Bye week preview of Women's Bouncy Ball


During the bye week for football, let's turn our attention to other sports... OK, who am I kidding? It mostly gives us a chance to obsess for another week about whether Ole Miss will be a shootout or if Coach Synder's beleaguered squad can stop that group of receivers who are alleged to be better than ours. And if we're changing the subject from football, sports that are already ongoing, such as soccer, volleyball, golf, two kinds of tennis, and hiring university presidents could use some love (Actually, that last one isn't so interested in attention).

But my Fanpost beat here at GBH has mostly been Women's Bouncy Ball, and a new season is coming up soon. And Cuppycup suggested a post for bye week. So let's take a look at what's been going on with the Aggie women since our premature exit from the 2013 tourney.

Changing of the non-guards

The biggest changes from the team we've watched the past two seasons will be in the front line. Kelsey Bone took her chance at leaving early for the WNBA, and despite the doubts from some quarters, she did well enough to make the All Rookie Team, getting more votes than Skylar Diggins.

Bone appeared in all 34 games (two starts), averaging 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, she ranked third and fifth, respectively among all rookies in rebounding and scoring. Bone scored in double figures in nine games and posted a pair of double-doubles during her first season. She also recorded a career-high 20 points on July 4 in a road game against the Los Angeles Sparks. Bone was the only rookie aside from Griner with multiple double-doubles.

6-5 Senior Karla Gilbert and 6-7 redshirt soph Rachel Mitchell are expected to take over the post. Karla has been making solid contributions off the bench since she was called on to help defend Brittney Griner as a freshman. She held the frontcourt together during the SEC tournament when Bone had to leave the games against USCe and Ky with injuries and foul trouble. Karla is not as naturally assertive as Bone, but in my view she has a better shooting touch and is a better shot blocker. In limited minutes, Mitchell had a tendency to get lost on the court. But she improved enough to get some quality minutes at the end of the season, and she's an athletic 6'7". Bob Starkey has a reputation for developing bigs, which showed in how Bone improved enough to change her mind about staying for this season and leave early for the WNBA. The most visible differences to me were in positioning, footwork, and understanding the post offense. With Bone gone and Starkey's teaching focusing more on Karla and Rachel, I'm expecting to see both of them step up this season.

The Ags also lost power forward Kristi Bellock to graduation. Bellock, who I believe is now playing in Europe really stepped up last year to fill the void left by the graduation of Adaora Elonu from the starting lineup of the 2011 champs. With no real backup from last year, the 4 spot will be a new face. Incoming 6-3 fish Jada Terry will battle transfers 6-1 Achira Ade and 6-0 Tavarsha Scott for time at the 4. For now, I think of them as Terry and the Transfers. I have no clue what they'll be like, but Coach Blair has had some pretty good players come in as transfers.

The CW Network

The CW Network of Courtney Williams and Courtney Walker were starters last year at the small forward and shooting guard positions, respectively. I expect both to start again, with Walker becoming the primary focus of the offense as well as our stopper on defense. Senior Tori Scott started 11 games at the 3 last season but the coaches seemed to be committed to developing Williams, and Scott may be more comfortable coming off the bench. Tori has been inconsistent over her career but saved the Ags run to the SEC tourney crown by shutting down Tennessee's Taber Spani in the second half. Another player who could break through at a wing is soph Chelsea Jennings, who had 20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 blocks and 8 steals in only 98 minutes of court time over 17 games.

A question mark that could affect who gets PT at the wing positions is three-point shooting. A&M was second in the SEC in 3pt FG% last year, but took fewer shots from behind the arc (323) than any other SEC team but Vic Shaeffer's Miss State (312). This leads many opposing teams to play packed-in zones against the Ags. Coach Blair prefers to break down zones with movement, which is great when it works. But it works better if the D has to worry about the 3. So the questions is: who can provide that threat? Adrienne Pratcher (108) and Peyton Little (98) took more than half of those attempts. Both Pratcher and Little are gone: AP graduated while Peyton transferred to OU. Many of us were hoping that Little would provide the 3pt bombs based on her reputation from high school. But after shooting 5-8 against Missou, Peyton became indecisive on the kickouts from Bone and then lost her touch. I hope the change of scenery helps her find it again with the Sooners. Williams, Tori, and PG Jordan Jones can all hit from behind the arc (Walker only took two attempts last season), but so far none of them have the gunner cockiness that we saw in Takia Starks, Tanisha Smith, and to a lesser extent with Tyra White.

Pointing to the future

National assist/turnover leader Adrienne Pratcher has moved on to the coaching staff at A&M Consolidated High School. Pratcher blossomed after splitting time with the Lexi Standish, who left the team and has now transferred to TCU. While Pratcher and Standish were rivals, Adrienne served as more of a mentor to Jordan Jones, who should now inherit the key position of PG for the Ags. Jones averaged 12.1 min/game and played in all but one contest last season. As a fish, she reminded many of Sydney Colson. She's incredibly quick, fearless, an excellent passer, and a defender who loves to steal the ball. As with Colson, the key for Jones will be playing under control and making her teammates better. And getting the calls from the refs who seemed to routinely ignore calling fouls on defenders who knocked Jones to the floor on fast breaks last year.

Backing up Jones will be Curtyce Knox, who red-shirted last year, and senior Kristen Grant, who can also play the 2. Grant arrived at TAMU as the No. 20 overall prospect in the Class of 2010 but has mostly seen the floor in garbage time. Injuries and losing her mother to cancer last season cannot have helped her game. I'm hoping Kristen has a much-deserved great senior season.

Predictions has a roundup of where the Ags are in preseason polls. I couldn't find links for the full rankings but here's what I've got:

  • USA Today: 12th
  • Sporting News: 13th
  • ESPN's Charlie Creme: 13th nationally, 3rd in the SEC behind Tenn and Ky
  • Some magazine called Lindy's (no direct link; listed in other stories): 21st nationally. 5th in the SEC behind Tenn #6, KY #7, USCe #13, GA#19. Who are these guys and what are they smoking?

If anyone has better links or can list the rankings from the dead tree versions, please post in the comments.

For me, UConn is the clear favorite nationally, and the Lady Vols should to be favored to win the SEC. The SEC will continue to be a very tough conference. Kentucky graduated A'dia Mathies, but everyone else of note is back and more experienced. Georgia graduated too many starters from an overrated (despite their run in the tourney) team to be higher than the Ags, but LSU could be very dangerous this year.

I'll be back on the WBB beat when the season starts or if there's any notable news.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled focus on football.

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