Brian Holsinger, one of five new head coaches in the Big Sky Conference is having immediate success. There are lots of reasons new coaches have success, but we feel being the beneficiary of a roster full of returning talent is the primary reason. This is no dig towards coach Holsinger, it is only pointing out to us the obvious. The Lady Griz return 2 All-League players in Abby Anderson and Carmen Gfeller, the stat-stuffing guard Sophia Stiles as well as the return of Sammy Fatkin who last played for the Lady Griz in 2019-20 season. Having four veteran players return deserved more respect in our opinion from the media and fellow coaches in the Big Sky.
FILM BREAKDOWN LINK: https://youtu.be/kWXEeG_liqA
Besides the returning four players providing immediate success for the Lady Griz, three other areas stand out to us. The bench play of Dani Bartsch, Hailey Huard, and Nyah Morris Nelson have provided depth, length, and athleticism the Lady Griz have not had in the past. Defensively they allow 53.9 ppg (a league-best) while only committing 12.1 FPG. Lastly, looking into the strength of schedule (Big Sky Conference 29nd out of 32 teams in SOS this season) where the Lady Griz stands at 313 out of 351 Division 1 teams in the country.
The returning players for the Lady Griz in our opinion are the main reason for their early success. No other team with exception of Northern Arizona has had the luxury of playing with two returning all-league players this year. Idaho State could also enter that category however the absence of Diaba Konate (she did return to play 4 min this past weekend) excludes them. Then factoring in Stiles and Fatkin and you potentially have four players that could earn all-league recognition by the end of the season.
As we pointed out in our game preview between Montana vs. Sac State, Carmen Gfeller is quite possibly the most efficient offensive player in the conference. She is shooting 59.5% from the floor, 46.7% from 3, and is averaging 1.33 PPP. What makes her so efficient is she does not force shots and sticks to her strengths. She is averaging 1.07 PPP from the post, 1.21 PPP on spot-ups, and 1.26 PPP on cuts to the basket. In fact, she is the Lady Griz best 3 point shooter with more than 10 attempts. She is currently leading the Lady Griz in scoring and rebounding (14.4 PPG and 7.3 RPG). She has also improved her ability to score off the dribble as well this year. Her biggest flaw is her assist to turnover ratio and I am sure this is being addressed by the staff. (Full breakdown with film and analysis also dropping this week on Gfeller)
Abby Anderson has started the year slowly (early foul trouble and poor FG%), but anyone who has watched the 6’2 athletic post player in the past knows she is a capable scorer and makes up a lot of mistakes made by perimeter defenders. She constantly challenges, alters, and blocks opponents shot attempts (1st in blocks in the BSC averaging 1.7 per game with a total of 15). She is a capable rebounder currently averaging 7 rebounds a game. She has recorded a few double doubles this year even while not playing up to her true potential. Don’t let her slight build fool you, when guarding posts she ranks 4th in the Big Sky giving up only .677 PPP. Anderson unlike a lot of bigs in the Big Sky has the unique ability to switch onto guards in any DHO/P&R action or stay back and protect the rim. This is not common in the Big Sky Conference. Credit goes to her great footwork and balance.
Stiles like mentioned in our early write up (Montana vs Sac St Preview) is a constant stat stuffer averaging 9.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG (17 of her 59 total rebounds are offensive), and 5.2 APG (her assist, turnover ratio is first in the conference at 2.2). She flirted with triple-doubles earlier this year against Houston Baptist and Nicholls State and because of those amazing efforts earned BSC player of the week. Where Stiles shines in transition (1.33 PPP) and cuts to the basket (1.6 PPP). Where Stiles struggles is consistency from behind the 3 points arch. She is currently shooting 31% on 6-19 from the floor early this season. If she ever improved this number it would make the Lady Griz more dangerous on the half-court side of the floor.
Fatkin returned to the Lady Griz this fall and has added a fantastic and versatile player on the perimeter. She is one of a few players for the Lady Griz that can get downhill and put pressure on the defense with attacks to the paint. Her length and athletic ability allow her to guard multiple positions which allows for a lot of versatility for the coaching staff. Sammy is currently averaging 12.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG and has averaged close to 1 steal a game all year. She too like a majority of the Lady Griz struggles from behind the arch only shooting 22% on 5-22 attempts (as a team the Lady Griz are shooting 29.7% on 41-138 attempts). Like Stiles, Fatkin shines in transition (1.07 PPP) and is a must-find for any team when getting back on the defensive end of the floor.
Add the bench play of Dani Bartsch, Hailey Huard, and Nyah Morris Nelson providing depth and length for the Lady Griz. Bartsch a freshman is averaging 5.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG (17 of her 49 total rebounds are offensive), and is a better than average passing forward with a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio playing 15 MPG. Huard another freshman in just over 13 MPG is averaging 5.7 PPG and shooting 45.5% from behind the arch (10-22 on attempts). Then you add the third 6 footer off the bench in Morris Nelson a long and athletic player that can guard multiple positions on the floor. This length and versatility are also rare in lower D1 divisions coming off the bench.
Defensively the Lady Griz rank tops in PPG defense at 53.9 and are 3rd in rebound margin (+6.6) behind SUU 10.6, Weber State 9.9. When combining the lack of fouling and the PPP numbers you see below that adds up to success. Because they are so efficient on the defensive end of the floor it allows for numerous offensive transition opportunities where the Lady Griz shine (.977 PPP). Below are important categories to comparable the Lady Griz and other top defensive teams in the league.
Def Transition: 1st UNC .74 PPP, 2nd Montana .767 PPP, 3rd PSU .768 PPP
Half Court Def: 1st Montana .643 PPP, 2nd EWU .686 PPP, 3rd NAU .75 PPP
Guarding Spot Ups: 1st Montana .636 PPP, 2nd SUU .683 PPP, 3rd Weber St .782 PPP
Guarding Post Ups: 1st UNC .652 PPP, 2nd Montana .753 PPP, 3rd ISU .781 PPP
Guarding P&R Handler: 1st PSU .33 PPP, 2nd Montana .584 PPP, 3rd EWU .596 PPP
Guarding the 3: 1st Montana .71 PPP, 2nd NAU .871 PPP, 3rd Weber State .87 PPP
The last area of this deep dive, we look at the SOS of the Lady Griz, but also the Big Sky Conference which ranks 29th out of 32 D1 conferences. As of 12/13 the Big Sky Conference teams, SOS is listed below.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE
Weber State 143
Idaho State 98
Montana State 242
Sac St 316
Taking a deeper look at these numbers will give you an idea why we believe this too is a factor in their early success. The Lady Griz currently stands at 331 in the SOS ranking, the highest-ranked SOS opponent the Lady Griz have played is Gonzaga who is currently standing at 57. While schedules are created in advance and programs cannot predict year to year success of their opponents, if one wants to truly dive into the true potential of a team this needs to be factored in. It is also fair to point out that SOS is not a end all be all of team success until you get to the NCAA tourney where these numbers begin to give you a sense of what terams have faced all year.
NUMBERS AS OF 12/13
Northwest Nazarene D2 no SOS
North Dakota 183
Houston Baptist 325
Nicholls State 209
Sac St 316
Northern Colorado 215
NEXT 3 OPPONENTS
Utah Valley 230
Seattle University 177
Utah State 221
With exception to last Thursdays loss to Utah Valley the Lady Griz are taking care of business. They have beaten teams they should, return four talented players with athletes coming off the bench, and have played solid defense this season.
A few weaknesses would be their lack of floor spacing with the 3 point shot. Finding someone that can fill it from deep consistently would help Gfeller and Anderson on the inside. Huard and Morris Nelson could provide this spark as the year progresses. Another area that is of concern is the minutes being played by those top 4 players. It will be a long season and minutes being played per game by Gfeller (32.3), Stiles (33.6), Fatkin (31) and Anderson (25.7) will need to spread more evenly to some extent with players such as Katerina Tsineke (21.1), Bartsch (15.3), Huard (13.3) and Morris-Nelson (15.6) or the top four could run out of gas come Boise.