It seems like only yesterday that Pam Borton's Gopher women had a serious lack of depth at the guard slot. Barring injuries, no more. Here are the guards on the 2012-2013 roster and verbally committed in future years.
Sophomore--Rachel Banham, Alex Ionescu
Freshman--Mikayla Bailey, Shayne Mullaney
2014--Kenisha Bell, Grace Coughlin
At this rate, the 2014-2015 Gophers will have 7 guards and barely enough roster slots for everybody else. Not only that, but a few highly recruited guards remain in the pool, uncommitted--girls whom the Gophers badly want to recruit and would welcome with open arms.
2015--T.T. Starks, Viria Livingston, Maddie Guebert, Kanani Ascuncion
2016--Nia Hollie, Taylor Koenen
But the question is quality, not quantity.
Rachel Banham took Gopher Nation by storm as a freshman last year, earning freshman all-America first team honors as well as Big Ten freshman of the year. Her 1st season ranks 7th on the Gophers all-time single season scoring list, and she ranks 8th in field goals, 3rd in field goal attempts, 5th in 3-point shooting percentage, 5th in free throw percentage and even 7th in defensive rebounds.
It's difficult to see much improvement of a purely individual statistical nature. Where improvement is needed, and anticipated, is in her team's 19-17 won-lost record (15-17 regular season, 6-10 regular season Big 10). And such an improvement would surely mean better movement on offense--ball movement, player movement without the ball, etc.
The Gophers last year out-shot their opponents 42 percent to 37.5 (35-33 percent on 3-pointers and 74-67 percent from the free throw line). They out-rebounded their opponents 41-36 (though only 14-13 on the offensive glass). But they averaged 11 assists and 17 turnovers, a truly horrifying ratio. Opponents averaged 13 assists and 16 turnovers.
The fact is that Banham is a score-first, pass-second point guard who had 17 more turnovers than assists. When the Gophers scored their biggest win of last season over Ohio State at Williams Arena, it was Kiara Buford handling the ball for long stretches of the game.
So how to deploy Rachel Banham is an open question. Leah Cotton, the senior, is probably the 1st option as a running mate, though her 35 percent shooting and propensity for turnovers is a problem. As a practical matter, that leaves freshmen Mikayla Bailey and Shayne Mullaney as possibilities. My personal opinion is that Mullaney is a better ball-handler and passer than Banham. I would give her the ball and play Banham at the 2 spot and see what happens.
Leah Cotton moves on, while Joanna Hedstrom moves in. But, of course, until Rebekah Dahlman decides where to play will be the big news. If she decides to become a Gopher, she moves into the starting lineup with Banham in a heartbeat. If not, Mullaney remains the best option unless she has proven otherwise in 2013. I don't really expect that Mikayla Bailey and Joanna Hedstrom are Big 10 caliber players. So, yeah, actually, depth remains a bit of a problem. Unless, that is, Dahlman is on board.
Kenisha Bell and Grace Coughlin are in, Sari Noga is out. But, again, the really big news will be whether Carlie Wagner is coming to the Barn or not. Though, frankly, even if she does, the starting lineup remains what it was last year--Banham running with either Dahlman or Mullaney. One or more of the freshmen could redshirt and depth would not be a problem. That is, if Dahlman and Wagner are on board. If not, then Kenisha Bell is pressed into service as a freshman.
The pecking order in other words is Dahlman, Mullaney, Wagner, Bell, Hedstrom, Coughlin and Bailey. The real question, if Dahlman becomes a Gopher, is whether she will be better than Banham.
Banham is gone. The starting lineup from among those already committed to Minnesota is Mullaney and Bell. Or, better yet, it's Dahlman and Wagner.
And, best of all would be Dahlman and Wagner with two of the following four incoming freshmen--T.T. Starks, Maddie Guebert, Viria Livingston and Kanani Ascuncion--setting Minnesota up for the future.
2016-2017 and Beyond
OK, too hard to project out any farther than this.
But in summary the question, again, is quality not quantity. In the short-term, is there a running mate to help the Gophers capitalize on the Rachel Banham era? Cotton? Noga? Mullaney? Who?
And longer-term is there a solid Big Ten caliber guard to succeed Banham after she's gone?
Despite the depth of guards that Pam Borton has already recruited, Rebekah Dahlman and Carlie Wagner remain the keys to the Gophers' recruiting success at the guard position.