Yes it is early to think about next basketball season. However it's as good a time as any to start thinking about how the next women's basketball season will turn out.
Head Coach Sharyn Versyp will have a lot of options and talent to work with. The team is coming off of a remarkable turnaround season, one in which the team jumped up from a 20 loss season to a 20 win season and NCAA bid. Now it is time to take it up a notch and start getting some NCAA tournament wins. This team will be young, with 7 players as freshmen or sophomores. However, these 7 players will all contribute, and complement the returning upperclassmen.
Rather than take it by class or individuals per se, I'll try and approach it by looking at starters and team depth at each position 1 through 5. This will take into account that several players will be able to fill multiple roles, giving the coaching staff some real options for in game adjustments.
1 position - Sophomore Tiara Murphy will most likely start. She won't come in with the experience that April Wilson did last year, but had a pretty good freshman season, considering the leg injury, concussion, and virus for the NCAA game. A natural at point guard, she is smart, quick, a great shooter, and has that moxie and confidence that is not always easy to come by. Backing her up will be Miracle Gray, a 5'6" freshman as a solid understudy. Another natural at point guard, she should pick things up fairly quickly, and is being touted as having natural leadership qualities. Also as last season, Ashley Morrissette as a 2 guard is fully capable of running the point and will frequently do so based on how teams are guarding the regular point guard. With a solid 1.27 assist to turnover ratio, Morrissette is quite capable of handling duties as a combo guard.
2 position - Mark it down. Morrissette will be starting here. She really came into her own last season and proved to be a tried and true clutch shooter, hitting several go ahead and game winning shots. She will be the premiere pure shooter on the team. Her senior leadership will be a major key to a successful season. Opposing defenses will really need to know where she is, as she is a threat to score from anywhere, anytime, including deadly range from long distance, an excellent pull up midrange jumper, and ability to take it all the way to the hole. Backing her up will be freshman Dominique Oden. She is being touted as a kind of do all combo guard. Bring the ball up, shoot, play defense, she is quite talented and versatile. Oden is also being touted as a strong rebounder for a guard. That always comes in handy. Expect her and Gray to both get some good minutes in their freshman season. This makes it two freshmen and a sophomore at the 1 and 2 positions, so there will be some growing pains. Late signee Lamina Cooper could also put in some time at the 2 position. She looks to be more of a 3 guard, but could fill the shoes of a combo 2 guard, especially if a defensive stopper is needed there in a matchup situation.
3 position - This is where Coach V's options are really looking strong. Andreona Keys is a perfect fit for this position and fills the role of the ultimate utility player. What can't she do? Maybe not a strong 3 point shooter, but otherwise, she can do whatever she is called upon to do. Coach can put Keys to ball hawk the hot player on the other team. Keys is also good at rebounding and driving to the hole and passing to the open player. With more options at the 4 and 5 positions, Bridget Perry can do an awesome job as a 3 guard. She played more of a stretch 4 role last season, but with McBryde and Harris as solid forwards, Perry can be even more versatile, if that is possible. As a senior her leadership will be as key as that of Morrissette. I still maintain that Perry is the most fun player to watch in action. She hits the floor a lot and you can count on her playing at 100% virtually all the time she is in the game. Her 3 point shots got better as last season went on, to go along with an already solid pull up midrange jumper, which puts even more pressure on opposing defenses. She is also a strong rebounder and defender. As if that isn't enough, we now have incoming Lamina Cooper, the player who missed her potential freshman season due to undisclosed reasons, who could fit right in as a 3 guard. She is strong, plays great defense, and has a lot of mojo and court savvy. As mentioned in my last post, I hope she does not redshirt. I also hope that she has kept up her game during the season away from organized team ball. She was a highly touted recruit and we can expect great things from her.
4 position - Dominique McBryde and incoming phenom Ae'Rianna Harris are going to kick some cahoonies at the power forward positon this season. McBryde just continued to improve her freshman season. She never seems to get rattled. If she gets stuffed, she just tries to get the ball back and doesn't lose confidence. Her rebounding and shot blocking were quite inspiring. She took the ball strong to the hole, and connected on some good midrange jumpers. All she needs to do is get her 3 point shot going, which she apparently did quite effectively in high school. That ability to stretch the defenses out will only add to her mystique. I even have a nickname for her - ambidextrous. She must be the way she can go to either hand in close to the basket. Harris is going to come in and make an immediate impact. A prolific rebounder and shot blocker, she will be a handful for opponents. Her offense will come along, as she has the frame and potential to take the Big Ten by storm. Of course there are freshmen moments, but I have a feeling those will be brief. Perry also has the ability to handle the 4 position and then some. As the season progresses, look for two of these three to be in the game against any team of size, with the possibility of all three in at the same time. Those are three dynamic players in the post, with Perry doubling as a tall guard.
5 position - Purdue is blessed to have good size in 6'5" Bree Horrocks and 6'6" Nora Keisler at the 5 position. As a sophomore and freshman respectively, they both made significant progress last year. Horrocks did a much better job her sophomore season of maintaining her position and started contributing a lot more to the rebounding and scoring stats. Her passing also improved. She needs to bulk up a bit and get more physical, especially for conference play. She needs to block out better for rebounds, play tougher defense, and block more shots. As a junior, she should start to get closer to realizing her true potential with size that can't be taught and continue to build on progress made her sophomore season. Keisler had a decent pre-conference season, but seemed to hit a freshman wall during conference play. The potential is there, though. With her size she can hold her ground, and by keeping her hands up high, rebound, block shots, hit layups, and kick out some passes to open jump shooters. She needs to tone up and speed up a bit, but like Horrocks, another season should reveal more progress. I wouldn't be surprised to see Harris or McBryde put in some time at the 5 position if Purdue is facing a smaller lineup. With the leaping ability of both, they could hold their own for short stretches based on certain match-ups in game time situations.
True enough, Purdue has the two seniors in Morrissette and Perry, and the two juniors in Horrocks and Keys. However, with the potential for excellence from highly touted freshmen and sophomores, it looks to be an exciting and dynamic season.
Conclusions - As a team, they need to continue to value the ball. Last season was the only one in recent memory where turnovers were kept to a respectable level. Even so, there is always room for improvement, especially in limiting unforced turnovers. Some inexperience at the guard position may play a role, but with 3 solid 3-guard players, that should work itself out as the season progresses. After the season before last, when we only had two reliable post players in Clemons and Bays, next year's team will have 5 solid options in the post. Rebounding and shot blocking will be two keys to winning. Shooting has been hit and miss, and may continue to be so. Yes we will miss the clutch shooting and ball handling of April Wilson, but the influx of young talent at guard along with the seasoned veteran Morrissette, we should be able to hold our own at the guard position. A definite strength will be these hybrid players who can play either inside or outside, in particular in Keys, Perry, and Cooper. Defense will once again be the calling card of this team. Coach V knows how to coach up defense, no doubt about it. I was impressed last season with the team's ability to switch up from man to man to various zone schemes, especially a strong 2-3 zone, depending on how the games were going. I like the way our coaching staff makes in game decisions. I also like the way substitutions are made. Our substitution strategy in our women's team at least to me makes more sense than substitution patterns on our men's team. Others may disagree, so that is just an opinion. Another factor in the winning 2015-16 season was the excellent conditioning of the team. Expect more of that for this season, especially for the upperclassmen. And one more thing, as Columbo would say, I believe this team will play with a chip on their shoulder and show a lot of confidence, moxie, boldness, attitude, whatever you want to call it. It would be good to see less lapses in scoring next year, and for that matter, lapses in effort as well. Whether or not you like or hate Uconn, they have written the blueprint and fully implemented it, to never let up no matter what the game situation or score. Hopefully next season we can also see that kind of consistent effort and intensity throughout the regular season and post season.