Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the five key stories in #HLWBB since the last Starting Five.
1. This counts as fun in September
We’re creeping towards the finish line on non-conference schedules, with eight of the twelve teams fully announcing their magnificent sevens (IUPUI and Oakland most recently) and a chunk of other games trickling out on the other four. Among the recent highlights:
- IUPUI will visit Iowa to close out the non-conference segment of the season. The Hawkeyes, of course, are led by sophomore Caitlin Clark, a player who has earned too many honors for me to figure out which ones to list here and is widely considered one of the current faces of women’s college basketball, perhaps behind only Paige Bueckers. Iowa was 20-10 overall last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 before running into Bueckers and UConn.
- Cleveland State’s games include six home contests and one away from the Wolstein Center – a marathon of a road trip to Akron. It’s really been interesting seeing how different teams set up their schedules, with title contenders IUPUI and Milwaukee taking big swings and CSU, which should be in the mix right after that, playing it a lot safer. The Vikings’ approach does accomplish two things: 1. It’s cheap (see below), and 2. It sets the team up to have some success coming off of the WBI title with a series of opponents that mostly have losing series records against the green and white, including the Zips and former Horizon League school Loyola Chicago.
- Oakland and Green Bay will both head to Las Vegas for non-exempt multi-team events, although separately from each other. The Phoenix will be at the South Point Shootout at the end of November to play Oklahoma State and SMU, while the Grizzlies visit Sin City the following month for the Holiday Hoops Classic. OU will play Marshall and Campbell out west.
- OU, by the way, also got a home game off of Michigan State, on November 26th. That’s two days after Wisconsin visits Milwaukee and two days before Butler visits IUPUI, with those contests representing three of the four HLWBB home contests against a power conference opponent. Milwaukee also hosts Marquette on December 8th.
- Buried in this article about the pandemic finances of Youngstown State’s athletic department (which probably could’ve been an item on its own and is a worthwhile read) is this nugget: the Penguins are getting $15-20,000 for their trip to Penn State on December 12th, in case you’ve ever wondered what a guarantee banks on the women’s side of things. The apples-to-apples gods, as luck would have it, made sure that the YSU men visited those very same Nittany Lions this year, and their guarantee is reported at $60,000.
For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (rude), I’ve been keeping track of the Horizon League’s composite non-conference schedule, including the known games from the four teams that have yet to announce.
2. More planning than the actual Vikings
Cleveland State launched a strategic plan for athletics back on August 21st, with the fairly-obvious goal of improving the athletic department’s financial position. Honestly, it’s tough to say with any reasonable degree of certainty what the specific effects will be on women’s (or men’s) basketball at the school right now, but the good news is that both are cornerstone sports in an environment where CSU administration must make some tough decisions.
Those decisions don’t necessarily involve cutting sports right now (though at 18 of them, CSU is on the higher end of the Horizon League), but they may involve well-considered choices in terms of scholarships and funding that could impact “four or five” Vikings teams. To put it bluntly, the teams that can win and offer more return to the university by doing will get what they need, but others might not.
Somewhat counterintuitively, adding sports might actually improve Cleveland State’s balance sheet, if the enrollment and tuition dollars a program brings in exceed the cost of maintaining it. E-Sports has been tossed around as an inevitable move that may happen as soon as this academic year, but plenty of more traditional sports like hockey, rugby, and crew have robust club structures for non-scholarship teams, and those student-athletes are generally used to paying additional fees to participate.
Several CSU leaders did extensive interviews with Athletic Director U concerning the plan, and they’re worth checking out as a baseline for understanding the school’s philosophy and direction.
3. MKE Cribs
Speaking of “strategic,” check out the incoming practice digs for Milwaukee, which officially broke ground at the end of August. The full name of the place is the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin Center but it will routinely be shortened to “O-How Center,” as in “O-How did the Panthers land that high major recruit?” or “O-How did a Horizon League athletic department find that much money?”
The thing will look a little like a mattress in need of the world’s largest fitted sheet on the outside, but the real magic is inside of course. The renderings, conveniently included in the above video, show a practice court (obviously), with an adjacent weight room, a film theater, and a posh lounge.
Also notable: Kyle Rechlicz is a big fan of the Sit Test, which has nothing to do with preseason conditioning.
4. Jordan year juggernaut
While we’re still working on processing 2022 entries, Milwaukee has already flipped the calendar ahead to 2023. Technically 2023s were off limits to the active recruiting process until September 1st but of course, that only regulates one side of the street. Still, 2023 commits are pretty rare, so of the 35 that existed nationally as of September 1st (per WBBBlog), it’s significant that two of them are future Panthers.
Payton Rechlicz (5-8 SG/W, Menomonee Falls HS) – Yes, Payton is the daughter of UWM head coach Kyle. No, she didn’t need that fact to get to this point. By all accounts, the younger Rechlicz has the basketball IQ and instincts that usually come baked into coach’s kids, but she has also won rave reviews for her athleticism and an ability to efficiently grab buckets when needed.
Sophia Rampulla (5-10 SG/W, Union Grove HS) – Rampulla didn’t have the advantage of knowing the team’s coach her entire life, but nevertheless joined Rechlicz as a pre-9/1 2023 UWM commit a couple weeks ago. She has an extensive sophomore-year highlight reel at the top of her Hudl page (thanks Sophia, appreciate it) that shows an effortless shooter with good length, who has elite defensive awareness. So she should fit in great up there.
5. We’re all a little mad
In case you missed it, and if you follow women’s basketball at all I’m not sure how you did, but on the heels of a scathing report covering inequalities in the administration of men’s and women’s basketball by the NCAA, the “March Madness” branding will now be used for both tournaments. It’s about time.