Author: Jimmy D
© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
It’s that time of year to take a tour of the 2009-10 non-conference schedules for each Big Ten women’s basketball team.
The second installment includes previews of Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue.
NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (238)
With the added Big 10 conference games this year, everyone’s non-conference schedule is looking more like the Pac 10’s – limited in scope. For the bottom team in both W/L record and RPI, the Wildcats have some good teams on their schedule: DePaul (30), Kansas St. (28), Arkansas (76) and Clemson (109). They lost to Clemson in overtime last year, so the rematch in the Big 10/ACC Challenge should be interesting. You have added interest for the College of Charleston (110) and Toledo (150) games, since both teams also had significantly better RPIs than Northwestern last year. Finally, the Wildcats have four games against teams with worse RPIs from smaller conferences that should be easy wins, but with Northwestern, you never know. Let’s see if Head Coach Joe McKeown has established a more consistent base line of acceptable performance.
Coach McKeown loses older sister Ellen Jaeschke, who by the end of the Big 10 season saw limited minutes coming off the bench. The question is, will Brittany Orban, Amy Jaeschke, Kristen Cartwright, Jenni Eckhart, Maggie Mochi, Meshia Reed and Erin Dickerson improve enough from last year to this year to make a difference? Or will the Wildcat’s much anticipated rising fortunes have to rely on the development of Coach McKeown’s 2009 recruits (and the ones to follow) - Dannielle Diamant (36), a 6’-3” C from Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas, NV, Kendall Hackney (48), a 6’-2” F from Mt. Notre Dame HS in Cincinnati, OH, and Inesha Hale (290), a 5’9” PG, ranked at 87 by ESPN HoopGurlz, from Raytown HS, a suburb of Kansas City, MO. If things go well in Evanston this year, it will be because the Wildcats will have something that has been lacking for many years: depth. Marquee players are great, but it is depth that can sustain a program year in, year out.
Non-Conference W/L prediction: 7-3, with a win against Clemson; but losses to DePaul, Kansas St. and Arkansas. This year, they win the games that they should as things begin to turn around in Evanston. Let’s hope an improved non-conference schedule follows. Big 10 non-conference SOS – 10.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (54)
It looks like the Gophers have their work cut out for themselves this year: Iowa St. (14), TCU (46) and either Kansas St. (56) or Xavier (24) at the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, Utah (49) and Maryland (3) in the Big 10 / ACC Challenge. Take TCU, their first opponent at the Junkanoo Jam. The TCU Lady Frogs have led the Mountain West Conference in scoring offense for three consecutive seasons dating back to their second year in the league in 2006-07. And over 90 percent of their scoring totals from a year ago return—an average of over 63 points per game. Three Lady Frogs who averaged double figures in scoring are back: Helena Sverrisdottir (15.8 ppg), TK LaFleur (14.7 ppg) and Emily Carter (11.4 ppg). Granted, the Lady Frogs don’t see Minnesota’s brand of physical defense night in, night out in the Mountain West, so it should be an interesting match-up. Ditto for the Utah game. And make no mistake, the pressure is on the Gophers, as Minnesota will again be hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament this year. The last time the NCAA tourney visited Williams Arena, Purdue was there, but Coach Borton and the Gophers were far, far away, playing in the WNIT.
The Gophers are not tall, they are not "athletic", they do not possess blazing speed and they don’t shoot the ball particularly well. But they have a tenacity, a drive that can consistently put games in the win column. For 2009-10, they return almost their entire roster, losing Emily Fox, the last remaining survivor of the roster meltdown a few seasons ago. Perhaps it was this legacy, this link to Lindsay Whalen that weighed on her shoulders, as she seemed to struggle throughout her senior season. Among the five starters, she finished second to last in field goal percentage, in 3-pt. percentage and in free throw percentage. But she still led the Gophers in scoring. Without question, her point guard leadership will be hard to replace. But, the other four starting slots are spoken for, thank you very much, with last year’s 32 game starters Ashley Ellis-Milan, Katie Ohm, Brittany McCoy and Jackie Voight all returning. New faces include 5’-3” junior college transfer, China Antoine. Will this JC point guard from Shelton State College be able to run this team or will someone from the bench step up to the challenge? Also arriving are Amber Dvorak (102), a 6’-7” C from Hickley-Finlayson HS in Minnesota, 6’4” versatile F Katie Loberg (100) from Princeton HS and a high scoring 5’-8” G, Leah Cotton, from Olathe Christian HS in suburban Kansas City, Kansas.
Non-Conference W/L prediction: 8-3. The Gophers struggle with their Mountain West opponents, with an early season loss to Utah and a first round loss to TCU in the Junkanoo Jam. They come back with “upset” wins against Kansas and Maryland, but lose a tough one to Iowa St. Big 10 non-conference SOS – 2.
PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (25)
Grumblings among some Purdue faithful can be heard about their uncharacteristically non-descript non-conference schedule. And while it is correct that their only marquee games involve perennial in-state rival Notre Dame (15) and Big 10/ACC Challenge opponent Virginia (19), like Michigan State, the mid-level has some potentially interesting match-ups for a team that has to replace its entire frontcourt and then some: Georgetown (75), Dayton (78), Oakland (66) and road games on the West Coast against UC-Riverside (105) and Pepperdine (165). Perhaps Coach Versyp anticipates a more difficult Big 10 schedule, and is trying to position her team for wins where she can get them.
The Boilermakers probably have more to replace in 2009-10 than any other team in the Big 10. Losing 5th year seniors Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Kiki Freeman and Natasha Bogdanova as well as C Danielle Campbell and G Lauren Miotone would normally be more than enough. But add to that a season ending injury to sophomore wing Chantel Poston, early summer surgery for Brittany Rayburn and stress fractures to sophomore forward Alex Guyton (slated to return in mid-December if everything goes well) and freshman forward Ashley Wilson (may be ready when actual games commence) and one begins to see the challenge the coaching staff has to have their players in top condition and ready to play come November. On the positive side of the ledger, word is that 5th year senior Jodi Howell may start the season in the best shape of her entire time at Purdue. But will that translate into more minutes? Whether it’s sophomore C Chelsea Jones, redshirt sophomore Sam Woods or Freshmen Ashley Wilson (71), Sam Ostarello (57) or heir apparent point guard K.K. Houser (146), Coach Versyp is probably anticipating a few teaching opportunities this year, especially in the defensive and rebounding arenas. And by the end of the non-conference portion of their schedule, Coach V. may have a better idea whether she has another season-long senior leadership project as the Boilermakers work their way toward tournament time.
Non-Conference W/L prediction: 7-3, with losses to Notre Dame and Virginia, and an "upset" loss, Valpariso-style, possibly on the road. Big 10 non-conference SOS – 5.
Next up: Michigan, Illinois and Iowa.