October 30, 2021 

2021-22 Big Ten preview

Ben Rosof and Alison Moran-Powers explain who's coming back, who the key newcomers are and what the outlook is for every Big Ten team

Maryland

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 26-3 (17-1, 1st in league standings)
  • Lost to Texas in NCAA Sweet 16

Key Returners:

  • Ashley Owusu (17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.9 apg) — Junior
  • Diamond Miller (17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) — Junior

Key Additions:

  • Shyanne Sellers — Freshman
    • No. 22 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN
    • Averaged 21.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists as a high school senior
  • Emma Chardon — Freshman
    • Has played on Swiss National Team since she was 15
    • Averaged 15.8 ppg and 11.8 rpg on 51.8% shooting in 2019 FIBA U18 Championships

Coming off a season that saw her team lose just two regular-season games — and just one in the conference slate — reigning AP National Coach of the Year Brenda Frese enters the 2021-22 season with extremely high expectations for her Terrapins.

“We want that bar set as high as possible,” Frese said. “The standard has always been set. We’re disappointed anytime we lose a game. For us, we embrace it.”

Last year, Maryland was a powerhouse offensively, ranking among the best teams in the country in numerous offensive categories — first in points per game (90.8), third in field-goal percentage (49.6) and second in 3-point percentage (40). The sheer dominance on that end of the floor carried the Terps all the way to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, where they ran into a hungry Texas team that shut down Maryland’s offense and ended its national title hopes.

Frese returns all five starters from last year’s team, however, led by juniors Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller and joined by graduate students Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby, both of whom are using their extra year of NCAA eligibility granted due to the pandemic. Loaded with talent and chemistry, there’s no reason why the team can’t meet its own expectations.

“Our motto this season is ‘Complete the mission,’” Frese said at Big Ten media day. “For us, it’s going as far as we can, each and every game getting better, building upon each game we get to play in. The schedule was created on purpose that way to prepare us for March.”

Maryland’s national title contention will certainly be tested before conference play — the Terps face a daunting stretch of games in late November, hosting perennial national contender Baylor before traveling to the Bahamas for back-to-back contests against NC State and reigning national champion Stanford. In December, the Terps will travel to South Carolina for a nationally televised showdown with the Gamecocks.

While the path to the postseason may prove more challenging for Maryland than a season ago, the lofty expectations and goals remain the same.

Naz Hillmon. (photo courtesy of Michigan Athletics)
Naz Hillmon shoots the ball. (Photo credit: Michigan Athletics)

Michigan

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 16-6 (9-4, 4th in standings)
  • Lost to Baylor in NCAA Sweet 16

Key Returners:

  • Naz Hillmon (23.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 62.3 FG%) — Senior
  • Leigha Brown (18.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) — Senior

Key Additions:

  • Laila Phelia — Freshman
    • No. 28 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN
    • Averaged 16.4 ppg and 3.1 rpg as a high school senior in Cincinnati
  • Ari Wiggins — Freshman
    • No. 68 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN
    • Averaged 27.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists as a high school senior in Indianapolis

Michigan reached new heights last season by qualifying for the first Sweet 16 in program history and was seconds away from an upset of Baylor and an appearance in the Elite Eight. With the return of Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown, one of the best duos in the country, along with a supporting cast of proven upperclassmen, perhaps this year is destined to be another of firsts for the Wolverines and head coach Kim Barnes Arico.

“I think when you put [Leigha] and Naz together, it’s an unbelievable one-two punch,” Barnes Arico told reporters at media day. “But we are not only a one-two punch. We have a whole team [of players] back in Ann Arbor … that are rooting for us and cheering for us but are ready to go.”

Michigan’s 2020-21 season was characterized by the inconsistency of its games — the Wolverines had 10 contests on their original regular-season schedule cancelled or postponed. They also lost Brown for over a month after the Nebraska transfer tested positive for COVID-19 as well as starting point guard Amy Dilk during the NCAA Tournament. But others stepped up — junior Danielle Rauch stepped into Dilk’s role during the postseason and excelled, perhaps lending her momentum heading into her senior season. Sophomore Maddie Nolan also knocked down 37% of her 57 3-point attempts and figures to assume a larger role in 2021-22.

Hillmon, one of the most prolific scorers and rebounders in the country, is a bona fide star. She exploded for a career-high 50 points in Michigan’s first loss of the season at Ohio State, a result that proved that the role players must step up throughout the year and knock down the open shots created from the attention on Hillmon inside, particularly with the losses of graduated seniors Akienreh Johnson and Hailey Brown.

“We try to build off each other, give each other confidence, pump each other up,” Hillmon said. “We know how we feel about each other, how we feel about our play, and we’ll let that motivate us and carry us throughout the season.”

Rutgers

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 14-5 (10-3, 3rd in standings)
  • Lost to BYU in NCAA Tournament first round

Key Returners:

  • Tyia Singleton (6.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) — Redshirt junior

Key Additions:

  • Kierra Sanderlin — Freshman
    • No. 77 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN
    • Averaged 16.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg and 4.0 spg per game as a high school senior in Texas
  • Osh Brown — Graduate student
    • Transfer from Ball State
    • Averaged 18.9 ppg and 12.9 rpg per game as a senior
    • Only player in Ball State history with more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds

Rutgers is undergoing somewhat of a roster reshuffle after losing four starters and the top five scorers from last year’s team — Arella Guirantes, one of the better players in the program’s recent history, graduated last spring and now plays in the WNBA. Tekia Mack graduated as well, and former five-star recruits Diamond Johnson and Zipporah “Zippy” Broughton both transferred.

As a compensatory move, Rutgers welcomes six transfers, headlined by former First Team All-MAC Honoree and double-double machine Osh Brown, who comes to Piscataway from Ball State. Lasha Petree, a two-time First Team All-MVC member and former MVC Freshman of the Year at Bradley, should provide an additional punch offensively after averaging 18 points per game as a senior a season ago, including a 33-point performance against Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

In terms of coaching, the legendary C. Vivian Stringer has reportedly been away from the program since April due to COVID-19 concerns, following a season when the Scarlet Knights had seven games on their schedule postponed. Associate head coach Tim Eatman represented the team at media day and admitted that he’s not certain of everybody’s roles yet due to all the departures and arrivals. However, he’s counting on the team’s three returners to steer the ship in the right direction.

“They understand the daily grind that you have to have in the Big Ten, the best conference in college women’s basketball,” Eatman said. “We’re depending on Tyia Singleton, Joiya Maddox and Stephanie Guihon to make sure our younger players understand the Rutgers way. We want to make sure we develop with our team the toughness you need to have in order to be successful.”

Can the Scarlet Knights achieve a fourth straight top-five finish in the Big Ten despite all of the turnover within the program? If so, it will definitely speak to the greatness of Stringer — whenever she may return — and the rest of her coaching staff.

Michigan State

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 15-9 (8-7, 8th in standings)
  • Lost to Iowa State in NCAA Tournament first round

Key Returners:

  • Nia Clouden (18.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.9 apg) — Senior
  • Alyza Winston (11.1 ppg) — Junior
  • Alisia Smith (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) — Graduate student

Key Additions:

  • DeeDee Hagemann — Freshman
    • No. 23 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN

Coming off somewhat of a down year for Suzy Merchant’s squad, the Spartans enter this season with a hopefully more cohesive group, returning their top seven scorers from last season. The group is headed by Nia Clouden, the senior who finished fifth in the Big Ten with 18.7 points per game. Junior Alyza Winston rounds out the Spartan backcourt and provides a two-way threat who can score as well as harass opposing guards as they try to set up their own offenses.

“With the experience we have, I expect us to do well,” Merchant said at media day. “I think we’re further ahead right now after eight days of practice than we’ve been at any time really, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”

Michigan State is also expecting big things from Matilda Ekh, the freshman swingwoman from Sweden who will play her first season in East Lansing after being unable to obtain a visa last year. Not only can Ekh shoot the ball from distance at an efficient clip, but at 6′, she can also shift around defensively and guard positions one through three.

One key stat to watch for the Spartans this year? Free throw shooting. Michigan State ranked next-to-last in the Big Ten in shooting percentage from the stripe last year, finishing at 67.2%, which may have contributed to five of the Spartans’ nine losses coming by six points or fewer. If Merchant wants her team to flip those narrow losses into victories this season, watch for players such as Winston, Smith and, most notably, junior Taiyier Parks (43.5% from the line last season) to step up in that area.

Michigan State should get a chance to hone its chemistry during an easy November schedule, with no daunting matchups until a Big Ten/ACC Challenge home contest against Notre Dame on Dec. 2. This should allow the Spartans to generate some early momentum and build confidence for when Big Ten play gets underway.

Indiana's Grace Berger. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics)
Indiana’s Grace Berger attempts a layup against Michigan. (Photo credit: Indiana Athletics)

Indiana

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 21-6 (16-2, 2nd in standings)
  • Lost to Arizona in NCAA Elite Eight

Key Returners:

  • Mackenzie Holmes (17.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 60.7 FG%) — Junior
  • Grace Berger (15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.6 apg) — Senior
  • Ali Patberg (14 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.7 apg) — Graduate student

Key Additions:

  • Caitlin Hose — Senior
    • Transfer from Georgia
    • Saw action in 12 games off the bench last season for the Bulldogs
  • Keyarah Berry — Freshman
    • Averaged 33.5 ppg and 9.0 rpg as a high school senior in Georgia
  • Kaitlin Peterson — Freshman
    • Averaged 25.0 ppg, 4.9 apg, 5.7 spg as a high school senior in Alabama

Indiana enters the 2021-22 season with perhaps the most momentum from last season, coming off a season that featured just two regular-season conference losses and the deepest postseason run in program history. As an added bonus, the Hoosiers return all five starters, and four of them are seniors or graduate students. Head coach Teri Moren believes that having these veterans at the forefront of her program will push the team forward and set a great example for the newer players.

“Any time you have five returners, practice is a little bit different,” Moren said at media day. “I think it’s more efficient right now. We’re moving through things a little quicker than we did a year ago, but I do think that they’ve been great examples for these young kids of what it looks like.”

The Hoosiers are led by the three-headed monster of Ali Patberg, Mackenzie Holmes and Grace Berger. Patberg, who began her collegiate career at Notre Dame before transferring to Indiana in 2017, had a slightly down year last season, as she saw her scoring, rebounding, assists and field goal percentage all dip slightly. However, Holmes picked up the slack on both ends of the court, as the 6’3 forward scored efficiently on offense and also earned All-Big Ten Defensive Team honors. Berger, a 6′ guard, can score inside and out and also use her length to crash the glass.

If Patberg can return to the form of her first two years in Bloomington, Indiana should remain atop the Big Ten standings. But will it be enough to propel her team even further in the NCAA Tournament?

Penn State

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 9-15 (6-13, 11th in standings)

Key Returners:

  • Kelly Jekot (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) — Graduate student
  • Makenna Marisa (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg) — Junior

Key Additions:

  • Ymke Brouwer — Freshman
    • Plays for GC Zürich in Sweden
    • Averaged 16.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 2.4 apg in the 2019 U18 FIBA European Championship as a member of the Swiss National Team
  • Ali Brigham — Sophomore
    • Transfer from George Washington
    • Led GW in scoring as a freshman, averaging 11.9 ppg on 50.4% shooting

The Nittany Lions may not have been much of a factor in the Big Ten over the last few years, but quietly, third-year head coach Carolyn Kieger has done a solid job helping the program take measurable strides back to relevancy. After winning just one conference game during the 2019-20 season, Penn State went a much more respectable 7-13 in Big Ten play a year ago, a record that could’ve been even better had leading scorer Kelly Jekot not suffered a season-ending injury just nine games into the campaign.

Before she got hurt, Jekot was scoring 15.9 points and pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game. Though she may not be ready for the start of the season, Jekot is expected to return for a majority of the Lions’ games this year — and she’s just one of several reinforcements that Kieger added. As a result, Penn State could pull off its fair share of upsets in the league this year. Though the program lost rebounding specialist Johnasia Cash to graduation, it returns five other players who started at least 10 games last season in Makenna Marisa, Maddie Burke, Anna Camden, Niya Beverly and Shay Hagans.

Kieger also welcomes two freshmen and two transfers to State College this year, headlined by former George Washington forward Ali Brigham, who led all Atlantic 10 freshmen in points per game and field goal percentage last season. They also obtain the services of redshirt freshman Leilani Kapinus, the former Wisconsin State Journal Player of the Year who sat out the 2020-21 season due to injury.

Ohio State

2020-21 Record/Finish:

Key Returners:

  • Madison Greene — Junior
    • Was third on the team in scoring at 13.4 ppg and led the team with 4.3 assists per game
    • Shot a team-best 85.7% from the free-throw line (60-of-70)
  • Jacy Sheldon — Junior
    • Scored 16.7 ppg and was named Second Team All-Big Ten
    • Shot a team-best 48.6% from the floor and 34.4% from 3-point range
    • Led the team with 35 total steals
  • Rebeka Mikulášiková — Junior
    • Averaged 4.0 ppg and 2.5 rpg while shooting 40.4% (23-of-57) from the field
    • Played for Piestanske Cajky for three seasons in Slovakia, winning the Slovakian Cup in 2017 and finishing runner-up in the Central Europe women’s league
  • Tanaya Beacham — Junior
    • Averaged 4.1 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 13.7 minutes per game

Key Additions:

  •  Taylor Mikesell — Senior
    • Averaged 9.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg and 1.8 apg at Oregon
    • Helped Oregon to its fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance
    • As a freshman and sophomore at Maryland, averaged 12.3 ppg on 41.8% shooting from 3-point range
    • Helped the Terrapins win back-to-back Big Ten regular-season championships and the 2020 Big Ten Tournament championship

Good things are expected this year from the Buckeyes. Recently, the Associated Press ranked them 17th in its annual preseason poll, up from 22nd in the final AP Poll of the 2020-21 season.

Despite the losses of Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Petty, the Buckeyes added depth with the incoming players as well as the experience of their core group. “We return some really key members off last year’s team,” head coach Kevin McGuff said. “I think kind of our strength will be our backcourt with Madison Greene returning at point guard. Jacy Sheldon off the ball will be a big part of the team we’re going to be this year.”

He is relying on Sheldon to be a major player this season.

“She’s an incredible player,” he said. “She’s an exceptional athlete who really plays well in our system. We’ve traditionally had one of the faster teams in the country. That really plays to her strengths. She’s got great speed and quickness. Thus far this year she’s improved on the defensive end as much as anything. I think she’ll take a big step there. I expect her to have an outstanding season and be one of the best players in the Big Ten.”

“I think the success we had last year, given that we didn’t have the opportunity to go to [the] postseason, really speaks to the character of our kids. They certainly could have mailed the season in, but we had a very successful season, won a lot of games, really had a terrific year. That speaks volumes to our players’ character.

“Now it is terrific that we’ve put that behind us, hopefully, and will have an opportunity to be in [the] postseason this year, if we were to have the season where we earn that. But that is certainly a goal for us and something that we’re going to work incredibly hard to hopefully be a part of.”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a 3-pointer during the second quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Sunday, February 7, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a 3-pointer during the second quarter of a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa on Feb. 7, 2021. (Photo credit: Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

Iowa

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 20-10 (11-8, 5th in standings)
  • Lost to UConn in NCAA Sweet 16

Key Returners:

  • Caitlin Clark (26.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 7.1 apg) — Sophomore
  • Monika Czinano (19.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 66.8% FG%) — Senior

Key Additions:

  • AJ Ediger — Freshman
    • No. 39 recruit in Class of 2021, per ESPN
    • Averaged 22 ppg and 12 rpg as a high school junior in Michigan
  • Kylie Feuerbach — Sophomore
    • Transfer from Iowa State
    • Started 24 games for the Cyclones last season and averaged 5.5 ppg and 3.1 rpg

Though Iowa finished just fifth in the Big Ten standings last year, it is a dark horse contender to challenge Maryland for the conference championship this season. The Hawkeyes return five starters from last season’s team that played UConn tightly in the Sweet 16, led by 2020-21 Freshman of the Year Caitlin Clark.

Clark was simply outstanding in her first collegiate season, leading the nation in scoring at 26.6 points per game. She scored with remarkable efficiency, shooting 47.2% from the field as well as 40.6% from three and 85.5% from the free throw line, and scored over 30 points on 12 occasions.

Iowa has had several high-profile players over the years, such as Megan Gustafson and Kathleen Doyle, but head coach Lisa Bluder said that Clark has generated a unique buzz around this Hawkeye team, particularly with new NCAA rules allowing players to capitalize off their name, image and likeness (NIL).

“We’re proud of the fact that one of our players is so sought after for the NIL,” Bluder said at media day. “We think that’s a tremendous thing for our program. In Iowa, we always say there’s no pro sports, so the Iowa Hawkeyes are a big deal.”

Clark is joined by senior post player Monika Czinano, who led the country in field goal percentage last season. Czinano has a knack for finishing at the rim no matter how difficult the angle and serves as the perfect interior scorer to complement Clark’s perimeter-oriented game. Czinano will also play an even larger role than anticipated just weeks ago, as sophomore center Sharon Goodman tore her ACL on the first day of fall practice.

If juniors McKenna Warnock and Gabby Marshall, both incredibly capable shooters, can build on strong sophomore campaigns as well, then Iowa’s chemistry and balanced lineup should carry the team far this season.

Illinois

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 5-18 (2-16, 13th in standings)

Key Returners:

  • Jada Peebles — Junior 
    • Averaged 11.6 ppg and 1.6 apg
    • Led the team by shooting 78.9% from the free-throw line

Key Additions:

  • Adalia McKenzie — Freshman
    • Rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN and ProspectsNation.com
    • Named 2020-21 Minnesota Miss Basketball
    • Averaged 28 ppg, 10 rpg, 4 apg and 4 spg
  • Kendall Bostic — Sophomore
    • Transferred from Michigan State
    • Averaged 4.2 ppg and 2.9 rpg 
  • De’Myla Brown — Junior
    • Transferred from Chipola College
    • Averaged 20.2 ppg, 3.4 rbg and 2 apg
  • Sara Anastasieska — Graduate student
    • Averaged 10 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.0 apg and 1.0 spg in four games before Duke opted out of the 2020-21 campaign due to COVID-19

Head coach Nancy Fahey has her work cut out for her to rise above several subpar seasons. But entering her fifth year as head coach of the Fighting Illini, she is up for the challenge, especially after landing several promising recruits, including McKenzie.

“We had a great summer. Unlike a lot of teams, we have six new players. One of my goals during the addition of our team was we needed some scoring,” she said. “We as a team had a pace of top 15% in the country. We could run, but our efficiency was not where we wanted it to be. We got three transfers: Kendall Bostic, De’Myla Brown [and] Sara Anastasieska. All three of them were from programs that win, programs that they were key players and programs where they scored. That was important to us.

“It’s been a really good start. But I always tell our kids, everybody is excited right now, okay? It’s going to be the day to day. It’s going to be when we really have to go after it, when it’s into December, January. Everybody can start; we have to learn to finish.”

Minnesota

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 8-13 (7-11, 10th in standings)

Key Returners:

  • Sara Scalia — Junior
    • Averaged 14.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg and 1.0 spg
    • Made 90.5% of her free throws
    • Ranked third in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made per game (2.75)
  • Gadiva Hubbard — Graduate student
    • Averaged 11.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.9 apg and 1.1 spg
    • Ranked 12th in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made per game (1.75)

Key Additions:

  • Deja Winters — Graduate student
    • Transferred from North Carolina A&T
    • Averaged 14.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.7 apg and 2.1 spg
    • Led the MEAC in 3-pointers made (52) and attempted (120) and 3-point shooting percentage (34.7%)

The good news for Minnesota is that it returns all but one player from the 2020-21 campaign. One year older, another year wiser, right?

There’s no doubt the Golden Gophers can improve their defense, which was their downfall last season, starting with their points allowed per game (78.7), blocked shots (2.5 per game) and steals (6.1 per game). Head coach Lindsay Whalen (who was recently voted one of the WNBA’s all-time top 25 players) is entering her fourth season and is very optimistic. “We have the talent and experience to take us to the next level,” she said after the first practice.

Whalen is especially excited about the experience of players like Hubbard, who ended the 2020-21 season ranked third in team history in career 3-pointers attempted (597), sixth in career 3-pointers made (206) and 17th in career points (1,249).

Perhaps Whalen’s jersey will be the good luck charm for the Gophers this season. The No. 13 jersey was retired several years ago after Whalen wore it to the 2004 NCAA Final Four with the Golden Gophers. But she took it out of retirement so Hubbard could wear it.

“I remember overhearing [Hubbard] say that was her number and she was told that she couldn’t wear it. So I said, ‘We’re going to change that,’” Whalen said. “She stuck with me all four years, and it’s a number she wanted to wear.”

Nebraska

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 13-13 (9-10, 9th in standings)
  • Lost to Colorado in the second round of the WNIT

Key Returners:

  • Sam Haiby (16.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.4 apg) — Junior*
  • Isabelle Bourne (13.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) — Sophomore*

Key Additions:

  • Jaz Shelley — Sophomore*
    • Averaged 4.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg and 1.9 apg at Oregon last season
    • Earned a bronze medal with the Australian Opals at the 2021 Asia Cup in early October

*Nebraska is listing the players on its 2021-22 roster who have college experience as the same class as they were in 2020-21 because the NCAA decided not to count last season against players’ eligibility.

Shelley is one of three members of the Australian national team program on the 2021-22 Nebraska roster, joining Bourne and freshman Ruby Porter. Bourne and Shelley were teammates for Australia at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Championships, where they took silver after an overtime loss to Team USA.

Porter, a 5’10 guard from Adelaide, Australia, competed in 21 games and made 11 starts for the Huskers as a true freshman last season. She was limited by injuries early in the season and again in the postseason, but she still averaged 4.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.

Entering her sixth season as head coach of the Cornhuskers, Amy Williams said there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Nebraska women’s basketball right now.

“Number one, we have four returning starters who knocked off five ranked opponents and played in the postseason,” she said at media day. “We have four other returning players who played substantial and significant minutes in our program. We’re adding in a top-25 recruiting class that consists of six players total, five freshmen and one transfer.”

Northwestern

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 16-9 (11-7, 5th in standings)
  • Lost to Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Key Returners:

  • Veronica Burton (16.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.8 spg) — Senior
    • Reigning back-to-back Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year
  • Sydney Wood (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 spg) — Senior

Key Additions:

  • Jillian Brown — Freshman
    • Named to the 2021 Naismith National High School Watch List
    • Averaged 22.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game as a high school junior
  • Mercy Ademusayo — Freshman
    • Averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game as a high school junior
    • Named to the second team all-state in 2020
  • Melannie Daley — Freshman
    • Averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game as a high school junior
    • Earned All-League honors from 2016-2020 and League MVP in 2020
  • Caileigh Walsh — Freshman
    • Ranked the No. 4 recruit at her position by ESPN
    • Averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game as a high school junior

Though Northwestern is missing 2021 WNBA Draft pick Lindsey Pulliam, it returns senior Veronica Burton, its leading scorer from a season ago and the back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, as well as Sydney Wood, Courtney Shaw and Paige Mott from the rotation that got the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament.

Head coach Joe McKeown just celebrated 14 years of gradual gains with the Wildcats, along with a new contract extension through the 2026 season. From an NIT appearance nearly 10 years ago to a Big Ten regular-season championship in 2020, he’s seen consistent growth and stellar recruiting start to pay big dividends.

“A lot of good things are happening at Northwestern,” he said. “Proud to be part of it. Last year, to be in San Antonio, [to] have a chance,” he continued. “Our league had such a great run. We got beat in a great game where we led Louisville most of the game and got beat to go to the Sweet 16. A bittersweet taste.”

This year’s team, he feels, has a real chance to equal its Big Ten championship from 2020 and can build on last year’s NCAA run to the round of 32.

“I like our team. I think I have one of the great guards in college basketball in Veronica Burton. [She] won a gold medal with USA Basketball this summer. She just makes me a really good coach on game day,” he said. “… [We] really have a top 10 recruiting class with freshmen. I don’t really like rankings, but we have five freshmen [who] I think are really going to help us.”

Purdue

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 7-16 (4-14, 12th in standings)

Key Returners:

  • Cass Hardin — Senior
    • Named a co-captain
    • Averaged 3.3 ppg and 1.3 rpg
    • Knocked down a 3-pointer in 30 games, with 17 games of multiple 3-pointers
    • 76 of 86 career field goals have come from 3-point range
  • Madison Layden — Sophomore
    • Named a co-captain
    • Averaged 8.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg and 2.1 spg
    • Made a team-high 45 3-pointers on 40.5% shooting, both of which rank fifth-best among freshmen in Purdue history

Key Additions:

  • Jeanae Terry — Junior
    • Transfer from Illinois
    • Named a co-captain
    • Averaged 8.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 3.6 apg in 26.2 mpg in two seasons at Illinois

For the first time since 2006, the Boilermakers begin a season with a new coach and a new attitude. Head coach Sharon Versyp, on the cusp of her 15th year as the winningest coach in Purdue history, announced her retirement in September amid allegations of creating a “toxic and hostile” work environment.

Taking her place is former Purdue star Katie Gearlds, 36, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors in 2007 after Purdue defeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. In her playing career, her team had a 103-30 record and she averaged 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to lead my alma mater,” said Gearlds. “With that opportunity comes a huge responsibility. I take a lot of pride in making sure we continue to work our tails off to make Purdue proud again. The biggest thing is just changing culture.”

Gearlds shared her vision for the team at media day, which was about two weeks after she’d taken over the program.

“We want to have a team that competes every day. We want to have a team that’s hard to beat. When you’re hard to beat, fans are itching to get back into the arena [and] it’s going to be loud. You have to take care of games at home, win games on the road that you’re supposed to …

“If you’re hard to beat, you might steal a game you’re not supposed to win on paper. That’s what we want to live by, compete every day. Make sure we compete every day hard, we play basketball the right way. Basketball gods will take care of the rest.”

Wisconsin

2020-21 Record/Finish:

  • 5-19 (2-18, 14th in standings)

Key Returners:

  • Sydney Hilliard (15.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.0 apg) — Junior

Key Additions:

  • Katie Nelson — Graduate student
    • Transfer from Boston University
    • Averaged 12.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 4.3 apg 
    • 2021 All-Patriot League First Team

The Badgers haven’t had a winning season or appeared in a postseason tournament in more than a decade. After a 14th-place finish under then-head coach Jonathan Tsipis in 2020-21, athletic director Barry Alvarez hired Marisa Moseley, the head coach at Boston University who guided the women’s basketball program to a 45-29 overall record. She also spent nine years as an assistant to Geno Auriemma at UConn, so she knows a little something about a winning culture.

Moseley was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year after her first BU team finished fourth in 2018-19. In 2020-21, she led her team to a 12-3 finish and a spot in the conference tournament championship game.

It may take some time to change the culture, but Moseley has set some goals for her first season.

“I want to make sure that we play with passion, [that] we’re selfless, that we get excited for other people’s successes, that we’re the most prepared team, and that really our kids understand that every time they take the floor they feel confident and ready to compete,” Moseley said at media day. “That’s the biggest thing as far as how we’re going to approach the season.”

She’s looking to Hilliard, Wisconsin’s best player last year, to lead the way.

“She has been just incredible … [with] how hard she works, and her leadership was kind of leading by example,” Moseley said. “[I’m] really excited about what she’s going to be able to do. She’s worked really hard on her outside shooting to become more of a triple threat, being able to score at all three levels. Anyone that played against her in the past knows she can get to the rim at will.”

And for the team?

“For us, it’s really about getting better and being the best version of ourselves every single day. I don’t know that it would make sense to put out any type of record, but for us it’s going to be attacking first this pre-season like we did, then getting into non-conference games, then conference game[s],” she said. “If we continue to build, I think we’ll be showing something that will be really exciting and something our Wisconsin fans have been hungry for us to accomplish.”

Written by Ben Rosof

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