Big Ten's arrow pointing up with Maryland, Rutgers

  • Maryland coach Brenda Frese said Friday that "the future is really bright for the Big Ten."

    Maryland coach Brenda Frese said Friday that "the future is really bright for the Big Ten." Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/17/2014 10:40 PM

It's been 10 years since a women's basketball team from the "old" Big Ten got to the Final Four.

That was Michigan State, which finished second to Baylor in 2005.

 

Since then, two teams that are new to the "new" Big Ten as of this year have been to the Final Four three times. Maryland won the national championship in 2006 and returned to the Final Four last season. And Rutgers was the national runner-up in 2007.

Both teams are perennial top 25 heavyweights.

The Big Ten puts teams in the top 25, too. But shockingly, the league's only national championship in 33 years of women's NCAA Final Fours is the 1999 title won by Purdue.

Will the addition of Maryland and Rutgers finally give the Big Ten the cache and recruiting power it needs to attract the players that will make Final Four appearances and national championships a regular occurrence?

"That's a good question. I hope so," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said Thursday at Big Ten media day in Rosemont. "Traditionally, those two teams are top 25 teams, so if you can beat them, that's a big deal, and in those big East Coast markets where there's a huge media presence, people are going to know about it.

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"What they bring on the court is big, too. The competition will be great for the league."

Interestingly, the head coaches from Maryland and Rutgers both have Big Ten roots.

In 2002, Maryland coach Brenda Frese was the head coach at Minnesota, where she took the Golden Gophers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in her first season. She was immediately scooped up by Maryland the following season.

Frese grew up in Iowa, where she dreamed of being a Hawkeye. In fact, she used to go to the youth basketball camps at Iowa, which were under the direction of C. Vivian Stringer, the head coach there at the time.

Ironically, Stringer is now the head coach at Rutgers.

"I just really respect her," Frese said of Stringer. "When you talk about her longevity, what she's been able to accomplish in her career, she's been able to do so much for the state of women's basketball."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Stringer built Iowa into a powerhouse in the 1980s and '90s and was part of a major breakthrough for the Big Ten in 1993. That year, both Iowa and Ohio State made it to the Final Four, the first Final Four for the Big Ten in women's basketball.

Shortly thereafter, Stringer left Iowa with a broken heart as her husband died that season of a heart attack. She went straight to Rutgers, where she resurrected that program.

"I loved Iowa so much and I cried when we left, but we needed a change," Stringer said. "To be back in the Big Ten is so wonderful. I've always thought the world of the Big Ten. This is the greatest conference in the country. Period. There are so many good teams in this league."

Although the Big Ten's top teams have fallen short on the national stage in recent years, Frese believes it's just a matter of time before that changes.

"The future is really bright for the Big Ten. We're knocking on the door and ready to push through," Frese said. "It's taken a little bit of time. But now, with all the great change, with the influx of new coaches and the depth of the conference and adding two top 25 teams, we're a sleeping giant when you talk about what it's going to look like in three or four more years."

Big Ten bits:

Newcomer Maryland was picked by Big Ten coaches to win the league championship this season, followed by Michigan State and Iowa.

Northwestern sophomore Nia Coffey was named preseason first-team all-Big Ten. The forward from Minneapolis averaged 15.3 points and 8.1 rebounds last year as a freshman. At the end of last season, she was named first-team all-Big Ten, the first freshman to earn that honor at Northwestern.

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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