Small guards playing bigger role on Big Ten teams

Dependency on the guard position is trending up in the Big Ten.

Betsy Helfand

After graduating 6-foot-4 Jantel Lavender to the WNBA, expectations for Ohio State were considerably lower than they had been in years past.

The Buckeyes began the season in an unfamiliar place âÄîunranked.

Pundits thought Lavender, the reigning Big Ten WomenâÄôs Basketball Player of the Year four years running, would be missed sorely in the post. But 21 games into the season, Ohio State stood 20-1 and climbed to No. 9 in the national polls.

The team has used exceptional guard play this season to buoy its record, something thatâÄôs becoming more common among Big Ten teams.

Minnesota handed the Buckeyes just their second loss of the season Sunday at Williams Arena.

Now No. 11 and second in Big Ten standings, guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill have led the Buckeyes in scoring this year.

Prahalis and Hill have combined just more than 52 percent of their teamâÄôs scoring.

Purdue, the Big TenâÄôs top team, shows a similar pattern; almost 40 percent of its scoring on average comes from guards Brittany Rayburn and Courtney Moses.

Minnesota head coach Pam Borton noted that the âÄúgame is changingâÄù and the Gophers have been trying to keep up with that trend.

âÄúThe womenâÄôs game is changing where you have more players that are in versatile positions,âÄù Borton said. âÄúPost players are coming out on the perimeter, being able to shoot the ball, pass the ball, handle the ball and you also donâÄôt have your true post players on teams anymore.âÄù

The GophersâÄô two most important players are guards Rachel Banham and Kiara Buford.

Borton has played a three-guard lineup this season, in which Banham plays the traditional point guard role, Buford plays the traditional shooting guard role and Leah Cotton âÄî also a guard âÄî serves primarily as a defender.

With Banham averaging 15.7 points per game, Buford at 13.3 and Cotton at 7.1, the three guards account for more than 54 percent of the teamâÄôs scoring on average.

âÄúI think weâÄôre evolving into that [trend] a little bit and trying to put some more athleticism in our post positions,âÄù Borton said. âÄúBut I think the whole Big Ten is changing that way as well.âÄù

Despite a more prolific scoring attack from Big Ten guards, Borton said she doesnâÄôt believe her teamâÄôs perimeter defense is more important this season than in the past.

âÄúOur perimeter defense has always been a strength of ours since IâÄôve been here. WeâÄôve emphasized it, and weâÄôve always emphasized ball pressure,âÄù Borton said.

Purdue is tied for eighth and Ohio State is 10th in rebounding in the conference, yet the teams occupy the top two spots in the standings. Both teams are in the bottom five in the conference in missed shots, meaning they have fewer offensive rebound opportunities.

The Gophers, by contrast, are third in conference rebounding but are eighth in the standings.

Banham is their second-most prolific rebounder after forward Katie Loberg. However, BanhamâÄôs stats may be somewhat inflated by the number of minutes she spends on the floor.

Team rebounding, while still a crucial part of the game, seems to have no correlation to the current Big Ten standings âÄî at least not to the extent improved guard play has.