Big Ten women’s basketball’s strength transitions to backcourt

Rosemont, Ill. — Jantel Lavender may be gone from the Big Ten, but she certainly hasn’t been forgotten.

“Thank God she didn’t have a fifth year of eligibility,” Penn State head coach Coquese Washington said.

“Are you sure she isn’t coming back?” Indiana head coach Felisha Legette-Jack deadpanned.

Lavender, the former Ohio State center and four-time Big Ten Player of the Year, finished first in the Big Ten last season in points-per-game (22.8), rebounds-per-game (10.8) and field goal percentage (.548).

Lavender was a common topic of conversation at the Big Ten women’s basketball media day in Chicago on Tuesday. Her departure to the WNBA underscores the transition of Big Ten positional strengths from the frontcourt to the backcourt, particularly with guards like Penn State’s Alex Bentley and Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis, who tied in the coaches’ poll for Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.

“I think the game has really opened up a little bit,” Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth said. “And because it’s opened up, it’s given a lot more ability for those players with a lot of skills on the perimeter to put the ball on the floor a little more, the luxury of being able to take it to the basket a little bit.”

Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said his team will have a much different style of play on offense without Lavender, equating it to European basketball.

“Your bigs are away from the basket, a lot of movement, ball screens obviously but a lot of cutting and guards having opportunities because of that to get to the basket,” he said. “In the traditional game in this country there’s somebody living at the block.”

While Lavender’s presence in the lane will be missed, Foster said 6-foot-5 sophomore center Ashley Adams will be a great fit for the Buckeyes’ offense.

“She’s very comfortable facing the basket,” he said. “She’s a terrific passer. … She’s not as dynamically athletic as Jantel, but she’s a very efficient basketball player.”

While the guard position is a strength of the conference, several post players expressed confidence in the new crop of Big Ten frontcourt talent.

“We have some really good guards, but don’t underestimate the post players that you don’t know about yet,” Wisconsin forward Anya Covington said.

Borseth said he still believes some dominant post players will surface throughout the season.

“I know with the big kid from Ohio State being gone, that we’ve maybe got one of those post players this year that’s got that capability,” Borseth said. “I’m certain at the end of the year you’re going to find some kids out in this conference that are pretty good around that basket.”

One post player who could solidify herself as an elite player in the conference is Illinois’ Karisma Penn, who was selected as a member of the coaches’ and media’s Preseason All-Big Ten team.

Penn is coming off a breakout season in which she led all returning Big Ten players in scoring and rebounding, with 17.5 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.

“I’m challenging her that that’s not enough,” Law said. “In order for us to win, you must be in the top one of two in the conference. You must also be a great leader, both on and off the court.”

Law added that she’s pushing Penn to be among the NCAA’s best players.

“I’m raising the bar with her, and she’s accepted the challenge thus far,” Law said.

With 34 years of NCAA coaching experience under his belt, Foster said he’s looking forward to a shift in the playing style of the Big Ten Conference.

“Change is good,” he said. “Having a different style of play, I’m not going to say it’s not fun.”