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Friday, July 19, 2019

The Big Ten As I See It: Top and Bottom of the League Clear this Year

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Photo Caption: Despite their recent rout by Duke in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge, Ohio State, led by Jantel Lavender (above) are the clear choice to win the Big Ten Conference this season.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Ohio State Media Relations

By Sharon Crowson

The Big Ten has just begun conference play, but the season’s early games have already provided a strong glimpse into the likely outcome of the season. The very top and very bottom of the league seem clear.  Ohio State is clearly the best team in the Big 10.  Wisconsin seems just as clearly to be the league’s worst team.  The Buckeyes have lived up to all the preseason hype, and despite their recent debacle at Duke, deserve their ranking as Full Court’s No. Seven team in the nation.  Both Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis are improved over last season and are again leading the team.  Freshman Taylor Hill has stepped in for Shavelle Little, who was suspended for three games for an NCAA violation over the summer. Hill has contributed immediately. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be any team in the Big Ten capable of challenging Ohio State for the conference championship.

Meanwhile Wisconsin has fallen behind the rest of the league.  The 2008-09 Wisconsin Badgers finished tied for seventh in the conference standings. They return all their starters and the top three players off the bench.  Given that, it seemed almost a certainty that they would be picked to finish higher this season. 

However, the conference coaches “dissed” the Badgers and Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone in their preseason poll, picking the Badgers to drop to tenth-place this season.  It would seem that Wisconsin fans are not the only ones who lack confidence in Lisa Stone’s coaching ability.  Stone, who has taken to looking panicked during games, has shown nothing in six seasons that would give anyone confidence that she can coach at this level, and may well be looking for a new job soon.

If so, Illinois State’s Robin Pingeton is certainly worth a look. Whether at Wisconsin or elsewhere, Pingeton is primed to be one of the next mid-major coaches to make an impact when she gets the nod at a BCS school. In her six seasons at Illinois State, she has turned a program that had six consecutive losing seasons prior to her arrival into one of the best mid-major programs in the country.  She has guided the Redbirds to a 76-34 record, three consecutive 20-win seasons, and three back-to-back post season appearances. Despite graduating All American and three-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Kristie Cirone, the Redbirds are not missing a step this season. To date this year, they have defeated UCLA and South Dakota State and have given Iowa and Illinois all they could handle.

Pingeton has excellent basketball genes.  An All-American in both basketball and softball, Pingeton played for and later coached under Lisa Bluder at St. Ambrose, where she was the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,502 points. As a coach for her alma mater, she led her team to a 194-75 record over eight seasons, including five trips to the NAIA tournament, and won conference coach-of-the-year honors three times. She went from there to Iowa State, where she was Bill Fennelly’s associate head coach. A very successful mid-major coach with significant major school experience would make a very attractive hire for a struggling program in a BCS conference (Wisconsin???)  It doesn’t hurt that she is an engaging, articulate person who relates well to her players.  She will make some large school a good coach.

But while visions of Pingeton (or nearly any coach other than Stone) may be dancing in the heads of Badgers fans, the nine Big Ten teams other than Ohio State and Wisconsin will be locked in the trenches of the here-and-now, providing an interesting competition for spots two through ten.  Northwestern has been mentioned by many coaches as a potential surprise.  While Joe McKeown has a way to go with that program, their upset of 18th-ranked DePaul made it clear he is well on his way.

The Big Ten is a fairly young league this season and that is a good thing.  As a conference, they did not have a strong recruiting season.  No Top 25 player signed with a Big Ten school last season and only Penn State signed multiple Top 100 players, with two.  The Lady Lions and Northwestern seem to have done the best job of improving themselves while Michigan and Iowa, two extremely young teams, added the least talent.

The Big Ten schedule is weird this season.  On December 6, right in the middle of what is traditionally the non-conference portion of the schedule, there will be five conference games. This was done in order to squeeze all 18 league games in, but it doesn’t seem right.  It will benefit the veteran teams and hurt the younger teams that are still learning to play together.

The league has added another conference “challenge” to the menu.  Next season the Big Ten and Big 12 will square off.  Despite this year’s 72-66 upset of the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels by Michigan State, as a general rule, the Big Ten hasn’t exactly challenged the ACC in their match-up (witness the 83-67 dispatch of No. 7 Ohio State’s at the hands of No. 11 Duke).  So adding another “challenge” match-up against the nation’s best conference doesn’t bode well for Big Ten fans. Stay tuned.

Originally published Sat, December 05, 2009

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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.