I drove to Reynolds Saturday night to watch the State women's basketball team play Auburn. I wanted to see six-five Markeisha Gatling play, and I felt that Auburn, being a SEC team, would offer State a reasonable early season test.
While Auburn is picked to finish tenth in the SEC, they do have size in the front court and looked to be an athletic team. While not as good, they reminded me of last year's Georgia Tech team, a team due to their size and speed gave State fits. Five of the seven Auburn players who earned the majority of playing time were over six feet:
Six-one Tyrese Tanner; six-five Peyton Davis; six-three Blanche Alverson; six-one Hasina Muhammad; and six-three Tra'Cee Tanner.
These is exactly the type of team that gave State problems last year due to the lack of size of State's front court. After Auburn knocked State on its heels due to State attempting too many three point shots, State behind Marissa Kastanek (9-17 from the field, 24 points) and Kody Burke (11-18 from the field, 26 points, 10 boards) took the lead late in the first half 34-33 and went on to win 85-71. Both Burke and Kastanek looked like All-ACC performers (Kastanek was named to the ten player Blue Ribbon Paul Preason All-ACC Team).
State's team last year was too small and too slow. Kody Burke at six-two started at center with Bo Holston at five -eleven playing the strong forward. Marissa Kastanek at five-nine played the three position. Myisha Goodwin-Coleman, five-four, started at point guard while five-ten Emili Tasler played the shooting guard or the point guard. Anyone who watched State play Maryland or UNC last year noted very early that State had a problem playing inside due to their lack of size. Anyone who watched State play Georgia Tech or Miami last year noted that the State guards, especially Goodwin-Coleman, lacked the speed to play with teams like Tech and Miami.
This year's roster has overcome the above problems with the addition of six-five Markeisha Gatling at center and five-five redshirt sophomore Len'Nique Brown at the point. Brown was a real surprise and while she is not currently the starting point guard, she may be in the near future. Certainly, if she continues to sub, State will gain when she is on the court. Brown played twenty-six minues to Goodwin-Coleman's 18 minutes. Brown went 4-7 from the field with 10 points and only turned the ball over two times. Brown and five-nine Krystal Barrett, when they play together give State more speed in the backcourt when compared to last year, and Brown shoots, passes and handles the ball very well.
With Gatling playing center, Burke is able to move to the four position giving State an inside presence of six-five and six-two. While Bo Holston was a star at State, Burke has more offensive weapons and hopefully will be a force offensively and defensively at the forward position.
Gatling who shot 74.1 percent as a senior in high school has good hands, boxes out well, appears to be able to rebound (she had 10 boards against Auburn), showed good form on her free throws and can accurately shoot the ten to twelve foot jump shot. Under the basket she is almost automatic. What she might lack early in the season is the intensity to play against players of equal skill game after game. Coming from junior college, that is expected.
I do want to mention five eleven freshman Ashley Eli. Harper's top 30 class of last year included guards Krystal Barrett and Erica Donovan who transferred this summer. Eli appears to be a more accomplished player than either Barrett or Donovan. When Donovan and Barrett played last year, one knew a wild drive to the basket followed by a wild shot was forth coming, and with respect to Barrett no defense was to be played. Eli only had one turnover in twenty-four minutes.
Beating Auburn does not indicate that State will fare well this year. State beat South Carolina, Alabama and top twenty Vanderbilt at Reynolds last year only to "fall on their face" during conference play. State opens conference play at Miam December 20. Last year, after returning from Hawaii, State looked tired when they opened at home against Georgia Tech losing badly, went to Miami and lost badly, and then lost badly at Duke. Marissa Kastanek, who was featured by ESPNU prior to the Miami game, had a horrible game at Miami and looked to be in tears when sitting on the bench. Miami lost first team All-ACC players Shenise Johnson and Riquana Williams to graduation, so the opportunity is there. State needs Kastanek to look for her shot all season and for Burke to be more consistent. While Kastanek looked for her shot early in the season last year, she appeared to not do so again until the ACC tournament. I might add that State plays Duke at Reynolds on January 3rd and Duke, because State beat them in the quarter finals of the ACC tournament, will be looking for "bear". I have my ticket.