It looks like coach Coquese Washington is building her Penn State program to last.
The backcourt of Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas carried the Nittany Lions to their first Big Ten championship since 2004, and conference coaches have picked them to do it again this year. The Lions are No. 8 in the preseason poll after going 26-7 and reaching the NCAA regional semifinals last season.
Washington wants to see how far the Lions can go when Big Ten coaches' preseason co-player of the year Bentley and fellow all-conference pick Lucas are complemented by a cast of improved veterans and heralded newcomers.
"This year we want to be a team that has more balance," the 2012 Big Ten coach of the year said. "I think with our post crew having more experience, I definitely think that that's going to be something that's important for our development if we're going to continue to get better."
Bentley averaged 14.1 points and 4.7 assists, and Lucas was the third-leading scorer in the Big Ten with 19.5 points a game.
Washington is looking for more consistent scoring from the 6-foot-4 Nikki Greene and 6-2 Mia Nickson, who combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds a game.
The frontcourt should be strengthened with the addition of 6-6 high school All-American Candice Agee of Victorville, Calif. Agee was a member of the USA Basketball national team that won the FIBA Americas U18 championship in Puerto Rico. The Lions also have a deeper backcourt with transfer Dara Taylor, who set Maryland's freshman assist record in 2010-11.
Taylor will take some of Bentley's minutes at the point, allowing Bentley and Lucas to split time at off-guard or give Washington the option of playing a three-guard lineup. Bentley has a knack for driving to the basket, and Lucas is a 41-percent 3-point shooter.
No matter who's doing the scoring, Washington plans on employing an up-tempo offense again. The Lions led the conference and were eighth nationally in scoring at 75.7 points a game.
The rest of the Big Ten:
NEBRASKA: All-Big Ten forward Jordan Hooper (18.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and guard Lindsey Moore (15.7 ppg) are among four returning starters for the team that made a surprising run to the Big Ten tournament championship game and finished 24-9.
Emily Cady and Hailie Sample were the first freshman teammates in program history to start every game. The Cornhuskers, who open the season ranked No. 18, return 91 percent of their scoring and 94 percent of their rebounding. The Huskers' strong inaugural season in the Big Ten earned coach Connie Yori a new five-year contract.
OHIO STATE: Point guard Tayler Hill, preseason co-player of the year by the coaches and the solo pick by the media, scored a Big Ten-leading 20.4 points a game and led the Buckeyes to a 25-7 record. Big Ten defensive player of the year Amber Stokes, conference shot-blocking leader Ashley Adams and Kalpana Beach join Hill as returning starters. The 19th-ranked Buckeyes' biggest challenge will be replacing Big Ten career assists leader and 2,000-point scorer Samantha Prahalis.
PURDUE: Courtney Moses averaged 10.8 points, shot a conference-leading 90.7 percent from the free-throw line and set an NCAA tournament record with nine 3-pointers against South Dakota State. She made 47 free throws in a row, the longest streak in the nation last season. The No. 21 Boilermakers, 25-9 last season, welcome back Drey Mingo, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Mingo overcame acute bacterial meningitis that resulted in partial hearing loss two years ago. Last year she missed the season after tearing her ACL in a preseason scrimmage.