The coach enters her third season with a roster that is still turning over a bit, but one which certainly has Lady Tiger fans looking up and seeing the progress we expected when she replaced Cindy Stein after the 2009-2010 campaign. Since then, she has led the Tigers to back-to-back 13-18 records the past two years, but I believe the Tigers will better that mark this year fairly easily. Before we get to this season and how it has gone so far, let’s take a look at what the Coach is working with.
The biggest thing which hampered the Tigers coming out of the Stein-era appeared to be a lack of shooters on the squad. While not crushed with the recruiting cycle issues which plagued her colleague in Frank Haith, Coach Pingeton did have to try to find some immediate help. In those cases, she turned to the JUCO ranks for help (as coaches often do) while she built and rebuilt relationships with in-state talent, so of our four seniors, two of them have only been with the Tigers for the past two years. And while it appears 6’5 center Kendra Frazier is on the team but no longer active, that leaves only 5’10 guard Sydney Crafton as a four-year senior. She is one of six Tigers to have registered a start thus far this season, as both she and 6’1 junior (JUCO transfer) forward Bri Kulas got the nod in each of the Tigers’ first 13 games.
The rest of the starts have been split between 5’7 frosh guard Lianna Doty (11), 6’1 senior center Liz Smith (12), 5’7 sophomore guard Kyley Simmons (8) and 5’10 senior JUCO guard Liene Priede (8). Simmons was actually the only member of the team last year (returning or not) who started every game and led the team in minutes. Other returning starts include Priede, who earned 17 starts in 31 contests, and Crafton, who received 14 starts in her 29 appearances last year, while seeing 22 starts in 31 games the previous season. Looks like three folks will return next year with a lot of starts under their belt, which is never a bad thing, though the classes are a bit unbalanced with only one junior on the entire squad (Kulas)
Yes, we are coming through the non-conference portion of the year, so bench play may certainly shrink up a bit from the six I referenced above. However, there are certainly some folks still seeing some good minutes now which I would expect to continue as the ladies move to conference play. One such person is 5’9 sophomore guard Morgan Eye. Eye, who started 14 games last year, and though she has not started a game this year, has played in all of them and is averaging almost 23 minutes per contest. She, along with the folks above, make up the seven Tigers to see action in all 13 contests this year. Another initial-sitter worth noting is 6’0 frosh guard Maddie Stock who sees about 13 minutes per game, but has had a nice, instant-offense type of impact on the team in her 12 appearances.
There are three more ladies with 12 appearances each, all averaging just about 9 minutes each who may be fighting to stretch the rotation to eight or nine. They are 6’1 frosh forward Darian Saunders, 6’2 frosh forward Michelle Hudyn and 5’9 sophomore guard Bree Fowler, who saw 6 starts last season. I would imagine that because of their height, Saunders and Hudyn are the most likely to continue to see some minutes, though they may be competing for the same ones.
Rounding out folks who have seen some time this year is 6’1 frosh guard Morgan Stock (twin sister of Maddie), who has seen action in eight games. 6’0 frosh guard Lindsey Cunningham is reported to be red-shirting this year after an injury has kept her off the floor since the exhibition games (where she saw 16 total minutes and did not score a bucket on one missed attempt).
Mizzou signed a class of three this past November which had a taste of everything, both in terms of position and region. They stayed in-state in signing 5’10 guard Sierra Michaelis. I realize North Mercer High School (or Mercer High School, it appears to depend upon where you are looking) may not be all that big, and I could not tell you where Mercer, MO even is, but I do know that 33 points, 11 boards, 5 assists and 6 steals per game is quite solid for 2011-2012. She led her squad to a 28-0 record before being upset in the Class 1 playoffs by Jefferson (Conception) High School. No stats on her so far this year, but Mercer is 6-0 and winning by an average score of 79.3-29.5. I can only assume she is a BIG part of that.
The Tigers then went regional and found 6’1 G/F Jordan Frericks from nearby Quincy, Illinois. She scored 16 a game last year while account for 8 boards and 5 steals per game. And hey, she has her own website!! Here is another nice piece on her as well. They are off to a fine start this season (no stats) at 10-0, including a win over Columbia Rock Bridge a couple of weeks ago. MaxPreps has her squad as No. 61 overall in the country and third in Illinois overall and first in 3A.
Finally, the Tigers went over to Ohio and brought back 6’2 forward Kayla McDowell from Cincinnati. She averaged just shy of 14 points and 8 boards last season, with 2 assist and 2 steals per game. The local paper of record had this to say about her when she was getting ready to sign. According to this site, her high school (Mason) is off to an 8-0 start, with McDowell averaging (through seven games) 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 2.3 steals per game. She has helped out her team take down their conference rivals a couple of weeks ago.
Oh what a difference a year makes. In each of their first two seasons under Coach Pingeton, the Tigers averaged shooting less than 40 percent from the floor (39.3 in 10-11 and 39.7 in 11-12). That included hitting just 28.6% of their threes in 10-11 and 34.1% last year (a considerable improvement). This year, the squad is shooting a much-improved 44% from the floor, 36.1% from three (and we will come back to that) and 67.2% from the line. Another nice improvement has materialized in team rebounds and margin, where the Tigers were at 37.5 and -1.3 in 10-11 and 37.1 and -2 last year. This year, the squad is boarding at 41.7 per game pace, sitting 5.3 ahead of their competition. Yes, conference season has not started, but it is nice to see the positive movement.
Getting individual, no one on the team is averaging more than 28.2 minutes per game (Kulas), with 8 getting 12 minutes or more per contest. Kulas has used that time on the floor to lead the team in points at 13.9 and rebounds with 6.5. Morgan Eye seems to have settled into her role as first off the bench, as she is 2nd on the team in scoring (sound familiar basketball fans?) with 12.9 points per game. Eye has taken 115 shots on the season, with 102 of them coming from distance, of which she has hit a REALLY impressive 46.1%. This is far cry from the 63-177 (35.6%) output she muddled through last year. And at 47-102, she is leading a team which I believe leads the NCAA in some modicum of three-point shooting at 130-360 (meaning we are hitting 10 per game). Rounding out our double-digit scorers is Crafton, who took two years of averaging about six points per game and parlayed it into an 11.5 ppg average thus far this season. She is also third on the squad in rebounds with 5.6.
The Tigers have done a nice job of taking turns with having big games, as they already feature six different people who have led the team in scoring and four who have led in rebounds. Doty is the leading play-maker with 65 assists (60 turnovers), a solid defender (team-high 27 steals) while also coming in with 9 points per game. Kyley Simmons is also seeing some time at the point (47 assists to just 14 turnovers), is second on the team in steals (16) but is not the scorer Doty is with only about 4 points per game. Maddie Stock has shown her preference for the long ball, as she has taken only five shots NOT from 3-point range on the year (she has hit four of those five) in accounting for about 7 points per game. She is knocking down a decent 38% on those threes (24-63)
Rounding out the box score is Liz Smith, who is second on the team in rebounds with 5.7 per game while also scoring at the same clip. She also leads the team in blocks with 13. After averaging 6.5 points per game last year, Liene Priede is struggling from the field a bit this year, shooting only 32% from the floor, good enough for only 3.2 ppg. Saunders is next in scoring with 3 per game (along with 2.7 boards), followed by Hudyn (2.3 ppg), Morgan Stock (1.8 ppg) and Fowler (1.3 ppg).
Before we move on, a note about the shooting of Morgan Stock and Bree Fowler thus far this season. They have combined to go 10 of 54 from the field (18.5%). If you remove their shooting from the team, MU actually goes from 44% to 45.8%. Fowler did shoot 27.4% last year, so I guess there should be some progression to the mean perhaps? Eeek.
As a team, the Tigers are scoring a solid 74.2 per game, while giving up a pretty stingy 56.5. But how good has the competition been? Let’s take a look.
Thanks to RealTimeRPI.com, we can see how the Tiger opponents are measured (at least in one fashion). Currently sitting at 11-2 (and at No. 78) with one game remaining in their non-con slate, the Tigers have seen some decent competition and have a nice win while also managing to take care of business. The best win of the season is definitely the 91-77 win over No. 55 SMS. Their two losses are not awful by any stretch, as they were worked pretty decently by No. 32 Green Bay in a 53-33 loss in Cancun, Mexico, which they followed up with a heart-breaking loss to No. 89 Minnesota. Mizzou was up 4 with less than 3 to go, but could not close it out and fell by 5 to finish their trip to Cancun. Aside from those games, I can say the Tigers have done a nice job of scheduling some teams which are OK RPI-wise (No. 148 W. Illinois, No. 137 Wichita State, No. 155 SEMO, No. 138 Tenn-Martin) while handling some of the weaker sisters (No. 192 SLU, No. 243 Murray St, No. 271 Ark Pine-Bluff) and taking out the trash (No. 295 Morgan State, No. 321 S. Illinois and No. 328 Chicago State).
All that remains out of conference will be a road test against No. 224 Memphis. While the Tigers went to Cancun, Mexico for three games over Thanksgiving Break, this will be the first pure road test. After that contest on 12/29, the Tigers start their first SEC season with a tall order in travelling to No. 18 UGA. Currently, the SEC boasts 7 of the top 30 schools in the RPI (No. 5 Tenn, No. 15 USC, No. 18 UGA, No. 19 Vandy, No. 25 Kentucky, No. 29 aTm and No. 30 Florida), and MU will play those squads a combined 8 times (only doubling up on No. 5 Tennessee of course). The games split out evenly between home and road at 4 games each. The next tier of teams feature five schools between 61 (LSU) and 128 (Alabama), of which Mizzou is a member at 78. The Tigers will take on the other four schools a total of six times, with home/homes with No. 80 Auburn and No. 84 Arkansas, while getting No. 61 LSU at home. Of the two at the bottom (No. 260 Ole Miss and No. 276 Miss St.), we will travel to Oxford, but get the Bulldogs at home.
Can Mizzou rise to the top of the second tier in the SEC? I think it is possible, but will require us to continue to win the games we should (2-0 against the State of Mississippi for instance), show some fortitude on the road in games against teams from the State of Alabama, and maybe a nice, signature conference win or two against one of the blue-bloods. A 16-game conference slate which finishes at 7-9 (2 wins against Miss teams, 4-2 in the next tier and a win against someone from the top) would give MU (assuming a win against Memphis) a 19-11 record on the year. Maybe get that 20th win in the conference tourney and the Women’s NIT would be a REALLY nice step for this team.