2015-16 LIU Brooklyn Women’s Basketball Preview

Photo: Twitter @LIUwbb

The 2015-16 LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball team huddling up during their first practices of the season on October 7th. (Photo: Twitter @LIUwbb)

It is safe to say, the 2015-16 LIU Brooklyn Women’s Basketball team is one entering into a transitional phase. The amount of changes this program has had since we last saw them back in March would probably make any person’s head spin a bit.

Gone are former LIU head coach Gail Striegler after seven seasons at the helm, the last three being all losing seasons and failing to reach double-digit wins. Enter new head coach Stephanie Oliver, in her first Division I head coaching job, after spending the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Seton Hall.

The challenges facing Oliver in her first season is plentiful. Four players since her arrival have left the program and Oliver was only able to bring in one late transfer to the roster who isn’t eligible to play this season, leaving her with just a ten-player roster of returning scholarship players going in from a team which finished 9-21 overall and 6-12 in the NEC last season.

Yet, there is plenty of early optimism surrounding this LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball program. The remaining players have seem to quickly take to Oliver’s leadership and desire to turn this program around and try to turn it into one of the better programs not just in the NEC but in this region.

The theme likely for this season will be patience, patience and more patience especially in year one of a new coaching era. Yet, it should be interesting to see how Oliver and her coaching staff will start molding this team and this program into the vision they have in mind, not just for success this season but moving forward and start building a consistent winner in Downtown Brooklyn.

Let’s take a look into this season’s team.

Ten is enough?

Last season, LIU had a full complement of 15 scholarship players. That won’t be the case entering the 2015-16 season. Letava Whippy, LIU’s leading rebounder and third leading scorer last season, has graduated. Yet, she was expected to be the only player lost after the end of last season. Well, that didn’t happen.

Once the coaching change was officially announced in May, it was hard to imagine every player would stick around. By the time the fall semester approached, four players from last season were no longer on the team. Forwards Jahmia Phillips and Mercedes Harris along with guards Demi Tomlinson and Sophie Bhasin are gone.

The biggest loss is undoubtedly Bhasin who was LIU’s leading scorer last season by a wide margin with her 15.5 points per game. In starting all thirty games for the Blackbirds last season, she led LIU in threes attempted (151), threes made (42), free throw percentage (84.9%), free throws attempted (139), free throws made (118), blocks (14), and minutes played (27.1 mpg). She was also second on the team in steals (65) and assists (57) and third in rebounds (4.8 rpg). Even though her shooting percentages was somewhat lackluster (33.1 FG%, 28.5 3FG%), she was a lot of times LIU’s only legit scoring threat. Without her offense this season, it is going to be very interesting to see who Coach Oliver will look to get points on the offensive end.

Junior guard Shanovia Dove is their top returning scorer from last season with her 8.0 points per game. She was third on the team in field goals made (72) and threes made (21). She twice scored at least 20 points in a game last season and scored a career-high 26 versus Wagner. Senior forward Jolanna Ford (7 ppg/5.2 rpg) will likely be called upon to anchor the interior for the Blackbirds. She shot 41.7% last season and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game in starting in all thirty games in her first season with LIU. She dropped a season-high 25 in a win against Saint Francis U.

If LIU is to make any advances this upcoming season, they are going to need better play from the point guard position. Senior point guard Shanice Vaughan (4.6 ppg) led LIU in assists (84) but was also second on the team in turnovers (92). Sophomore backup point guard Paris Jones (3.0 ppg) also had more turnovers (57) than assists (32) and shot just 28% from the field.

Junior Brianna Farris (Photo: Bob Dea/Blackbirds Hoops Journal)

Junior guard Brianna Farris (Photo: Bob Dea/BHJ)

LIU is still pretty loaded with guards. With Bhasin now gone, it might be junior guard Brianna Farris time to shine. Farris (5.6 ppg) should break into the starting lineup this season and become among one of Oliver’s go-to players on the offensive end. Farris shot 42.6% from the field and 40% from three in 80 attempts in her sophomore season. Grad student Ashley Brown (3.2 ppg) missed the final 13 games of the season last year. She has played in just 19 games through her first two seasons at LIU. She will likely see a lot more playing time this season and they will need her to stay healthy through the entire season. Sophomore Drew Winter played in all thirty games as a freshman last season. She had a tough season shooting the ball in year one in Downtown Brooklyn (23.6 FG%, 6-34 3FGs). She should likely improve those numbers in year two this season.

In the front court is where LIU could come into problems this season due to lack of depth and not a lot of height upfront. Along with Ford, senior Angelia Allen and sophomore DeAngelique Waithe will be needed to play a bulk of the frontline minutes. Allen missed all of last season for LIU due to injury after coming in from Northern Mississippi CC. Waithe played in 28 games last season coming off the bench. She finished third on the team in shooting percentage at 46.2% from the floor. She dropped 14 points in 16 minutes in a loss to Bryant last season. Sophomore Stylz Sanders at 5’9″ could likely have a bulk of her minutes in the front court. She did have the best field goal percentage last season, making 51.8% of her shots in 56 attempts. She will need to help out more on the glass this season.

The two new additions to the team this season are Mackenzie Freeman, a junior guard/forward transfer from Illinois State who will have to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. The other is Lily Abreu, a junior walk-on guard who played high school at White Plains High School up in Westchester.

Meet the Coaches

The new LIU Brooklyn WBB coaching staff speaking to group of youngsters over the summer. (Photo: Twitter @LIUwbb)

The new LIU Brooklyn WBB coaching staff speaking to group of youngsters over the summer. (Photo: Twitter @LIUwbb)

LIU’s first-year head coach Stephanie Oliver was named back in May. She was an assistant coach at Seton Hall her last two seasons. Seton Hall won 28 games last season and made into the NCAA tournament. The Pirates won at least twenty games in both her seasons at Seton Hall. Her last head coaching job was at the University of Bridgeport from 2010 to 2013. Her best season there was in her final season in 2012-13 in which her team went 18-10. She also was briefly an interim head coach at Stevens Institute of Technology back in the 2009-10 season.

After her hiring, Oliver quickly went to work assembling her coaching staff. She brought in assistant coaches, Tim Gardner, Heather Zurich and Asia Williams. Gardner last season was an assistant at Iona but the season before was with Oliver at Seton Hall as their director of basketball operations. Zurich arrives from the west coast where she was an assistant the last four seasons at UC-Santa Barbara. She also spent a season as an assistant at Wagner before going out west. She played at Rutgers for Naismith Hall of Famer C. Vivivan Stringer. Williams enters her first season as an assistant coach. She was previously a grad assistant at Appalachian State the last two seasons after her four-year playing career at Wake Forest. The only returnee from last season’s coaching staff is director of basketball operations Hillary Spears who is back at LIU for her second season.

New Rules in WBB 

This offseason, the NCAA adopted some new rules changes to the women’s basketball game which will go into effect this season.

The biggest change being that the women’s game will go from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters like you see in the WNBA. Also, the one-and-one free throws have been eliminated. Teams now two free throws (double bonus) for every foul once the team reaches five team fouls in a quarter. Media timeouts will occur under the five-minute mark of each quarter and at the end of the first and third quarters.

Teams will now get three 30-second timeout and one 60-second or full timeout per game. At least one timeout has to be used in the first half. Teams would get an addition 30-second timeout per every overtime period along with any timeouts that are remaining going into overtime.

Teams can now also advance the ball to the front court within the final minute of the fourth quarter and overtimes after a timeout like you see in the pro game.

Also there been some modifications to the ten-second backcourt rule.

LIU’s Schedule

The Blackbirds will play a 29-game schedule with eleven non-conference games. LIU will start their season on the road at Buffalo on November 14th. Their home opener will be against ACC powerhouse Florida State on November 27th. Two days later, LIU will play in their only Barclays Center game against Sam Houston State. Other non-conference home games include Colgate on December 5th, NJIT on December 9th, and Columbia on December 14th.

LIU will open conference play against on the road against Mount St. Mary’s on January 2nd. Their NEC home opener will take place January 9th against Saint Francis U. They will take on last season’s NEC tournament champs St. Francis Brooklyn on January 23rd at home and February 13th on the road in the 23rd annual Battle of Brooklyn. They will close their season with two home games against Bryant on February 27th and Wagner on February 29th.

The NEC women’s basketball tournament begins on Sunday, March 6 and the final will held on Sunday, March 13.

Season Outlook

Forward Jolanna Ford (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Forward Jolanna Ford (Photo: Bob Dea/BHJ)

This season’s team will definitely be one in transition as they start a new era under Stephanie Oliver. Oliver has three returnees who started at least twenty games last season in Shanovia Dove (20 starts), Shanice Vaughan (29) and Jolanna Ford (30). Of all the returnees, there is just one player (Vaughan) who played at least 25 minutes per game last season.

With no Sophie Bhasin for LIU this season, the question becomes who or whom does Oliver turn to for offense? One such candidate could be Brianna Farris who should be likely inserted into the starting lineup this season. Another could be Jolanna Ford who will be looked upon to give LIU points in the paint.

LIU as a team finished ninth in the NEC in field goal shooting percentage at 37% and shot 30.5% as a team from three last season. This year’s team will need to do a much better job shooting the ball this season if they want any chance on improving upon their nine-win total of last season.

For this season’s team to become a double-digit win team, they are going to need a full team commitment from their entire team. Frankly, they don’t have much choice. This team won’t be very deep, they don’t have a ton of height, they struggled at times scoring points last season and can’t really afford teams to go on huge runs against them or get themselves into major foul trouble.

Defensively, they could be at least solid. They led the NEC in steals last season at nearly eleven per game and they finished with a positive rebounding margin which only four NEC teams were able to do. This team I believe has to be strong once again defensively and rebounding-wise if they are to be competitive.

Turnovers was a killer for LIU last season. They easily were last in the NEC in turnovers and they were ninth in the NEC in assists. They finished dead last in assist-to-turnover margin. They are going to need to get that turned around in a hurry this season if they want to win more games. They can’t afford to continue to be sloppy with the ball once again.

Oliver will run her style of offense which likely won’t be as frenetic an offense Gail Striegler implemented last season which didn’t yield great results. So that should help lessen the turnovers and increase the assists and hopefully a new offense can create better shots, better shooting percentages and more points for LIU Brooklyn this season.

Prediction

I believe this can’t be anything more than a wait and see season for LIU Brooklyn. We are all going to learn what kind of team Stephanie Oliver wants to mold these players into and that is going to take quite some time to learn. LIU has some winnable games in non-conference so if they can win some games early on and can build some momentum heading into conference play, then this season could be a surprise.

With no freshman on this season’s team, mostly every member of this team has some type of experience so you would hope the learning curve to Oliver’s style of play would be lessened. Yet, this team won’t be able to afford losing many players to injury and for any long length of time or even for just a couple of games.

I would have to think if they can just match their nine win total from last season, this season would be a success. This season is all about a fresh start and building towards stability and eventually success. I think Coach Oliver will have her hands full this season. If she can find some hidden gems in that locker room among the six non-seniors who can start building a foundation around then the season no matter the record could be a successful one. I’ll say nine wins for them would make a good starting point for this program under this new regime.

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