The months have now turned and it is September. Even though it is football season, it is never too early to dive into a discussion about this upcoming Mizzou Women’s Basketball season.
I talked with my colleagues, Brandon Haynes (former WBB writer for The Maneater & now Rock M beat writer) and Adeen Rao, new Rock M writer focusing on non-revenue sports, about some of the hottest topics surrounding the program and predictions for this season.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into it!
With all the transfers and Skylah Travis medically retiring, the roster is now down to 12. What is this team still in need of to be successful the coming season?
Adeen Rao: A quality rebounder. The loss of Aijha Blackwell is huge, considering this team was a mere 12th in the SEC in rebounding. Blackwell was undoubtedly the best rebounder on the team (and one of the best in the country) and they haven’t added a single player this offseason that can even come close to mitigating the void left by Blackwell in the rebounding department.
Brandon Haynes: When Aijha Blackwell missed time last season, Missouri’s lackluster depth at the forward and center positions was evident. With the losses of Blackwell (to Baylor) and LaDazhia Williams (to LSU) this offseason, however, that weakness is even more pressing. The Tigers will create problems for teams from the mid-range and long range game, but their lack of a formidable presence in the post will make it difficult to remain successful.
Lauren Rosenberg: This team is in desperate need of a dominant presence in the paint and someone who can shoot the midrange. Mizzou tends to live and die by the three, which has brought success, but they absolutely need to develop their post players on both the offensive and defensive sides. You can’t expect to be successful in the SEC without a developed and dominant overall play in the post.
So far this offseason, the team has added the transfer Katlyn Gilbert from Notre Dame, and incoming freshmen Averi Kroenke and Ashton Judd. Who are you most excited about?
AR: When it comes to the future, Kroenke is definitely an eye-opener with how highly-touted she was out of high school, being a Top 75 recruit. As far as who helps this team the most in the present day, I think Gilbert brings a lot of experience this team greatly needs, considering the losses they endured via the portal.
BH: I’m a sucker for the hometown players, so I’ve got to go with Kroenke on this one. The Rock Bridge graduate comes to Missouri as the No. 22 ranked guard as well as the No. 75 recruit overall, according to ESPN’s ratings. As if that’s not enough optimism, she will be surrounded by Lauren Hansen and Hayley Frank, who have become staples around the SEC. The opportunities she’ll have to learn from the duo will be extremely beneficial in her development as one of the next great faces of Missouri Women’s Basketball.
LR: When it comes to solely this season, I am most excited about Gilbert. [Shameless plug: I will have a feature on her coming soon.] Kate brings a whole different skillset this team has lacked. She has a stellar midrange game that is already fully developed. She’s versatile and will - mark my words - become a three point threat. Gilbert is a proven menace in the passing lanes. In her lone full season (she’s been marred by injuries and this past season was pregnant with her son), she averaged almost two per game. At 5’10, she is a big guard who, despite being classified as a point guard, can easily adapt to a role of a combo guard. Kate is an all-around two-way player whose versatility and experience will greatly help the Tigers this season.
Who is the go-to now that Blackwell is gone? Will we see Hayley Frank continue to step up or the emergence of someone else?
AR: I’m going to go ahead and go with the easy answer here, Hayley Frank. Frank was a very reliable option from beyond the arc last year and at the line. But most importantly, she was the team’s second highest rebounder behind the now departed Blackwell, and I expect Frank to take a bigger role as far as rebounding is concerned this year.
BH: I’m ready for the Lauren Hansen SHOW! We’ve seen glimpses of Hansen’s overall production last season (34 points against Lehigh, 21 against South Carolina, including the game-winning layup, and a 23-point outburst against LSU). The reality is that someone will need to step up when Frank commands the attention of each opponent, and I believe we’ll see a breakout performance from the former Auburn transfer. Keep an eye on her eye-popping 3PT% as well...
LR: I feel like the obvious answer here is Frank, so I’m going to go with Sara-Rose Smith. Smith is extremely versatile and athletic. We saw flashes of her defensive abilities throughout the season with her ability to alter shots. She’s a solid rebounder which the Tigers need, and she averaged 2.3 per game, playing in all 31 games. Smith may be listed as a guard, but her 6’1 frame contributes to her versatility of playing a combo with forward.
As for Frank, we will see her step up more, especially down low. We know she can thrive in three point shooting but we need to see her asserting herself in the post. She is extremely capable of posting up but shied away from it last season. This year, she absolutely has to develop her post game to contend with the SEC post players.
In June, Mizzou announced it would be participating in the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship hosted in the Bahamas. They will face Wake Forest first followed by Virginia Tech. What are your way too early projections for those two games?
AR: I think the Tigers will dominate the Demon Deacons purely because Wake was not a good team in the ACC last year and they just hired a new head coach so systematically there might be some problems for that team to adjust to. Virginia Tech should have their way with the Tigers, they have brought in some great transfers over the off-season and actually find themselves 11th in ESPN’s Way Too Early WBB Top 25 for 2023 so this one might get ugly for Mizzou.
BH: Despite the Demon Deacons 16-17 record last season, they advanced farther than Missouri in last season’s WNIT tournament, recording a victory in their first game. That’s why I believe that Missouri should not underestimate the completion Wake Forest will bring. With that being said, however, the Tigers are going to be hungry for those non conference wins, leading me to pick Missouri in a very tight game in the Bahamas. Game two will be where Missouri shows what it’s all about. Virginia Tech is a well-coached, deep and talented program that will likely advance far into the NCAA Tournament. Early on, Missouri may blitz with its 3PT barrage, but the Hokies will control the rebounding battle and cruise to a comfortable victory.
LR: Wake Forest is not a team to be overlooked as an easy W. The Deamon Deacons are bringing back basically all of their roster from last season, with the exception of second leading scorer Christina Morra and Kaylen Dickson. The former graduated while the latter didn’t appear in any games the past two seasons. Wake’s only addition is Aussie freshman Kate Deeble, who is a very versatile player. They have the best chemistry but I still believe Mizzou will come out on top in an extremely close battle.
As for Virginia Tech, they are stacked. The Hokies lost a few players to the transfer portal but their acquisitions definitely filled in any gaps and beyond. The incoming highlight player is Ashley Owusu, who was an absolute stud at Maryland. A Lisa Leslie Award finalist for best center in the NCAA, Elizabeth Kitley is back and Mizzou will have a tough time matching up against her 6’6 frame. I think VT will blow out Mizzou, but at least they’re playing on my birthday, right? RIGHT?!
What are your expectations for this team, given that they lost a bulk of their scoring and rebounding?
AR: This team should do well in the non-conference slate but I expect a few slip-ups against teams that are bigger and stronger in the post than Mizzou. The aspirations of a good non-conference showing can rapidly change if the team gets hit with the injury bug, though.
SEC-wise, there is (sadly) absolutely no shot this team overperforms in SEC play and surprises people. They just do not have the depth and strength required to perform well in a conference which has vastly improved over the summer. While other teams were reeling in transfers, Mizzou was losing players to the portal and one of the players we expected to see this season (Sky) is medically retiring.
BH: Without a proven and consistent rebounding force, Missouri remains an obscure team for me. The Tigers have the talent in Hayley Frank and Lauren Hansen, but feature weaknesses that make me question whether they can come close to what they’ve accomplished in the past. The non-conference slate is by no means an easy one. Missouri will take its blows, but it’s there where we will see the true identity of the team. Despite the question marks, I do believe it’s likely we’ll see a winning record in non-conference play and possibly a 10-3 mark entering SEC play.
The SEC is a monster, as we all witnessed last season. Missouri will struggle, but its play style will likely cause problems for a lot of teams. A winning record in SEC play is unlikely and I expect a season similar to what we saw from Alabama and Mississippi State last season. The lack of quality victories and a record near .500 will likely keep the Tigers out of the NCAA Tournament for another year.
LR: I expect the team to do well during non-conference play. They do have pretty solid opponents in Virginia Tech and UMass, as well as in-state rivals Missouri State and Illinois. I feel like those four games will be absolute dog fights, but Mizzou will prevail with a winning non-con record.
As for the SEC, that is a whole other story. Teams are getting way stronger with transfers from other power five schools and inter-conference transfers. It’s hard to make predictions because we don’t know how the post is going to perform, but if they don’t do well, I expect a losing SEC record and another NCAA tournament miss.
What is your projected starting lineup for this upcoming season?
AR: Mama Dembele, Kate Gilbert, Haley Troup, Sara-Rose Smith, and Hayley Frank
BH: Like I mentioned earlier, I expect great things from Hansen. Kate Gilbert will be a name to watch though as she could potentially replace Hansen’s spot if a problem arises.
Mama Dembele, Lauren Hansen, Haley Troup, Sara-Rose Smith and Hayley Frank
LR: This is a bit hard for me at one position. I want Lauren Hansen to start because she thrived in the role last season. But I feel like Kate Gilbert will get the opportunity over her either in the beginning of the season or some time during the season.
Mama Dembele, Lauren Hansen, Haley Troup, Sara-Rose Smith and Hayley Frank
Unfortunately, it has to be asked. How much time does Coach Robin Pingeton have left if things don’t work out this season?
AR: Losing players to the transfer portal is never a good sign for a coach that signed an extension four years ago, but with that being said, I don’t see Robin’s contract being terminated before the extension expires. If the team completely falls off a cliff, I still think Robin will stay because of the young talent she continues to bring in on this roster.
BH: This question is one of the biggest storylines this season. (editor’s note: this is why Brandon came up with this question!) If Missouri underperforms with its limited roster, I would not be shocked if this season is Pingeton’s final one at Missouri. Her previous success has not translated into a deep NCAA Tournament push and the memories of last season’s downfall still linger. While her contract ends in 2024-25, I do not believe she’ll reach that point unless Missouri fights its way into the NCAA Tournament this season, or notches a respectable finish in a competitive SEC.
LR: Robin is under contract until the 2024-2025 season after she signed a four-year extension in 2018. I don’t think AD Desiree Reed-Francois letting her go until after her contract expires. If this roster stays at 12, I believe Reed-Francois will give Pingeton a little leeway. It truly comes down to what she can do in her last two seasons of her contract, assuming this season doesn’t go well.