Monday, June 17, 2024

4 keys to the Spartans' 2010 Final Four run

Matt Bishop

A lot is at stake for the MSU women’s basketball team this season.

The Spartans, who kick off the 2009-10 season Friday at Dayton, have the potential, talent and depth to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament after a rather unexpected run to the Sweet 16 last season.

Head coach Suzy Merchant returns all but one player from last year’s squad — and they all are a year more experienced. She also added two talented freshmen — guard Jasmine Thomas and center Kelsey Smith.

Thomas immediately should become an impact player and Merchant took a long look at her during the two exhibition games, as she played 11 more minutes than anyone against Wayne State and five more minutes than anyone against Grand Valley State. With MSU’s depth in the post, Smith will have the chance to develop and not be rushed into critical situations, which is good because she has the ability to be a major player.

And the returnees aren’t half bad, either. Merchant can utilize multiple starting lineups to fit in with an opponent’s style and she has the depth to play up-tempo on both ends of the floor.

Here are four things that need to happen for the Spartans to make a trip to the Final Four this season:

1) Staying healthy

It seems each season, someone on the team goes down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. In 2006, it was Lauren Aitch. In 2007, it was Aisha Jefferson. In 2008, it was Taja Wilson. And in early 2009, it was Brittney Thomas. So far this season, the Spartans have avoided the curse, but maintaining health is a major priority for this team. Merchant and her staff have been careful with seniors Allyssa DeHaan and Aisha Jefferson in practice, with both returning from offseason injuries. They are seeing limited reps. Although the team does have the depth to overcome an injury or two, if they start piling up, that depth goes out the window and the entire season changes. And it doesn’t matter who it is, either. It could be someone at the top of the rotation or the bottom. The depth and ability to mix-and-match lineups is crucial for this team.

2) DeHaan taking over

We’ve seen her do it before. Now, as a senior, she has to take this team and put it on her back. And that doesn’t necessarily mean she has to put up 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks each night. But she needs to be a force defensively, draw double and triple teams and make good passes to her open teammates when she does. Now, this team isn’t going to be a 3-point shooting team, so there is going to be added emphasis on her to dominate the post, because that’s where the team is going to get a majority of its buckets. The offense needs to run through her or, when she’s out of the game, Aitch.

3) Hitting outside shots

Yes, this team is not going to be a 3-point shooting team. But when it gets the open looks, it needs to cash in. Sophomore forward Courtney Schiffauer looks to have the stroke to slip out and hit shots when she’s not getting after it inside and junior forward Kalisha Keane, sophomore guard Porsche Poole and Thomas all have the ability to do it as well. If this team gets too jump shot happy, it could make for tough games, but hitting the open shots is crucial.

4) Weather early storm

The bad news: The Spartans play three of the nation’s top-11 preseason teams in their first eight games. The good news: Each game is at home. MSU hosts No. 4 Notre Dame on Nov. 19 in the home opener, No. 5 North Carolina on Dec. 3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and No. 11 Xavier on Dec. 9. The team looks to have it mostly together right now and is as determined as any I’ve seen. The two games at Dayton and Detroit to open the season will provide a nice test and will let us know if the team is ready for those tough games.

Matt Bishop is a State News football reporter. He can be reached at bishop20@msu.edu.

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