- Sep 9, 2015
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What are players and coaches saying about their team as tip-off approaches?
College basketball tip-off is right around the corner, and the Big Ten once again profiles as one of the most competitive conferences in women’s basketball.
As the start to the season draws nearer, let’s check in with one quote from each team at the conference’s media day that lets us know what to expect this year:
IllinoisHead coach Shauna Green: “It all starts with defense and rebounding because like I always say, everyone wants to play fast and free, but you can’t run when people are scoring on you. So we got to defend, rebound, and then we’re going to run. But I want our players in our Phoenix transition. It’s not calls out of it. It is all reads of where the defense is, and I want our players to just be players, so we’re going to teach ‘em the fundamentals and give them the blueprint, but I want them to be able to play out of that and again, play and be the type of players they can be.”
The Illini bring back all five starters, including high-scoring guards Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant. That’s the kind of core continuity that helps elevate a structure based on feel, such as Green’s Phoenix transition. Illinois tied for fifth in the Big Ten a season ago, and although they made the NCAA Tournament, a bigger prize is available to them if they’re successful in implementing Green’s vision.
IndianaGraduate student forward Mackenzie Holmes on NCAA Tournament loss: “We definitely learned a lot from it. That feeling that we had at the end of that game was devastating. So I think [it’s] just knowing how that and knowing that we have such big goals each and every year, just using that as fuel and using what we did accomplish last year as fuel as well, in hopes to just continue to get better.”
After taking the regular season Big Ten crown in 2022-23, there is nothing left for the Hoosiers aside from enhancing postseason success. The Hoosiers flamed out in two games in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, a disappointing conclusion to a terrific season. With one of the best scorers in the country in Holmes and plenty of returning depth, the pressure is on to make deep runs in the spring.
Senior guard Caitlin Clark: “I think the biggest thing going into this year for this team is understanding it’s different from last year. Our roster has changed. We lost two starters that meant a lot to our program, but we don’t have to be who we were last year… You can’t have the identity of the team that you had last year. You have to create something new for your team.”
It would be an understatement to say Clark blew up last season. Still, this quote exemplifies two encouraging signs for Iowa: That she is still focused on the team process and that she isn’t stuck in last season. And she’s right – Iowa can’t rest on its laurels after losing Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock. Clark will be Clark, but how the rest of the team coalesces will determine Iowa’s season.
MarylandHead coach Brenda Frese: “We’re going to be built differently this year. We lost two first-round WNBA draft picks with Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers, and they were so talented. But what I love so far with this group is they’re really about each other, it is going to be a collective unit, and nobody has to carry us by themselves.”
Losing two players like Miller and Meyers will have a huge impact on any program, even one as consistently excellent as Maryland has been under Frese. A dip in individual production portends a team strongly built around Frese’s style, so expect Maryland to continue to get up and down the court at a breakneck pace. It’s never wise to count the Terrapins out completely.
Michigan StateHead coach Robyn Fralick: “This will be my ninth year as a head coach and overall, my teams have played aggressive. For example, this past season at Bowling Green State, we were second in the country in turnover margin. When I was a Division II head coach, we scored 98 points a game, and I know at every level that looks different and the players are better and it’s a whole different league and level. But we like to play aggressive defensively, we like to play fast, we like to play together.”
The Spartans are moving on after 16 seasons under Suzy Merchant, so it’s time to get to know what the team will look like under Fralick. The key will be on the defensive side of the floor; Michigan State ranked 15th in scoring offense in 2022-23 but 246th in scoring defense. It’s a different cast of players, but implementing an effective defense is still the quickest way for Fralick to make her mark in East Lansing.
MichiganHead coach Kim Barnes Arico: “Every year we lose somebody and we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to go on?’ I’m sure a lot of teams feel that way, but Laila Phelia has really stepped into that role. She had a tremendous year for us last year and had a great summer. [She] played USA basketball this summer, has really grown as a person, has really grown as a player, has a chance to be really special.”
Leigha Brown and Emily Kiser are gone, but the Wolverines have a star waiting in the wings in Phelia. The sharpshooting guard will have the ball in her hands a lot more in 2023-24, and as she goes, so will Michigan. If she is to take the reins as the center of the offense, improving on her 1.4 assist per game mark will be crucial. The Wolverines need a balanced offense, not just one go-to scorer.
MinnesotaSophomore guard Amaya Battle: “We are going to be very entertaining to watch. We’re going to be very hardworking and we’re going to win a lot more games this year.”
Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit also discussed fun as the style she wants to bring to her first season in Minnesota, mentioning that versatility and defense are the keys to unlocking a fast tempo. As the point guard, Battle is going to have a huge hand in creating that identity. It won’t take a ton to win more games after a 4-14 conference mark last season, but any progress is cause for encouragement.
NebraskaHead coach Amy Williams: “Last year there were times where we felt like we didn’t maybe keep up the defensive ball pressure that we would really like to continue to wear down opponents, and so that’s something we’ve been focusing hard on. We’ve added some new pieces to our team that we feel like just our players that play with motors and work for deflections and can get tips and steals and that allowed us to play a little different this summer when we went on our foreign trip to Greece. We tried a few things, full-court pressure, a few things we hadn’t done much of in the past, and I think it’s made our team more aggressive.”
The Cornhuskers’ four-game losing streak toward the end of Big Ten play last season was what sunk their season. During that stretch, they allowed teams to shoot 50% from the floor and had a minus-15 turnover margin, so Williams’ focus on defense is well taken. Adding a few wrinkles here and there on that end may be exactly what Nebraska needs to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
NorthwesternHead coach Joe McKeown: “I feel like Paige [Mott] at the end of last year was playing at an all-conference level, and we want that, and we hope that’s going to carry over as a senior. And then Caroline Lau was one of the top point guards in the country out of the New York City area, Connecticut area. And when she signed with us, we’re like, it’s going to be the next, we’re going to give her the ball and let her run our program.”
If Mott is going to keep progressing as a senior and Lau is ready to run the offense as a sophomore, there’s reason for optimism with the Wildcats. Caileigh Walsh already feels like a reliable presence and forms a good forward tandem with Mott, but they need a floor general to set them up. Consider Lau the X-factor for a team trying to climb out of the bottom of the conference.
Graduate student guard Jacy Sheldon: “We’re really good at holding each other accountable. I think it’s been kind of built into our culture, so that’s been cool to watch. It’s one thing to have your coaches hold you accountable; when you have the players on your team holding you accountable, I think it takes you to another level.”
There is a whole lot of talent on this Buckeyes roster, even accounting for Taylor Mikesell leaving for the WNBA. From Sheldon to Cotie McMahon to Duke transfer Celeste Taylor, Ohio State is packed from top to bottom, and teams with that talent level can sometimes get ahead of themselves. That’s why Sheldon’s comments about accountability are encouraging to hear – although the rest of the Big Ten may not agree.
Penn StateSenior+ guard Makenna Marisa on her biggest area of improvement in the offseason: “Honestly, I would say just my patience on the court and just slowing myself down instead of going a million miles per hour. Just slowing myself down. Being more, like I said, being more patient and making better reads.”
Redshirt junior guard Leilani Kapinus: “Yeah. I feel like I definitely see that you make really great reads. Cool. I feel like you’ve always done that.”
Marisa: “Oh, Thank you. What about you?”
Kapinus: “You probably already know I’ve been working on my shot a lot this offseason.”
Marisa: “You have, and it looks awesome.”
Marisa and Kapinus were Penn State’s two best players a season ago, and now both are back with an eye on improving the Nittany Lions’ 4-14 Big Ten record. Marisa was already highly productive, but slowing down could help improve her 38.5% field goal percentage. As for Kapinus, adding a true 3-point threat – she shot 18.5% from deep a season ago – would only make her more dangerous.
PurdueHead coach Katie Gearlds: “I think it’s just a matter of us putting all the ingredients in the pot and hoping the soup tastes good. Sometimes it just doesn’t taste that well. But that’s kind of what the goal is here. We’ve got five returners and then six freshmen, two sophomore transfers, and just a good group that we don’t have to coach energy and effort. Right now, we’re just coaching basketball, and if it can stay that way, I think we have enough pieces to upset and kind of make some noise here in the Big Ten.”
Last season’s Boilermakers got a taste of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016-17. Gearlds said it was a new experience for the players and that they’re now hungry for more. That type of motivation is a good uniting force for a team mixing incumbents and newcomers; meshing the two can be unstable, but it sounds as though mindset is not an issue as the season approaches.
RutgersSenior center Chyna Cornwell when asked to preview the team’s season in one sentence: “I can honestly say a paragraph, maybe write a book, but I say we’re going to shock the world.”
Rutgers finished 11th in the Big Ten with a 5-13 record in 2022-23, so even finishing in the top half might prove Cornwell prophetic. The Scarlet Knights boast a star in guard Kaylene Smikle, whose 17.9 points per game ranked fifth in the conference even as a freshman. With Cornwell there to clean up the boards, Rutgers has a pairing that can take it where it wants to go.
WisconsinHead coach Marisa Moseley: “Having a post player is like gold. Having a post player who is as versatile as Serah [Williams], I think, is platinum.”
Williams was one of the most efficient scorers in the Big Ten last season, finishing fifth among qualified players with a 54.6% field goal percentage. With Julie Pospisilova gone, though, Williams becomes the focal point of the offense – and therefore, opposing teams’ game plans. How she handles that responsibility will play a large part in determining the Badgers’ success this season.