I'm trying something new with the basketball coverage this year. Every week or two of MAC play, in addition to checking with the Men's and Women's Basketball teams with postgame recaps and takeaways, I hope to address a handful of broader questions and issues the teams are dealing with at the time.
The women's team returns to Alumni Arena tonight to take on the Western Michigan Broncos and looks to even their MAC record at 2-2. Expect the questions surrounding the men's team up later today, though they play tomorrow.
1. Has Mackenzie Loesing found an equilibium?
Junior Mackenzie Loesing, much like Shannon Evnas oon the men's side, has established herself as a scorer no matter how she gets there. Sometimes for both that means pouring it in form the line when aren't falling from the floor.
A "semi-serious' flare up of an old ankle injury - one that has required surgery in the past -- has hampered the guard's season so far, knocking her out of the starting lineup in mid-December and slowing her better than any defense. But in the last few games, Loesing has found a groove of sorts, hitting shots more like herold self in spite of occasional grimaces and gimpiness.
We've been told that MAckenzie won't be back to 100% this season, but we've seen in the first week of MAC play that she can still get into double digits and contribute the most productive minutes of any guard on the team. If this is the equilibrium between the injury, more minutes for healthier but less productive players, and consistency for the junior, the Bulls will get closer to the team we expected in the preseason.
2. Can Christa Baccas score more consistently?
I've mentioned a few times that senior center Christa Baccas could with a strong finish to 2015 catch Kourtney Brown's school blocks record. She is indispensible on defense.
Despite averaging 8.7 points a night, she rarely settles into a groove at the offensive end. Baccas had a double-double Saturday against Miami, but it was just her second of the season (the other coming against St. Francis). By contrast, despite 7 blocks in the MAC opener against Ohio, Christa was a nonfactor at the other end, prompting Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack to say "I think I think of Christa as more of a scorer than Christa does."
If UB can get more from their center, usually the tallest player on the floor, everything will get easier offensively.
3. Have they learned their lesson from distance?
I don't pretend to have even a mediocre understanding of X's and O's, or to know much about coaching decisions that I'm not just parroting from years of listening, but it's been easy to point out UB's three-point shooting as a mistake.
Last year, the Bulls were sub-30% from distance. This season, they remain below that threshold. The three players seeing the most floortime are BAccas and fellow forwards Kristen Sharkey and Alexus Malone, all 6'0" or taller and capable of dominating down low. But in the first two MAC contests, UB put up a combined 52 attempts from distance. Why? I don't know. Third base!
Anyway, in the road win against Miami, UB was just 3-13 from beyond the arc. That's still not great, but I care more about the latter number than the former. Just watching the offense on Saturday we consistently saw players pass up looks to move the ball in closer, and the shots they did take were "keep-'em-honest" shots - reminders to make sure the Redhawks didn't devote too much energy to the lane.
3-13 seems a reasonable number to me, accepting that ~30% is where we're at, and the Bulls got a win.. Will they continue to work to their strengths, or was this the aberration?
4. Is anything settled at point guard?
Opposite Loesing, who has been spelled when necessary by the Sisters Ups and their similar brand of hard-nosed play, UB has simply not found an answer. Camera Miley has improved noticeably over the season, and got the large majority of minutes against Miami, but still committed 9 turnovers. Karin Moss (fouls) and Joanna Smith (FG%) have each struggled themselves.
On Saturday Stephanie Reid entered the fray and got her first game action since joining the team at Christmastime. This is probably the biggest question for me in the short term, and I'll be interested to see how the minutes shake out tonight.