Practice has started and so it is time to take at a look at the state of our women’s basketball team and offer up some perspectives for the upcoming season, which is just about a month away.
Last season started with a few disappointing losses, especially very early. As the season progressed, the team got better. They peaked in the post-season, making it to the championship of the Big Ten Tournament with three impressive wins, getting invited to the NCAA tournament as a 9 seed, and losing to Notre Dame on their home floor in the second round in overtime. We were literally one point away in regulation time of making it to the Sweet Sixteen.
Players who moved on:
We lost three excellent players from last year’s roster. Two of those graduated (Ashley Morrissette and Bridget Perry) and one transferred out (Dominique McBryde). Ashley Morrissette had a senior season to remember, running the point and leading in scoring. Bridget Perry also had a great senior season and gave her all. Surely those two players, who Coach Versyp called two of the most competitive players she has coached, will be sorely missed. And not just in stats, as they provided great senior leadership of the team. I don’t know the reasons why McBryde transferred out, especially considering she would have been almost a lock to start at the 4 position as a pure forward. She never did develop an outside game, but down in the block she was a force in scoring, rebounding, and defense.
Incoming freshmen and a transfer:
Four incoming freshmen have joined the team. Tamara Farquhar is coming in out of Canada as a 6-0 three guard. She has long arms, has a ton of athleticism, and is expected to be a lockdown defender from the get go. I suspect she may even play a 4 guard player at times as the loss of McBryde leaves the team thin at forward. Leony Boudreau is a sturdy combo guard also out of Canada. She has all the skills, but may take a while in her freshman campaign to work into the rotation. Dani Lawson is a highly touted 6-2 forward, and will provide a big body inside. Look for her to work into the rotation fairly quickly considering this team is thin at the forward position. Karissa McLaughlin is going to be a real star on our team. With her recruitment, we continued in the great position of snagging the reigning Miss Indiana Basketball. She is simply a lights out shooter, with the ball handling skills to run the point. She may be at times the first player to come in off of the bench, and may even become the starting point guard at some point in the season. Juco Transfer (at least I think that is the case) Fatou Diagne is a 6-4 center out of Senegal as a red shirt sophomore, and has upside in pure athleticism. She may take a while to develop, but look for her to work into the rotation at the center position.
We lost three players and gained five, and none of the five are Top 50 Hoopgurlz rated players. This is a concern, but probably our two freshmen from Canada may have not gotten much of a look from Hoopgurlz. Top 50 recruits, and especially top 20 recruits are a necessity if we want our team to make a deep run in March. However, I am going to take the optimistic approach toward our incoming players. I wouldn’t be surprised if all five players get significant playing time. Which leads to the next topic.
Youth and inexperience may be a concern:
The Lady Boilers are definitely a youth movement, with team leadership a possible concern. All but three on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores. While Andreona Keys will provide great senior leadership, it is going to take some time for this team to gel and come together. More freshmen across the country get significant playing time each year it seems. Part of this is the impact of AAU experience.
I am going to go out on a limb and state that this is perhaps the team with the most pure athleticism in the last 15 years or more. Leading the way in that category is Ae’Rianna Harris, along with Lamina Cooper, Tamara Farquhar, and Tiara Murphy. While pure athleticism in itself may not always directly contribute to effectiveness on the court, it can only help. Harris definitely leads the way in this category. She was simply sensational in the post season last year, and her jumping ability is off the charts, allowing her to be highly effective as a 6-1 center. Tiara Murphy came in as a highly rated recruit, but has seen limited playing time her first two seasons due to injuries. She is wiry, has excellent ball handling skills, and has a great three point stroke. Cooper is a highly teachable player. She and Farquhar will only get better over time. A lot better.
Defense, defense, and defense:
Defense is the mantra of Coach V. Even when her teams are underperforming on offense and struggling to score the basketball, stellar defense is almost a constant. Once in a while there are lapses but it could be considered the number one strength of Coach V’s teams. Keys and Harris are lock down defenders, and Farquhar looks to follow in their footsteps. Cooper is also a steady defender. If you want to get significant playing time for Coach V, you better be on your game playing defense. A lot of 2-3 zone was used last year, but the players are coached to use other methods such as man-to-man or a 2-1-2 zone.
This team is bringing some great shooters onto the court, starting with guards Dominique Oden, Tiara Murphy, and newcomer McLaughlin. All three have really sweet strokes from three point land. Harris can create her own shot down low with her leaping ability and amazing athleticism. Cooper always picks her time to shoot very carefully, making her an efficient scorer. Keys has improved her scoring capabilities since arriving on campus and looks to be even better this season. Her three pointers started to fall during her junior campaign.
Thin at the forward position:
This is a major concern. Of course with one of our other centers manning the 5 position, Harris would make a huge impact at forward. However look for Harris to get the bulk of her playing time at the 5 position.
That leaves Dani Lawson. She will work into her game over time, but how quickly can or will that happen? What does that leave us with? A lot of 4 guard offenses. I look for Farquhar to play the 4 at times with her long arms and athleticism. Hey, if Golden State can make a 4 guard offense work, maybe Purdue can. It may even become the norm this season. The Lady Boilers will have a plethora of guards to choose from to play a 4 guard offense. Overall at the guard position we will have excellent outside shooting and good ball handling.
Rebounding may also be a concern. Harris will get hers, but who will be the additional key rebounders? It will be a rebound by committee effort. Cooper and Keys are good rebounders from the guard position. Lawson will be a steady rebounder.
Overall prospects for the season:
Look for this year’s team to get off to a somewhat slow start with the youth movement and players getting experience on the court. This may lead to more turnovers than last year when our TO ratio was the best it had been in a long time.
The pre-conference season is a fairly easy schedule compared to a lot of teams. There may be more than one inexplicable loss in there. Obviously the conference season will be a grind, but to me at least it looks like the Big Ten women’s basketball landscape is not quite as formidable as in most years past.
Don’t look for a conference championship. Obviously that is the goal, but it looks more or less out of reach this season. Only time will tell, though. Like last year, this team should gain more traction as the season progresses, and players get used to certain rotations. There will be a big time need for quality playing time for the freshmen. Hopefully they are up to the task.
While there are definite concerns, I still look for a winning season and a top half finish in the conference. Once again, whether or not this team makes it to the NCAA tournament will be a question mark all the way up to and through the Big Ten conference regular season and tournament.
I know the fan base is looking for a return to prominence in women’s basketball and making a splash in the NCAA tournament. I do understand the frustration. But don’t give up on this team before the season even starts. There is potential for a 20 win season, but I’m not so sure we will be able to exceed that. A 20 win season and late push into the NCAA tournament is probably the prospects for this season.
They just may exceed my expectations. There are some really good players on this team, but team play and cohesiveness will have to develop as the season unfolds. Ten games will be televised this year, more than in years past. Let’s support our Lady Boilers and hope for the best.
Without any reports out of practice yet, here is my early prediction for the starting five: Ae’Rianna Harris, Tamara Farquhar, Andreona Keys, Dominique Oden, and Tiara Murphy.