Hey all, I'm back! Juan and James are putting me to shame in secondary-sport coverage right now, but I'm back for another round, just like Drey is. Thank the NCAA for being logical for once, everyone. As I said in the subtitle, this team is a contender, and it's time I gave them their due preseason rundown. We'll look at the key players, the supporting cast, and the wild cards of this season, before I put on my Nostradamus hat for the season predictions.
THE KEY PLAYERS:
#15, Courtney Moses, JR
5-6 Combo Guard
Our second-leading scorer last year, and leading returner, Courtney figures to be the feature piece of our backcourt. While she has the skills and experience to play point, in our primary lineups she figures to be the 2 guard and main shooter. She's a very well-rounded player, getting to the hoop with her speed and finishing well despite her size. She also shoots better than 90% from the charity stripe, something no doubt endearing to Purdue fans everywhere. Honestly, her main limitations come directly from her size. She occasionally has difficulty with getting shot over on D, and sometimes just gets lost in traffic. She's not a minus defender by any means, though (there are none on this team), and she figures to be part of our main two-pronged scoring attack.
#32, Sam Ostarello, SR
Sam is admittedly something of an odd case for being included as key. She's more of a multi-role support player than a mainline scorer, but she does everything else on the stat sheet so well that one can't help but include her. Our leading rebounder by far, she's capable of playing up at and near the rim like few apart from Brittany Griner. Casual fans know her as the player who dunked, or nearly did, at Mackey Madness. As you might expect, she's also a shotblocker, just missing out on leading the team last year. Last but not least, she's an excellent passer for a big, trailing only KK, Moses, and Rayburn last year in assists.
#24, Drey Mingo, 6th-Year SR
6-2 Forward / Center
To my mind, Drey is the key to this season. Her story is by now familiar to most of us, and her recovery is one of the great stories of this season. When healthy, she has the skills to AVERAGE a double-double. She is primarily a center, but she has the polish in passing and shooting to play well away from the basket as well. A 50% shooter from 3, she has all the tools you could ask for. She reminds me of no one more than Pau Gasol, and 2 rings say that's a pretty nice piece for your team. In fact, I'm about to go go into predictions mode a little early. You heard it here first: Drey Mingo will win Big Ten Player of the Year this year.
THE SUPPORTING CAST:
#22, KK Houser, RS JR
5-6 Point Guard
KK is the other half of our starting guard tandem. She is pretty much the poster child for Bill Simmons' "Table Guy" argument. To wit: does she put more on the table than she takes off? She's a PG with a 1-to-1 Ast/TO ratio, but she's also a grade-A thief, racking up 85 steals last year. She's a streaky shooter from downtown, but she gets to the rim and makes 80% from the line. Early in her career, she was on the wrong side of that ledger, at least in my opinion. Now in her fourth year on campus, though, she's matured a great deal as a player. Sometimes you gotta just strap in for the ride with a player, and KK is worth it.
#43, Chantel Poston RS SR
5-10 Guard / Forward
Chantel is your prototypical 6th-man slasher/rebounder wing player. She's added a nice pull-up game as well. She's also an excellent defender and plus help-side blocker. Lastly, she's also one of the emotional centers of this team. Along with Ostarello, she plays with more fire than anyone and isn't afraid to show it.
#20, Dee Dee Williams, JR
6-0 Guard / Forward
Dee Dee is a very similar player to Chantel. A early bench player, she's Coach Versyp's designated defensive stopper, and while she struggled occasionally, she was also consistently drawing tough assignments. She has great length and athleticism, but sometimes struggles to move her feet.
THE WILD CARDS
I truly don't know much about the incoming freshmen, but they are again highly regarded. This is the sixth consecutive year that our class has been rated top 15 or better. Some names to keep an eye on so far:
Taylor Manuel, 6-3 F - Taylor is another highly skilled big in the mold of Drey. She's averaging double figures so far and shooting a nice percentage.
April Wilson, 5-7 G - April has been seeing time at the point early on, and while she has had a little TO trouble, she's likely the successor to KK as our primary ball handler and pass-first PG.
Pouring all that into our crystal ball, what do we see for this season? Well, it looks pretty good to me. The defense will be stingy as always, and this team really meshes well together. There's no Westbrook/Harden/Durant style redundancies. Courtney and Drey give us a great inside-outside scoring tandem, KK is a solid orchestrator, and Ostarello hoovers up rebounds like she was born to do it. There's shooting and there's post play. We've got the speed to run and the experience to play controlled.
The schedule is light on ranked teams, but heavy on quality opponents in that 26-50 range that fills out the tournament (which describes most of the Big Ten). It's neither grueling nor soft. Unfortunately, none of our top 10 opponents are at home. We go to ND and face UCONN at a neutral site. Later in the year, we visit State College to face the top-10 preseason favorites in our only meeting. On the other hand, we only face the other 3 ranked Big Ten teams once each thanks to unbalanced scheduling.
In summary, I think we get 2 out of the 5 ranked games, drop 2 or 3 to the quality teams on our schedule, and handle the rest.
Official Hammer & Rails Declaration of the Future: 24-5 (13-3) Regular Season
Expectations - We should be disappointed in:
- Finishing outside the top 3 in the Big Ten
- Double-digit losses
- A first-weekend NCAA exit
- Finishing outside the Top 25
Goals - We should be completely happy (but not satisfied) if we:
- Win the Big Ten
- Skate through the regular season with fewer than 5 losses
- Make the Finals of the Big Ten Tournament
- Break into the Elite 8
- Finish in the Top 10