For the past two seasons the women’s basketball team has tasted the sweet taste of postseason play.
The thing is, though, that both their postseason appearances have been in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, and not the big boy of them all the NCAA Tournament.
During this offseason the Panthers, and more specifically their superstar senior Jerica Coley, have stressed that the goal for this upcoming year is to succeed in their inaugural Conference USA season and make it to the Big Dance.
Some might say that the Panthers have too much to face this year to make a run into the NCAA Tournament. It’s their first year in a new conference so that means new coaches and new players that they have never seen. It’s also a step up from the Sun Belt Conference, the players in this league are at another level.
But, I think, the Panthers have the tools necessary to make a run at the C-USA title and punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
What are the tools you ask?
Well, teams that win their conference and make it to the Big Dance usually have two key aspects to their team, those being: a great coach and a superstar player.
For those of you who don’t follow this team i’ll fill you in on something. The Panthers have a great coach in Cindy Russo and they definitely have a superstar player in Coley, who is a two-time All-American and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
Russo is in her 34th season at FIU and is someone that will be hard to surprise because of her experience as a coach. Russo will have to execute an offense built around Coley but will have to find a way to keep her All-American fresh. That was something that Russo could not afford to do last year because of a lack of depth on the team. Coley played an average of 39 minutes per game last season. If this team is going to be poised to make a run, Russo’s job will have to be to find help for Coley. If she can do that, this team will be primed for another postseason run, but an NCAA Tournament appearance rather than the WNIT again.
The work, though, will not fall solely on the hands of the coach. Coley will have, like always, an enormous amount of responsibility if this team will reach its goals.
Coley is coming off of two spectacular seasons. During her sophomore campaign she averaged 23.4 points per game while also snatching 7.1 rebounds per contest. Her sheer dominance on the court earned her Conference Player of the Year honors, becoming the first Panther to ever achieve that award. Coley was also named an honorable mention All-American.
During her junior campaign, Coley did not disappoint. Most players who have an amazing year don’t quite reach the same success in consecutive years, Coley did not fall into that stereotype. She led the nation in scoring at 26.3 points per game. The Nation, not just her team, or her conference, no she led the entire country in scoring. After another spectacular year, she repeated as Conference Player of the Year and again received All-American honors.
For her senior year, though, Coley will have to be even better.
How is that possible you ask?
Well, no one thought that after her spectacular sophomore campaign that Coley could amass or even duplicate that kind of success, but she did. When you count her out and say she can’t do something that is when she is at her best. So I won’t be the one to count out another historic season from Jerica Coley and I won’t count any team she is on from making a historic postseason run.
You all can doubt her if you’d like, but I’ve seen number 22 do a lot of things other said were unrealistic.
Russo is ready for another trip to the Big Dance, Coley is hungry for her first trip and I won’t be the one to count them out.