Maryland women picked to win Big Ten

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) Maryland has moved to the Big Ten Conference and the expectations remain high on the heels of a Final Four appearance.

Maryland was picked to win the conference in a vote by coaches and media, it was announced on Thursday. The Terrapins beat out runner-up Michigan, while Iowa finished third. Minnesota guard Rachel Banham was the preseason Player of the Year.

While Maryland returns only one senior, coach Brenda Frese says the current squad is the most athletic in her 12 seasons as Terrapins coach. She is encouraged by its potential at the defensive end in particular.

”We have talked about the target on our back, coming off a Final Four,” said Frese, whose team won 28 games in its Atlantic Coast Conference finale. ”And I do think our players understand the expectation and the standard when they come to Maryland and it’s something that we really welcome. We want to get everyone’s best shot. We want to play against the best possible competition that we can play against. We really try to embrace it.”

Maryland is joined by Big Ten newcomer Rutgers, whose coach C. Vivian Stringer calls it the best conference in the country.

”Top to bottom, I can’t think of one team that is weak in the Big Ten,” said Stringer, who guided her team to a 28-9 record in the American Athletic Conference last season. ”This is a power conference, and with the addition certainly of Maryland, I didn’t see any weakness before and I certainly don’t see any now. It’s much, much, much stronger.”

Last season, Banham averaged 22.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals. She is joined on the coaches’ preseason team by Iowa guard Samantha Logic, Michigan State guard Aerial Powers, Nebraska guard Rachel Theriot and Northwestern forward Nia Coffey. Six players were chosen because of a tie.

”(Banham’s) potential is even way greater than she saw in herself,” Minnesota coach Marlene Stollings said. ”She’s been very coachable. We’ve challenged her in some areas of her game, and she’s responded. You’re going to see Rachel play at an even higher level than you’ve seen previously due to her work ethic and desire.”