A quick look at the roster for the 2015-2016 season will show that 8 players on this team are either freshmen or sophomores. So this is the proverbial young team situation. This is not quite in the same category as our football team using the "We are a young team" excuse for terrible play. (Even though I put most of the blame for that on the coaches.) That being said, this sophomore class really needs to earn more playing time and score a lot more points, in addition to other needed contributions. One of the positives from last season was the drastic improvement in the play of Ashley Morrissette from her freshman to sophomore seasons. She moved into a starting role and played well for the most part. But it wasn't easy, having to replace production we had gotten from KK Houser and Courtney Moses. They had too many turnovers, but still they had a presence about them and put a lot of pressure on our opponents. And let's not forget, led us into the NCAA tournament. Morrissette averaged over 31 minutes a game as a sophomore, made 43 3-pointers, and was second in the team in scoring. Obviously it was not enough, but she did show how a second year player can have the offensive system down and do what is needed. I bring this up because we need some of that type of improvement from our current group of sophomores.
Andreona Keys - Coach V said she would come into the season ready to contribute from the get-go and that is what she did. Some were just hustle plays, smart plays, and being solid at a lot of the little things that don't necessarily show up in the stats. She did however play in all 31 games and put in a good showing for a freshman. Her scoring average of 5.8 points per game may not be a lot, but it was more than the combined scoring output of the other three freshmen combined. Keys also showed some versatility, contributing on defense and pulling down 98 rebounds. While she could function as a 1 or 2 guard, I see her almost exclusively playing at the 3 guard position. She would share time at the 3 with Bridget Perry, and also allow Perry to move to the 4 position at times. I will be surprised if Keys does not make any progress, but I expect her to just gradually get better at all aspects of her game. Sometimes in game situations, Keys can use her confidence and demeanor to kind of get things back together if the team gets chaotic and out of sync. She will most likely not lead the team in any one category, nor do I expect her to go off and score loads of points. But I do expect to see her just build on the solid foundation she started as a freshman getting regular playing time, having averaged over 22 minutes per game.
Justine Hall - I believe she came in as the #74 recruit in the nation according to Hoopgurlz. So I expected to see her get some quality minutes and contribute some scoring as a freshman. For whatever reason, that did not happen. It is hard for me to second guess why that was, but will offer up my speculation. Probably she just needed some time to adjust to the college game, learn the offenses and defenses, and play up to the speed of the college game. When Hall did get in games, she didn't appear to be a big liability, but she never really did much either. Of course it is hard to get in a rhythm playing just 4.8 minutes per game. I've seen players have the light go on during their sophomore or junior seasons. So it is my hope that this happens with Hall. She looks the part of a quality Div. I player. It is up to her to have learned from the progress that Morrissette made last year, and make that kind of leap in contributions to the team after sitting most of her freshman season. I would really like to see her get some defense going with those long arms. Not only were we lacking in scoring last year, but our defense frequently broke down. We were not able to replace the ball-hawking defense that Dee Dee Williams used to give us. We are in desperate need of some lock down defensive players. So more scoring, more minutes, and more defense is what we will hope to see in Hall in her second year. One other note is that Justine Hall came out of Regis Jesuit high school in Denver, which is one of the top high school programs in the country. So maybe those winning ways will carry through into the college game.
Erica Moore - A 6'2" forward out of Mount Vernon, Indiana, Moore came in with a lot of promise. Unfortunately, things just didn't happen during her freshman season. Like I am with Justine Hall, I just don't know all of the reasons behind this. Certainly Moore has plenty of skills and also has that strong body that should be able to muscle inside and fight for points, rebounds, and altered or blocked shots. She just seemed a step slow to me. Maybe it was injury issues which were not made public. Maybe it was just hitting a freshman wall early in the season and never really breaking out of that. One thing is for sure. For this season to be anything special, we need for Moore to really up her game as soon as possible. With the graduation of Bays and Clemons, we are in desperate need of some mean and nasty presence in the post. While the increased speed of the game can hinder the progress of incoming guards, the sheer physicality of post play can do the same for incoming forwards and centers. I believe Moore has worked hard during the off season, and Coach V is expecting a lot from her. That needs to translate from practice and conditioning straight into live games, making Moore one of the most pivotal players on the team.
Bree Horrocks - Coming in as a 6'5" freshman out of Atlanta, we had hopes for some much needed height in the post. Unfortunately, we got very little of that from Horrocks. For the most part she was pushed out of the post where she made some decent passes and sunk some mid range jumpers. In today's college game, that just won't get it done. I sincerely hope that Horrocks can get in the weight room and develop more toughness which Coach V has already emphasized for this year's team. We should be able to use someone with that kind of height. Having covered Nora Keisler in my last article as a freshman, and Erica Moore in this article, and now Bree Horrocks, we need to get some real production from these three in the post. With McBryde and Perry playing more of a stretch 3 or 4 player, we need the 3 aforementioned players to get in there and fight down low. If not, it is really going to be a long season. After all, we are not exactly the Golden State Warriors, who can get away with a guard oriented team with shooters like Stephen Curry, who is already one of the all time great shooters in NBA history. I do believe we will have better outside shooting this coming season, but we need to be able to tie up opponents in the post to free up our shooters.
Summary: The motto for this group needs to be, condition hard, practice hard, toughen up, score a lot more points, and make a significant leap from freshmen to sophomores. If nothing else, if none of these players are starters, they need to provide depth that we lacked last year. There is no freshman wall to run up against once you are a sophomore.