Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, March 4, 2014
The 2014 Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament is set to kick off on Thursday on BTN/BTN2Go. Penn State and Michigan State shared the Big Ten regular season crown, and therefore have grabbed the top two seeds in the tournament. Both those teams are loaded with superstar players, but who are some of the under-the-radar players who could play huge roles in leading their team to a Big Ten title?
Let's take a look several Big Ten players who have been playing their best basketball as of late, but don't necessarily receive the headlines that some of the conference's superstars do.
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Here are five breakout candidates for this year's tourney.
Tori Jankoska, G, Michigan State – When talking about Michigan State women's basketball, names like Aerial Powers and Annalise Pickrel generally get the headlines, and rightfully so. But one player to watch in this week's Big Ten Tournament is Jankoska. The sharp-shooting freshman guard is averaging more than 14 points per game over her past five outings, all five of which have resulted in victories for MSU.
Theairra Taylor, G, Iowa – As good as Samantha Logic has been for the Hawkeyes this season, one can make the argument that Taylor has been Iowa's best player over the last quarter of the season. Taylor has led the Hawkeyes in scoring in three of their last four games, averaging 17.5 points per game.
Liza Clemons, F, Purdue – Courtney Moses has clearly established herself as the main offensive weapon on this Purdue team, but Clemons is a difference maker, who could ultimately make or break this team's Big Ten Tournament chances. Clemons closed out the regular season with a bang, averaging 10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and shooting an eye-popping 18-of-29 (62 percent) from the field over Purdue's last four games.
Shannon Smith, G, Michigan – Shannon Smith found her offensive rhythm in the second half of the Big Ten season and she will look to carry that momentum into the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines' junior guard scored in double digits in each of Michigan's last five games. She averaged 16.2 points per game and is one of the leaders on what is a young, yet talented team.
Sari Noga, G, Minnesota – Minnesota is a team that is on the NCAA Tournament bubble and could use a few wins in this week's Big Tournament in order to solidify its resume. Rachel Banham and Amanda Zahui B. are the stars on this Gophers' team, but Noga is the x-factor. The Gophers senior guard is one of the top defenders in the conference and has also sparked the offense as of late. Noga has averaged 11 points and five rebounds over her past six games and the Gophers are hot at the right time, winning six of their last eight heading into the weekend.