ROSEMONT, Ill. — With the 2011 women’s basketball season just around the corner, the Big Ten will have a new look.
Defending conference champion Michigan State is hoping for a repeat performance. Though the Spartans lost three starters, including four-year starter Brittney Thomas, they return redshirt senior Lykendra Johnson, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
The Michigan women’s basketball team, who lost Veronica Hicks to graduation, is looking to secure its first NCAA Tournament berth under head coach Kevin Borseth. Now in his fifth year, Borseth is coaching his recruits, as the current seniors comprise his first recruiting class.
“Last year we won 17 games and were a little short of getting in the NCAA Tournament,” Borseth said yesterday at Big Ten Media Day. “And (that is) something that our players are very determined to get back to this year.”
With four returning starters and a roster filled with three seniors and five juniors, Michigan has the experience necessary to dance in March. But 2010 Big Ten runner-up Penn State — who finished just two games behind Michigan State — also has four starters returning.
Purdue is also a contender, after going 9-7 in the Big Ten last season and finishing one game behind Michigan. Considering the Boilermakers’ starting lineup will consist of three seniors and that they didn’t graduate a single player, their experience should allow them to contend.
One major change came in the addition of Nebraska. Though the Cornhuskers went just 13-18 last year and didn’t play in a postseason tournament, they will be one more team to add to the mix.
Starting this year, there are two major rule changes. One change is the location of the three-point line — it is now the same distance as the men’s college three-point line at 20-feet and 9-inches.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect the game that much because you had two-lines out there (before),” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “And to be honest, our kids (shot) behind the men’s line more times than we didn’t.”
Added Borseth: “I guess moving it back really made it easier on the floor because those two lines were pretty confusing from that perspective.”
Another rule change is the addition of the semi-circle under the basket, which prevents players from taking charges under the rim. This is also a men’s rule that has been adapted for the women’s side.
One reason that the NCAA committee may have added for adding the semi-circle was for the players’ protection.
“I guess you don’t want kids to take charges underneath the basket,” Borseth said. “(Basketball) already has the ability to be (a) pretty volatile game anyway, with all the collisions. We certainly don’t want to add any more.”
After all the changes that have occurred from players graduating to the addition of Nebraska to the couple of rule changes, the Wolverines will have one more change to deal with. But this change should help immensely.
With the renovations to Crisler Arena this past offseason, there is a new look to the stadium. Not only did the arena receive a total overhaul, but Michigan also built a new player development center. The renovation is not completely finished, and the players have still yet to see the center.
“I walked in and it’s like you can’t even speak because your mouth is open,” said Borseth. “You look at it and say, ‘Wow, this is absolutely unbelievable.’ ”