I'm not going to spend a lot of time on recapping Monday's game. In short, KK played a clunker (4-17, 9 TOs), no one other than Sam played really well, and Purdue went out quietly against a team they couldn't out-quick, just like last year. We gave the ball away almost as often as we put it in the basket, and Louisville coasted. Now that we've covered that, I don't need to spend time reflecting on KK-on-5 drives and the Dee Dee Williams 4-on-5 offensive experience.
What I do want to spend time (a lot of time....I'm on the bus back from Louisville) on is reflecting on the program, the season, and where Purdue women's basketball is headed right now. First things first... *deep breath* I do not think Coach Versyp should be fired. Taking that stance would be asinine and violently reactionary. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this piece.
Where to start.....it's hard to quantify where I stand on Versyp. Up till the second half of this season, I regarded her as your typical meh-good coach, neither revered nor hated*. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but I generally saw her logic and respected her opinion, and usually deferred to their position and familiarity with the team. As our late-season slide dragged on, I started to drift away from that feeling. There were times that I felt that she was clearly making wrong moves and in some cases limiting her team and costing them games. Of course, we also won 24 games this year. If I had to put a name on it, I'd say I'm in the "concerned" camp, if there is one.
*I should clarify that this is exclusively in regards to her coaching. Coach is a wonderful person and I should really take this space to thank her for all that she does for us in the band. There's a reason our jerseys have her old number on them.
In 2006, Coach Versyp took over a program that was 7 seasons removed from an NCAA title. Since that time, Kristy Curry's teams were consistently around the top 15 area, peaking in 2001 with an NCAA runner-up finish. Versyp won 31 games in her first year, and went to the Elite Eight for the first of two times in 3 years. Unfortunately, the non-Elite Eight year was a borderline disaster, as the team finished 18-14, finished in a tie for 3rd in a down B1G, but won the BTT to get back to the NCAAs. They bowed out in the second round. In 2010, coming off an Elite Eight appearance, we cratered. 15-17 and a early-round exit from the WNIT meant we were basically back at square one.
Following that rough year, we've had 3 straight seasons of at least 21 wins, but followed those with 3 straight exits in the second round. 2011 was excusable, as we ran into UCONN at it's peak, and gave them more of a fight than most. To that point, I think most people would be happy with Versyp as a coach. The 2 crater years were concerning, but we were winning 20+ games reliably. The next two years, though, have been somewhat stagnant, at least in terms of program development. Twice getting blown out by not-superior teams in the second round is not good enough for a program that has been to 6 Elite Eights (or better) since 1998.
The problem, in a nutshell: that game against UCONN was the last time we have turned in even a decent performance against a 5-seed or better opponent. The B1G is, unfortunately, not a good WBB conference. Beating small conference teams and mid-major B1G opponents is a good foundation, but consistently crashing and burning against quality oppositions isn't the way to build on that foundation.
Coach Versyp shares at least a chunk of the blame for this. To my admittedly untrained eye, our offensive system is dependent 2 things: our guards being noticeably quicker than the opposition's, and our usually-sound defense papering over our half-court issues by creating breakaways. Therein lies a large portion of the cause of our struggles against quality opposition. Good teams do not turn the ball over and give us easy points, nor do they have inferior talent at guard that we can blow by easily.
We also struggle mightily against zone, something that in this case is almost entirely attributable to coaching. We have the shooters and slashers and interior passers to beat a zone if we execute a good offense....which we don't. There is little off-the-ball motion, regardless of defensive style, (hence the over-reliance on quickness) and this is only exaggerated against zone.
Personnel decisions are sometimes an issue as well. I've spent the last 3 years practically crying in the stands for Sam Ostarello to play more after led the team in rebounding as a freshman (2009). She did not crack 30 minutes per game until this year, and suddenly she's a double-double machine. She's improved, yes, but not that much. She has always been capable of this, and yet she was nailed to the bench for far too long.
By the same token, the Dee Dee Williams 4-on-5 thing speaks for itself. Dee Dee is a valuable defender, but her offensive game is just glaringly deficient, and it was exploited by Louisville far too often to justify extended minutes.
Coach Versyp also has a painful tendency to be a basket slow on her run-breaking timeouts. I've lost count of the times the team has looked rudderless in giving up 2-3 straight baskets, but was allowed to give up 1-2 more before finally taking a timeout to regroup. Being conservative with timeouts is one thing, and occasionally being a beat late is one thing, but it happens in almost every loss.
And lastly....the elephant in the room. Turnovers. Disgusting amounts of turnovers. Consistently. The team has not averaged less than 16.9 turnovers a game while I have been at Purdue. For a team coached by a former point guard, a remarkable amount of those have come from the PG spot. Turnovers are the one stat that renders all the others moot, and too often we shoot ourselves in the foot, wasting solid efforts in the other facets of the game. I don't expect us to match Bo-ball's stinginess, but could we at least sniff 12 or 13 per game?
Where does that leave us, or at least those of you who are still following my extensive ruminations?
Versyp is sitting on a 159-75 record, 0 Big Ten Titles, and 4 Tournament Titles. She's been to the Elite Eight twice in 6 NCAA appearances spread over 7 years, but hasn't been past the second round since 2009. She's suffered far-too-frequent beatdowns against quality opposition, but has also racked up 5 20-win seasons and a 30-win season as well.
It just seems like we're back at square one. Most Elite Eight coaches get a lot of leeway....but when each of the two years after those appearances fail to exceed 18 wins...how do you weight that in your evaluation? Add in the Bruce Weber Memorial Grain of Salt Rule (he won with Self's players), and it's hard to count those Elite Eights for very much in an in-the-now evaluation.
What it seems to devolve to is this: Versyp has had 3 teams that are undeniably hers, ground-up, after she rebuilt following the 15-17 year. Is ~23 wins a year and a fringe top 25 rating good enough for a program that is just 14 years removed from a title and 12 years removed from the title game? I don't believe it is. Titles should be the goal, and progress towards a title contention should be the bar by which we judge our program. The last time we were a serious threat (term used loosely) was 2007, and the trendlines just aren't pointing that way anymore.
Now, it's of course absurd to advocate firing Coach Versyp right now. The program is by no means in a bad state, and 24-win seasons don't just fall out of the sky. But I fear we've plateaued, and at a place where it's very very hard to break out of, whether with the current staff or mustering up the guts to gamble on a new one when "good enough" has been achieved. But....next year needs to be progress. The second round doesn't cut it. If we fail, for the third consecutive year, to play well against and beat legitimately good opponents, it will be hard to argue that her seat shouldn't be a little warm in 2014-15.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This post is not solely in reaction to the Louisville game; please do not take it as such. It's a culmination of a fair amount of thought and self-debate that I've been chewing over for at least a few weeks, and parts of it for even longer. It's a mixture of long-view reflection and in-the-now consideration of the best thing for the program in 2013. Basically, it's a ramble. Take away from it what you will. It is my hope that this piece engenders a thought-provoking debate in the comment section, as my opinion is, clearly, hardly set in stone.