No shortage of questions in a wide-open race for Big Ten

Emily Fox was chosen as a pre-season All-Big Ten selection this season.

Nick Heronimus

As the women’s basketball season prepares to open, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the Big Ten.

Can Ohio State repeat itself, grabbing a fourth straight conference title? Will Wisconsin senior Jolene Anderson live up to the high expectations set for her, and can she keep Wisconsin in contention?

What can be expected out of the young talent-pool of guards that graced the Big Ten with their play last year? And finally, with four new coaches in the conference, will the face of Big Ten play change at all in the upcoming season?

Guards galore

Minnesota’s one-two punch of Emily Fox and Brittany McCoy in the backcourt is just a taste of what the Big Ten conference brings to the table in terms of guards.

For a conference known for being slow and dominated by the post game, the Big Ten has a large amount of talent milling around the perimeter.

From Wisconsin’s Anderson to the Buckeyes’ Marscilla Packer to Illinois junior Lori Bjork, guard play can be expected to dominate the game this season.

Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said guard play would determine who wins the conference, which is good news for Minnesota, as the Gophers should be able to compete with any other backcourt combination in the conference.

“I think we have one of the best backcourts in the conference,” McCoy said. “Emily and I can play either guard position, and that just makes our transition game that much quicker.”

Title hopes

Of the 11 conference teams, three clear favorites shined through in the preseason conference poll.

Ohio State was picked to repeat as Big Ten champions and with the leadership of senior guard Packer and junior forward Star Allen, the Buckeyes could make that goal a reality.

“We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, but we can’t really think of that right now,” Packer said. “There’s a lot of competition. But one thing we have is a good balance. We’ve got a lot of guards and posts who can score for us; we might surprise teams with our versatility.”

Chasing Ohio State will be Wisconsin, headed by senior guard and preseason pick for player of the year, Jolene Anderson. As last season’s Big Ten scoring champion, Anderson will need to once again carry a big load on her shoulders to keep her team in contention.

“She gets better every day,” coach Stone said. “Last year we had a great run led by Jolene. We’re going to continue to jump on her back and she’ll take our team and go to great places. We certainly want to make a run at the championship, and who would be better to lead us than Jolene.”

Michigan State, also expected to compete for a title, will have to do so with a new coaching staff and a handful of young players.

Bringing in seven underclassmen on a team of 11, coach Suzy Merchant will be spending a lot of time trying to refine her talent.

“We just want to build on what teams have done in the past,” she said. “The kids have been fantastic, we’re very young, and we’re going to need some of our freshmen to come in and do things for us, but I think that’s a good thing.”

New faces

There is plenty of new blood in the Big Ten this year with four new coaches entering the Big Ten in Illinois’ Jolette Law, Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant, Penn State’s Coquese Washington and Michigan’s Kevin Borseth.

Merchant, Washington and Law all come into programs already in position to compete. Borseth meanwhile is in a position to start rebuilding.

While Merchant put a priority on changing her team’s defense to try to avoid losing so many close games, Michigan’s Borseth was more concerned with technique.

“We’ve had to change 13 players’ shots since we’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve been working a lot with skills, and I don’t think that happens a lot at this level.”