The countdown to the 2017-2018 schedule is winding down. Next Sunday is the preseason game against the University of St. Francis in Mackey at 2 PM.
Let’s take a look at each position on the court, and try to predict how players will fill various roles in the upcoming season, starting with the Center or 5 position. Last year over the last half of the season, Ae’Rianna Harris took over the position for the most part, with some relief from Nora Kiesler. Harris is only 6-1, but with amazing hops and shot blocking ability. Look for Harris to be the starter out of the gate at the 5 position. But we have a good addition to the mix, and that is 6-4 redshirt sophomore Fatou Diagne out of Senegal. She is being touted as very athletic. Unfortunately the latest report was that Kiesler and Diagne are fighting against some injury issues. Not sure how serious, and hopefully this will take care of itself and they will be able to work through any injury problems. Why start Harris at this position when Kiesler is 6-6 and Diagne is 6-4? Simply because Harris is so athletic and dynamic at the position. Kiesler is a true big body in there and she has a nice shot and decent rebounding skills, but she tends to be a bit slow when things speed up. Diagne would seem to me, with the lack of any real play to observe, as a very athletic player with the height to get ‘er done, but it may take her time to develop her game. There is one thing to consider. We are very thin at the 4 position. So against taller lineups, at times I could see Kiesler or Diagne hold down the 5 position and have Harris slip into the 4 position. She was actually recruited as a pure power forward, but was called into service at the 5 and for good reason last season. With the guard oriented team we have this year, this lineup will probably not be used very often. But the option is there if the situation presents itself.
This the most problematic position for the upcoming season. In large part due to the unfortunate transfer out of Dominique McBryde during the offseason. I don’t know her reasoning but it sure leaves us short at what I will refer to as the Guard/Forward position. The reason for this is that you can expect to see 3 guard players slide into the 4 position, perhaps more than what would be considered ideal. True freshman Dani Lawson is really our only true 4 position player. While she comes in with pedigree and following a stellar high school career, it is uncertain how soon she will be able to come in and make solid extended contributions at the position. Other than sliding Harris over to the the 4 as has already been suggested, look for a couple of 3 guard players to move to the 4 position. These would be Andreona Keys and Tamara Farquhar. At 5-10 and 6-0 respectively, this would seem to put us at a great disadvantage. However, these two players have reputations as lockdown defenders, and should be able to hold their own at the position. Keys has proven to be a solid rebounder and played extensively in the post area in the past. So she can get in there and mix it up. Farquhar, while recruited as a pure 3 guard, has extreme athleticism and very long arms, and should be able to contribute at the 4 when called upon. The team could use two more true 4 position players, but we have what we have and will most likely have to make a 4 guard lineup work for most of the season
When I was young, long long ago, teams played 2 guards, 2 forwards, and a center. In the “modern” era, the 3 guard position has emerged as a mainstay especially in the college game, in women’s as well as men’s basketball. Coach Versyp almost never has a moment where there is not a 3 guard in the lineup. She has got to like her options at this position for the upcoming season. Starting with Andreona Keys, who is the lone senior leader of this year’s team. She is such a steady glue player, and she is incredibly versatile. A true team player in every sense of the word, she always seems to contribute whatever is needed at the time. Need to ball hawk a hot player on the other team? Put Keys on her. Need some scoring because the primary shooters are blanketed? Let Keys put up a shot, which she has extended out to the 3 point line. Need someone to take the team on their shoulders and get things going? You guessed it. Keys was not a highly rated recruit coming in, but through hard work, grit, determination, and basketball smarts she has been a real joy to watch throughout her first 3 years. True freshman Farquhar is an intriguing player. She brings size, athleticism, amazing defense, and overall skill to the 3 position that Coach V says she has yet to see on one of her teams. As defense has always been one of the main objectives of any of Coach V’s teams, here is a player we were lucky to recruit. Maybe she didn’t come in as a highly touted Hoopgurlz recruit, but I suspect that being from Canada may have something to do with that. She had quite a following up north. The other solid option at this position is Lamina Cooper. She just continues to get better and play smart basketball. She always seems under control, and rarely takes a bad shot. She also plays great defense, and looks to expand her playing time this coming season. Look for her role as a rebounder to increase this season. If my suspicions are correct concerning a 4 guard offense, then look for two of these players to be on the court at the same time, or maybe even all three at certain times.
Also referred to as shooting guard, we are really looking good at this position. Almost surely Dominique Oden will lock down the starting position. She had a fantastic freshman campaign, setting freshman records such as 3 point field goals made. And that is beating out the amazing player Courtney Moses. Another player that was quite the pleasant surprise as she far surpassed any expectations of most based on her recruiting rating. We put a lot of stock on recruiting ratings, but sometimes we forget that Drew Brees came in as a 2 star recruit. Her ball handling skills are plenty good enough and she just has a nose for the net. Especially from 3 point land and the shorter pull up jumpers. Look for Oden to be on the court for a lot of minutes, as we will be relying more on her this year with the graduation of Ashley Morrissette. The icing on the cake at this position is the reigning Indiana Miss Basketball, freshman Karissa McLaughlin. When all is said and done, she may go down as one of the best pure shooters in program history. There would be a lot of competition at that designation, and yes it is early to make such a statement, but the potential is all there. She is simply and without a doubt a phenomenal shooter. Oh, and she is more than adequate at running the point as well. So she could be considered a true combo guard. Two other guards may be pressed into service as combo guards temporary playing at the 2 position, Tiara Murphy and freshman Leony Boudreau. While they are generally considered point guards, they both have the shooting ability to slide over to the 2 position if the situation calls for it.
Ashley Morrissette left some large shoes to fill at point guard. She was originally thought of as a shooting guard, but after the graduation of April Wilson, Morrissette really made her mark running the team from the point. She really shined in her senior season, and is playing pro ball overseas. I look for Tiara Murphy to get the initial nod as the heir apparent at the “quarterback” position of basketball. It is the point guard who sets the tone, calls out the plays, and makes things work, or not. We have yet to really see what Murphy can do, as she has fought injury after injury her first two years in the program. Coming in as a top 50 Hoopgurlz recruit, great things were expected from her. We will see if she delivers. She has all the qualities of a solid point guard, the handles, the shooting, the court vision, the speed. A bit undersized, she makes up for it with uncanny athleticism. Just a gut feeling, but I see Karissa McLaughlin as nipping at her heels if Murphy doesn’t prove out as effective as anticipated. Imagine McLaughlin and Oden at the 1 and 2 position from a shooting perspective. This would really pull teams out into man to man situations and open up opportunities in the post. Not that Murphy is any slouch at shooting; she has a nice stroke from outside as well. Then there are Leony Boudreau and Miracle Gray. We didn’t really see enough of Gray to see what she can do. She really didn’t get enough playing time to get into any kind of rhythm. She does have the advantage over McLaughlin and Boudreau of having a full season under her belt. Reports are coming out that she is a much improved player from last year. Boudreau is a solid body of a player and comes in with a good combination of skills. I just think there is a crowd at the 1 position and do not expect to see her get much playing time. Who knows, she may even redshirt. Regardless, she will fit nicely into the team and her time will come.
Coach V likes the chemistry of this team. They are a VERY young team. This will probably translate into some growing pains as the players get used to each other and new combinations on the floor. Look for some bumps early on, but this should be a fun team to watch. I would like to say we will compete for a Big Ten Championship and certainly the team has that goal in their minds. I just think the lack of forwards will be a liability as the season progresses. That and the sheer number of new players working into the lineup. It will be a winning season, and the team will improve quite a bit as the season progresses. It could be a kind of mirror of last season. Slow start, and hot finish. At best we may be a bubble team come NCAA tournament time and then who knows what will happen?
My revised anticipated starting five: Harris, Keys, Cooper, Oden, Murphy.