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MSU men, women picked to finish high in conference

Lucas, DeHaan named to all-Big Ten preseason teams

October 29, 2009


Rosemont, Ill. — If preseason expectations are anything, it’s going to be a fun winter in East Lansing.

The MSU men’s basketball team was selected to repeat as conference champions while the women’s team was picked second in the league, the Big Ten announced Thursday at its annual Media Day at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare.

“I like it because it means that our program’s in the right spot,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said, but also saying the league is “three times better.”

“I honestly see nine or 10, eight, nine teams that realistically could win the league.”

Women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant said her team doesn’t look at the expectations as good or bad.

“They’re a team that has a vision to play well and perform on the court every night and I think that comes with having a veteran team,” she said. “When you have a group back that’s been there and done that, I don’t think these things get too high or too low.”

On the men’s side, junior guard Kalin Lucas was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year after being named the league’s Player of the Year last season. In 2008-09, Lucas averaged 14.7 points, 4.63 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game as the Spartans won the league by four games.

This season, everyone is expecting a much tighter race.

“Everybody wants to talk about the Big East or the ACC, but sometimes they forget about the Big Ten,” Lucas said. “The Big Ten has some great players and has some good teams.”

Also released Thursday was the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, which lists the Spartans at No. 2 — behind No. 1 Kansas and just ahead of No. 3 Texas and No. 4 North Carolina, both of whom the Spartans will play before Christmas — with three first-place votes.

On the women’s end of the Big Ten, Ohio State is once again expected to be the class of the league after capturing both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships last season.

But Ohio State head coach Jim Foster is used to his team having a target on its back.

“We’ve been a target, we know we’re a target and that’s how we operate,” Foster said. “I don’t think that changes. For the last ‘X’ number of years, we’ve walked on the floor in our conference as a target and now it just expands a little bit outside to nonconference games because the expectations are a little different that way.”

Senior center Allyssa DeHaan was selected as Preseason All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media. DeHaan averaged 10.8 points, 6.3 rebonds and 3.24 blocks per game last season as the Spartans fell just shy of a trip to the Elite Eight.

Ohio State center Jantel Lavender was named the women’s Big Ten Player of the Year. She was a unanimous selection by the league’s coaches after a season in which she averaged 20.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.

“She’s just a very gifted and skilled player who wants to improve,” Foster said. “And when you get people like that in your gym that are willing to do the little things that are necessary, they get better and better.”

The media and coaches agreed on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Joining Levender and DeHaan on the women’s All-Big Ten squad is Illinois forward Jenna Smith, Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis and Penn State forward Tyra Grant.

Joining Lucas on the men’s preseason All-Big Ten team are Michigan guard Manny Harris, Ohio State guard Evan Turner, Penn State guard Talor Battle and Purdue forward Robbie Hummel.

Purdue, picked second in the league behind MSU, has the chance to do what the Spartans did last season — play in the Final Four near its campus.

“I think this team understands the Final Four is a long ways away,” Hummel said of the national title game in Indianapolis. “We’re just trying to get through practice right now and get into the nonconference season. There’s still a long time to go before we can even start worrying about that, but obviously that’s a goal of ours in the long term.”

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