Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Mailbag
Jan 13, 2021
You’ve got questions. I’ve got questions. I went and found the answers. Let’s get to the first Mailbag of the Pac-12 season, submitted on Twitter.
Q. The ability for head coaches to create game plans and scouting reports has been challenged by COVID-infections and game cancelations. What strategies have been most successful?
Interestingly, most teams have known about their cancellations well in advance to be able to plan and scout accordingly. In other words, they’ve had more time and fewer teams to prepare for. I don’t think they think that’s a bad thing. Unless you are the opposing team. Oregon’s Kelly Graves talked last week, for example, about how the fact that Oregon State is unable to play currently, allowed UCLA to focus its preparation solely on Oregon and the degree to which that might have been was a disadvantage for his team who played two games that weekend.
Do you think there will be any adjustments made this season that will be continued in the future?
I would imagine that the teams are certainly enjoying traveling by charter flight and that would be one thing they’d like to keep. More adjustments around the recruiting calendar could stick, including increased use of Zoom rather than in-person visits and trips. And maybe even the length of the season schedule. Shorter, perhaps. The collegiate basketball season is a long one, from Thanksgiving, through Christmas to Easter if you’ve made it that far. Shaving off a few games might take hold.
Will there be a time frame in which players will have to decide as to whether they want to use the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA?
The NCAA Division I Council voted in October to give eligibility relief to winter-sport athletes, regardless of how many games they play in during 2020-21. Athletes can play five seasons in a six-year span. The decision about whether an athlete uses the extra year is technically up to the schools. According to the NCAA, schools self-apply for the waiver for eligibility relief, putting them in position to choose whether athletes are allowed the extra season. At this point, there is no set date for those decisions, though the weeks following the end of the season would seem to make sense for both players and coaches.
I'm interested if coaches have any idea about their seniors possibly returning next season? Have seen several mentions on Twitter. How that affects recruiting and roster management?
It’s going to be a very fluid situation, I think. The possibility of bringing seniors back for a fifth season definitely impacts recruiting and roster management, and that will be a big consideration for coaches when deciding whether they will apply for a waiver for any given player. The NCAA will allow teams to carry more than 15 players next season, but there’s no guarantee that stays in place beyond 2021-22, and universities don’t have to allow more than 15 players, so some programs will have more than 15 and some will not.
With the changes in the transfer portal and the likelihood that players will not have to sit out a season anymore, the situation gets even more muddied. I think the majority of seniors will move on, whether it’s to pro ball, to another program as a grad transfer or to finish their degrees and get on to graduation. As difficult as this athletic year has been, the vast majority of these students have been attending classes completely online. It can’t possibly be the same experience for them. I am always a proponent of kids staying in school to finish their eligibility. In this case, I fault no young woman for not wanting to stay in college for a fifth (or in some cases, a sixth) year. It’s been such a long year for all.
I would love to get your thoughts on Colorado. Last season, we saw Colorado nearly come close to upsetting Stanford twice, but the same magic seems to be missing this year. What do you think the challenge has been for the Buffaloes?
Colorado absolutely hoped to be better than 2-5 in conference play, with wins over Utah and Washington. The Buffaloes pushed Arizona before falling 62-59 early in the schedule, but can’t find a way to put wins together. And the next part of the schedule isn’t kind with successive weekends against Stanford, Arizona and Oregon coming up. The problem of late has been the fundamental stuff - free-throws and layups, as JR Payne explained it. Four times this season, the Buffaloes has missed at least 10 free-throws in a game. They rank near the bottom in Division I in free-throw percentage at 61.5 percent. That has to be driving Payne crazy.
But this Pac-12 season has been tough for Colorado. Their season was briefly paused. They’ve had two games postponed in the last three weeks and last week, Payne was isolating at home all week after being exposed to COVID-19.
Why do you think Charli Turner-Thorne has been so successful this season despite losing Robbi Ryan, Ja'Tavia Tapley, and Reili Richardson?
Charli knows exactly the kinds of players that she wants to recruit and she gets them to buy into her system. She is targeted and effective at getting the student-athletes she needs and she keeps them fresh and healthy by balancing minutes. Charli’s consistent success in the Pac-12 is a testament to her ability to define the culture of her program, and find athletes that fit it so well.
I had a few questions of my own about this most unusual season, so I went to Teresa Gould, the Pac-12’s Senior Associate Commissioner, who manages sports administration and championships for Pac-12 women’s basketball and all Olympic sports.
How is the conference addressing the reality that teams will finish the season having played different numbers of games? How will a champion be determined under those circumstances?
Gould: The policy we have around that is that in order to qualify for the regular-season champion, a team has to have played no less than 3 games under the overall average of games played by each team. For example, if the average number of games played by conference teams is 18, a team playing fewer than 15 games would not qualify for a championship. The place this is going to get complicated is with seeding for the Pac-12 Tournament.
How many conference games have been cancelled to this point?
Gould: 16 conference games. Only one of them has been rescheduled to this point.
What is the philosophy at the conference around rescheduling of games?
Gould: The women’s coaches have agreed that with so many teams having short rosters and the physical wear and tear on the student athletes, that games that are postponed will not need to be rescheduled. At the start of the season, we asked every program to hold back one date with the potential of making up a game, on the last weekend of the season. The last weekend will be rivalry weekend for all teams and the second half of that weekend will be available for scheduling a makeup games.
As we get into February, we will look at the number of lost games, make sure that everybody has met the NCAA minimum of 13 games and assess the lay of the land. We can prioritize makeup games for the last weekend with an emphasis on teams in line for NCAA berths. Additionally, we are trying to get into the facilities in Las Vegas for an extra couple of days, and could play some extra games there. But we are not forcing teams to make up games. If institutions want to, and they mutually agree, they can schedule something. That has only happened with one game so far, that being Stanford-Washington State. If it's in their mutual best interest to reschedule, they are allowed to do it.
What kind of support is the conference providing to Stanford given its situation of being unable to return to campus because of public health orders?
Gould: Tara and I have been working very closely, making plans in real time. Most of what we have been doing is facilitating the game times they need, collaborating with them to make the venue (in Santa Cruz) work. There are a lot of teams using that venue. We are having to work around everyone who is also using the facility. We aren’t able to just say, ‘OK, you can play at 6 p.m.’ We’ve also been working with them on testing protocols and a lot of logistics.