Oh how so much can change in a few months or the “off season”. Six months ago this Lobo team was looking to be set for the upcoming year. The top six players returning, including all five starters. A bench that included a number of players who had contributed and with experience would likely contribute more. But then the bench players, blocked by all the starters returning, entered the transfer portal. One of the starters transferred, and we learned that four other returning players had significant injuries that might delay their availability to start the summer or the regular season. Uncertainty grew.
Even so, five of the top six scorers return from last season bringing back 71% of the scoring, 66% of the rebounding, and 65% of the assists. But the bench—that last 25% of the minutes to keep the starters fresh—is almost all gone. Whether they are ready and prepared or not, multiple of the young players will get thrown into the games. Mike Bradbury’s stile is not conducive to players averaging 37 min a game.
Now it’s one day until the first game. Time to put all the watching and listening together and look at where the women’s team looks to be for the 2021/22 season. As usual part of this will likely be true, and part not—though at this point I have no idea which is which. With six new players and a couple more we never really got to see last season the crystal ball has a lot of haze.
But first, what is likely not to change. At least three things.
–The tempo will be fast, though probably not as fast as some of the past seasons
–The team will shoot a lot of threes–everyone on this roster can hit an open three, though some better than others
–The team will be undersized against many opponents–the key will be can they old the rebounding deficit to a reasonable amount and win the turnovers
In this offence, the PG position starts and ends with controlling the pace. LaTora Duff returns as the starting point guard, and last season ran the offense very efficiently: a 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio and less that two turnovers a game. Her hand/wrist looks healthy, and she is looking to score more in practices and scrimmages this summer, likely in part due to her sister LaTascya being sidelined for the first month or more of the season. LaTora does not push the ball up court as quickly as the previous two point guards did, but she is far from slow. The bulk of the roster is, however, slower than Lobo fans are used to. However the team still wants to run, and from the look of it they will still keep up the fastest pace in the conference—it will just be done differently. LaTora is more efficient in getting the ball up court, and very good at getting the ball to the open shooter quickly—it will be more of a fast-pass break rather than the fast-dribble break that it was when Cherise and Asia were running it. Fewer one-on-zero fast breaks and more three-on-two ones.
One of the biggest unknows is who will be the secondary point guard. There are several on the roster, but none is the obvious all-around PG option—at least not now. Each has some strengths and some areas needing improvement. Almost all are young and should improve before the start of conference season.
Jaedyn De La Cerda: Jaedyn is the only upperclassman in the group. She has run the point at times last season, and could do it this year. Maybe more efficiently that the younger options. But it would be at a cost. With LaTascya on the shelf for now, Jaedyn is the bult of the returning three point offense. And she is best offensively when playing off the ball and looking for a spot to get a pass and either pull up for her shot or drive.
Rebeka Renczes: The 5’ 7” freshman from Hungary is a sound PG option who has a good idea of how to set up other players. She is smart with the ball and does not make a lot of mistakes. Offensively she does not look for her own shot first, and is a streaky shooter. She also does not have the same speed as some of the other possibilities, and the pace might slow a bit when she is in the game at PG.
Aniyah Augmon: A third freshman, a 5’8” very quick guard from San Jose California. Aniyah is by far the fastest point guard option, and offensively she can drive past any defender she is likely to play against. She finishes well even with contact, and jumps better than most 5’ 8” players. She has all the physical tools as well as the aggressive mindset to be a good on-ball defender, but is still growing as part of a team defense. Her outside shot is streaky—I have seen her hit five in a row, and miss five in a row. The range is there, and with defenders having to respect her ability to drive, she should get some room for her shots. When she is running the point she does it differently than LaTora. LaTora sets up most the possessions with quick, accurate passes from outside; Aniyah is more likely to drive and kick the ball out to an open shooter. The two different approaches could prove useful by giving multiple looks to the opponent.
I expect all three of the freshmen will get looks in the preconference, with Aniyah gradually earning more minutes as conference season approaches.
Looking at the two wings/off guard spots, as with the point guard there are some knowns: Jaedyn will start at one spot barring injury. She averaged 15 points a game on 44% shooting, and that percentage would have been higher if not for injuries the last half dozen games. She also attacked the glass more, grabbing 5.2 rebounds a game for a team that was constantly challenged to hold their own in that area.
Once she is cleared to play and in game shape, LaTascya Duff will be the likely other wing. If so, that will put three 5’ 7” guards on the court, and put pressure on the team to keep the rebounding deficit manageable while trying to counteract it with a positive turnover margin. But height issues or not, this offence requires three point threats to spread the floor, and LaTascya is the best distance shooter on the roster—14.8 PPG on 45% shooting overall, 40% from three point range. At a minimum she will get starter-like minutes off the bench.
The rest of the minutes—including a second starter until LaTascys returns—have a number of mix and complement options.
Zeyno Seren: A 5’ 10” freshman from Turkey is probably the best defender. She is a high energy player still needing to improve the experience to put that energy in the right position, especially in a half court set. At 5’10” she is a bit taller and longer option, and should see some situational minutes as a defender, especially against taller guards. Offensively she is a work in progress, and will have to improve there to increase her minutes. To some extent her playing time may depend upon how well Jaedyn, LaTora, and Viane shoot the three. The better they shoot, the easier it will be to play Zeyno even if her offense is still a work in progress.
Mackenzie Curtis: A second California freshman, Mackenzie is the flip side of Zeyno. She is shilled offensively, but needs to work on the defensive side. I do not know her HS team’s style, but she looks like a player who focused on scoring for her school, and defensively the team did not play an aggressive defensive style. She can shoot from outside, and can drive into contact inside and finish. She also gets her share of offensive rebounds, and at times might see a few minutes at the 4 position depending on health and fouls of others. I do not know how much time she will get until the defensive positioning and experience comes along—of all the freshman she looks to have the most catchup to do on that side. Offensively she can score now.
Viane Cumber: The second New Mexican on the roster, along with Jeadyn, Viane is the most balanced of the freshmen wings. Better offensively that Zeyno, better defensively than Mackenzie. Listed as an inch taller than Mackenzie, she looks to be the same size—and both are bigger and stronger than many of the recent Lobo guards. Vi is not slow, but about “average” speed and quickness, though he positioning, especially offensively, make he play a bit faster than she is. As with Mackenzie she can score both inside and outside, though of the two she is more likely to look for her outside shot first while Mackenzie is more likely to look to go inside.
Kath van Bennikom: Kath is not a freshman, but because of the COVID season we didn’t get to see much of here live last year. She played in 16 games, averaging over 7 min a game. She only took about one shot a game, but did collect a rebound every four minutes, mostly through hustle. Over one third of her rebounds were offensive boards, and among the returning players Shai McGruder is the only other one who did that. I am listing her in the wing group but she is really a hybrid guard/post, and actually spends much of the time in practice with the posts. She is likely to get match-up minutes against certain teams, but against other teams not as much. Her improvement from her freshman year is noticeable in several areas: she looks more comfortable on the court and off, and she has a better understanding of where to be in the team game.
To start the season I expect Viane will be the starter opposite Jaedyn. The others will get more minutes of fewer depending upon how they improve their weak areas, but all of them seem to have the potential to contribute.
The two starting posts return in Antonia Anderson and Shai McGruder. I have seen nothing this summer to indicate that if fully healthy either one will not start this season. AT had a serious leg injury to end last season, and Shai had a minor one, but both have seemed ready to play starting tomorrow. There may be some cutting back on her minutes in early games, but the schedule gets harder quickly, and if she can avoid the foul trouble that has been a problem in the past, she should quickly get back up to the 25 minutes per game she played last season.
One of the biggest questions back in June was who would give these two posts some rest. Both have had foul trouble in the past, and both are typically defending significantly larger, heavier posts that can wear down a player who relies on quickness much more than strength.
There are two other posts on the roster (plus Kate mentioned above who could play the post at times—either against smaller teams, or when the team plays more of a four guard lineup.
Paula Reus: Paula is a 6’1” forward from Spain who has looked good when I have been at practice. There are not a lot of big holes in her game—she can shoot decently from outside, and has a good touch in the mid range and at the basket. She looks particularly comfortable when she gets into the middle of a zone and has a number of options from a soft 10 foot shot to good vision to past to cutters when she gets double teamed. Defensively she makes some errors, but is alert, moves well, and does not look like a “lost freshman”. The biggest area I see that she needs to improve is her rebounding and strength. I suspect she will get as many minutes off the bench as anyone. [If the roster had another post ready to contribute right away I think she might start at the 3 guard. I think she is the most ready to contribute of the freshmen and sophomores, but I am not sure Mike will start all three post since it might make the rotations more complicated.]
Nevaeh Parker: Nevaeh is a second year player, but had few minutes played last season. I think she is an intriguing player because she has something unique on the roster—the size and strength of a true 5. Offensively she has good hands, good footwork, and uses her body well to shield the defender from the ball. When she gets the ball on the blocks she scores. Not Jaisa-level offence down low, but quite good enough. She can also step outside and hit a three, especially when she is set before receiving the pass, but that is not what I would expect a lot of. She is also has decent mobility rebounding, and again can use her body to block out an opponent trying to rebound from behind her. The biggest issue for Neveah is stamina running. She has improved from what I saw prior to the 2020/21 season, but she is not ready to keep up with the pace I expect the team to play at. If she can improve her speed and stamina she will give the Lobos another different tool in the tool box against some of the teams that have significant inside size.
In summary, I think this team has the pieces to be a top three team in conference. I also think they will have definite ups and downs in the pre-conference where they play a number of good teams and their inexperience beyond the four returning starters will result in some games that go south. When AT is fully up to game condition, If LaTascya is at 80% by February 1st, and if the chemistry is good (so far it has seemed good, but there have been no adversity or tough losses to react to) and barring injuries of course I think this team could be capable of winning the MWC tournament and being significantly better in March than they are in November.