Big Ten women’s basketball coaches discuss unique challenges ahead of upcoming season

Even with COVID-19 and an expanded conference season, the Big Ten is still expected to be one of the most competitive leagues in the country.


Katie Goodale

Head Coach Lisa Bluder addresses the press during the women’s basketball media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday Oct. 31, 2018. Bluder discussed the expected success of the team, as well as senior Megan Gustafson and various new freshman.

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

The Big Ten finished last season as the No. 2 conference in the country for women’s basketball, according to the final NCAA rating percentage index.

Eight Big Ten teams were projected to make the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled because of COVID-19.

Though those teams were disappointed to lose their chance at competing on a national stage, the Big Ten is expected to have another great season in 2020-21. Five teams are ranked in the AP preseason poll – No. 12 Maryland, No. 16 Indiana, No. 17 Northwestern, No. 20 Ohio State, and No. 25 Michigan.

All 14 of the conference’s head coaches spoke to the media via Zoom Friday morning. All the coaches agreed that the excitement for the upcoming season is palpable, but the fear of adversity is still present during an ongoing pandemic. Coaches voiced their concerns about the expanded 20-game Big Ten schedule as opposed to the regular 18-game conference season.

As currently slated, Big Ten teams will be allowed to play up to five nonconference games before conference season starts.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have a particularly challenging season ahead of them. Head coach Lisa Bluder and company will have to replace three of last year’s Hawkeye starters – including Big Ten Player of the Year Kathleen Doyle.

“For us, the abbreviated non-conference I think hurts quite a bit because we’re such a young team,” Bluder said. “We need those experiences. We need to be on the floor before we face the amazing talent we’re going to face in the Big Ten. So, I think for veteran teams it doesn’t hurt them as much. For young teams such as ours, I think it’s a detriment. I think you need to get out there and play and be put in those situations and build confidence and learn from your mistakes before you get into the competition of the Big Ten Conference.”

Per Bluder’s logic, veterans like Michigan’s junior forward Naz Hillman are due for big 2020-21 campaigns. Hillman was named Preseason Big Ten Co-Player of the Year by the coaches. Hillman split the honor with Rutgers’ senior guard Arella Guirantes.

The Wolverines also have three other starters returning in 2020-21. Michigan’s 2019-20 season ended in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana.

This season, Big Ten teams will compete on the court and work together to limit the spread of COVID-19 off it.

“I think we’re all making tremendous sacrifices, and I think we all have to make tremendous sacrifices,” Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “But our players want to play, and our coaches want to play, and we’re doing to the best that we can, and I think we’re all hopeful and we’re going to stay encouraged and do the best that we can.”

Women’s basketball can have up to 32 people tested every day with an antigen test, Wisconsin head coach Jonathan Tispis said. If a team has a 7.5 percent rate of positivity, it initiates an immediate seven-day shutdown.

“I think you lay out a plan right now with that hope of a full regular season and postseason,” Tispis said. “Then you understand you have to operate day-by-day, and I think our players have done a good job and have a great appreciation of that.”

The Big Ten has not released its 2020-21 women’s basketball schedule yet, but the NCAA did announce Sept. 16 that both Division I men’s and women’s basketball can begin play Nov. 25.

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