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Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Big Ten As I See It: Missing in Action—Attrition Takes Its Toll in Many Programs

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Photo Caption: Missing in Action—Iowa’s Theairra Taylor (above left) and Michigan State’s Madison Williams (above right) are just two of the many players who will be MIA this season, leaving major holes in Big Ten programs. Taylor, one of the league’s top recruits as a freshman, suffered her third ACL tear in the last 20 months during a Hawkeyes’ practice session. Williams, a 6-7 McDonald’s All-American who had been the Spartans’ hope to replace Alyssa DeHaan in the paint, tore her ACL in her first appearance in a Michigan State exhibition game.

Photo Credit: Theairra Taylor Photo Courtesy Iowa Media Relations; Madison Williams Photo Courtesy Michigan State Media Relations

By Sharon Crowson

It’s the nature of college sports that players move on to the next stages of their lives at predictable intervals.  It is part of the coach’s job to plan on their departure and have replacements at hand.

But it is also the nature of college sports that unexpected departures occur.  The success or failure of a program can be significantly affected by how a coach responds to these unanticipated losses.

While, apart from predictable losses to graduation, the number of players and assistant coaches leaving Big Ten programs since the close of last season is not large, two teams in particular have suffered unanticipated departures that have left their head coaches scrambling.

Michigan lost what would have been its top returning player when point guard Dayeesha Hollins, a member of the 2010 All-Freshman team, chose to leave the Wolverines to be closer to home.  Hollins averaged 12 points and three assists a game last season and would have been Michigan’s top offensive threat and the player around whom the offense would have been built.  She also had the potential to be one of league’s top individual defenders.  The Wolverines were already short on talent and Coach Kevin Borseth will struggle to replace her.

Wisconsin lost three bench players—Jamie Russell, Catie O’Leary and Alana Trotter—none of whom had much of an impact last season.  But the Badgers also lost assistant coach Kathi Bennett.  Wisconsin was the surprise team in the Big Ten last season and their improvement can be traced almost totally to their much enhanced defense.  Wisconsin was, at best, average offensively and on the boards last season, but they were one of the conference’s top defensive squads. And the credit for that defensive improvement can be attributed almost entirely to Bennett.  Prior to Bennett’s arrival in 2008, Wisconsin had one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten.  Coach Lisa Stone is going to have to prove that she, or some member of her staff, learned how to coach defense from Bennett if the Badgers are going to repeat, much less build upon, the success of last year. 

While those teams were most hurt by off-season losses, a number of other squads will also have to replace early departures.  Iowa lost backup post Abby Machado, who improved greatly over the course of last season, but left the program, moving closer to her home to be near her seriously ill father.

Illinois backup point guard Fabiola Josil, who played regularly during her two seasons at Illinois, transferred to North Florida to be closer to her home.
Minnesota lost its top incoming freshman Janelle Cotton when she chose to leave the program shortly after arriving during the summer.  The Gophers badly need scoring threats and Cotton had the potential to contribute in this area immediately.

Penn State lost backup point guard Emily Phillips and post player Janessa Wolf.  While neither started in the past, both were regulars in the rotation and their departures will hurt the Lady Lions’ depth.

Indiana saw forwards Lisa Enterline and Jasmine Davis depart.  It wasn’t a major blow, however, as neither made a real contribution to her squad.

But, of course, early departures are not the only way teams unexpectedly lost players.  There are always injuries and already two teams have been hit with major damages.  Iowa continued its run of bad luck from last season when two players—sophomore guards Theairra Taylor and Trisha Nesbitt—went down with major injuries before their first exhibition game.  Taylor, who had potential to be one of the league’s top players, had her career placed in jeopardy when she suffered her third torn ACL in 20 months.  Nesbitt, the team’s backup point guard, partially ruptured the plantar fascia in her right foot. It is unknown at this time if she will be able to play this season, but it seems unlikely. (Coach Lisa Bluder characterized it as a “bonus” if Taylor sees action at all this year.)  The injuries again leave Bluder, who had to enlist two walk-ons mid-season last year, with a short bench again this year; she currently has only 10 players available.

Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchant was counting on 6-7 McDonald’s All-American Madison Williams to more than replace Alyssa DeHaan, who graduated last year. The 6-9 DeHaan was the leading shot-blocker in Michigan State history, but her basketball skills were somewhat limited and she did not have the physical strength to hold her position in the post.  Williams is stronger and more skillful than DeHaan.  Unfortunately for her (and for Spartans’ fans), she suffered a torn ACL the first time she touched the ball in Michigan State’s first exhibition game and will miss the season. Her loss means 6-4 redshirt freshman Kelsey Smith is the only center, and the only player over 6-1, left on the Spartans’ roster.

In other news around the Midwest, the lawsuit filed against Central Michigan Coach Sue Guevara by former player Brooke Heike was thrown out of court.  Heike had accused Guevara of sexual discrimination last spring for benching her because she wasn’t gay.  Part of the suit was dismissed last September on grounds that university officials are employees of the state and therefore immune from liability for such claims; the remainder of the case, for defamation and negligence, got the boot from a federal district judge in May of this year on similar grounds. In a motion seeking nearly $175,000 in sanctions against Heike and her attorney for filing the case, the University claimed:

“As discovery continued, it became more and more evident that [Heike]‘s remaining claims had no factual support whatsoever. In fact, it soon became apparent that (she) never had a reasonable basis to believe that evidence existed to support her claims and that she and her attorney included her most salacious claims regarding race and sexual preference discrimination merely to garner media attention and to publicly embarrass [Central Michigan University] and the individual defendants.”

Eastern Michigan has put its women’s basketball program on probation for two years and suspended head coach AnnMarie Gilbert for one month without pay after the school found Gilbert had committed a number of NCAA violations in both recruiting and practice.

IUPUI fired coach Shann Hart just before the start of the season after her team rebelled.  The University launched an internal investigation after the Indianapolis Star broke the story of her players’ accusations of abuse; current and former players claimed Hart forced verbally humiliated them, inquired into their private lives and sexual orientation (in this case, the claim was that she discriminated against players she believed to be gay), forced them to ignore injuries, and conducted punitive midnight “practices” after losses, as well committing numerous violations of NCAA regulations, most involving limitations on practice time, in her six seasons at the school.  As a “what took them so long to notice” indicator, 19 scholarship players and nine assistant coaches voluntarily left the program over the last four years.

The University did not make the results of its investigation public, and agreed to pay Hart roughly $280,000, the remaining value of her contract, to avoid litigation; they also shelled out $40,000 to associate head coach Chanel Spriggs in return for her resignation, in an effort to put the Hart era completely behind them.  The school named Austin Parkinson, an assistant on the men’s team, to replace Hart, although it is not totally clear if the appointment is permanent or not.

The major coaching move over the summer was the jump from Illinois State to Missouri by Robin Pingeton.  Pingeton had turned the Redbirds into one of the top midmajor programs in the Midwest; she quickly became one of the hottest young coaches around.  ISU hired long-time Kay Yow assistant Stephanie Glance to replace her.

Originally published Wed, November 10, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.