B1G hoops media day has come and gone.
Exhibition basketball season is now upon us.
My first, few, quick thoughts about the upcoming women’s B1G hoop season. Titles aren’t won by how many words are written below, but by the record at the end of February. In alphabetical order:
Could be the darkhorse of the conference. The Illini have always had athletes. Fits nicely into Matt Bollant’s new style. Praises Karisma Penn enormously. Work Ethic. Maturity. Leadership. Last hurrah for her. She has conference Player of the Year potential.
Curt Miller comes to Bloomington after winning eight straight championships at Bowling Green. And he believes in the basketball blood that can happen on the women’s side of Cook Hall. Aspiring coaches take note. Miller runs the pick-and-roll as well as anyone.
Always seems Iowa finishes better than predicted, and that could be the case again this year, if the Hawkeyes avoid the injury bug. Jamie Printy tells me her ACL rehab is going well. She admits, “Three weeks ago, I had my first fall, and that freaked me out. But I am getting the mental aspect back.” Hawkeye center Morgan Johnson is recognized as a preseason All-B1G selection. I thought she could have received that honor at the end of last year, meaning on the first team, not the second team. Iowa hopes Sam Logic will develop into the leader and point guard they recruited her to be.
“This is Michigan fergod’s sakes,” Kim Barnes Arico said with a smile, imitating Brady Hoke’s now famous line, at HER introductory press conference. “Why wouldn’t you want to come to Michigan?” she asked me at media day, noting the national prestige, academics and now updated facilities. The Wolverines will keep the scorekeeper busy. Barnes Arico loves to play for the layup, “Kids want to play up tempo.” Jenny Ryan and Rachel Sheffer say they are in the best shape of their lives.
Suzy Merchant can’t buy preseason luck. The Spartans are out two starters, all in one week, and all before their first game. Center Madison Williams suffered a third knee injury, tearing her left ACL again. This will be the third straight season she has missed, in fact, the 6’7″ center has only been healthy for three games in her entire college career. And Williams isn’t the only casualty. MSU loses another slated starter in freshman Aerial Powers, who tore her Achilles and is also out for the year. That means, Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Schiffauer, and Klarissa Bell will have to lead this team early. Last year, MSU beat Penn State, the eventual regular-season champ, twice. Come conference season this year, this is a team which will have to gel health and chemistry-wise. MSU still has enough talent to make a run if that happens.
I haven’t seen head coach Pam Borton this excited about her team in a while. And Minnesota hasn’t seen as exciting a guard as Rachel Banham, since Lindsay Whalen. Borton said Banham is just starting to get back into full-contact practice drills, after discovering a blood clot in her lung in July. Will be fun to watch a healthy Banham mix with a healthy Kayla Hirt, who was a top 25 recruit, before she redshirted last year because of injury.
Hallie Sample, Jordan Hooper, Lindsey Moore, Rachel Theriot are the names on the Huskers’ injury report, not just of their key contributors this year. “You guys as media and our coaches picked us second, but you haven’t watched us practice,” head coach Connie Yori joked. “We have 66 points and 38 rebounds returning … and we practiced with 23 points and 15 rebounds.” Pay the medical staff in Lincoln. Nebraska is legit with those 66 and 38 back.
The ‘Cats lost Morgan Jones to Florida State, transferring after her freshman year. But there’s plenty to light up the face of head coach Joe McKeown and two of his key seniors, Dannielle Diamant and Kendall Hackney. “Our four freshmen can play,” they beamed. Diamant and Hackney are the clear leaders of this crew, fittingly, after being the first recruits of McKeown from years ago. Point guard Karly Roser comes in with a year of experience under her belt, perhaps one of the biggest weapons for a floor general.
Head coach Jim Foster always has found ways to fill voids of graduating seniors…Jess Davenport, Jantel Lavender, and now will have to do the same with Sam Prahalis. Foster still keeps in touch with Prahalis, after her rookie WNBA year and now currently overseas, mostly via text. His continual ability to reload is almost as impressive as his willingness to adjust to technology, his trusty iPhone and iPad close by his side at media day. The iMessage from Foster: look for center Ashley Adams to become a greater presence offensively, also noting Tayler Hill was “on the ball” as a point guard about 30% of the time last year. Those duties will continue. And we know she can score. I always have a favorite Foster line out of any media availability. This time? When asked about Hill’s preseason co-Player of the Year honor, Foster deadpanned, “I think we’re going to have the banquet on Monday.”
This is the Lady Lions’ title to lose. Everyone’s B1G preseason favorite and defending regular-season champ has four starters and nine letterwinners back. Their schedule will test them early and often…with trips to Storrs and College Station on the docket. Head coach Coquese Washington described this group as “fun” last year after winning the title. When I asked her this year, with so many players back, how she described them now, she said, “even more crazy than they were last year.” Backcourt mates Maggie Lucas and co-preseason Player of the Year honoree, Alex Bentley, will lead the way offensively once again for PSU. Bentley’s challenge will be balancing the role of a floor general with her own individual scoring prowess. Lots of punch with this team. In their repeat bid, they will try to run past their opponents on the court and the scoreboard.
Don’t sleep on last year’s tournament champ. And the returning Boilers haven’t rested too much, especially after losing sharp-shooter Brittany Rayburn to graduation. “Coach challenged everyone to shoot 30,000 shots in the offseason,” Courtney Moses told me. And after a ton of prodding, the Purdue guard finally said how many SHE put up….”42,000.” Her head coach adding to me, “I have the paperwork.” Moses, pegged as another preseason All-B1G honoree, said her defense (after her 39 steals in ’11-’12, 2nd best on the team) will be much better this year because she played 1-on-1 with guys, including her brother, about twice a week in the summer. Look for Moses to play more off-guard and KK Houser more point. Though, head coach Sharon Versyp said you may see three point guards, with four on the roster, playing at one time on the court. Drey Mingo is back for a 6th year and a wonderful story.
Badgers are still building, and second-year head coach Bobbie Kelsey are taking baby steps in this new era. Kelsey admitted to me that being a head coach for the first time last year, “now makes me appreciate the former head coaches I worked with.” She gave big props to her mentor and Stanford head coach, Tara VanDerveer, “I don’t know if I would be ready…having not worked for her.” Taylor Wurtz is now a senior and will have to continue to shoulder a lot of the Badger load in all categories.