November 16, 2020
Your 2020-21 Big Ten Preview
A little bit of everything featured in a season full of unknowns
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
Maryland won yet another Big Ten title last season, and they’re looking pretty good again this season. That’s it, that’s the tweet … if you only look at the very last game of the Big Ten Tournament, that is.
Because last season’s Big Ten roller coaster only started with Maryland being the team to beat. Soon enough, Northwestern was winning games all the way to a regular-season tie at the top, Iowa was stunning opponents and maintaining its eye-opening home-court winning streak that persists to this day and Ohio State proved that a rebuilding season doesn’t have to look like one.
But with all that success last season comes quite a bit of turnover this season, especially for the teams at the top. If there was ever a year for some new blood to win the conference — Maryland or Ohio State have taken a share of the regular-season title every year since 2013-2014 — it’s this year.
Teams across the conference will rely on fresh faces to contribute, push players into new roles out of necessity and lean on experience if they’re lucky enough to have it. Some will simply hope to survive conference play while others will try to run it. For every team, grizzled veteran and exciting newcomer, The Next has you covered.
Behold, your complete guide to the 2020-21 Big Ten season:
Big Ten East
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
24-8 (13-5, 4th in standings)
Lost to Maryland in Big Ten semifinal
Ali Patberg (15.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.3apg) — Returns as a senior
Grace Berger (13.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.5 apg) — Returns as a junior
Danielle Patterson— Transfer from Notre Dame
Sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery
Averaged 2.9 ppg and 1.5 rpg in 2018-19
Chloe Moore-McNeil — Freshman
Averaged 20.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 4.0 apg as a high school senior
After setting a program record by winning 24 games last season, the Hoosiers begin this year with sky-high expectations. Led by the veteran backcourt of Patberg and Berger, Indiana returns nine players from last year’s roster. They will also have Danielle Patterson available, a lengthy, versatile transfer from Notre Dame who sat out the 2019-20 season due to a knee injury.
Indiana collected a number of signature wins last season, highlighted by an early-season victory over the fifth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. They also won conference road games at Rutgers, Minnesota and Michigan. The Hoosiers were projected to compete in the cancelled NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed after falling to Maryland in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Patberg, also a Notre Dame transfer, returns with lofty goals for her squad this year.
“We want to get in the tournament and we want to go really far,” she said on an October conference call. “Coach has told us it’s one game at a time and focusing on that, but yeah, that’s our end goal is to win a Big Ten championship and go from there.”
A member of last year’s All-Big Ten First Team, Patberg has averaged 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and five assists per game over her two-year career in Bloomington. She’s a 39% three-point shooter on a team that finished dead last in the conference in that category, adding much-needed touch from distance.
Other than Berger and Patterson, watch for the development of sophomore Mackenzie Holmes. Holmes averaged 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in just 19.0 minutes last season, playing all 32 games and earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. With the graduation of Brenna Wise, who started all 66 games she played as a Hoosier, expect a much more significant role for Holmes in her second year in Teri Moren’s system.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
28-4 (16-2, T-1st in standings)
Ashley Owusu (12.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.4 apg) — Returns as a sophomore
Diamond Miller (7.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5 apg) — Returns as a sophomore
Angel Reese — Freshman
ESPN No. 2 recruit; averaged 18 ppg, 20 rpg in high school
Katie Benzan — Graduate transfer from Harvard
Averaged 14.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 35.2% 3pt in 2018-19 at Harvard
2019-20 was another successful season for Maryland, who earned at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship for the fifth time in six seasons. They scored the most points per game in the conference (82.8) while allowing the second-fewest (57). Though early-season losses to South Carolina and NC State raised doubts about how deep the Terps could find themselves in the postseason, they won 21 of their final 23 games and finished the shortened campaign with a conference tournament championship as well.
On the court, Maryland will look extremely different from a season ago. The team experienced arguably the most offseason roster turnover in the conference, as it returns just three players from last year, all sophomores. Stephanie Jones and Blair Watson graduated, while Taylor Mikesell transferred to Oregon, Shakira Austin to Mississippi and Olivia Owens to Kentucky.
Fortunately for the Terps, one of their key returnees is Ashley Owusu, the 2020 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and conference tournament MVP. Owusu saw heavy minutes and stellar production during her inaugural season in College Park, logging 26.8 minutes and 12 points per game.
Joining Owusu will be freshman Angel Reese, the second overall recruit in the class of 2020 and the highest-ranked prospect in program history. Reese, a 6’3 forward from Baltimore, averaged 18 points, 20 rebounds and five assists per game in high school. She was honored as the Player of the Year by the Baltimore Sun and named to the USA TODAY All-First Team.
In addition to Reese, the Terps have added freshman guard Taisiya Kozlova, Mississippi State transfer Chloe Bibby (who was recently granted immediate eligibility), California graduate transfer Alaysia “Birdy” Styles and Harvard graduate transfer Katie Benzan. Head coach Brenda Frese also promoted the Karen Blair, 2020 D1 Assistant Coach of the Year, to associate head coach.
Anticipating the type of year this Maryland team will have is impossible before the season begins, but it’s natural to expect a slightly down year with a roster that first must learn to play together. With the consistency and culture established by Frese in College Park, however, it’s difficult to envision a major drop-off for the Terps.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
21-11 (10-8, 7th in standings)
Naz Hillmon (17.4 ppg, 8.7rpg, 57% FG) — Returns as a junior
Amy Dilk (11.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.5apg) — Returns as a junior
Leigha Brown — Transfer from Nebraska
2019-20 Big Ten Sixth Woman of the Year
Averaged 14.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg last season with the Cornhuskers
Cameron Williams — Freshman
ESPN No. 30 recruit
Is this Michigan’s year? After two consecutive years of reaching the NCAA Tournament, with two first-round victories — a potential third tournament in a row was cut short due to COVID-19 — the Wolverines are eager to return to the postseason again.
Michigan loses just one graduating senior, Kayla Robbins, from last year’s team that went 21-11 and 10-8 in the conference, though Robbins was unavailable for much of last season after tearing her ACL in January.
The Maize and Blue are led by Naz Hillmon, who’s poised for an explosive year in her third season under Kim Barnes Arico. The dominant post has already collected numerous accolades during her young career in Ann Arbor, as she was named Big Ten Freshman and Sixth Woman of the Year in 2019 before earning consensus All-Big Ten First Team honors in 2020. Hillmon collected 11 double-doubles last season due in large part to her remarkable efficiency, as she finished in the top five of the conference in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.
At point guard, the Wolverines are still awaiting a breakout season from Amy Dilk, the former Indiana Miss Basketball. Though Dilk had a solid year statistically, improving her scoring by over four points per game and earning All-Conference Second Team honors, she continues to struggle with turnovers. On a team that finished 10th in the Big Ten in turnover margin (-0.4), Dilk committed 3.5 giveaways per game.
Michigan received two pleasant surprises this offseason when it learned that guard Akienreh Johnson was granted a fifth year of eligibility after sustaining multiple ACL injuries earlier in her career, as well as learning of Nebraska transfer Leigha Brown’s immediate eligibility in Ann Arbor. Johnson was the team’s fourth leading scorer last season (10.3 ppg) while Brown led the Cornhuskers in scoring off the bench, finishing 14.4 points per game.
Both Johnson and Brown’s presence should help Michigan improve its three-point shooting, where the team finished just eighth in the Big Ten last season at 32.8%. If this can improve to the third or fourth in the conference, the Wolverines have a chance at a deep conference and NCAA Tournament run.
“I think we’ve worked a ton in the offseason on our outside shooting. You know, we weren’t a team that made a ton of threes last year. I think that’s an area where we’re going to improve this season,” Barnes Arico told The Michigan Daily. “I think we’re going to shoot more of them and I think we’re going to make more of them.”
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
16-14 (9-9, 8th in standings)
Nia Clouden (14.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.33 apg) — Returns as a junior
Moira Joiner (7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg) — Returns as a sophomore
Kendall Bostic — Freshman
ESPN No. 65 recruit, Indiana Miss Basketball Finalist
Janai Crooms — Transfer from Ohio State
Averaged 6.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg in 2019-20
Awaiting status of eligibility waiver
Michigan State undoubtedly experienced a down year in 2019-20, having to win five of its last six Big Ten games just to reach .500 in conference play. The Spartans were also swept by their in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, for the first time since 2014-15. They were not included in Charlie Creme’s NCAA Tournament Bracketology after falling to Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Nia Clouden returns to lead the Green and White this season after averaging 14.5 points, four rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in 2019-20. A member of the All-Big Ten Second Team, Clouden will look to recapture the outside shooting prowess from her freshman season when she connected on 37% of attempts from beyond the arc. She fell to just 27% from three last year. Clouden demonstrated an ability to perform in high-pressure situations, as she scored a career-high 28 points at No. 15 Notre Dame in November.
“She’s gonna be a big focal point to what we do this year,” head coach Suzy Merchant told The Detroit News in October.
A key loss this offseason was the graduation of Taryn McCutcheon, the second-leading scorer on last year’s roster at 10.5 points and 3.7 assists per game. Fortunately, redshirt senior Mardrekia Cook is healthy and ready for the 2020-21 season. Cook sustained an Achilles injury in January, causing her to miss the rest of the year.
The Spartans also welcome Janai Crooms, an Ohio State transfer, to East Lansing this year. Crooms made 10 starts in 32 games played for the Buckeyes in 2019-20, when she averaged 6.8 points per game. Michigan State is still awaiting the status of Crooms’ waiver application with the NCAA.
“We’re hopeful that maybe we will see [Crooms] this year,” Merchant said. “Step one has been completed and we’ve got a thumbs up on that. We’re hopeful that maybe we will have an opportunity to see her in a uniform at some point here, and sooner rather than later.”
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
21-12 (11-7, T-5th in standings)
Dorka Juhász (13.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 39.6% 3pt) — Returns as a junior
Braxtin Miller (8.2 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.3 rpg) — Returns as a senior
Tanaya Beacham — Graduate transfer from Toledo
Averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds last season at Toledo
Kateri Poole — Freshman
ESPN No. 24 recruit, Miss New York Basketball 2020
Senior year: averaged 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game
It wasn’t immediately clear that the Buckeyes were out to be spoilers last season. A close overtime win against Cincinnati and losses to Ohio and South Dakota, while quality games, still lacked that spark needed to succeed in Big Ten play.
A 12-point loss to UConn prompted then-junior Braxtin Miller to say, “I know there’s been a lot of controversy of how young we are and this and that, but you can’t fight us on that we’re tough.” And then, less than two weeks later, Ohio State proved its toughness by taking down No. 2 Louisville.
Its 11-7 finish in Big Ten play was only a one-game improvement from 2018-19 — its first big rebuilding season — but upsetting its way to the Big Ten Tournament championship game proved that there was still some gas in the tank, despite its inexperience. Knowing it can succeed despite long odds will only make Ohio State better in 2020-21.
The Buckeyes return Miller as well as Dorka Juhász, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, but they suffer some big losses, too. Kierstan Bell, the only other player to average double figures in scoring, transferred to Florida Gulf Coast, while Janai Crooms, who shared the assists load with Miller, transferred across the conference to Michigan State.
There’s still plenty of room for the Buckeyes to improve — turnovers were a concern throughout the season, and it struggled mightily on the offensive glass — but that’s where the newbies can step in. Tanaya Beacham, the grad transfer from Toledo, had nearly the same number of offensive rebounds as defensive rebounds her junior season. Kateri Poole, ESPN’s No. 24 recruit, is a force all over, and looks to make up where Ohio State lost pieces as far as scoring and assisting. They’ll also get the services of redshirt freshman (and another top-30 recruit) Rikki Harris for the first time, who was injured last season before she could make her debut.
Despite its losses, head coach Kevin McGuff has seemingly again found a way to compensate for missing production. If all goes as well on the court as it looks on paper, perhaps it would be unwise to underestimate the Buckeyes for a second straight year.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
7-23 (1-17, 14th in standings)
Makenna Marisa (9.2ppg, 4.5rpg) — Returns as a sophomore
Shay Hagans (5.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg) — Returns as a sophomore
Leilani Kapinus — Freshman
ESPN No. 32 recruit
Averaged 18.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game as a high school senior, named Wisconsin State Journal Player of the Year
Kelly Jekot — Transfer from Villanova
Sat out 2019-20 season with ACL injury
Averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds per game, 40% 3pt
The state of the Penn State program is in limbo — when new head coach Carolyn Kieger took the reins of the team at the beginning of last season, it was a move that figured to rejuvenate a team that had won just 12 games the year prior. Instead, six players have transferred from State College since the beginning of Kieger’s tenure and the Nittany Lions regressed significantly in 2019-20, winning just one conference game. They finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and field goal percentage defense, allowing 76.2 points per game on 43.8% shooting.
To compound matters for the Lions, they lost one of the true bright spots on last year’s roster when Kamaria McDaniel, an All-Big Ten First Team member, transferred to Baylor. Siyeh Frazier graduated, leaving Penn State without their top two scorers from a season ago, as the duo combined to average more than 33 points per game.
Fortunately, the program was able to recruit Leilani Kapinus, the first 1,000-point scorer at James Madison Memorial High School in Wisconsin. She demonstrated remarkable efficiency in high school, finishing her senior year shooting over 54% from the field as a 5’10 guard.
The Lions also added Kelly Jekot into the mix, a transfer from Villanova that should infuse much needed perimeter shooting.
“We knew [Kelly] was a scorer when we recruited her, but she has really developed her versatility,” assistant coach Ginny Boggess told GoPSUSports. “Her mid-range looks fantastic, her handle is on point and she’s able to make passes and do things with the basketball that she wasn’t able to do when she first got here.”
Penn State will be led by returning sophomore Makenna Marisa, who impressed as a freshman. The eight freshmen on the roster will compete for playing time over the course of the season, hoping to stand out on a young, inexperienced roster.
“The freshmen are really talented,” said Boggess. “It’s kind of that puzzle for us as a staff of teaching and drilling, but also making sure that they’re not overthinking the game and that they’re just playing ball.”
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
22-9 (11-7, T-5th in standings)
Arella Guirantes (20.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 38.5% 3pt) — Returns as a redshirt senior
Tekia Mack (11.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) — Returns as a senior
Diamond Johnson — Freshman
ESPN No. 6 recruit, two-time Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year
Senior year: averaged 29.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 steals per game
Destiny Marshall — Transfer from Jacksonville
Averaged 14.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game
“What I needed to do was be faithful toward my goals,” redshirt senior guard Arella Guirantes said when she announced in April she would return to Rutgers for her senior season. “I want to be the Big Ten Player of the Year, a First Team All-American and win a championship with Rutgers basketball.”
Guirantes’ decision to play one more season for head coach C. Vivian Stringer, who’s now in her 50th as a coach, was informed by her desire to reach the very top of her potential. For the Scarlet Knights, it also means getting back the Big Ten’s leading scorer from 2019-20 — and the leadership that comes along with it.
Because having Guirantes and fellow senior-slash-defensive force Tekia Mack at the helm is just one part of what Rutgers is building. The six freshmen it’s getting — led by No. 6 recruit Diamond Johnson — are another. ESPN ranked Rutgers’ recruiting class No. 8 overall, the best in the Big Ten, thanks to the signing of Johnson and three more top-55 recruits: post Sakima Walker, forward Chyna Cornwell and guard Elizabeth Martino.
A smooth transition is the goal, though; success is not an immediate expectation.
“It’s gonna be a little while for [the incoming class] to get acclimated,” Stringer said prior to the Big Ten Tournament in March. “But this is going to give us some depth that we need, and no person better to lead us as a team than Arella.”
In addition to the senior leadership at the top and the incoming powerhouse of freshmen, Destiny Marshall being immediately eligible after transferring from Jacksonville will offer some extra scoring and an experienced option at the guard position.
The Scarlet Knights may still be a work-in-progress, and this coming season may not be the ideal time to see out one of their best ever in Guirantes. But if she can make an impression on her younger teammates and leave even a part of the spark she brought to this program behind when it’s time for her to be selected in the first round of the 2021 WNBA Draft, Rutgers will be in good shape.
Big Ten West
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
11-19 (2-16, 13th in standings)
Lost to Wisconsin in first round of Big Ten Tournament
Kennedi Myles (8.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.1 stl) — Returns as a sophomore
Jeanae Terry (6.2 ppg, 3.0 apg, 3.8 rpg) — Returns as a sophomore
Eva Rubin — Transfer from Arizona State
Former ESPN four-star recruit
Third-year Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey is still in the early stages of a massive rebuild. The last dominant Illinois team played on the wrong side of the 2000s and the Illini have only finished .500 or better in Big Ten play twice in the past decade.
The bar for improvement isn’t high after a two-win Big Ten season following zero wins the year before. But attrition won’t make things easy after last year’s leading scorer, Petra Holešínská, transferred to North Carolina in the offseason. Seniors Ali Andrews and Brandi Beasley also graduated, leaving behind 17.4 more points per game to replace.
Forward Kennedi Myles should help fill the gap after wowing in her first season in orange and blue. The 6-foot-2 Myles averaged 8.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game as a true freshman. Whether she can improve her free throw percentage — 48% from the line — remains to be seen, but don’t expect her to shoot 38.2% from the field again this year. Myles was forced to play down a position due to injuries, but should return to her natural position on the wing where she can use her size to her advantage.
Size will be huge for Illinois, who dealt with a slew of frontcourt injuries that forced Fahey to change up defensive schemes and plug holes with undersized players like Myles. While transfer and redshirt junior center Eva Rubin didn’t play much as a Sun Devil — she played 95 minutes in two seasons at Arizona State — she’ll be a big boost for the front court at 6-foot-5 if she can mesh with her new team. The return of a healthy Mackenzie Blazek, who averaged 4.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 18 minutes before going out with injury, will also help Illinois improve in the paint.
Expect junior J-Naya Ephraim and sophomores Jada Peebles and Jeanae Terry to round out the backcourt. Peebles and Terry each started 11 games last season and Ephraim started 16. All three struggled with efficiency, shooting below 36% from the field. Terry’s prowess as a playmaker should give her the edge at point guard, but the three will all see significant playtime this season.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
23-7 (14-4, 3rd in standings)
Lost to Ohio State in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament
Alexis Sevillian (6.7 ppg, 2.4 apg) — Returns as a redshirt senior
Monika Czinano (15.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 68% shooting) — Returns as a junior
Caitlin Clark — Freshman
ESPN No. 4 recruit, Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year
After losing three starters to graduation following the 2018-19 season, including star Megan Gustafson, the expectations for Iowa heading into last season were basic: build the team around Kathleen Doyle, and hope for the best.
And it worked. Doyle ended up as Big Ten Player of the Year, Monika Czinano almost seamlessly stepped into the post scoring role that Gustafson left behind and Amanda Ollinger took her turn as the team’s go-to rebounder. Despite an early exit from the Big Ten tournament, the Hawkeyes finished an incredibly respectable third place in the regular season.
Now, Doyle and Ollinger, along with fellow graduated senior (and 3-point-sharpshooter) Makenzie Meyer and also-graduated junior Paula Valiño Ramos, have moved on, too. So what are the Hawkeyes to do? Work with what they’ve got, of course.
Returning just two starters in Czinano and Alexis Sevillian, that starting five can expect to see more McKenna Warnock, more Gabbie Marshall and almost certainly some Caitlin Clark, the bigtime freshman guard pickup out of West Des Moines. It’ll also be interesting to see the development of fellow freshman Sharon Goodman, who looks to fill the same role that Czinano did when she played behind Gustafson her freshman season.
In addition to Clark and Goodman, Iowa added freshman small forward Shateah Wetering and freshman combo guard Lauren Jensen, both of whom have specific strengths that the team is looking to fill. Wetering “has a lot of tools in her tool kit,” her high school coach said, and her athleticism makes her a threat all over the floor. Jensen, meanwhile, broke the career 3-point record at her high school, dethroning now-Minnesota Lynx guard Rachel Banham.
It’ll be a young Hawkeyes squad in 2020-21, at least relative to the past few seasons — Sevillian and Zion Sanders, the latter of whom appeared in 14 games last year, are the only seniors. There’s plenty of room to grow, with a strong returning core in Sevillian, Czinano and already-tested sophomores Warnock and Marshall, who played every game last season.
Another surprise third-place finish may not be on the horizon, but whatever experience this team can get in this strange season can only help them reach the top of the conference once again soon.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
16-15 (5-13, 11th in standings)
Lost to Ohio State in second round of Big Ten Tournament
Gadiva Hubbard (11.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 stl) — Returns as a redshirt senior
Jasmine Powell (12.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 stl) — Returns as a sophomore
Laura Bagwell-Katalinich — Transfer from Cornell
Averaged 13.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 2.0 apg in 28 minutes
Kadi Sissoko — Transfer from Syracuse
ESPN No. 10 recruit in 2018
Minnesota’s top storyline from last season was when its leading scorer and 2018-2019 All-Big Ten First Team guard Destiny Pitts transferred following a suspension for “conduct unbecoming of the team” during the 2019-2020 season. Future WNBA Hall of Damer and third-year Golden Gopher head coach Lindsay Whalen continues to navigate the world of college coaching, and will have to do so this year after losing multiple key contributors.
Taiye Bello and Jasmine Brunson, who both played 29 or more minutes per game last year, are also gone after graduating. Brunson and Pitts were the lead guards of the offense last year, so Whalen will need a new floor general this season.
Sophomore Jasmine Powell seems the obvious choice after an impressive freshman year. Powell was second on the team in scoring while playing 26 minutes per game, and was selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Expect her to get a minutes bump and a full-time starting job after coming off the bench for most of last season.
The Gopher backcourt will also return redshirt senior Gadiva Hubbard, who has averaged 30 or more minutes per game in all three years of her Minnesota career. Hubbard is one of the best 3-point shooters from last year’s team, ahead of fellow guard Sara Scalia. Scalia enters her sophomore year with expectations of delivering a more complete game, including better finishing at the rim. After starting 30 games last season, Scalia’s development this year will significantly impact Minnesota’s ceiling.
Minnesota has plenty of questions in the front court with the departure of Bello and a number of rotations players. Brunson’s best answer is her graduate transfer Laura Bagwell-Katalinich from Cornell. The 6’0 Bagwell-Katalinich led Big Red in scoring, rebounding and free throws, and also averaged two assists per game to boot. If Bagwell-Katalinich’s transition to Big Ten play is smooth, Minnesota may be able to put some of their front court struggles from last year behind them.
Sophomore forward Klarke Sconiers also saw floor time last season, and former ESPN five-star recruit Kadi Sissoko is eligible to play after sitting last season following her transfer from Syracuse. The former five-star recruit Sissoko has received praise from Whalen during training camp, but struggled with injuries her freshman year before transferring and hasn’t played legit minutes in college yet.
Barring breakout play from any of their inexperienced returning posts, Minnesota will need Sissoko or freshman Erin Hedman to hit early. Hedman is an ESPN four-star recruit and brings legit size at 6’3 to the Gophers.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
17-13 (7-11, 10th in standings)
Lost to Michigan in second round of Big Ten Tournament
Kate Cain (9.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.4 blk) — Returns as a senior
Sam Haiby (10.0 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 stl) — Returns as a junior
Ashley Scoggin — Transfer from Salt Lake City Community College
2020 first-team All-Region 18 last year with SLCCC
Bella Cravens — Transfer from Eastern Washington University
2020 honorable-mention All-Big Sky selection
Last year’s Nebraska team found success across its roster, with six different players scoring seven or more points per game. With three of those players gone, fifth-year head coach Amy Williams will need to find that scoring elsewhere on her roster this season.
Williams lost Leigha Brown, her leading scorer, after Brown transferred across the Midwest to Michigan. The 2019-20 Big Ten Sixth Woman of the Year averaged 14.4 points per game and led the team in minutes despite coming off the bench all season. Hannah Whitish and Nicea Eliely, who started every game last year, also won’t return after graduating.
This Nebraska team is young, with only one senior returning. Sam Haiby is the sole junior that played last year — juniors Mi’Cole Cayton, Bella Cravens and Ashley Scoggin are all transfers who haven’t played in the scarlet and cream yet.
The Huskers will lean on fourth-year center Kate Cain to smooth the transition on both ends of the floor. With 92 games played in her career at Nebraska, Cain is a reliable presence in the paint and was fifth in the country in blocks per game at 3.4, per Her Hoop Stats.
Haiby will provide some stability in the backcourt as the leading returning scorer. Haiby was eighth in the conference in assists per game last year, led the team in steals and is a solid rebounder for her size. Her and Cain’s development this year may determine what Nebraska’s ceiling is in such an uncertain season.
Williams and her staff are hoping their trio of transfers can replace the depth they lost in the offseason. Cayton averaged 5.6 points and 2.1 assists for Cal her freshman year before knee injuries limited her to four games the following two seasons. Multiple ACL tears caused Scoggin to miss significant time in high school and in JuCo, but she averaged 10.0 points and 37% shooting from deep when healthy in 26 games last year.
The lone frontcourt player of that group, Cravens, started nearly every game her sophomore season at Eastern Washington, averaging 10.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. If her game can translate to the Big Ten, the 6’3 Cravens presents an interesting option starting alongside Cain in a twin towers lineup, or as a direct replacement off the bench. Cravens received a waiver from the NCAA and is eligible to play this year.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
26-4 (16-2, 2nd in standings)
Lost to Michigan in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament
Lindsey Pulliam (18.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 ast) — Returns as a senior
Veronica Burton (11.6 ppg, 5.1 ast, 4.9 rpg) — Returns as a junior
Anna Morris — Freshman
ESPN No. 46 recruit, four time All-State in New Jersey
Northwestern, more than any team in the Big Ten, felt the sting of last year’s NCAA Tournament cancellation. At 26-4 with a top-heavy but dangerous veteran lineup, the Wildcats looked poised for their best postseason run in program history.
Since then they’ve lost sharpshooter Abi Scheid (No. 2 in 3-pointers made in Big Ten last year) and their paint protector Abbie Wolf (No. 5 in blocks per game in Big Ten) to graduation. For a team that didn’t shoot a ton from deep last year (No. 9 in the Big Ten in 3-point rate, per Her Hoop Stats) and also doesn’t return much experienced size, Scheid and Wolf’s departures hurt.
Byrdy Galernik is the only other rotation player Northwestern lost, however, because the Wildcats were so top heavy last year, there weren’t many rotation players to return to begin with. The rest of that core is full of juniors and seniors, all led by AP All-America Honorable Mention Lindsey Pulliam.
Pulliam played nearly 34 minutes per game last year and took nearly twice as many shots as anybody else on the roster. The 5’10 guard has been a workhorse for the Wildcats since she arrived on campus — she’s started in every game she’s played, led the team in points and attempts every season and will almost certainly finish top three in career points for Northwestern women’s basketball. Expect Pulliam to continue that trend this year.
Junior Veronica Burton brings the defensive punch to Northwestern’s backcourt. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year averaged 3.3 steals per game last year, ninth best in the nation, and will continue to terrorize opposing guards. Burton is no slouch on the other end of the court either — she led the team in assists and posted the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten.
The returner who may take a leap this year is junior wing Sydney Wood. Wood learned the ropes of the Big Ten her freshman year as a rotation player and then stepped into a starting role as a sophomore, averaging 5.1 points, 3.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game enroute to an All-Big Ten honorable mention. The production gap left by Scheid and Wolf is ripe for Wood to replace.
Senior Jordan Hamilton and junior Courtney Shaw are the other two rotation players back this year. Northwestern also brings on ESPN five-star forward Anna Morris. Morris, a New Jersey native, will be huge in determining Northwestern’s path in the Big Ten if she can contribute right away. The freshman is a stretch big that averaged 14 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in high school, and won two New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year awards in volleyball.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
18-14 (8-10, 9th in standings)
Lost to Maryland in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament
Tamara Farquhar (7.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) — Returns as a senior
Kayana Traylor (6.6 ppg, 3.2 apg) — Returns as a junior
Madison Layden — Freshman
ESPN No. 55 recruit, 2020 Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year
Ra’Shaya Kyle — Freshman
ESPN No. 36 recruit, McDonald’s All-American nominee
Last year’s Purdue squad made a strong case for letting an eighth Big Ten team into the NCAA Tournament, but the tournament was cancelled before the Boilermakers could hear the verdict. This season’s team will have to build their resume without three of its best players.
Ae’Rianna Harris and Dominique Oden, two of Purdue’s three leading scorers, graduated this offseason. Karissa McLaughlin, the third of that trio of scorers, is medically redshirting this season after undergoing ankle surgery. The three players leave behind 102 minutes of playtime per game for the Boilermakers to try and fill.
Luckily for longtime Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp, she’s returning most of the Boilermakers’ other contributors from last season. Lyndsey Whilby, who averaged 9.9 minutes per game last year, is the only other rotation player that won’t suit up in 2020 after opting out of the season.
Apart from turnover at the top, Versyp said her current team’s size and athleticism is going to make them completely different from last year’s squad, emphasizing tempo and defense.
Kayana Traylor figures to be the lead point guard out of the gates with McLaughlin out. Traylor has 47 starts to her name in two seasons with the Boilermakers and averaged by far the most assists of any healthy returner. With Purdue’s backcourt, it’s the Moore the merrier as junior transfer Brooke Moore received a waiver to play this season after averaging 8.6 points for Auburn last year. Redshirt senior Jenelle Grant can also contribute at the one, and the return of senior guard Tamara Farquhar from a season-ending injury will add more scoring and rebounding to the guard spot.
The vacuum in the backcourt opens up opportunities for freshman guard Madison Layden to make an impact early. Versyp called Layden one of the best passers as a freshman she’s ever coached, and emphasized her range from three. Layden was named the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year her senior year of high school after averaging 20.3 points, 6.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 steals in her four years at Northwestern High School.
Also joining the Boilermakers with Layden is fellow McDonald’s All-American nominee and five-star recruit Ra’Shaya Kyle. The 6-foot-6 Kyle led the state in scoring with 27.3 points per game her senior year of high school, per MaxPreps.
2019-2020 Record + Finish:
12-19 (3-15, 12th in standings)
Lost to Rutgers in second round of Big Ten Tournament
Imani Lewis (14.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) — Returns as a junior
Sydney Hilliard (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) — Returns as a sophomore
Estella Moschkau — Graduate transfer from Stanford
ESPN No. 41 recruit in 2017
Halle Douglass — Freshman
ESPN No. 93 recruit, two-time First-Team All-State in Illinois
The Badgers are coming off another down year without a postseason appearance. While Wisconsin was competitive and even close in many of their B1G losses last year, it’s little consolation for a program that hasn’t played .500 ball since 2010-2011.
Head coach Jonathan Tsipis is still trying to right the ship in his fifth season, a decade after Wisconsin fired Lisa Stone, the last Badger coach to make an NCAA Tournament appearance. This year’s young team provides Tsipis with plenty of room to maneuver, but plenty of questions to answer.
Wisconsin lost a lot of production this off season — Suzanne Gilreath, Abby Laszewski and Kendra Van Leeuwen graduated, while Niya Beverley and Courtney Frederickson transferred. Those five played in 49% of all available minutes last year and accounted for 60% of Wisconsin’s starts. A youth movement may be what the Badgers need to turn things around, but replacing that much talent is a big ask for an untested group of mostly underclassmen.
Expect Imani Lewis to set the tone for her team this year after leading the Badgers in points, rebounds, steals and minutes last season. Lewis fixed her biggest flaw on offense — she shot 71.7% from the line last year after shooting 59.3% her freshman year — and improved on the defensive end.
Look for Sydney Hilliard to pop this year after playing her way into the starting lineup last season. The sophomore gets to the rim at will and shot 49.3% from the field last year. Already one of the best rebounding guards in the country, Hilliard becoming a better passer or shooter this season would make her a dangerous No. 2 option alongside Lewis.
Wisconsin will hope for Stanford grad transfer and Wisconsin native Estella Moschkau to make an impact. Tsipis recruited the 6-foot-1 Moschkau out of high school before the five-star guard committed to the Cardinal, but Moschkau didn’t see much playtime at Tara VanDerveer’s powerhouse. She joins five freshmen and another transfer as one of new faces to Wisconsin.