B1G Preview

The 2018-2019 season is right around the corner.  The teams, coaches and players are putting on the final touches to their game as the season nears.

The Big Ten conference will only have one new coach this season, Lindsay Whalen who will be taking the reins at her alma mater the University of Minnesota. Whalen was one of the big reasons why the Gophers were on the national stage back in her playing days at Minnesota. Her 2003-2004 Golden Gophers had a magical run to the school’s first and only Final Four appearance. Then Whalen went on to have a pretty impressive WNBA career that started in 2004 and ended just this past September when she retired. Her WNBA career was capped off by eight seasons with her hometown team, the Minnesota Lynx. In those eight seasons the Lynx won four WNBA Championships.

The Big Ten season last year was FILLED with parity and some really good players who have now graduated: Tyra Buss (Indiana), Amanda Cahill (Indiana), Tyler Scaife (Rutgers), Carlie Wagner (Minnesota), Katelynn Flaherty (Michigan), Kelsey Mitchell and Stephanie Mavunga (Ohio State).

This year I believe the Big Ten will be wide open and a handful of teams could compete for the Big Ten Championship. As we saw last year, the Big Ten is only getting better and is filled with tons of parity. We saw six Big Ten teams win 10 or more games last year, including a three-way tied for third place with Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, each with 11 wins.

Last year we also saw teams other than Ohio State defeat Maryland.  Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan all took down the Terps.  It was the most losses in conference play for the Terps since joining the Big Ten.

 

It’s now time to look ahead to the 2018-2019 season.  Below is a team preview, key returns and a question for each team as we head into the season.

Illinois (0-16)

Nancy Fahey will be coming into her second season with the Illini. Her first season in Champagne was a bit rough as the team went 0-16 in conference play.  The good news for the Iliini is that they bring back two key players in Alex Wittinger and Brandi Beasly.   Wittinger was the team’s leading scorer at 15.1 PPG and was also the leading rebounder at 9.0 RPG. The biggest thing that hurt Wittinger last season was foul trouble, which she struggled with for most of the Big Ten season. Beasly is a Junior guard who was the Iliini’s second leading scorer last season as a Sophomore, averaging 11.6 PPG in conference play. If Illinois improves this season, which I see them doing, these two players will be a big reason why.

Question for the Fighting Illini… How much improvement will they show in Fahey’s second season?


Indiana (9-7)

The Hoosiers and Teri Moren are coming off their second straight season with 23 wins and a season that ended on a high note, as the Hoosiers won the WNIT Championship against Virginia Tech 65-57. This will be the first season without Tyra Buss, as she graduated last season after becoming one of the best to ever don a Hoosiers’ jersey. The good news for Indiana fans is that their Freshman sensation Jaelynn Penn is now just a Sophomore and will be back along with Senior Kym Royster. These two will play a big part in the success of Indiana this season. Penn was the third leading scorer behind Buss and Amanda Cahill who also graduated. Penn also graded 4 rebounds per conference game last season. Kym Royster will have to replace Cahill as the Hoosiers’ go to post option early on until others step up. Royster did average 9.8 PPG and 5.6 RPG.

Question for the Hoosiers… What will the first year be like without Buss and Cahill? Can Penn and Royster carry IU to their third straight 20+ wins season?


 

Iowa (11-5)

Lisa Bluder and her Hawkeyes will have the B1G Player of the Year, as Megan Gustafson returns this season for her Senior year.  What does she have in store for her Senior year? Could it be better then her Junior year? Megan was the best overall player in the conference last season.  She led the conference in scoring at 27.5 PPG and was second in rebounding with 13.1 RPG.

Along with Gustafson, the Hawkeyes have both of their talented guards back this season in Tania Davis who is coming back from tearing her ACL right before conference play last season, and Kathleen Doyle. These three could be the reason why the Hawkeyes could be poised to make some noise in the Big Ten this season. The biggest thing that could help Iowa be even more dangerous is if they could find a shooter or two who could spread the floor and open the paint more for Gustafson, something the Hawkeyes dearly missed last season.  While usually Iowa is a deadly three-point shooting team, last year they only shot 30% from behind the arc in conference play.

During practice on Friday Junior guard Kathleen Doyle suffered a left hand fracture and will miss four to weeks of the season. This injury parted with Tania Davis, who is still recovering from her ACL injury from last season.

Question for the Hawkeyes… What can Megan Gustfason have instore for an encore during her Senior season? Can she repeat? Can the Hawkeyes improve their 3-point shooting this year?


Maryland (12-4)

Brenda Frese and her Maryland Terrapins had one of their tougher seasons last year but still managed to finish second in the conference at 12-4.  The four loses were the most in conference play for Maryland since joining the Big Ten. They did reach the Big Ten Tournament Championship but lost to Ohio State by 10 points. The good thing for Maryland this year is that they are bringing back three players who started 15 or more games last year. They will also be getting back Blair Waston who tore her ACL. While the timetable of her return is not clear, she will return this season. Th return of Kalia Charles, Brianna Fraser and Stephanie Jones means the Terps will have three scorers back who averaged 10 or more points last season. The biggest loss for Maryland could be Kristin Confroy who was the leading three-point shooter at 45% last season.

Question for the Treps… After a four-loss conference season will Maryland bounce back and win another Big Ten Championship?


 Michigan (10-6)

An NCAA berth last year that got ended by Baylor, the first NCAA appearance under Kim Barnes Arico after winning the 2017 WNIT Championship. The loss of Katelynn Flaherty will be HUGE for Michigan, as she has been the Wolverines’ best player the last four seasons. Flaherty averaged 22.7 PPG last season. It will be interesting to see where Michigan replaces those points this season.

The good news? Hallie Thome is back.  Thome had a breakout season last year, and become a good second option for Michigan. She was the second leading scorer at 17.4 PPG and leading rebounder with an average 7 RPG. It would only make sense that Thome will become the go-to option for the Wolverines this season.  Will she be able to handle the pressure of being the go-to? Along with Thome, Nicole Munger who is a three-point weapon, will need to be able to hit threes this season to space the floor. Munger, along with Deja Church and Hailey Brown who also return this season, will have to be the leaders of the team and hope they can get some support from some of the younger players, if Michigan wants to make back-to back NCAA appearances.

Question for the Wolverines… Who other than Thome will step up and become a go-to scoring option?


Michigan State (7-9)

Suzy Merchant is really hoping this season is much different than last season, not just stat wise, but more importantly, health wise.  Last season the Spartans were bitten by the injury bug hard and often and finished the season with a short roster.

The Spartans will be returning a good chunk of their roster this year, including their starting point guard Taryn McCutcheon.   Shay Colley, Jenna Allen, Victoria Gaines and Sidney Cooks also return.  This means Merchant should have a full and healthy team, which hasn’t been the case the last couple of seasons. Sidney Cooks was one of the better freshmen in the conference last year as she averaged 9.5 PPG and 4.7 RPG. McCutcheon really had to take on a new role last year as the starting point guard after Tori Jankoska graduated.  McCutcheon really looked to be more of a scorer for the Spartans but also was the Spartans’ assist leader as well. Shay Colley really took over and was a leader for the Spartans, while battling through a few minor injuries during the season. If this team can stay healthy, look out – they could make a run in the Big Ten.  It will really just depend on whether the team can avoid the injury bug again.

Question for the Spartans… Can the Spartans stay healthy?


 Minnesota  (11-5)

Lindsay Whaaaaaaaalen’s name will echo through Williams Arena again this season.  This time she will be on the sidelines rather then between the lines, as she is the new head coach for the Golden Gophers. This will be Whalen’s first career coaching job, so it’s only fitting that it’s at her Alma mater where she was a huge reason why the Gophers were on the national stage back in 2004 when they made their first and only Final Four appearance in school history. Can she put the Gophers back on the national stage again, and back into the Final Four?

The Gophers come into this season returning Kenisha Bell and reining freshman of the year Destiny Pitts, both who had major roles in the Gophers’ 24-win season last year under Marlene Stollings; a season which ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a loss to Oregon. The duo of Bell and Pitts will be asked to be the leaders of the team this year.  Last season Bell averaged 18.6 PPG and a 5.6 RPG and Pitts had a 14.3 PPG.  Along with these two, Gadiva Hubbard will also be returning, but will be sidelined due to having right foot surgery two weeks ago. No word on when she will return this season. The Gophers have a Freshman in Mercedes Staples who will get a shot to prove herself and get plenty of minutes with Hubbard sidelined for awhile. We all know the Gophers were a run-and-gun team the last few seasons, but this year they will likely now be more of a half-court offense and switching from mainly playing zone defense to playing man-to-man defense. It will be interesting to see how quick the defense can get figured out.   If the Gophers can score enough and figure out the new defense, it could be a good first season for coach Whalen and her squad.

Question for the Gophers… How quick will the Gophers be able to pick up the new defensive scheme?   Can they score enough?


Nebraska (11-5)

Amy Williams will be entering her third season as the Cornhuskers coach. In her second season Williams guided her team to new heights after a poor 2016-2017 season where the Cornhuskers only managed to win 8 games all season long and had only 3 Big Ten wins. The 2017-2018 season saw the Cornhuskers win 21 games with 11 Big Ten wins, which was enough to finish in a three-way tie for third place in the conference. The Huskers also made the NCAA tournament but lost to Arizona State in the opening round.

The Huskers will have five returning players who played in all 16 games, and four who started all 16 games last year. Hannah Whitish averaged 12 PPG and lead the Huskers in assists. Kate Cain who was the main option for the team in the paint last season and who scored 9.7 PPG during the Big Ten season and grabbed 6.9 RPG.  Taylor Kissinger was the Freshman who just could never get fully healthy but will be back this year.  Early on she showed why she was picked as one of the top Freshman in the conference, but battled injuries through most of the Big Ten season.  Finally, Maddie Simon, who is now entering her Senior season, will be back as well. Simon was the second leading scoring in conference play for the Huskers last year with her 10.0 PPG. It seemed like Simon was just finding a groove at the end of last season, so it will be interesting to see if she comes out like she ended last season.

Question for the Cornhuskers…  Will the Cornhuskers improve even more in Williams’ third season? How much better will Kate Cain be this season?


Northwestern (4-12)

Joe McKeown will be entering his 11th season as the head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats.  McKeown’s 10th season did not go as planned as the Wildcats only managed to win four Big Ten games. Entering season 11, McKeown’s team will be full of returning players who were bright spots for the Wildcats last season even in a down season. The biggest name and longest name for the Wildcats is returning player Pallas Kunaivia-Akpanah who averaged a double-double in conference season with 11 PPG and 11.9 RPG. Lindsay Pulliamis also returning.  Pulliamis had a break out season as a freshman, scoring 15 PPG for the Wildcats.  She will only play a bigger role for them this season. Abi Scheid who was the third leading scorer last season also returns this season. The talent is there for Northwestern. The question is whether they can figure out how to put it together this year.

Question for the Wildcats… With only one senior on the team, can the young Wildcats put everything together and surprise some people and make a little noise in the Big Ten?


Ohio State (13-3)

As the season opens for the reining Big Ten Champions, you may need a roster just to learn who is on the team.  I’m guessing Kevin McGuff has had an index card with all the new players on his team this year. Since winning the Big Ten Championship against Maryland, the Buckeyes have lost six players, five to graduation and one to transferring. The five players who graduated were huge parts of the success for the Buckeyes over the last four years.  Kelsey Mitchell was the all-time leading Big Ten scorer and was the #3 pick in the draft to the Indiana Fever.  Stephanie Mavunga only played two seasons at Ohio State but her Senior year was her breakout season for the Buckeyes. Also graduating were Linnae Harper, Asia Doss and Alexa Hart. The Buckeyes also lost Sierra Calhoun who transferred to Rutgers for her final season of eligibility.

With all the graduations, the Buckeyes had plenty of roster spots open for the season and brought in a few of their graduate players. Carly Santoro, who played at Bowling Green before transferring to Ohio State, averaged 17PPG in her final season at BG, so she will be counted on to hopefully be a major scorer for the Buckeyes this season. The Buckeyes also got a transfer from Ball State in Carmen Grande who in her last season at Ball State scored 11.5 PPG and dished out 9.3 APG. The third transfer is Ashanti Abshaw who played at Cleveland State where she had five games of scoring 30 or more points and 38 games of 20 or more points and 17 double-doubles.  Abshaw was going to be a huge factor for the Buckeyes this season, but during a recent practice she tore her ACL and will be out for the season. That is a HUGE blow to the Buckeyes.

There are only four players who were on last years roster back this season and only one really saw a lot of playing time – Makalya Waterman who averaged 16.8 minutes per Big Ten game last season and 3.0 PPG during the season.

It’s going to be a very interesting season for the Buckeyes and may be a struggle for them and their fans.  It most likely won’t be a normal season in Columbus this year for the Buckeyes. Coming into the season Ohio State has had four straight seasons with 24 or more wins.  It will be VERY tough to make it five.

Question for the Buckeyes… How will the Buckeyes replace their starting five and the production from Kelsey Mitchell and the rest of the missing offense?


 Penn State (6-10)

Conquese Washington is still at the helm of the Nittany Lions, entering her 13th season as head coach in Happy Valley. The 2017-2018 season wasn’t what she had in mind as her team finished with a 6-10 record and slotted 11th in the Big Ten.

Teniya Page was the big bright spot for the Lions last year, putting on some scoring clinics during the season. She also racked up a career high 38 points against Illinois on February 22nd.  Page also scored a game high 34 points against Rutgers on January 18th.  She will be joined again this season with now Junior guard Jaida Travasico-Green, who during Big Ten played averaged 12 PPG.  Paqe and Travasico-Green will be joined by senior guard Amari Cater who was the Nittany Lions second leading scorer during the Big Ten season at 14.6 PPG.  These three will be counted on to do a lot of the Penn State scoring during the season.

Question for the Nittany Lions… How far can Page, Travasico-Green and Cater carry the Lions?


 Purdue (9-7)

The Boilermakers Big Ten season started off well last year as they were 6-3 heading into February, until t their season fell off the tracks. The team finished with only three wins after a 6-3 start, finishing 3-4 to cap off the 9-7 Big Ten season.

The Boilermakers do bring back their top three players who lead the way for them last season.  Dominiqu Oden played a major role for this team last season, as she upped her average point from 10.4 her freshman year to last year averaging 14.1.  Look for her to improve even more this year in her junior season and be a huge part of the offense once again. Ae’Rianna Harris become a must watch, especially on the defensive end as she swatted 105 shots last year including five games with 5 blocks. She also managed to get her hands on 42 steals as well, while averaging 11.7 PPG. Then there is Karissa McLaughlin who really turned some heads last year as the freshman PG scored double figures in 10 of the 16 Big Ten games and averaged 10.4 while dealing out 3.2 APG, dishing out 120 assists on the season.  It seems like Purdue will once again count on these three players to be the big 3 in West Layfette and I only expect them to get better this season.

Question for the Boilermakers… What does Ae’Rinna Harris have in store for her Junior season? Harris was already pretty good defensively last year.  Will she be even better?


Rutgers (7-9)

The Scarlet Knights have a familiar face as C. Vivian Stringer will be back for her 24th season as coach for the Knights. The 2017-2018 season couldn’t have started better for Stringer’s team as they opened the Big Ten 5-1 with wins over Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois, Penn State and Minnesota.  After that it was pretty much downhill, as the team would finish the season 2-7 and finished two games under .500 for the season. Tyler Scaife was back to doing Tyler Scaife things after missing a season.  Scaife was the leading scorer for the Knights and a lot of their offense on most nights.

Now with Scaife graduated, the Knights will have to look for a consistent scorer to replace Scaife’s 19.4 PPG.  A name that wasn’t on the roster last season is Sierra Calhoun.  Calhoun has transferred in from Ohio State, so Big Ten fans and Scarlet Knights fans will recognize her. In her final season at Ohio State Calhoun averaged 11.6 PPG for the Buckeyes, so hopefully she can step in and help replace some of Scaife’s offense.  Charise Wilson has also transferred in from Rhode Island for this season. Last season for Rhode Island she puts up just over 19 points a game.  Calhoun and Wilson will be a nice addition to this Knights this season and hopefully can take a little pressure off retuning players Khadaizah Sanders who only averaged 5.2 PPG last season, and Stasha Carey who was the second leading scorer behind Scaife with 7.5 PPG.

Question for the Scarlet Knights…  Will the offense be able to put up enough points this year?   because the 55 defense is back


 Wisconsin (2-14)

The Badgers will now be entering year two under Jonathan Tsipi.  Tsipi’s first season for the Badgers was a rough one to say the least, as they finished the season 2-14 and finished in 13th place in the Big Ten.  The Badgers did not pick up their first win in conference play until late in January when they knocked off Northwestern, then lost at Indiana, and then stole a road win in Champaign against Illinois and won two of 3, but then finished the season 0-6.

The 2018-2019 Badgers will be young once again as nine of the fifteen players will be freshmen or sophomores this year.  Of the two sophomores on the roster this year, only one of them actually saw minutes last year – Niya Berverly who started all 16 games for the Badgers. She only averaged 4.2 PPG in just over 32 minutes per game last year.

Then there is Junior’s Suzanna Glireath who averaged 9.3 PPG last year and who will be looked upon to do more scoring this year, alongside Country Fredrickson who averaged 9.0 PPG last season. Finally, is the Badgers’ leader, senior Marsha Howard who led all Badgers last year with 13.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG.

Question for the Badgers…  Can Howard lead the way for the Badgers, while the young Badgers grow?


 

FINALLY, here are my predictions on where teams will finish this season

  1. Maryland
  2. Iowa
  3. Michigan State
  4. Minnesota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Michigan
  7. Purdue
  8. Ohio State
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Rutgers
  12. Northwestern
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Illinois

POTY : Megan Gustafson (Iowa)

FOTY : Shakira Austin (Maryland)

DPOTY : Ae’Rianna Harris 

COTY: Lisa Bluder (Iowa)

 

 

 

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