TCU women's basketball season outlook with coach Mittie
Nov. 2, 2005
TCU will be without arguably the best player in school history, Sandora Irvin, for the first time in four seasons. Irvin grabbed 10 of TCU's 19 career records after her four-year run with the Purple and White. She was a consensus All-American as a senior and broke the NCAA records for blocked shots in a game with 16 and a career with 480.
Question: How do you make up for the loss of a player like Sandora Irvin?
Coach Mittie: "Sandora did so many things for our team. Statistically, you can look at the numbers she put up. She had a presence in the paint and made an impact at both ends of the floor. There won't be one player who can replace her. There is plenty of opportunity for players to increase their production.
"Many people had questions after we lost five seniors from the 2000-01 team and then Tricia Payne went down with a season-ending knee injury at our first practice the following year. I feel like it gives somebody else an opportunity. If you have a quality program you're going to lose good players each year. It means everybody else has to raise their game a notch."
The TCU Lady Frogs have been one of the most successful teams over the past four seasons in terms of defense thanks in large part to Sandora Irvin. They finished among the top 20 in the nation in field goal percentage defense each of those years and three times they were top 10. TCU was in the top 25 in steals the past two seasons and never finished lower than sixth nationally in blocked shots over the past four years.
Question: Do you have to change the way you play defense this season without Sandora Irvin on the floor?
Coach Mittie: "We've always been a pressure defense. There will be some changes. Before, we were able to extend our half-court defense because of Sandora's presence in the paint. We usually played behind the post and tempted the other team to score one-on-one.
"We may trap more, we may front more, but the basic philosophy is to create offense with defense and that will remain the same. We do regain Adrianne Ross, who is one of our best defensive players. With her, we'll be able to pressure the perimeter better, which in turn takes pressure off the inside."
Sandora Irvin's post play was a big reason for TCU's success over the past four years. She was able to score and rebound against anyone. This season, TCU returns several experienced guards to its roster, which may mean a change in the way it plays.
Question: Is the greatest strength of this year's team the guards instead of the post?
Coach Mittie: "Early in the year it will be. That's the position where most of our veterans are. We have a group of players at the guard and small forward positions who've been in the system for a while. The post will develop over the season, but we'll still be able to be physical there. That's a trademark of our defense.
"The scoring punch will be more balanced than a year ago. I wouldn't be surprised to see three or four or even five players in double digits for a game. The offense will have to be spread out if we're going to be successful."
Beginning with the 2003-04 season, coach Mittie implemented a much different style of offense than he had utilized in his previous four years at TCU. With two highly touted freshmen point guards in Natasha Lacy and Adrianne Ross joining the team, the Lady Frogs moved to a much more up-tempo style of play. The change created a higher scoring offense and a more exciting brand of basketball, but it also meant more turnovers. TCU committed 20.6 per game two years ago and saw a slight improvement last year to 19.4.
Question: Are turnovers still a concern for you this year?
Coach Mittie: "Injuries hurt us last year and it affected our guard play. It affected the rotation. Moneka Knight had to elevate her play and was used a lot more than we initially had planned. Lorie Butler-Rayford was going to redshirt and we decided against it in the early portion of the season because we were shorthanded.
"We play fast, so turnovers are going to happen, however, it's time for us to take care of the ball better. We need to be around the 17 per game range. We're going to need more possessions this year. We need to win the possession war in every game by creating more turnovers and committing less in order to win."
The Lady Frogs have not really had a true center for several seasons. Although many people considered Sandora Irvin to be a center, she was actually more of a power forward. TCU has two young and inexperienced centers listed on the roster this year in sophomore Ashley Goodwin and true freshman Micaela Younger.
Question: What are your plans for the center position in 2005-06?
Coach Mittie: "There will be games this season where I can see us playing without a true center for 20 or 30 minutes. It might be like when Kati Safaritova was here listed as our center, but she was a three-point threat. We may run an offense that is more wide open to allow different players to get in the paint.
"There are a lot of ways to score. Vanessa Clementino can go in the paint, Marissa Rivera can score in there, Ashley Davis knows how to. Natasha Lacy is capable of being as good a power forward in the Mountain West Conference as there is.
"Overall, I'm not concerned. Ashley Goodwin and Micaela Younger will continue to grow as the season progresses. Goodwin needs to bring it to the court more than she did a year ago. Younger is big and strong and with her, we'll just see how quickly she develops."
Leadership positions are something coach Mittie and his staff take very seriously each season. In 2003-04, it was easy to designate Ebony Shaw and Tracy Wynn as co-captains because of their personalities. The staff tabbed them in the summer, which remains the earliest they have made that decision. Last year, it was not so easy. Ashley Davis and Vanessa Clementino were named co-captains the day before TCU's first game of the season.
Question: Who are the leaders on this team?
Coach Mittie: "Great leaders are rare these days. I'm finding that out in the recruiting process more and more. Being a leader is not always the most popular position for a kid in high school or AAU basketball.
"Shared ownership is what I'd like to see from this team. I'd like to see us collectively invest in the team. We have players like Ashley Davis who have been in the system and understand what's expected, so the young ones will naturally gravitate to her. For this team, we're going to need a shared responsibility toward everyone finding their niche within the team and being accountable to that role."
TCU added just three newcomers to its roster this season compared to seven last year. Brittany Purdom, Whitney Regian and Micaela Younger all enter TCU as true freshmen. TCU needed all of its newcomers to contribute in 2004-05 after losing five seniors, however, it may be a different story this season with 10 letterwinners returning from a year ago.
Question: What do you expect from your three newcomers this year?
Coach Mittie: "Brittany Purdom is very athletic and improving her strength and footwork around the basket. Micaela Younger is very strong and needs to improve her agility and basketball skills. Both of them can give us minutes as freshmen.
"Whitney Regian has been one of the hardest workers in the preseason. She'll give us good guard depth. What surprises me about her is for a young player she isn't afraid to lead on the floor."
Defense has always been a strength for the Lady Frogs and their athleticism has risen several levels over the past few years. Those two should remain the same for 2005-06, however, there could be a new upside to TCU this year.
Question: What will be TCU's greatest strength this year?
Coach Mittie: "If we can get them to really share the basketball we could be really difficult to guard. They're versatile. The top seven or eight are interchangeable at a lot of positions. The key will be to get them to recognize where we have advantages.
"Having a veteran group of guards is certainly an asset as well. They just need to control the basketball better than they have in past years."
TCU struggled shooting the three last season. Its 30.2 percent clip from behind the arc was the lowest under coach Mittie. The Lady Frogs have never been bashful when launching it from deep and it appears that will not change in 2005-06.
Question: Is three-point shooting something that was addressed in the off-season?
Coach Mittie: "It is something we addressed in the spring and are working on. The players addressed it themselves in the summer as well. We've always been such a good team from three-point range.
"Last year, we were inconsistent. What we have is some guards who could get to the rim early in their career and they were able to score without having to shoot it much. We're working on getting them to become more fundamental. Natasha Lacy and Moneka Knight fall into that category.
"Vanessa Clementino is someone who can really shoot the three in practice. She never really got comfortable last year, but she's very good from there. Her game is going to be very different from a year ago."
Often times, there is a player who manages to surprise not only the opposition over the course of a season but the coaching staff as well. Last year, the players and staff knew the talent that Lorie Butler-Rayford had, but with the team being loaded at her position in the preseason the plan was to redshirt her. That all changed after Marissa Rivera and Adrianne Ross both suffered season-ending knee injuries in November.
Question: Is there a player on this year's team that may surprise people?
Coach Mittie: "I don't think so, although, I don't think people have seen what Adrianne Ross is capable of yet. She was ready to explode last year before going down with a knee injury.
"Natasha Lacy will be used a lot differently. Her preseason workouts have been solid. She is working on how she plays without the basketball. She hasn't done that much in her career here. In order to get to the next level, she must learn to play without the basketball. "People will see those two be very different players and it will be for the better. Vanessa Clementino will surprise people as well because there were glimpses of what she can do last year but now she's much more comfortable."
The injuries to Marissa Rivera and Adrianne Ross dealt the Lady Frogs two major blows last season, as both players were among TCU's top eight. Rivera tore her ACL in the first preseason game, while Ross did hers in the fifth regular-season contest versus Georgia. Rivera had her surgery in December and Ross's was done in January. Both received medical redshirts at the conclusion of the academic year.
Coach Mittie: "Adrianne Ross and Marissa Rivera were both in our top eight at the start of last season. As of mid-September, they were at about 85 percent. Both have had good preseason workouts, and by game time they will be 100 percent physically.
"There's a natural progression through an ACL. The strength might get better, but the player may be afraid to get better. There are days when a player may look comfortable and others where it looks like she has two left legs. They're in that process right now, and they get better every day without the fear of thinking it can happen again."
Each year, certain student-athletes put in a little more effort in the off-season to better their games. By doing so, they stick out from the rest of the team. Sandora Irvin worked on her outside shooting and overall strength following her junior season and it helped her become a consensus All-American as a senior.
Question: Who has worked the hardest since the end of last season?
Coach Mittie: "Jenna Lohse had a fantastic summer. She worked harder than any other player on the roster and her teammates would say the same thing. Jenna has come a long way and will give us some quality minutes this year. She continues to make strides with her back to the basket and is much stronger on the glass."
TCU became a member of the Mountain West Conference on July 1, 2005, marking its fourth league in less than a decade. The MWC figures to offer the Lady Frogs several challenges this season.
Question: Is the Mountain West's style of play a lot different from Conference USA?
Coach Mittie: "It's much different. The teams tend to play more half-court. There was more pressure defense in Conference USA and most teams played full-court transition.
"The coaches in the Mountain West are so good at executing in the half-court. They have good, physical post players. It's probably a better shooting league than Conference USA was."
TCU is familiar with all the teams in the Mountain West Conference since the schools all used to be members of the 16-team Western Athletic Conference. Because of that prior experience, coach Mittie knows which teams to look out for in the MWC this season.
Question: Who are the top three teams to beat in the MWC this year?
Coach Mittie: "Without a doubt, Utah has to be in that group. New Mexico always has to be considered among the best. UNLV could be very good with Sherry McCracklin returning after sitting out all of last season with injuries. Utah and New Mexico have been so consistent, and BYU should not be counted out either.
"This will be a very competitive league. I expect us to be in the mix every year as well. Every year, half the teams in the Mountain West Conference can win the league if things go well. We need to be a league that gets over half of its teams in postseason play every year."
The Mountain West Conference has traditionally played a Thursday-Saturday schedule and was set to do the same this season. In August, however, the format was changed to Wednesday-Saturday.
Question: How do you feel about switching from a Thursday-Saturday schedule to a Wednesday-Saturday schedule?
Coach Mittie: "I like it. I'm probably one of the few that does. It's going to be a challenging format because of the amount of air travel, but not having a travel partner for a Thursday-Saturday format would have teams flying all over the place.
"Next year, I think the coaches and administrators will take a hard look at the issue. This is the best format we could come up with for right now."
With Conference USA being a somewhat larger league, teams only played each other once during the regular-season, with the exception being two games against a team's travel partner. In the Mountain West, each team plays home and away with every school.
Question: Do you like playing home and away with every team?
Coach Mittie: "I love the round-robin format. I don't like when a champion is determined by the venue of certain games. Each team should play each other twice because it's fair. I'm excited about getting back to this format."
When the Lady Frogs travel to Denver in March for the conference tournament, their male counterparts will join them. In the Mountain West Conference, the men's and women's championships are played at the same time at the same venue.
Question: What is your opinion on playing the conference tournament at the same time in the same place as the men's tournament?
Coach Mittie: "It could be a fun event. I would like to see the Mountain West Conference use different arenas for them. My problems with it are things like practice times, but it's good for the fans. We have so many fans that follow both teams, and it allows the band and cheerleaders to attend both tournaments.
"The challenge in the Mountain West is there is no middle meeting point for all the schools. I'm anxious to see how it is supported in Denver. Commissioner Craig Thompson has done an excellent job with it. The philosophy of the tournament being neutral is one I agree with as long as the support from the schools makes it positive for the student-athletes and beneficial to the Mountain West in terms of television exposure."