Last season, in its first year under Head Coach Natasha Adair, Delaware made its first postseason appearance in women’s basketball since 2014.
The Blue Hens lasted just one game in the WNIT, falling to Adair’s former Georgetown Hoyas 67-57, but the season represented a major step forward for the program. Delaware (20-12, 11-7) improved by four wins overall and made it a round further in the CAA tournament, exiting after a semifinal loss to Drexel.
“The culture is set,” Adair said on WVUD’s Blue Hen Sports Cage. “The expectations are high. I’m pushing a little further and now I think [the players] understand why. They are so receptive and ready to give everything that they have.”
Here is a look at what to expect from the Blue Hens this season. Delaware begins its season Nov. 9 with a matchup at Northern Iowa as part of the preseason WNIT tournament.
Key Losses: Nicole Enabosi is as big a loss as any CAA team could have. Enabosi tore her ACL this summer while playing with the Nigerian national team and will miss all of the 2018-2019 season.
Enabosi won CAA Player of the Year as a junior, averaging a conference-best 18.0 points and 11.8 rebounds. She set the Delaware single season records for rebounds (378) and double doubles (23).
Enabosi will have one year of eligibility remaining.
“Losing Nicole, that’s a big part of what we did a year ago,” Adair said. “The beauty of this team and the versatility of this team, we talk about now by committee. There’s not going to be anyone obviously to fill her shoes, but everyone has a gift and everyone has a role. As a coaching staff you will see different lineups, you’ll see different adjustments. We may go smaller and kind of open the floor a little bit. We still can go big.
“We talk about the other pieces. Let them know your name.”
The good news for Delaware is they aren’t losing much else. Had Enabosi remained healthy, the only real loss would have been Kiersten West, a guard who averaged 11.9 minutes per game last season and only started once. Alexis Sears, who only played three games in the past two seasons due to injury, and Danielle Roberts, who was also hampered by injury since transferring from Tampa to Delaware and rarely played, also graduated.
Major Returners: Four of Delaware’s starters return — guards Abby Gonzales and Bailey Kargo and forwards Samone DeFreese and Rebecca Lawrence.
DeFreese is receiving the most preseason acclaim of the four, earning second team preseason All-CAA honors coming off a 11.3 point per game, 7.4 rebound per game season (DeFreese was second on the team in both categories to Enabosi). After playing just 24 total minutes as a freshman, DeFreese quickly seized a starting role at small forward as a sophomore. As a junior, she’ll be asked to be Delaware’s leading scorer.
If she continues playing the three for Delaware, three-point shooting is her most glaring weakness. DeFreese shot 18.2 percent (10-55) from three in 2016-2017. Needless to say, the Blue Hens could have used better floor spacing around Enabosi last year.
As a smaller four, she might struggle defensively but would have a decisive advantage as a slasher.
Gonzales has played the most out of the Blue Hens’ returning starters, averaging 29.1 minutes per game in 64 appearances the past two seasons (53 starts). She made strides in improving her efficiency as a scorer — Gonzales’ field goal percentage improved from 27.9 percent to 35.1 percent last season — but she still leaves something to be desired.
Gonzales could stand to improve her ball security and playmaking ability. Her 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2017-2018 ranked seventh in the conference, and her four assists per game ranked sixth. Adair will also ask her to shoulder more of the scoring load.
“They’re going to force us to shoot the ball and see if we can beat them from the outside,” Adair said. “We’re trying to mix it up, in the strategy. We’re getting up a lot of shots in practice.”
Right now Gonzales is a league-average point guard. Can she become more than that?
Delaware also returns Makeda Nicholas, who played in only four games as a senior last season due to a leg injury. Nicholas will help fill the void left by Enabosi on the defensive side. She enters her final year fifth in school history with 118 blocks. Nicholas was a sporadic offensive player before the injury but without having seen her in Adair’s system, it’s tough to project what she’ll contribute. The team is certainly happy to have another option in the forward rotation.
The bench unit returns sophomore forwards Lizzie O’Leary and Erin Antosh, sophomore guard Justina Mascaro, redshirt senior guard Alison Lewis and senior forward Gadson Lefft.
Additions: The Blue Hens scored three major recruits from the class of 2018, guard Paris McBride and wings Jasmine Dickey and Lolo Davenport. Davenport, a three-star prospect according to ESPN.com, is out for the season having torn her ACL this summer. The 2018-2019 campaign will serve as a redshirt year, giving Davenport four years of eligibility moving forward.
At Plano Senior High School in Texas, Davenport averaged 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists her senior season, leading the state’s second-ranked team.
Dickey and McBride will have the opportunity to contribute right away, Adair said, though Delaware shouldn’t have to rely on them too heavily given how many players are returning.
How much playing time the duo receives will likely be matchup dependent. Adair sees both providing defensive tenacity off the bench with McBride spelling Gonzales as the backup point guard and Dickey playing in a variety of spots on the wing.
“Jasmine Dickey on the ball is relentless,” Adair said. “Those two [Dickey and McBride] from a defensive standpoint can really change how we guard screens, what we’re going to do on kind of dead ball situations and kind of junk deals, so I’m really excited about just their athleticism and defensive prowess.”
Preseason Ranking: Voters placed Delaware in a tie for third with the two-time defending champion Elon Phoenix in the CAA’s annual preseason poll. The Blue Hens are behind the top-ranked James Madison Dukes, who return all five starters, and the Drexel Dragons, who bounced Delaware in the semifinals last year in Philadelphia.
The ranking feels appropriate, given it’s basically where Delaware ended its season in March. Delaware will have home court advantage in the CAA tournament no matter what, as the Bob Carpenter Center hosts for the first time since the conference moved to its current rotation of in-conference venues.
Fifth-ranked Northeastern is another team to watch. The Huskies return sharpshooter Jess Genco, who averaged 14.8 points per game and 5.1 assists per game, and forward Gabby Giacone, who posted 11.1 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Huskies won both regular season matchups against the Blue Hens but were ousted by Delaware in the CAA tournament.
X-Factor: Bailey Kargo. In non-conference play last season Kargo ranked among the best three-point shooters in the nation. Then came winter.
Effective field goal percentage (EFG%) is a statistic that takes into account the added value of three-pointers. Essentially, it shows what a player’s field goal percentage would be to get to their points per game average if every shot were worth two.
Kargo’s production and playing time dropped each month. January was particularly rough. If you exclude her career-high 21-point game against Elon on Jan. 5, Kargo’s January points per game average drops to 5.7.
But with the exception of March, which we can chalk up to a small sample size, Kargo’s three-point shooting percentage is fairly consistent. It’s no secret she’s a shooter.
If we divide the season numbers by non-conference play and conference play, we get a clearer picture of her season.
Kargo got off to a hot start and thrived in early non-conference action. But then teams adjusted.
CAA teams know each other’s personnel much more intimately than the teams they play in November and December. They also see each team twice and therefore can adjust to what they see the first time.
Teams denied Kargo the ball on the perimeter as the season went on. When she did get it, they chased her off the three-point line. Kargo’s three-point attempts per game fell from 5.3 in non-conference action to 4.1. In non-conference play she attempted 63.7 percent of her attempts from three-point range. In CAA play that number dropped to 56.8 percent.
Adair and the Blue Hens coaching staff responded by giving Kargo less time in favor of unsightly options like West and Lewis.
Now these numbers are all in small sample sizes. It’s possible Kargo simply had a hot hand early and cooled off as the season progressed. Delaware needs Kargo to expand her game, to keep the defense honest and reopen some of those three-point opportunities. Keep in mind, this was all with Enabosi on the floor. Take out an 18-point-per-game threat from the middle and teams are only more incentivized to get up close on the perimeter.
“Bailey Kargo, another player I think this summer has really just grown her game,” Adair said. “Not just a shooter, she is really putting the ball on the floor, she’s scoring with both hands, she’s handling pressure.”
Can Kargo do more than shoot? Delaware needs her to.
Future Outlook: If not this season, then next. Delaware will have four starters returning for their senior seasons (DeFreese, Gonzales, Kargo and Lawrence) in addition to Enabosi likely returning for a fifth season following her injury. 2019-2020 will be the final chance for this core to put together a championship run, before Delaware will have to go through a retooling phase.
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