Women's basketball season is here! The Bears tip off in . . . let me check, is that right? Clarksville, Tennessee on Friday? Well, that's certainly an interesting place to start things off!
Aaaaanyway, it's time to actually start making some guesses about how this season will look. As it turns out, it might be a weird season. Let's start with the bad news: In the unlikely event that you haven't already heard, Mercedes Jefflo has been dismissed from the team. It was also recently announced that freshman guard Breanna Cavanaugh has returned home to New Jersey to aid in her recovery from a concussion sustained in September. Thus Cal's roster has been reduced from 11 players to just 9. While Cavanaugh could theoretically return, I think it's probably best to assume this will be a redshirt season until we hear otherwise, and hope she can recovery soon whether or not she can return to the court.
How will Coach Gottlieb distribute minutes to available players? Here's one person's vaguely uninformed guesses:
Starter: Asha Thomas, 30 minutes/game
Back-up: Gabby Green, 10 minutes/game
The biggest question mark for Asha Thomas was health and rust - a knee injury limited her during her senior year of high school. It's dangerous to reach conclusions based on one game, but she certainly didn't look rusty in Cal's exhibition win. Her health will be critical because she's Cal's only true point guard. For that reason alone she will be shouldering a heavy burden. Remember four years ago, when Brittany Boyd stepped onto the court and was immediately a plus point guard even as a true freshman? If Cal is lucky enough to have that type of lightning strike twice, pinch yourself hard.
Gabby Green typically ran point last year in the rare moments when Boyd took a seat on the bench - she should be more than capable of shifting over when Thomas needs a breather. Most of the time both Thomas and Green will be on the court, giving the Bears at least two capable ball-handlers.
Starter: Gabby Green, 25 minutes/game
Starter: Mikayla Cowling, 35 minutes/game
Starter: Courtney Range, 30 minutes/game
Back-up: Penina Davidson, 20 minutes/game
Back-up: MaAne Mosley, 10 minutes/game
Here's where it gets complicated. MaAne Mosley is a true shooting guard. Everybody else on this list can play multiple positions. Cowling, Range and Davidson are all wings who can move down to the block and bang down low when necessary, and they will all likely be called on to do so defensively. But all three are also more than comfortable drifting out behind the arc and launching 3s when left open.
The main question that needs to be answered? Who's the second ball handler when either Green or Thomas sits? The answer is probably MaAne Mosley, who played 19 minutes against Westmont on Sunday. Mosley (and Breanna Cavanaugh) were probably supposed to spend most of their freshmen seasons learning from the bench, getting minutes here or there when Mercedes Jefflo needed a rest. We're going to find out soon whether or not Mosley is ready to contribute as a freshman.
Another way to look at the depth chart? Cal will distribute 80 minutes to three ball handlers (Thomas, Green, Mosley), 80 minutes to wings who can play inside when needed (Cowling, Range, Davidson, Waters) and 40 minutes to a center to anchor the key (see below)
Starter: Kristine Anigwe, 25 minutes/game
Back-up: Chen Yue, 15 minutes/game
Back-up: K.C. Waters, unknown minutes/game
Kristine Anigwe is technically listed on the roster as a forward, but in terms of actual function I strongly suspect she and Chen Yue will be anchoring the paint as centers this year. Anigwe will start and receive most of the minutes, but Yue will certainly be part of the rotation.
Here's a question: Will Cal at any point this year go back to a two post offense? It was all the Bears ran when Talia Caldwell, Gennifer Brandon, and Reshanda Gray were on the roster, but with a bunch of stretch fours the Bears moved away from it. Could it come back?
If it does, then we might see Anigwe and Yue on the court at the same time, and K.C. Waters might get meaningful playing time as an interior power forward. Waters hasn't received playing time in significant games yet (despite looking solid in limited playing time) but the roster is so short this year that it seems like everybody needs to be available. True, Cal could go with an 8 player rotation, but if there are any injuries then it's all hands on deck.
1. How big of a leap will the sophomores make?
Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling were both special as freshmen - averaging 33 and 31 minutes/game so quickly is special enough. But it wasn't just filling minutes - Cowling averaged an impressively efficient 10-5, and Green posted 3 assists/game despite playing mostly off the ball. If they make leaps as sophomores then Cal still might contend atop the conference despite so much youth and attrition. For Cowling, it's about increasing her usage without impacting her efficiency. For Green, it's about adding scoring (read: shooting) to go along with all of the little things she does.
But don't forget - there's another sophomore to watch. Penina Davidson was quietly a solid offensive option last year and is reportedly more confident and smoother this year. If she can improve her rebounding and defense as well she'll be a critical cog in the rotation all year long.
2. Can Asha Thomas run the show?
Asha Thomas is not Brittany Boyd. I mean that both literally and stylistically. She probably won't have Boyd's defensive impact. She's probably not going to be as dangerous off the bounce, at least as a freshmen.
But we knew that already. What Asha Thomas can be is a capable passer and dangerous shooter. If scouting reports and early returns are any indication, nobody will be sagging off of Thomas. This team will look very different with somebody else running the show, but different isn't better or worse. Thomas should have enough weapons around here to keep the Cal offense moving.
3. How high should our expectations for Kristine Anigwe be?
4. Can this team stay healthy?
No real explanation needed here. Even two meaningful injuries and this team is playing on the edge. Man will it be nice next season when 3 or 4 players are added and we have a full roster of players in every class again.