Hoops Insider with Karen Schulte

HN.com is proud to unveil our newest insider for Iowa athletics, Karen Schulte, who breaks down women's basketball for us. Karen played for Hawkeye Coach Lisa Bluder at Drake and has spent the last four seasons as the radio color voice of Iowa women's hoops. She also works as a sports anchor at CBS 2 in Cedar Rapids. Karen offers excellent insight and candidness, as you will see in her opening piece, which is free for one time only. Read what our premium members get all season long at HN.com.

What are your feelings on taking a team on a holiday trip like this one Iowa is taking to the Bahamas?

I can see why they do it because it is a huge recruiting advantage to say that we've been here or by the time you're a senior you will have gone here. And I've noticed at Iowa that a lot of parents make every trip including the big ones that cost some money. They'll save up because they'll know a couple of years in advance that they're going to the tournament. So, it's not like these girls are going to be away from their families. They're may be one or two that have parents that won't travel, but I wouldn't be surprised of the majority have their families there.

Bluder the other day made the comment, and I agree with it, going there to a tournament like this where you get to play around and you get to be away from the campus and away from normalcy allows you to rely on each other more so than you would otherwise. You're traveling. You're spending time in a airport. You're spending time at restaurants deciding what to order together.

Hopefully these girls, especially this year, will be able to use that to form bonds and alliances, too. Hopefully that can turn into the play on the court. This year, with the number of new players, and the number of young players and the lack of a "Really strong dominant senior class" it's especially important to try to build as much team unity as they can with this group.

From watching the first couple of games, what were some things you liked and what were maybe some things you'd like to see improved upon?

I didn't like the first half against Southern Illinois. That's not the way that you want to come out and start the official season. And I undterstand that has to do with the newness of it all and maybe a little anxiety and some jitters.

Having said that, you're playing on your home court. You're playing in your tournament. They were pretty much lying flat on their backs. Iowa didn't have that drive or killer instinct right off the bat that you'd like to see.

Granted, the shots weren't falling. But that's when there are plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities. With Iowa's size advantage in that game, I guess I would have like to have seen them crash the boards a little bit more.

Having said that, Southern wasn't scoring. Part of that had to do with what Iowa was doing and not allowing Southern to do. That's a positive.

But I'll be candid with you, in that first half, I thought, "Oh brother, we're in for a long season." But it was like the light switch came on at halftime. And Bluder said some things in the locker room. And that will bring me to another point.

I don't foresee this being a team that she can do a lot of tail chewing on. These girls are probably a little bit more vulnerable when it comes to being emotional because there's such a new look and a new feel to this team. I don't know that these are the kind of players like we had last year with Lillis, Faulkner and McCann, that will take constructive criticism to heart to make then play harder and communicate that to their teammates.

I don't know if these girls, at least early on and I could be wrong, are tough enough. They're really nice girls. The way that she's going to have to coach them is stroke them a little bit - "You got it. That's OK, hang in there. You can do it." As opposed to "That's rediculous. I expect more. Play hard or you're not going to be playing."

That's what Bluder said she did in the second half of that Southern Illinois game. She just told them to stick with it. Keep trying. The shots will fall.

Speaking of defense, I didn't think I'd see Lisa ever play that much 2-3 zone as she played against Southern. And she said that's something they're going to use quite a bit this season. What are your feelings on that?

It's shocking. When I played for her at Drake, it was better than two thirds of the time that we played man, and very seldom did we play 2-3. She liked to dictate what Drake was doing by what Drake was able to do best. It wasn't based on what the other team did or what we would have to do in order to counter what an opponent did.

Having said that, last year there really wasn't a lot of tall presence in the middle. Lillis was quick and agile. She could do anything. Iowa played a lot of man last year, and they were awful on defense.

She worked on it a lot in the offseason. The players on media day, I asked them the No. 1 key going into the season and I remember Tiffany Reedy said, "Oh my gosh, defense. We have not heard enough about defense all summer long."

I guess I was expecting some really good things out of the exhibition games, and I didn't see a difference. I know that Bluder was really upset with the defensive efforts in both of those games.

I have some concerns know that the Big Ten Conference is going to be as strong and contain as much parity this year as it has in, this is my fifth season covering Iowa. There are some really, really good teams out there. And Iowa probably isn't considered one of the really good teams going into the season. They certainly could be, but they won't be picked very high going in.

I was worried about the defense, but they held their first two opponents to a 52 points per game average. That's pretty decent. Granted Southern is rebuilding. Missouri lost a lot of players. But they're still good programs.

What do you think about the freshmen?

I really like VanderVenter. I had heard a lot of great things about her. But then again, you always hear great things about recruits.

I like her disposition. She carries herself well. She doesn't do a lot of jaw moving out there. She just plays her game. She does a lot of things well that most freshmen don't get. Jan Jensen said that she has the strongest upper body of any post player she's ever coached, and that's saying something because they've coached a lot of good post players.

Randi Peterson was a post player for heaven's sake. We know how strong she was.

VandeVenter has a knack for going to the boards. Hopefully we don't get to the point where Iowa has to rely on her too much to rebound. She has a nice touch and it seems like she and Jamie Cavey want to work together really well with the high-low post. They're going to have to work on some timing issues and learning how to read the defense better.

Abby Emmert, I'll be honest with you, I was very concerned after the first exhibition game. But I saw a ton of improvement between the first and the second in her.

She's not going to be someone that Iowa looks to for a lot of scoring. But what I like about her is that she doesn't try to do too much. She doesn't try to play outside of her role. She gets the ball to people. She takes care of the ball. I think she'll be OK.

It's kind of scary to think about two freshmen starting, but it's kind of like what Ferentz went through with Johnson and Allen in the secondary that first year. There were some growing pains, but now look what these two are doing.

I saw Stacy Schlapkohl in Game Time League and I really liked how she played. She ran the floor really well; beautiful touch. She's really athletic. I covered her a lot working at Channel-2 because she played two sports.

She sometimes gets a little hung up on bringing the ball down. That's going that Jensen will work on with her. She also needs to be able to make her decision quicker when the ball goes into her. Defenses rattle her a little bit, and when she does bring the ball down she plays like she's 5-5 instead of 6-3.

But what I nice opportunity for her. In other years at Iowa, she probably wouldn't get the opportunity to see the minutes that she will this year. And I don't want that to sound bad. I really like her as a player. It's just that Iowa isn't as deep this year.

By default, they're going to have to use her. And because of that, she's going to play. But look what happened with Bob Sanders. Who was Bob Sanders until the guy in front of him got hurt? Then look what he did.

Maybe Stacy Schlapkohl is going to be that same kind of player that because they need her now she has a role. She can seize that opportunity.

Has Jo gotten it?

There's nobody that wants to see Jo succeed more than she does. When Bluder says that she is her toughest critic, she is.

A lot of people that are removed from the program might think that she's a ball hog. She shoots to much. She tries to force things. She turns it over. And she thinks she's better than everybody else.

That is the farthest thing from the truth. She, at times, doesn't think she's good enough to be out there. She knows what she's capable of but executing that on the floor is another thing.

If she misses her first shot, in the past there's immediately a foul. Then, she'll look at the bench and then honest to God tears come. It's because she takes everything so personally in her life. She's one of the most quiet players on the team. In fact, she's probably the most quiet.

She's always studying the playbook and the scouting report. She's always looking at the stats.

When she's relaxed, like she was the first two games, and she can just play ball, we need that. She's the x-factor in this team. She absolutely is the x-factor between Iowa going .500 this season or Iowa making the Top 4 in the Big Ten and possibly better.

If she can get 10-12 points and 6 or 7 rebounds, Iowa is a good team. If she can't, we might be in some trouble. Not that Reedy can't do it. But we need Reedy and Solverson.

What do you expect out of this trip? What's a good trip?

I would say, for sure, it would be really good if Iowa can win against Florida. If Iowa can beat Florida and get a chance to play Oklahoma, that's a sucessful trip.

Florida and Oklahoma are really good teams. They're quality programs. Carolyn Peck coaches Florida. She was the Purdue coach when they won the national title. She wouldn't be at Floria if she didn't think she could bring good players in there. And they have very good players.

I'm a little concerned because they're all 3s and 4s that are quick, and Iowa's not going to be able to match up with them. It will be interesting to see how they are going to try to guard them.

If Iowa can beat them and play Oklahoma, regardless of what happens in the Oklahoma game, those are going to be two quality opponents. They'll help strength of schedule; RPI: all that kind of stuff.

Right now, these girls don't know how good they are. They don't know how bad they are. While every that's been around college basketball knows that this will be a good measuring stick, these girls don't know any better. They don't know that Florida good potentially kick them out of the gym. They don't know that a win over Florida would be considered a pretty good upset at this point.

But Bluder will have them ready and knowing that they can compete with Florida. You keep your heads high until you have reason to do otherwise. I think it's good that Iowa is playing some names; some teams with a reputation.

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