Carolyn Kieger may be just 35, but she already boasts over a decade of coaching experience, including five years at her alma mater of Marquette. Coquese Washington certainly gained a reputation as an excellent recruiter and was successful early on in her Penn State career, but in the past few seasons, her game management left much to be desired and Washington ended her career with back-to-back seasons at or below .500 and a five-year gap between NCAA tournament appearances. Washington may have been at the top of Big Ten women’s basketball coaches at one time, but what about Kieger? Will she enter the Big Ten near the top, or is she expected to have to claw her way towards the top of the coaching tree in one of the nation’s best conferences? Let’s take a look at both her career at Marquette, and her fellow coaches in her new conference.
At Marquette, Kieger posted a 99-64 record, and took the Golden Eagles to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, including 27 victories in 2018-19. Kieger is most known for her uptempo style, something she alluded to during her introductory press conference. Kieger used that style at Marquette to average 82 points per game, including topping 90 points 12 times. For the sake of comparison, Penn State averages 67 points and did not score 90 points once the entire season (Yes, I realize that the Big Ten is much tougher than the Big East.). Kieger also claims to be bringing a physicality to the defensive end of the floor, something that the Lady Lions sorely need after being out-rebounded by four over the course of 2018-19. Physicality is something the Big Ten is known for, and Kieger’s Golden Eagles muscled past their foes to gather eight more second chances each game.
Clearly, Kieger was the class of the Big East, but how does she compare to her fellow Big Ten coaches? In the upper-tier belongs Iowa’s Lisa Bluder (367 wins and 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 18 years), Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant (fourth-highest winning percentage among active coaches), Maryland’s Brenda Frese (By virtue of her three Final Fours and 2006 national title), and Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer (For longevity’s sake if nothing else). Kieger should land in the next tier somewhere along with Minnesota’s second-year coach Lindsay Whalen and Michigan’s Kim Barnes Arico. Purdue’s Sharon Versyp has lost her spot at at the head of the middle with several disappointing seasons in a row.
Penn State may be rebuilding, but Kieger’s youth, energy, and excitement, coupled with an aggressive playing style should attract top recruits to Happy Valley and edge Penn State back to the top section of the Big Ten. For now, however, she belongs in the middle tier, just beyond the top four coaches.
Is Carolyn Kieger one of the Big Ten’s best women’s basketball coaches? Maybe not at this point, but check back with us in a few years and the Lady Lion leader might claim a pair of conference titles and would be worthy of inclusion in the conversation.