Bentley-led Penn State favored
“She’s the engine of our team, she’s the heart and soul,” fifth-year coach Coquese Washington said Thursday at Big Ten media day. “Everyone feeds off her and she sets the tone.”
Bentley, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, has started 64 of 66 games over two seasons and averaged 14.4 points per game last year.
“She’s one of the premier guards in the country,” said Northwestern coach Joe Mc-Keown, who tried to recruit Bentley out of Ben Davis (Indianapolis) High School. “When you get to play right away and you get to play through mistakes you just keep getting better.”
Bentley said being the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten was no surprise, not after the Nittany Lions went 25-10 overall and finished second in the Big Ten to Michigan State. They lost by 2 points in the NCAA tournament to DePaul.
“We knew coming into this year that we’d probably have the target on our backs because of the success we had last year,” Bentley said.
Big Ten coaches picked Purdue to finish second, followed by Michigan State.
Boilermakers coach Sharon Versyp said a summer tour in Europe offered extra practices and a chance to work with injured players and incoming freshmen.
“It can be extremely beneficial because we had some key injuries and had all of our players,” she said. “And now they allow freshmen to participate and travel with you. It’s a big advantage if you plan it correctly.”
The Boilermakers return all five starters from a 21-12 team, including Big Ten all-conference guards Drey Mingo, Courtney Moses and Brittany Rayburn.
Suzy Merchant returns 10 letter winners from Michigan’s State Big Ten regular-season championship team, but the Spartans will look a bit different than in past years.
“We went from a team that was pretty guard-oriented to a team that has some power post opportunities,” she said.
Returning defensive player of the year Lykendra Johnson anchored a team that led the conference in scoring defense (55.2 points) and steals (10.2 per game). Redshirt freshman Madison Williams returns after missing the entire season after suffering a torn ACL in her right knee. Merchant has high expectations for point guard Kiana Johnson, a freshman from Chicago.
Michigan State’s Johnson and Penn State’s Bentley are among five players on the Big Ten preseason coaches’ team. Joining them were Illinois forward Karisma Penn, Iowa guard Jaime Printy and Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis.
Bentley and Prahalis were named pre-season co-players of the year by coaches.
Penn (17.5 points), Printy (16.8) and Prahalis (14.5) are among the league’s top returning scorers.
“Last year in some ways we kind of surprised people,” Penn State’s Washington said. “The challenge for us is to practice and consistently play at a high level ever day so we don’t have to worry about another team elevating their game against us.”
Other returning starters are senior guard Zhaque Gray, junior forward Mia Nickson and junior center Nikki Greene.
Also back is last season’s Big Ten freshman and Sixth Player of the Year Maggie Lucas. She averaged a team-high 15.8 points and is the league’s top returning three-point shooter after draining a school record 112.