Believe it or not, basketball season is just a few days away, and it’s time to start previewing what this Indiana women’s basketball team will look like on opening day.
The Hoosiers return 91 percent of their offense and all but one player who played meaningful minutes a year ago. Bendu Yeaney, an everyday starter, will be out indefinitely due to an Achilles injury she suffered in the NCAA tournament.
That leaves a spot open in the backcourt, and there are many candidates to fill that void. The Hoosiers return their leading scorer and assister, Ali Patberg. Jaelynn Penn also returns after a season where she started every game but was never 100 percent healthy.
Grace Berger was a contributor off the bench last season, but her role is expected to expand. Chanel Wilson is coming off of a multi-year injury that left her out of the game since high school. Keyanna Warthen was a bench contributor a year ago who could see more time.
There are solid options in the backcourt for the Hoosiers, one of the major reasons Big Ten coaches predicted a top-three finish for Indiana in the conference this season.
Ali Patberg — 5-foot-11 redshirt junior from Columbus, Indiana
Patberg is the engine that makes this team run. When she missed three games with her shoulder injury last season, the team didn’t look the same. But when she returned, it gave them back the extra pep in their step they were missing for a week or so.
Last season, she led the team with 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. She was named a second team All-Big Ten member by both the coaches and the media in her first season on the court with Indiana.
She continues to bring in the recognition to start this season. Both the coaches and media have Patberg on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. She was also named to the Nancy Liebermann Award watch list. The award goes to the nation’s best point guard. Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu won the award last year after almost averaging a triple-double.
Over the offseason, Patberg was granted a second redshirt season, making her a redshirt junior again this season and giving her an extra season in Bloomington.
For a team that plans to shoot the 3-ball a lot this season, Patberg is as good as it gets. Last season she shot 39 percent from beyond the arc, 41-for-104. She and Brenna Wise both shot over 80 percent from the free throw line, an important detail for a team that emphasizes getting to the line.
Patberg is one of the big reasons this could be a top three or four team in the Big Ten this year.
Jaelynn Penn — 5-foot-10 junior from Louisville
Penn was alongside Patberg on the coaches' second team All-Big Ten last year. Penn finished second on the team with 13.9 points per game.
She scored in double figures 27 times and went for 20 points or more six times. Penn knocked down the most 3s of any Hoosier last season en route to a 34-percent clip from long range.
The kicker: she did all of this without a fully healthy ankle. Penn had that nagging injury almost all of last season and still put up great numbers in year two. There was no such thing as a sophomore slump for her.
If she put up good shooting and great stats last season, what should we expect from her at full health?
So far in her career, Penn has played in every game, starting all 34 contests a year ago. She played in the most games of any Indiana freshman in 2017-18.
Patberg and Wise have been the dynamic duo since they arrived in Bloomington, but don’t forget about Penn, who can drop 20 on any given day.
Grace Berger — 6-foot sophomore from Louisville
There were big expectations for Berger last season. Following in the footsteps of Penn, she too was a five-star prospect from Louisville. She didn’t make the same impact Penn did as a freshman, but she has a bit of a different skillset.
Berger is a midrange specialist. There are few shots that I have more confidence in than a midrange jumper from Berger. If she can find an opening around the elbow, count it.
The next step for her is to become more of a vocal leader, something that Teri Moren harped on throughout last season. All reports from the offseason point to a big season for Berger in 2019-20.
Last season, she averaged 5.5 points per game, but it was the big games that showed off what Berger can bring to this team.
In the nonconference matchup with Florida, she dropped 11. In the two games against Michigan State, Berger combined to score 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Against Purdue, she landed herself on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays for a wicked spin move, adding to her 11 points.
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) March 4, 2019
In the Big Ten tournament, Berger scored 13 on top-10 Iowa, and in the NCAA Tournament, she scored 11 on No. 2 seed Oregon. If her play against Indiana’s top opponents last season tells us anything, we’re in store for a fun season from Grace Berger in 2019-20.
Keyanna Warthen — 5-foot-10 junior from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Last season, Warthen saw minutes when the starting guards needed a quick breather. Her biggest opportunity came when Patberg went down with her shoulder injury.
Warthen stepped in for a few games. Against Minnesota, the game Patberg sustained her injury, Warthen made a huge and-1 layup late in the game to pull the Hoosiers within one.
What Warthen brings to the team is more than just points. She is a standout on-ball defender. In the three games without Patberg, she averaged 20 minutes a game, and had nine rebounds and eight steals.
If Warthen can continue to give good minutes off the bench and further develop her shot and her offensive confidence to go along with her great defense, she could be a big part of an important season for Indiana.
Chanel Wilson — 5-foot-6 redshirt freshman from Powder Springs, Georgia
We haven’t seen any of Wilson on the court for Indiana yet. Last season she sat out while rehabbing from an ACL injury in high school.
She really hasn’t played significant minutes since her junior year of high school in 2016-17. If Wilson stays healthy, she could be a key contributor.
In that junior season, she averaged 12.9 points, 5.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game before injury. She also led her team to three straight state championships.
Coming to IU, Wilson was ranked the No. 111 recruit by All Star Girls Report. I would expect a similar role to Warthen’s from Wilson if she stays healthy.
Shaila Beeler — 5-foot-7 freshman from Indianapolis
Beeler is currently dealing with a minor injury she suffered in practice. As of right now, we aren’t totally sure what to expect and/or if we will see her this season.
We do know what she was recruited to bring to Indiana. Teri Moren was high on her creativity and her playmaking at the point guard position. That’s a position that Indiana really needs. Outside of Patberg, they don’t really have a true point guard. Yeaney has played it, Berger can be a point guard, but they are better off the ball.
We don’t really know what to expect from Beeler this year, but for the future, she will certainly be an important part of this team.
Grace Waggoner — 6-foot freshman from Vincennes, Indiana
Waggoner will be a preferred walk-on with Indiana. She was originally committed to play at Evansville, where her siblings are, but she decommitted in November.
In her four seasons at Vincennes Rivet, her team had a combined 103-11 record. She is now the all-time leading scorer in program history with her 1,834 points. As a senior, Waggoner averaged 21.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Similarly to Beeler, we’re not sure what to expect from Waggoner. It’s likely we won’t see a lot of her during this season, but she could be a critical scoring piece down the road.