Big Ten presents rugged road for newcomers Fralick at Michigan State, Plitzuweit at Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Big Ten is again expected to be one of the toughest conferences in the country this season, after a league-record-tying seven teams made the NCAA Tournament last year with three reaching the regional finals and Iowa finishing as the national runner-up.
There doesn’t appear to be any dropoff this season. That will make for a difficult transition for new head coaches Robyn Fralick of Michigan State and Dawn Plitzuweit of Minnesota.
“It’s really, really challenging,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “The conference has never been better.”
The Big Ten boasts several veteran coaches willing to share their advice about how to acclimate, but most of the insight includes a dose of cold, hard reality.
“Every single night, it’s just an absolute battle,” said Illinois head coach Shauna Green, who went 22-10 in her 2022-23 debut season in the Big Ten and guided the Illini to their first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. “Every program has different schemes and different types of things that you have to prepare for. So you think you know, but again, you don’t really know until you go through it a year.”
Fralick, who grew up just a few miles from Michigan State’s campus and starred at Okemos High School, spent the last five seasons as the head coach at Bowling Green State.
Plitzuweit, who was previously a head coach at West Virginia, South Dakota, and Northern Kentucky, has been an assistant at Michigan and Wisconsin.
“You’ve got to stick to your standards. You’ve got to stick to your format and use your belief system. This is a conference that can shake your confidence, and you wonder if you have to change things,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren, who’s entering her 10th season. “But these new coaches that have joined us are here because they’ve had success. They have to believe in what they’ve done in those other places.”
One of the biggest stories in the Big Ten this fall was the volleyball game at Nebraska that drew 93,000 fans to the football stadium in an atmosphere previously unseen in women’s sports. It’s had an impact on the basketball world, too.
“I just got teary-eyed and chills myself being in that environment,” said Nebraska head coach Amy Williams, who got to watch one of her own players – Maggie Mendleson – take part as a member of the volleyball team. “To watch her out there on that court in the middle of Memorial Stadium was really special.”
Now Iowa is trying to create a similar scene on Sunday at Kinnick Stadium, where the Hawkeyes will host DePaul in an exhibition women’s basketball game.
“We’re very excited. I obviously watched the match at Lincoln. It was amazing,” head coach Lisa Bluder said, “probably one of the best women’s sporting events we’ve ever had, and elevated all women’s sports. That was thrilling.”
The Hawkeyes have sold 48,000 tickets for the “Crossover at Kinnick.”
“I’ve never heard the word dew point so many times in my life,” reigning National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark said. “We’re just worried about the moisture, but it sounds like it’s going to be a good day. I need the sun to come out a little bit, but I was on the field for the football game this last week and it’s supposed to be around the same temperature so it felt perfect. The area where the court’s going to be situated in, the wind’s kind of blocked a little bit so it should turn out perfect.”
Two players return to the Big Ten after participating in summer tournaments with USA Basketball. Minnesota’s Mara Braun helped the U.S. team win gold at the FIBA nations league 3-on-3 tourney in Mongolia. Michigan’s Laila Phelia took silver with Team USA at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in Mexico.
Phelia, who was Michigan’s second-leading scorer last season, said the experience gave her a chance to work on different parts of her game.
“With USA my role was defense, and just being able to go in there and take pride in my defense was an eye-opening experience,” Phelia said.
Wolverines head coach Kim Barnes Arico has noticed another change in the junior guard.
“I think it also helped give her tremendous perspective coming back on the different roles of the different people on our team, and how valuable each person’s role is, even if their numbers don’t always show up in the box score,” Barnes Arico said.
Plitzuweit beamed about how Braun’s 3-on-3 experience will translate to the full-court game.
“At that pace, you don’t have a chance to stop competing. You have to continue through every part of that short shock clock to the next possession to the next possession,” Plitzuewit said.
Iowa was voted by both the coaches and the media preseason polls as the favorite to win the conference, with Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland filling out the top four from both panels.
Clark was predictably picked as Preseason Player of the Year. Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, Maryland’s Shyanne Sellers, Michigan’s Phelia and Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon joined Clark as unanimous selections for the Preseason All-Big Ten team. Others selected: Illinois’ Makira Cook, Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski and Jaz Shelley, Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon, Penn State’s Makenna Marisa and Minnesota’s Mara Braun.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll