Iowa, and junior guard Samantha Logic, who is second on the team in scoring with 14.2 per game, is 10th in the country in assists, with 6.9 per game. The Hawkeyes also have help down low from junior center Bethany Doolittle’s 3.1 blocks per game, good for 10th in the nation.

Indiana (1-0, 14-0): The Hoosiers wrapped up conference play with an unblemished 13-0 record. Indiana kicked off Big Ten play Thursday with an 86-84 win over Iowa — the Hoosiers first win this season over a ranked opponent. Their first half success stems in part from freshman guard Larryn Brooks, who has started every game, and averages a team-high 18.8 points and 3.5 assists per game.

Minnesota (0-0, 11-3): The Golden Gophers’ defense has been the early success story this season. Minnesota posts a Big Ten-best in scoring defense holding their opponents to 55.9 point per game. Offensively, though, junior guard Rachel Banham leads the conference with 21.2 points per game, which is also good for 26th in the nation. Redshirt freshman Amanda Sahui has also been a pleasant surprise, averaging 14.8 points per game and 11.2 rebounds.

Northwestern (0-1, 10-4): The Wildcats’ most impressive win thus far came against No. 25 DePaul on Dec. 1, but were unable to carry that over on Thursday night when No. 18 Nebraska squeaked by, 66-65, to kick off Big Ten play. Northwestern’s unusually fast start is due in part to its four players that average double digits, including freshman forward Nia Coffey’s team-high 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Michigan State (0-0, 8-5): The Spartans have gotten off to a surprisingly sluggish start for a team that has perennially made runs into the Big Ten Tournament. This season, Michigan State has struggled on defense in the early part of the year. Offensively, the Spartans are third best in the Big Ten in scoring offense with senior forward Annalise Pickrel leading the way, averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

Wisconsin (0-0, 7-5): The Badgers’ lack-of-offense has created issues thus far. Currently ranked second-worst in the conference, Wisconsin’s offense avergaes 67.6 points per game and only Ohio State scores less. In the first half of the season, the Badgers best player has been redshirt junior forward Michala Johnson. She transferred from women’s basketball powerhouse-Connecticut, but has found greater success in a Badger uniform, where she averages 15.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Illinois (0-0, 7-6): Despite remaining above .500, the Fighting Illini find themselves in last place in the Big Ten. The biggest problem has been its lack-of bench production and despite the starting lineup’s best attempt to fill the void. Senior guard Amber Moore leads the way with 18.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Despite Moore’s high totals, though, she only hits 37.9-percent from the field. The Fighting Illini have just two other players averaging double-digit points, making offensive production difficult to find.