Ags at #4 in the College Football Playoff rankings? Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908? Must be time to look at Women's Basketball!
When the Ags lost at Reed to Florida State in March it marked the last game in an A&M uniform for all but one of the heralded #2 recruiting class of 2012. Three of the five starters and two key subs ended their careers (Courtney Williams actually ended hers earlier by getting suspended). Juco transfer Shlonte Allen also isn't returning. What this means:
It's slightly worse (79.5%) if you only consider SEC play. The incoming recruiting class was guard-heavy, but lost the only Top 100 signee when Arleighsha McElroy failed to enroll in the Fall after taking Summer classes. Coach Blair added a pair of JuCo transfers and a notable Senior walk-on (see below) to join the three remaining freshmen and fill out the roster. All this change led the media to pick the Ags to finish 6th in the SEC. Nationally we're tabbed for 23rd in the preseason coach's poll and unranked, receiving votes in the AP poll.
Coach Blair talked about the team a month ago after the first practice
Blair talks about the team has depth at the 2, 3, and 4 but is thin at the point and the post. Watching the scrimmage is consistent with that.
The PG has been a key part of every one of Blair's teams, going back to his days at Arkansas. Asst Coach Amy Wright wrote about The Sorority of Blair PGs on a Wordpress blog the team has been posting to. 5-7 RS Senior Curtyce Knox is the last holdover from the 2012 recruiting class and will take over as the clear starter at the point; McElroy was supposed to be the backup and heir apparent.
Knox had some good moments in the scrimmage. She had some good drives and hit some 3s, and was able to get the ball inside for good opportunities for Khaalia sometimes, but I was struck by how the team wasn't finding her right away on outlets when bringing the ball up court, and how she still is working on really taking charge of what the team is doing.
But the bigger question for the position is going to be what we do when Curtyce has to go to the bench. Senior Taylor Cooper started as the PG for the White team while at other times it looked like Blair was having Sophomore Danni Williams run the show. I expect he'll also experiment with the freshmen, but if I had to guess, I think Taylor is the first option if Curtyce needs rest or gets in foul trouble.
5-7 Senior walk-on Alyssa Michalke got some time at PG for the White team. If that name sounds familiar it's because last year she was the first female Commander of the Corps of Cadets. Alyssa seems like a great person, but I don't expect her to get much playing time unless she just needs time to shake off the rust from not playing formal competition since she was a 2A All-District player at Schulenberg. I am hoping that she brings out some loud Corps support to Reed.
Over the years, the players at the 2 and 3 spots on Blair's teams have varied in how interchangeable they have been, so if since there's not a clear distinction in my mind, I'm lumping these together. This is where Coach Blair talks about having the most depth, and there are 5-6 players who fit in this group. Right now I'd say that we would start 5-10 Soph Danni Williams and 5-11 Taylor Cooper at these two spots, as the freshmen didn't look ready to me yet. Danni and Taylor are both 3 point shooters. 71 of Danni's 123 FGA were from behind the arc last season, while it was 20/30 for Taylor. Both Danni and Taylor had multiple 3 pointers in the scrimmage. The key will be whether we can get them open looks. They can both take the ball to the rim at times, but so far the mid-range game we saw so much of in the past few years isn't a strong point.
Backing them up are the 3 freshmen. 5-10 Aahliyah Jackson from Ft. Smith Arkansas, 5-10 Jasmine Williams from Cy-Woods, and 5-11 Rakel Spencer from New Orleans. All three played. It was nice to see Spencer in the second half, as she has been rehabilitating a serious knee injury. They all looked energetic and raw to me.
The clear starter at this position is 5-11 Soph Anriel "Lashes" Howard. Anriel led the team in total rebounds and rebounding average as a freshman last season, and took over as a starter by the end of the season. Howard has talked about working hard in the offseason on her scoring; she was only good for 4.3 ppg last year. Being undersized but high energy was great for rebounding, but she had trouble getting stuffed under the basket. It looks like she's trying to add a midrange J to her arsenal and improve her moves in the paint. Both would help a lot.
6-0 Jr Jasmine Lumpkin is in her second full season with the Ags after transferring from Michigan State in the middle of the 2014-15 season. Blair talks about working Jaz at the 3, but she is going to most likely play at the 4 and 5, which is where she played in the scrimmage.
I was expecting 6-3 Jr Juco transfer Caylinne Martin to play the 4 and the 5, but after the game I think I heard her say she is going to redshirt this year. Martin's sister will be a manager on the team as well.
The returning starter here is 6-5 Jr Khaalia Hillsman. Khaalia is the only returning player who started every game last year. She averaged 7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and blocked 35 shots in 32 games. 6-2 Jr Juco Transfer Walnatia Wright is listed as a post, but she's a thin 6-2 who looked like she might get overpowered in the paint. I expect to see Blair go to smaller lineups when Khaalia goes to the bench at least as often as he goes to Wright in the post. In that scenario I expect Lumpkin to be at the 5 and the Ags to play a lot of zone.
It's way too early to draw many inferences from one scrimmage, especially with so many new faces (and with no box score or video to review). But my eyeball evaluation is consistent with what Coach Blair has been saying. This team doesn't have an obvious go-to star who can create their own shot the way the Courtneys could. This means that to win it's really about playing as a team. And the teamwork is definitely a work in progress. This is perhaps why Blair set up an OOC schedule that is not the early killer we've had in other years. We have only one preseason top 25 opponent, Syracuse, in a December tournament, the Florida Sunshine Classic.
The offense was painfully bad at the start of the scrimmage. It was halfway through the first 8 minute quarter before either squad scored a FG, and there were lots of bad misses, turnovers, and calls for illegal screens. The coaches spent a lot of the scrimmage yelling "middle!". Not sure what they meant, but I think it was asking the team to do better at establishing position in the paint and getting the ball there. Things did settle down as the scrimmage went on. It wasn't great basketball, but the first scrimmage usually hasn't been in the years I've been going to the M&W scrimmage.
I'm hoping for a year of being pleasantly surprised for these ladies. We've got our season tickets and I'll continue to annoy the WBB haters by posting regularly about the team.
Courtney Walker and Chelsea Jennings are still finishing up their academic careers and are helping the team on the "mens" practice squad. They both played in the second and fourth quarters of the scrimmage.
The Ags have an exhibition this weekend against Oklahoma City at 5PM. The real season starts against Central Arkansas on Nov 13. Both are listed as being on the SECN+ streaming.