Once again, the parity in the Big Ten is very strong. There are four teams ranked in the AP Top 25, and any one seems capable of winning the title. Even near the bottom, the teams that will probably struggle could have a chance to pull off a couple of shocking upsets. Northwestern is projected to finish in the second half of the conference, but the Wildcats have the talent to make a run up the standings this season.
1. Nebraska (AP #17)
2012-13 record: 25-9 (12-4 Big Ten)
Key losses: PG Lindsey Moore
Key newcomers: PG Hannah Tvrdy, PF Allie Havers
Even though they’ll be playing in a new arena, Nebraska will feature familiar faces, returning four starters. Although the Cornhuskers are ranked No. 17 in the AP preseason poll behind Penn State, they are the preseason favorite to win the conference. Senior forward Jordan Hooper will fill the leadership void left by All-American point guard Lindsey Moore, who was taken by the Minnesota Lynx in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
With eight letter winners returning from their Sweet 16 campaign, the Huskers could go even further in the tournament than last season.
2. Purdue (AP #18)
2012-13 record: 25-9 (10-6)
Key losses: SF Drey Mingo, PF Sam Ostarello
Key newcomers: PF Whitney Bays, PG Ashley Morrissette
Despite winning a second straight B1G Tournament championship and finishing tied for third in the regular season, Purdue’s postseason aspirations were cut short by a talented Louisville team that made it to the championship game. The Boilermakers are ranked 18th in the preseason AP poll and are returning three starters.
Keep an eye out for senior guard Courtney Moses, who was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, and redshirt senior guard KK Houser to lead an experienced Purdue team to another tournament berth.
3. Penn State (AP #13)
2012-13 record: 26-6 (14-2)
Key losses: PG Alex Bentley, C Nikki Greene, PF Mia Nickson
Key newcomers: PF Alex Harris, SF Peyton Whitted, PG Lindsey Spann, PF Kaliyah Mitchell
The Lady Lions enter the season as the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the AP poll, but after graduating five seniors, including three-time All-Big Ten point guard Alex Bentley, the young team may lack experience to three-peat as Big Ten regular season champions.
However, count on Penn State making the tournament again with 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas leading the team in her senior season.
4. Michigan State (AP #20)
2012-13: 25-9 (10-6)
Key losses: PG Jasmine Thomas, PF Courtney Schiffauer
Key newcomers: SG Camille Glymph, PG Tori Jankoska
The Spartans come into the season ranked 20th in the nation. The squad has experience as it returns three starters and five of its top six scorers from last season. Because of this, the offense has a lot of potential. Senior guard Klarissa Bell will try to build on a season which garnered her a third-team All-Big Ten selection.
Michigan State could be a dark horse candidate to win the conference as long as the Spartans can stay healthy.
2012-13 record: 21-13 (8-8)
Key losses: C Morgan Johnson, SG Jaime Printy
Key newcomers: PG Allyson Disterhoft, SG Alexa Kastanek
Iowa looks poised to make the tournament for the seventh straight season and add to a current Big Ten best. The Hawkeyes return nine letterwinners, but lose three seniors, including four year starter Morgan Johnson. Guard Samantha Logic should be able to step up and lead the team in her junior campaign.
Despite being on the young side, Iowa has enough experience, but only time will tell if the Hawkeyes will really be able to compete for a conference title.
2012-13 record: 22-11 (9-7)
Key losses: SF Kate Thompson, C Rachel Scheffer, PG Jenny Ryan
Key newcomers: PG Siera Thompson, SG Danielle Williams
Wolverines head coach Kim Barnes Arico had a great first season, with Michigan posting a winning record in the conference and making it to the NCAA tournament for a second straight season. Five seniors graduated, including most of the team’s top scorers, leaving behind a young and inexperienced squad.
However, senior center/forwards Kendra Seto and Val Driscoll – both coming off knee injuries – and junior guard Shannon Smith, who transferred from Trinity Valley Community College, will provide the leadership and experience needed to keep Michigan competitive.
2012-13 record: 19-14 (9-7)
Key losses: PF Karisma Penn
Key newcomers: PG Kennedy Cattenhead, SG Mikaala Shackelford
The Illini are another Big Ten team that greatly improved last season, improving to 9-7 in the Big Ten under new coach Matt Bollant from 5-11 the previous season. The team graduated first-team All-Big Ten forward Karisma Penn, so it will be up to lone senior Amber Moore to keep the team from slumping.
Experience helped this team last season, so this inexperienced Illini team may not be able to match last year’s squad.
8. Ohio State
2012-13 record: 18-13 (7-9)
Key losses: PG Tayler Hill, SG Amber Stokes
Key newcomers: none
The Buckeyes made some coaching changes after an average season, hiring Kevin McGuff from the University of Washington. The Buckeyes will also be without first-team All-Big Ten guard Tayler Hill, but look for senior center Ashley Adams to make plays on defense.
The team has experience and can return to tournament-worthy form if smaller role players can make big plays.
2012-13 record: 13-17 (5-11)
Key losses: SF Kendall Hackney, C Dannielle Diamant
Key newcomers: PF Nia Coffey, SG Christen Inman
Similar to the season before, the ‘Cats jumped out to a 6-0 start last season but could not keep the momentum going, especially in conference play. Even though they failed to post a winning record and make the tournament, last season’s seniors were the ‘Cats winningest team in program history.
The void left by forward Kendall Hackney will be felt, but 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Maggie Lyon and junior point guard Karly Roser may be able to lead the young team to improve.
2012-13 record: 18-14 (7-9)
Key losses:SF Kionna Kellogg
Key newcomers: PG Joanna Hedstrom, SG Stabresa McDaniel
The Golden Gophers will be leaning on preseason All-Big Ten guard Rachel Banham, who was second in the Big Ten in scoring, to lead the team in her junior season. Senior guard Sari Noga and senior forward Micaëlla Riché will also have to help lead a Minnesota team comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores.
Inexperience will likely hurt the Gophers, whose chances at any postseason tournament seem hit-or-miss at this point.
2012-13 record: 12-19 (3-13)
Key losses: SG Morgan Paige
Key newcomers: C Malayna Johnson
Wisconsin is still rebuilding, and with a difficult non-conference schedule, it is difficult to see them changing drastically. However, with redshirt senior guard Taylor Wurtz back after missing last season due to a lingering back issue, the Badgers have a chance to make some strides.
Having an older and more experienced team means they likely won’t end up last in the conference.
12. Indiana 11-19 (2-14)
Key losses: SF Aulani Sinclair, PG Jasmine McGhee
Key newcomers: SF Lyndsay Leikem, PG Taylor Agler, SG Alexis Gassion, PG Larryn Brooks
Although Indiana did improve its record in the 2012-2013 campaign, winning five more games than the previous season, it was still a rough season for first-year head coach Curt Miller. The Hoosiers brought in nine new players to their squad, with only six players returning from last year.
Indiana is moving in the right direction, but it will take time for the team to build chemistry and make significant improvements.