© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
Season Preview 2008-2009
Despite the fact the Purdue Womens’ Basketball team earned a 19-15 record least year, the fans in West Lafayette have been positively giddy over the Boilermaker’s prospects for the 2008-2009 season. This is because Boiler faithful know that life’s little situations come in only two flavors; they are either blessings, or blessings-in-disguise. It was a tough last year for the Purdue women’s basketball team. Because they lost 2 of their 3 returning starters from the previous season before a single minute was played, the coaching staff was forced to thrust role players into key positions. In addition, portions of the schedule were made before the injuries of Howell and Wisdom-Hylton (and release of Jernigan, Phillips, and Harris) were known. So a team missing 4 of its 5 anticipated starters found itself going up against the likes of North Carolina, U Conn and Duke. The results ranged from being blown out of the water to complete, record-setting levels of futility. This served to destroy whatever self-confidence the Boilers had, and they also managed to lose to teams they should have trounced easily. The result was a shaky season with far more downs than ups. Although they got it together well enough by the end of the year to win the Big 10 Tournament and advance to the second round of the NCAA’s, Purdue fell off the women’s basketball map.
2008-2009 is the year when karma can finally pay Purdue back for all the rough patches in the recent past. Because this year we get those 2 starters back, and they join a team that has been battle tested with supporting players that have grown and matured immensely. This year they have depth in every position. We have 5, count them, 5 seniors, including 3 red-shirt 5th year Super-Seniors. We legitimate three point threats, making the team zone-proof, and add an amazing freshman class that fills every hole left by the upper classmen. Best of all, the Boilers bring back one of the very best players in the country. Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton is no slouch getting points and rebounds, but her largest contribution is on the defensive end. Her ability to lock down the low post may not get the national attention, but it sure wins games.
It was evident during the Big 10 media days that the other conference teams understood what Purdue was packing. The Boilers were voted most likely to win the conference by the coaches, and to come in second by the media. Perhaps this bit of notoriety woke the AP voters, and, after being ignored by all the summer polls, the Boilers enter the season ranked 23rd in the country.
So, how good will the Boilers be this season? Coach Versyp hinted at a final four during the tip-off banquet. Versyp is loath to talk about wins and losses, so she undoubtedly feels the goal is achievable. It’s easy to understand why she feels this way.
The team is anchored by the front court of Danielle Campbell and Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton. Danielle suffered last year as she was on the receiving end of numerous double and triple teams. It’s unlikely anyone will attempt that this year when Lindsey is filling the other lane. Both are tall, fast, and can pull their defender away from the basket. Both excel at defense, and both pass well enough to run killer high-low sets. When Lindsay fronts a player she can not be lobbed over, she’s quick enough to anticipate passes and can get out to block shots before the shooter knows she’s there. This has the effect of getting into opponents’ heads; in the past other team players have become visibly rattled by Wisdom-Hylton. Backing up the starters is a deep core of reserves. This allows the team to give a lot of fouls, and for Versyp to go with a lot of looks. The posts are athletic enough to run the court and press, but have the ability to pound out half court games as well.
Versyp has spent the past three years trying to convince Natasha Bogdonova to use her powers for good and not evil. When Bogs is on she’s one of the best players on the court – she’s matured into a superior rebounder, has a reliable outside shot, and is aggressive with the ball. When she gets too wound up, however, she can play out of control. Coming off the bench should help her in this regard, and one hopes the gregarious Russian finishes her time at Purdue on a high note. Freshman Alex Guyton is a dream post player – tall, tough and athletic. She will be a force when she masters the college game. Chelsea Jones is a classic back-to-the-basket post player. She will probably not see too many minutes as a freshman as she adjusts to the college game, but may see time when the Boilers need a true banger down low. Laura Garriga probably see little playing time as well, but her enthusiasm in practice helps the team. The X factor in the post is sophomore Keshia Mosley. She is currently suspended for conduct unbecoming to the team. If Keshia is re-enstated she will bring something very few women can – an uncanny knack for getting to the rim and putting points on the board. She dropped a great deal of weight over the summer, and looked to be ready to go before the suspension. Here’s hoping Mosley rejoins the team soon.
Currently, Purdue’s wing players are Kiki Freeman and Samantha Woods. Kiki is the player who quietly does her job, not drawing attention to herself. At the end of the game however, she be the one who has scored in double figures and led the team in assists. Kiki was thrust out of her comfort zone last year, but all those minutes should pay big dividends for the senior. Although she’ll never look to be the number one “go to”, she now has the confidence to know that she can make the big shot when called upon. Due to the traffic jam in the paint, Samantha Woods has made the switch from post player to wing. She has the shooting and ball handling skills to make the transition. However, making the move is not an easy task. Samantha’s minutes will probably take a step back as she masters her new role. It is probable that some of the guards, particularly Brittany Rayburn and Chantel Poston will become de-facto wings if Purdue goes with a “three guard” offense.
FahKara Malone returns at the point and is the undisputed leader of the team. College teams tend to advance as far as the point guard can take them, and the Boilers are in very good hands with Malone. Because she will be relieved of some of the pressure to score, FahKara will not need to push herself. She is still learning to balance when to look to dish and when to take it herself, but this year she should always have the former option. Malone is fast enough to apply ball pressure the entire length of the court, and will key Purdue’s defense. Backing her up is Michelle Clark. Michelle has improved tremendously over the summer, and looks to be ready to provide help in the back up role. When things really get crazy, Lauren Mioton steps in to settle things down. Lauren’s achievements off the court are unique – she is the first athlete to be named homecoming queen and may become the basketball program’s first Rhodes Scholar. During games she has been the one player who can settle the entire team down and get them focused when things aren’t going well.
Jodi Howell returns at the “2”. Her accurate three point shooting will keep opponents honest, there’s no collapsing into the paint when Jodi’s on the court. More impressive than her accuracy is the quickness with which she gets her shot off. Jodi isn’t just an outside bomber; however, as she plays tenacious defense and mixes it up going for rebounds. The largest worry about Jodi is that she stays healthy. She looks like an escapee from an orthopedic ward when she takes the court – both knees and her shoulder are heavily bandaged. Jodi’s due an injury free year, one hopes she has it this season. Backing up at the shooting guard are two very exciting freshmen. Folks from Attica have been waiting 4 years to see Indian Miss Basketball Brittany Rayburn wear the old gold and black. She brought her own fan base, and it is easy to see why. Brittany has a basketball IQ far above her years. She can handle the ball well, pass, and score. She also has that uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time, and it is this reason more than any other that will make it hard to keep her off the court. Last but not least is Chantel Poston. Chantel has incredible athletic talents that translate into an ability to elevate for jump shots making her impossible to guard, and the speed that allows her to keep anyone in front of her. It may take the coaching staff some time to sandpaper off some of the rough edges, but Chantel has the potential to be a very special player.
The coaching staff under Sharon Versyp is steady, no-drama, and gives a consistent message. The players respond to her tough but fair demeanor, and the lack of distractions is a blessing. The staff leaves no stone unturned when scouting talent, and have recognized and signed some real gems. One reason may be because they appear to be more interested in recruiting athletic potential than polished players. This reflects their confidence in their ability to teach players the ropes. It may be that a head coaching position will lure away one of the assistants in future years, but for now they represent a cohesive group.
This year’s pre-conference schedule has a certain schizophrenic quality to it. The teams Purdue will be facing in the coming weeks are either weak sisters or highly ranked. There are no teams in the middle. Perhaps this was scheduled with an eye towards the Big 10 – a conference that looks like it will also contain teams that are either very good or very bad.
11/16/08 Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis
Scheduling in-state rivals is said to help recruiting and build good will in a state. Perhaps this is why the Boilers begin their season against the Jaguars.
Last year the Pilots finished at .500 in the West Coast Conference. They are unlikely to give the Boilers much of a fight in Mackey.
Like IUPUI, Oakland is a member of the Summit League. Also like IUPUI, they should not present much of a challenge for the home town team.
Waikiki Beach Marriott Classic
11/28/08 vs. Stanford
The Boilers go from the kiddie pool to the deepest of deep ends as they go from three mid-majors at home to meeting up against #2 Cardinal in Hawaii. Stanford lost Candace Wiggins, but brings back a loaded squad including national freshman-of-the-year Kayla Pederson. The Boilers’ hopes for an upset might rest on the fact that Stanford is historically a slow-starting team and that they will be playing on a neutral court.
11/29/08 at Hawai’i
The Boilers can’t take too long to recover from playing Stanford as Hawai’i can be very tough at home. This game will test the team’s resolve and grit.
11/30/08 Prairie View A&M
It’s tough to bring energy any time a team plays 3 games in 3 days. This game will be more about the Boilers than their opponent. Luckily, this opponent should be an easy win. This tournament will be an excellent preparation for post-season play.
Non-basketball aside: The students of Prairie View made You tube history when the marched miles to get to a polling place after Texas officials decided not to provide a place to vote on campus during the Democratic primary. Go Panthers!
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
12/04/08 vs. Maryland
This is the contest that Versyp has circled as THE game that will put the Old Gold and Black back in the spot light. It is the Boiler Blackout game, and all fans will be encouraged to wear black. It is also nationally televised, giving the program a chance to shine on the national stage. Maryland began the season ranked 3rd. Their early loss to TCU indicates that they may have lost too much to the WNBA to live up to their pre-season hype, but they remain a very dangerous team. The Terrapins are a team that tries to out run their opponents, so if Purdue can dictate tempo they have an excellent chance of pulling out the win.
12/7/08 at Notre Dame
After being thumped at home last year, the Boilers would like nothing more than a little pay back up in South Bend. They Irish are a solid team, but, like many of Muffet McGraw’s squads they make up in precision what they lack in athleticism. Purdue should have the players to win this, but the Irish are always a tough out at home.
12/10/08 at Valparaiso
The Boilers finally get a chance to catch their breath against a mid-major as they return to the region to take on the Crusaders. This game should represent a confidence-builder after a very tough stretch.
12/13/08 vs. Iona
It is said that a team’s place in basketball hierarchy can be determined by the banners hung from its rafters. Some schools hang banners for Final Four appearances, others for making to the NCAA tournament at all. The Gaels recently hung a banner to commemorate making it to the second round of the WNIT. Put this one in the win column for the Boilers
01/05/09 vs. Texas
Purdue will interrupt its conference play to wrap up their non-conference season against Texas. Texas is currently ranked 13th, although the ranking appears to be based more out of respect for Head Coach Gail Goestenkors than proven accomplishments on the court.
Big 10 Season
For the first time in many years every team will play all but two of their Big 10 rivals twice. Although this eats into non-conference games, it is a welcome change. It will decrease the element of luck that has played a part in determining the league winner, and makes for a more even playing field.
12/22/08 – away
2/15/08 – home
The Illini made a late season run, including a second place finish in the Big 10 tournament. This would indicate that things are looking up for the team under second-year head coach Jolette Law. The success was mainly due to the play of seniors, so it would not be surprising to see them take a step back this year. Still, Junior Jenna Smith just might be the best player in the Big 10 (she’s certainly the most under rated player), and the Illini are on the rise.
12/28/08 – away
1/8/09 – home
Iowa will be in rebuilding mode as Lisa Bluder’s squad lost 5 seniors. They are reported to be much more athletic than in previous years, and may overachieve what are currently modest expectations. Iowa is always difficult to play in Iowa City, and 3 days after Christmas is a tough time to play anywhere. Hopefully the Boilers won’t be caught in the trap.
3/1/09 – away
Michigan State is all about 6’9” Allyssa DeHaan. She already is the Big 10’s all time leader in blocked shots. She’s also a dedicated worker who has added offensive skills and 15 pounds of muscle in the off season. The question remains as to how good her supporting cast is right now. If they live up to their billing, MSU will be a contender for the conference title. The game on March 1 just might be for all the marbles.
1/11/09 – away
2/1/09 – home
How important is the head coach to a program? Two words: Dave Shondell. New head coach Joe McKeown has come in to try to turn around the Wildcats. He is one of the best, and should have NU moving up the conference rankings. Their early season loss to Chicago State indicates that the transformation won’t be instantaneous, however.
1/15/09 – home
Penn State started great guns last year, even knocking off highly-ranked Duke. They went on a huge late season swoon, however, and ended the year a defeated team. Second year coach Coquese Washington brings back Brianne O’Rourke, one of the league’s best point guards. The jury is still out on the Lady Lions, but they should improve over last year.
IU is another team on their way up. They don’t have any superstars, but head coach Felecia Leggett-Jack gets the most out of her players. The Hoosiers always are up when Purdue comes to town, but the Boilers should be able to pull it out.
1/22/09 – home
2/12/09 – away
The Gopher’s Emily Fox is a first team All-Big 10, All-American Candidate, and a sure WNBA draft selection. She always seems to disappear in big games, however. Until she manages to step up against tough competition the Gophers will struggle. Minnesota is always a tough, hard nosed team that is hard to beat. They Boilers will need to bring their A game in order to prevail.
1/25/09 – home
2/5/08 – away
The fact that the Buckeyes fade in post-season play will be cold comfort come January 25th. Center Jantel Lavender is as close as there is to a sure thing when she gets the ball inside the arc, and the team is loaded with talent. Expect the Buckeyes to once again contend for regular season honors.
1/29/08 – away
2/8/08 – home
Last year Wisconsin was a mediocre team at best– when they had Janise Banks and Jolene Anderson. This year there is no reason to believe they will be anything but terrible. One has to think that Coach Stone’s seat is red hot up in Badger land.
Wolverine head coach Kevin Borseth is a force of nature. He is in perpetual motion on the side lines, screaming and waving his arms. This act has not endeared him to opposing team’s fans, but it seems to be working for his players. They must know that he is screaming with them, not at them. He engineered quite a turn around during his first season at the helm. If he can recruit as well, the Maize and Blue might be heading up the Big 10 ranks. This year they won’t have the chops to hang with the Boilers.
Pre-conference record: 9-2
Big 10 record: 15-3, Big 10 regular season co-champions
Big 10 Tournament winner – Boilers own Indy
NCAA – Elite eight or Final Four