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MSU chosen to finish 2nd, DeHaan named to preseason all-Big Ten team

October 29, 2009

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody and Michigan head coach John Beilein talk about the league’s junior class and the conference’s depth at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center, 5440 North River Road, in Rosemont, Ill.

Rosemont, Ill. — If Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp only had one word to describe this year’s Big Ten lineup, it would be “tough.”

From top to bottom, the Big Ten looks to be strong this year, coming off a season in which it sent three teams to the Sweet 16.

“Every team has great players, it’s just how they put it all together, who’s playing well,” Versyp said.

Ohio State, picked first in the conference, returns four starters and has won five straight Big Ten titles. MSU, picked second, lost only Mia Johnson from last season’s team. Purdue, on the other hand, picked third by the media and fourth by the coaches, lost five players.

“Experience is huge,” Versyp said. “If you don’t lose any and everybody is coming back, you should be good and you should be where they are right now.”

The Buckeyes and Spartans are the two teams that jumped out to third-year Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth when asked about the conference.

“I think Michigan State is going to do extremely well,” said Borseth, whose team was predicted to finish last. “When I first got here and now, I’m seeing the same players. They’ve been here now for quite a few years.”

Experience also figures to play in favor of Minnesota, a team which returns five seniors.

Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said a faster pace in practice already is helping her four sophomores and three freshmen.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Borton said.

“This is probably the first time since I’ve been in coaching that I’ve had this many veterans and returners returning to a team with this many young kids, as well.”

But despite her team being picked at No. 2, MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said the Big Ten will show on a national scale that it is a very tough league.

“I can’t say that there’s one team that we’re not worried about,” Merchant said.

Premier players

Illinois center Jenna Smith has been one of the league’s top players during her three years with the Fighting Illini.

She has averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 34.4 minutes per game in her career.

Smith said her outside shot has come along during the offseason, a scary proposition and a defensive nightmare for her opponents. She is a 30.2 percent career shooter from 3-point range and isn’t afraid to take a jumper.

“I’ve always had an outside shot, but I’m more confident now,” Smith said. “In practice, I’ll step out to the three … now I’m not second guessing myself.”

Penn State’s Tyra Grant was second in the league in scoring last year, averaging 19.6 points per game.

Penn State head coach Coquese Washington said Grant has worked on her conditioning during the offseason to be able to get through a 40-minute game. She is going to heavily relied upon by the Nittany Lions.

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“(It’s just) understanding that she is the focal point and being patient to take good shots and not let the defense kind of ease her into taking shots that she probably doesn’t want to take,” Washington said.

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