With two games left in the non-conference, it's time to check in on the Women's basketball team. Minnesota is 9-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming on a neutral court against Vanderbilt. The Gophers close out the conference season with back to back home games on December 21st and 22nd against Liberty and Central Michigan before beginning Big Ten Play against #12 Nebraska. Here are three things to watch going forward.
How Does the Team Respond to the loss of Rachel Banham?
Rachel Banham is out for the season after tearing her ACL against North Dakota. It's hard to overstate how important Banham is to the team. She is the leader scorer and leading 3 point shooter, the catalyst for the offense, team leader in assists, and the 3rd leading rebounder. Assuming she can rehab successfully, Banham has a professional career ahead of her somewhere.
In her absence, Shae Kelly Amanda Zahui B., and Carli Wagner will have to replace her production. Kelly, a transfer this year, is the team's second leading scorer. Coming off Freshmen All-American honors, Zahui B. has continued to develop into a dominant post-presence. Wagner is in many ways the new Banham, with a similar scorer's mentality. If these three are unable to replace Banham's production, Minnesota will have a difficult time returning to the NCAA tournament.
How Will Coach Stollings Offense fare in the Big Ten?
From her debut press conference, Coach Stollings has been clear that she will play an up-tempo brand of basketball. I have not found statistics on the women's game housed anywhere like KenPom or Basketball-Reference has for the men, which is a shame. Nonetheless, it's possible to get a rough estimate of possessions per game, using the following formula:
Possessions = FGA-OR+TO+0.475xFTA
In this formula, FGA represents total field goal attempts, OR is the number of offensive rebounds, and TO refers to turnovers. Free Throw attempts have a deflator to account for the fact that not every free throw attempts nets two shot attempts. Divide total possessions by 10 games, and the result is that Minnesota is averaging around 76 possessions a game. For reference, while that number is raw, it would rank in the top 10% of college men's teams. With that pace, the Gophers are averaging a little over a point per possession.
Certainly, Stollings' ball has taken hold. The question going forward is whether or not it will still stay during conference play. Minnesota is at its best when the team is able to run, but conference play has a tendency to slow everything down.
How Many Games Will Actually Be on Television?
This isn't a storyline so much as a complaint. BTN has multiple channels to show games. I know this because I've watched all of them at one time or another, with one notable exception-BTN Plus. Obviously men's sports remain dominant when it comes to ratings, but quite frequently BTN is showing repeats of old football games instead of current contests across sports. This is most notable though for women's sports. The Big Ten is a great conference in both men's and women's sports. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten has 5 teams in the AP Top 25 and another receiving votes (Northwestern). The consistent push of women's games (and non-revenue sports generally) to BTN Plus even though the channel is already bought and paid for is ridiculous.