Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Expecting South Carolina's Nikki McCray-Penson to be named next ODU coach today

We expect Nikki McCray-Penson will be announced as Old Dominion's new basketball coach on Wednesday, according to multiple sources.

Stay tuned, but for now our take is this: Great hire.

A few weeks ago, a reader suggested ODU athletic director Wood Selig dial up Chris Dailey, Geno's right hand. That would be a no-go, of course; Dailey isn't leaving Storrs right now. But if you want an assistant coach to be your next head coach, why not have her hail from a program that just made history by winning its first national championship?

McCray-Penson played for Pat Summitt at Tennessee. She's coached alongside Dawn Staley at South Carolina since 2008. The Gamecocks, of course, beat Mississippi State to win their first national championship in 2017; they've had six 25-win seasons, finishing in the top four in each of the last six seasons. That's in the SEC, by the way, Everest, in comparison to the Blue Ridge of leagues, Conference USA.

McCray-Penson's main job has been recruiter; South Carolina boasted the nation's No. 2 class and top player in the country in 2014, A'Ja Wilson.

McCray-Penson shares the Western Kentucky tie with Selig, spending two seasons there before joining Staley in Columbia.

The Women's Basketball 2012 Hall of Fame inductee is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner who had an 11-year playing career that includes three years as a WNBA All-Star. In 1996-97, she was the now-defunct American Basketball League's MVP.

Then there's the Knoxville connection. McCray played for Summitt at Tennessee, where she was an All-American and SEC Player of the Year as a junior and senior. She graduated in 1995.

That's quite a resume to bring to Norfolk, where frankly, she inherits a declining program. ODU hasn't sniffed the NCAA tournament since a 2008 appearance. They're nothing special in a mediocre conference. Attendance is awful -- almost as bad as a home schedule that has given fans little reason to come. ODU hasn't had a significant victory in six years unless you count a WNIT first-rounder over Virginia and upsetting UTEP to reach the 2016 CUSA championship game. The Lady Monarchs, save for GG Goodhope prior to her transfer, have had nothing close to a point guard since the Wendy Larry days.

What a blow when Shae Kelley announced in 2014 she was leaving the program to play her final year at Minnesota because she wanted a bigger stage in hopes of improving her chances at the WNBA. Kudos to Jennie Simms, a Washington Mystics rookie, for reaching that level after three years at ODU yet what a shame that Simms did not have enough around her to ever reach an NCAA tournament.

Three players have announced transferred; among them 6-3 center Manaya Jones, now at Memphis, had the most potential and is the biggest loss.

On the plus side: ODU's graduation rates greatly improved under Karen Barefoot. The Constant Center is a jewel and a new practice facility with all the trimmings is ready. The Lady Monarchs will also have one year of Kelly Loftus, a 5-10 guard who was Hofstra's leading scorer and best 3-point shooter when she decided to leave. They have an educated fan base that yearns for accountability when the results aren't favorable.

We believe McCray-Penson can elevate this program -- how far remains the question. Duplicating anything that resembles the Ticha era or the Elite Eight from 15 years ago seems like a stretch in these Power 5 conference days. But across the state in Harrisonburg, James Madison looks an awful lot like the program that used to be ODU. There's no reason ODU needs to play second fiddle to the Dukes.

It all begins at the top. We await the official news on the coaching hire, and if's it's McCray-Penson as we think, ODU fans will need to stay patient. But with McCray-Penson as your driver, we like the look of the road ahead.




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Barefoot's departure a win-win for her and Old Dominion
















Nobody who ever met Karen Barefoot could deny how much she loved being the Old Dominion women's basketball coach. Maybe you think all that positivity, all that over-the-top enthusiasm was an act that disappeared once she went behind the curtain.

Nope, that's Karen, morning, noon, night, a woman who could find something good to say even after, well, a 30-point loss, and perhaps that's why her biggest strength might also be among the reasons Old Dominion never reached the national success under her that was taken for granted under Wendy Larry.

The Lady Monarchs have never been to the NCAA tournament under Barefoot. This year with a veteran team that included WNBA second-round draft pick Jennie Simms, they didn't earn a postseason bid. The best teams in the nation no longer visit Norfolk. The home-and-home Tennessee series is a memory.

ODU used to be the best team in the state or always in the top two. Now you'd have to list James Madison, Virginia, Virginia Tech, William and Mary and maybe even Radford ahead of them.

Barefoot won games at ODU, but the team's very educated fan base remembers when the Lady Monarchs were contenders, conference champions, Sweet 16 regulars. It's a Top 25 level that ODU hasn't been close to achieving since Barefoot took over the program.

But she graduated players; ODU's APR rate was pathetically low when she took over. She created an infectious mood around the program that appealed to her players. She was da bomb in the community, a motivational speaker who could incite a lazy teenager to take out the trash. Her passion was never in doubt. She was hard not to embrace -- literally, every time you saw her.

But coaching is a bottom line business. And that's why the born-and-raised Virginia native, who grew up a bridge-tunnel ride away from Old Dominion, is likely a better fit for a program four hours south of Norfolk.

On Wednesday, Barefoot was named head coach at UNC Wilmington, a team that went 42-112 over the last five seasons under Adell Harris. This is a program Barefoot can elevate as she did during her Elon years when she took the Phoenix from five wins in her first season to 20 victories three years later, achieving Elon's first postseason bid in the Division I era.

But Old Dominion was a different kind of cat. National championship banners hang in the rafters. Seventeen CAA championships was a dynasty. Even in Wendy's final year -- one when the Lady Monarchs did not reach the postseason -- they beat a pair of NCAA Tournament teams and were the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. An at-large bid to the NCAAs wasn't out of the question until a quarterfinal loss in the CAA tournament.

An at-large bid has never been a remote possibility under Barefoot. Her teams peaked in March, but never enough to bring home a conference title. Results from November until February eliminated them from the national discussion. If we had to choose a highlight, it was last year's run to the Conference USA championship game as a fifth seed.

That team didn't receive a WNIT bid, either.

We're six years in now. If ODU is ever going to have a taste of its glory days, they've got to be ready to win a few in November and December against some opponents of significance. As much as everybody likes Karen, that's not Barefoot basketball. Whether the roster was filled with freshmen or sophomores or whether it was a veteran-led team driven by Simms and Destinee Young, Barefoot couldn't get it done in a place where the standard was conference championships and beyond.

Barefoot will do great things in Wilmington. With her contract not renewed for this final year, she will not have to endure a lame duck season. The top three scorers are gone and three players have transferred. The slate is largely clean; there is no messy divorce this way. That wasn't the case when Larry departed, a residue that sticks with what's remaining of the ODU faithful.

This is a win-win for Barefoot and Old Dominion.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

JMU grad Okafor bound for med school and she could use your help
















Dr. Lady.

We like the sound of it.

If you followed James Madison women's basketball when Lauren "Lady" Okafor played, you know this. In addition to being a beast on the court, she was a brain off it -- a pre-med and psychology major with plans to become a doctor.

Okafor played with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream for a season after her 2015 graduation from JMU (that included back-to back trips to the NCAA tournament under Kenny Brooks) before deciding she didn't want to put her medical career on hold any longer.

She completed the graduate biomedical sciences program offered by Georgetown and George Mason and began studying for the MCATs while holding down two jobs in Richmond. One allows her to do research for VCU's School of Medicine and the other is a full-time position as a case manager for a behavioral health agency.

The great news is she's bound for the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University this fall.

After an interview back in October, she got the offer just 11 days later.

"I loved the school; it was my sister's alma mater," she said. "It was awesome to go there and get my own perspective on the place."

Okafor considered continuing her playing career overseas, but her academics has always been front and center. At JMU, she was the Mama Bear who had in book in hand during road trips. Late games meant late nights at the library. Don't forget also, Okafor's long list of accolades at JMU include the Dean Ehlers Leadership Award and the CAA's Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2015.

"I've never been an instant gratification kind of girl," she said. "If I had played another year, that could have meant two or three years until I gained entrance to medical school and another half year to year until I start medical school. I just decided to charge forward."

But here's the deal. Medical school costs big bucks. She's started a gofundme page trying to raise $20,000 for a tab that will be upwards of $324,000 once it's all said and done.

Okafor is interested in surgery or family medicine with a sports medicine focus. She wants to use her sports background and remain involved with young athletes.

"I've always wanted to be a doctor," she said. "I've always been intellectually curious in biomedical science, the ones who asks the doctor a billion questions. I've always loved medicine."

Now she needs a little help to study it.

To read more on Okafor's plans and to make a donation (even a little bit helps), check out her page here.

Good luck, Lady! Let us know when we can officially add the Dr. to your name.






Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Division I award winners - the best and the brightest


First of all, a special shoutout to Old Dominion star Jennie Simms, who was named an Associated Press honorable mention All-American to break a five-year drought for Virginia's Division I schools. Simms is this state's first D-I All-American since ex-VCU star Courtney Hurt received honorable mention status in 2012.

We were concerned that Old Dominion's failure to secure a postseason bid might work against Simms when it came to receiving national accolades. In this case, it looks as though it didn't. Still, it's interesting to note that of the 38 All-Americans, only Simms played on a team that wasn't invited to either the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT (Northwestern's Nia Coffey also didn't play in a postseason tournament, but that's because the Wildcats declined a WNIT bid). Fair or not, team success typically factors in heavily when handing out these awards.

Simms was also one of two conference players of the year among Virginia performers, along with JMU's Precious Hall.

The following is a school-by-school list of all the conference award winners, both for performance and academics.

Radford 

Destinee Walker, 5-11 Soph. G/F, Florence, S.C. - first team All-Big South
     - Averaged 14.1 points and 6.2 rebounds and finished among the league's top 10 in five other categories during a breakout campaign. Came in third in Big South Player of the Year balloting.

Jayda Worthy, 6-0 Jr. F, Toledo, Ohio -first team All-Big South
     - Averaged 12.0 points on a league-leading 59.3 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds (4th in the Big South), all while contributing her usual array of intangibles.

Janayla White, 6-2 Jr. F, Virginia Beach - honorable mention All-Big South
     - Overcame nagging injuries to finish third in the Big South in rebounding (7.8) and second in blocks (1.5). Also chipped in 8.8 ppg.  Has made an all-conference team in each of her three seasons.

Khiana Johnson, 5-7 Fr. G, Chesapeake - Big South All-Freshman
     - Former Western Branch High star ranked fourth on the Highlanders and third among all Big South freshmen in scoring (7.5 ppg).

Rachael Ross, 6-2 R-Sr. C, Naperville, Ill. - Big South All-Academic
     - A two-time all-academic team selection, Ross already has her bachelor's degree in communication and is carrying a 3.66 GPA while pursuing a graduate degree in corporate and professional communication.


Liberty


Keyen Green, 6-1 Fr. F, Philadelphia - Big South Freshman of the Year, second team Big South
     - Liberty's first conference freshman of the year since 2001-02 (Kristal Tharp). Won a conference-record eight freshman of the week awards. Went into the conference tournament leading the Big South in rebounding (8.0), ranking second in field-goal percentage (58.8) and ninth in scoring (12.3).

Iva Ilic, 5-7 Fr. G, Koprivnica, Croatia - Big South All-Freshman
     - Led all Big South freshmen with 40 3-pointers. Ranked fourth among conference freshmen in assists (2.0) and fifth in points (7.3).

Ola Makurat, 6-2 Fr, G/F, Sierakowice, Poland - Big South All-Freshman
     - Ranked third among Big South freshmen in rebounding (5.1) and fifth in scoring (6.8). Earned the conference's Keyen Green, er, we mean Freshman of the Week award for the final week of the regular season.

Audrey Rettstatt, 6-0 Sr. G/F, Galena, Ohio - Big South All-Academic
      - The Lady Flames' lone senior and a three-time Big South Presidential Honor Roll member, Rettstatt owns a 3.88 GPA as an exercise science major and is on track to graduate in May.

Longwood

Micaela Ellis, 5-5 Jr. G, Oak Park, Mich. - Big South All-Academic
     - Ellis made the all-academic team for the second straight year and had a breakout season on the court, highlighted by a school-record 15 assist effort in a win over Winthrop. She finished second in the Big South in assists and assist-turnover ratio.

Richmond

Janelle Hubbard, 5-8 Sr. G, Glenn Dale, Md.- third team All-Atlantic 10
     - An all-conference pick for the third straight year, Hubbard averaged a team-best 14.1 points per game. She finished her career with 1,717 points, the fifth-most in program history.

Jaide Hinds-Clarke, 6-1 Fr. F, Westwood, N.J. - Atlantic 10 All-Rookie
     - A three-time Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week pick, Hinds-Clarke averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 17 minutes per game. Richmond's first all-rookie team selection since 2011-12 (Liz Brown).

George Mason

Kara Wright, 5-11 Sr. G/F, Louisville - third team All-Atlantic 10
     - All Wright did was lead the Patriots in scoring, rebounding, assists, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Jacy Bolton, 6-0 Fr. guard/forward, Drexel, Mo. - Atlantic 10 All-Rookie
     - Ranked third on the Patriots in scoring and rebounding and led the team in steals.

VCU

GG Goodhope, 5-5 R-Sr. G, Norfolk - Atlantic 10 All-Academic
     - Goodhope already has a degree in biology and is set to earn a second bachelor's in psychology in May. She currently carries a 3.85 GPA.

Old Dominion

Jennie Simms, 6-0 R-Sr., G, Accokeek, Md. - C-USA Player of the Year, first team All-C-USA
Division I's No. 2 scorer (26.0 ppg) and one of only two players to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. A three-time first team All-C-USA pick.

Destinee Young, 6-1 Sr. F, Hoffman Estates, Ill. - second team All-C-USA, C-USA All-Defensive
     - The only player in Conference USA to average a double-double (10.9 points, 11.1 rebounds). Led C-USA in rebounding and finished fourth in blocks (1.6).

JMU

Precious Hall, 5-8 R-Sr. G, Tallahassee, Fla. - CAA Player of the Year, first team All-CAA
     - A two-time CAA Player of the Year (2015), Hall averaged 23.3 points during the regular season, the fifth-best mark in Division I. After leading her team to the WNIT round of 16, Hall finished her career with 2,347 points, second only to Dawn Evans in JMU history.

Lexie Barrier, 5-10 Fr. G, Ironton, Ohio - CAA All-Rookie
     - A two-time CAA Rookie of the Week selection, Barrier's 7.0 points per game averaged ranked third among conference freshmen.

Kamiah Smalls, 5-10 Fr. G, Philadelphia - CAA Rookie of the Year, CAA All-Rookie
     - A six-time CAA Rookie of the Week and the unanimous pick as the league's top newcomer, Smalls led CAA freshmen in rebounding and ranked third in assists.

William and Mary

Alexandra Masaquel, 5-10 Sr. F, Honolulu - second team All-CAA, CAA All-Academic
     - Led the Tribe in scoring and rebounding in CAA play and ranked among the league's top 10 in rebounding, field-goal percentage, steals and offensive and defensive rebounds. Became the 18th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. She finished her career with 1,030.

Marlena Tremba, 5-9 Sr. G, Vienna, Va. - second team All-CAA, CAA All-Academic
     - Led William and Mary in scoring in each of her four seasons and finishes third in program history for career points with 1,595. Ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage, minutes played, steals and 3-pointers made.

Abby Rendle, 6-4 Jr. C, Reston, Va. - CAA All-Defensive
     - A two-time All-Defensive team member, Rendle set the school's single-season record for blocks (101) and ranked sixth nationally with 3.26 blocks per game. For the second straight year, she also recorded a triple-double; Rendle has the only two of those in Tribe history.

Jenna Green, 5-9 Jr. G, Clifton, Va. - CAA All-Academic
     - Green ranked third in the CAA in assists (4.4 apg). The finance major has also won a pair of provost awards for having a 3.5 GPA or better.

Norfolk State

Kayla Roberts, 6-1 Jr. F, Miami - first team All-MEAC
     - The fourth Spartan to receive first-team All-MEAC honors, Roberts led the Spartans in scoring (12.1 ppg) and ranked third in the conference in rebounding (9.0). Roberts has since announced plans to transfer.

Jordan Strode, 5-8 R-Sr. G, Charlotte - second team All-MEAC
     - A transfer from St. Joseph's, Strode stepped right into the NSU starting lineup and delivered 11.9 points per game, second among Spartans, in her final season of eligibility.

Hampton

Kaylah Lupoe, 6-2 Jr. F, Phoenix - second team All-MEAC
     - A third-team all-conference pick as a sophomore, Lupoe followed up by averaging 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds while rejecting 66 shots, the fourth-highest single-season total in program history.

Ashley Bates, 5-7 Fr. G, Hopkins, Minn. - MEAC All-Rookie
     - Bates' finished with modest averages - 5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds - but delivered 13 points and six boards a night during one five-game stretch before her season was cut short by injury.

Virginia

Jocelyn Willoughby, 6-0 Fr. G, East Orange, N.J. - ACC All-Freshman; ACC All-Academic
     - Willoughby led the Cavaliers and ranked second among all ACC freshmen in rebounding. She is the first freshman to lead Virginia in rebounding since 2002 (Brandi Teamer). Also led all conference rookies in steals per game (1.7 spg).

Dominique Toussaint, 5-9 Fr. G, Staten Island, N.Y. - ACC All-Freshman
     - Toussaint finished third among ACC rookies in scoring (9.5 ppg) and had several clutch performances, including drilling a 3-pointer to force overtime against Syracuse, dropping 12 of her career-high 19 points in overtime in a win over Wake Forest and scoring a team-high 14 points in the Cavaliers' upset of then-4th-ranked Florida State.

Breyana Mason, 5-8 Sr. G, Woodbridge, Va. - ACC All-Academic team
     - A three-time all-academic team honoree, Mason is one of only three Virginia athletes in any sport to receive a 2017 ACC Weaver-James-Corrigan postgraduate scholarship for performing with distinction in the classroom and the playing field while displaying exemplary conduct in the community. Oh, and she also finished her career with 1,080 points.

Lauren Moses, 6-2 Jr. F, Mount Holly, N.J. - ACC All-Academic
     - A debut all-academic team member, Moses contributed another solid season on the court as she ranked second among Cavaliers in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and third in scoring (9.5 ppg). She also notched her career high in scoring by delivering 27 points at Richmond.

Virginia Tech

Vanessa Panousis, 5-7 Sr. G, Sydney, Australia - ACC All-Academic
     - The most prolific 3-point shooter in Virginia Tech history, Panousis connected on a program-record 269 triples in her career. This is also the third straight year Panousis has made the all-academic team.

Samantha Hill, 5-10 Sr. G, Toronto, Canada - ACC All-Academic
     - Rewarded with increased playing time, Hill flourished in her final season as she averaged 10.4 points - more than four times greater than the 2.5 ppg she produced as a junior.

Regan Magarity, 6-3 R-Soph, F, Norrkoping, Sweden - ACC All-Academic
     - Set a program record by recording a double-double in seven straight games. Also averaged a double-double in ACC play (13.8 ppg, 10.3 apg).



Thursday, March 23, 2017

JMU, Virginia Tech resume play in WNIT




Virginia Tech and JMU return to action Thursday night as the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) rolls on Thursday night with eight round of 16 matchups. A look at tonight's schedule:

Virginia Tech (19-13) at Penn State (21-10), 7 p.m.

 - Virginia Tech's challenge became more daunting when hosting privileges were awarded, as Penn State has won nine straight at home and is 16-1 at Bryce Jordan Center this season. Only Duke and Bucknell, both 16-0, have more wins with fewer losses at home among Division I teams. Virginia Tech is 15-0 against non-ACC opponents this season, but only three of those games (Auburn, Charleston, UCF) were on the road. Tech did prevail at Penn State last year, nabbing a 64-59 victory on Dec. 3, 2015. Four of the Hokies' current five starters logged at least 23 minutes in that game and the fifth, Sidney Cook, played 16. Game will showcase three sensational sophomores - Penn State's Teniya Page and Virginia Tech's Chanette Hicks and Regan Magarity. Page, a first-team All-Big Ten pick who has already joined her school's 1,000 career points club, is averaging 19.8 points per game and has been particularly tough in late-game situations. The dynamic Hicks leads the Hokies in scoring and ranks fifth nationally in steals per game. And Magarity, a redshirt sophomore, just broke Tech's single season record for rebounds (300) and has scored at least 24 points in each of her last three games. Both teams own a signature early season home win over Tennessee; The Nittany Lions beat the Lady Vols the Sunday before Thanksgiving; the Hokies did likewise three days after the holiday.

Next up: The winner will face Thursday's Michigan-St. John's winner in the WNIT quarterfinals.

Villanova (18-14) at JMU (26-8), 7 p..m.

- These teams have never played before. But the Dukes have played Drexel at least two times a season - three in 2016-17 - for years, and there are a lot of similarities between the two Philadelphia schools. Drexel coach Denise Dillon starred at Villanova under long-time coach Harry Paretta, and she borrowed liberally from the Wildcats' playbook when establishing her own program. Obviously the personnel is different and it's not a perfect match. But like Drexel, Villanova makes you defend deep into the shot clock, hoists a lot of 3-pointers, makes its free throws and doesn't beat itself with turnovers. The Wildcats lead Division I in fewest turnovers per game and have paced Division I in this category in five of the past eight seasons. The Wildcats are statistically a subpar rebounding team, though, so the Dukes could enjoy a significant edge on the boards. JMU also has one of Division I's top closers in guard Precious Hall, who has been fearless - and money - in clutch situations all season.

Next up: The winner faces Thursday's Indiana-SMU winner in the WNIT quartefinals.

Other WNIT games Thursday (Eastern time)

St. John's at Michigan, 6 p.m.
SMU at Indiana, 7 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
Tulane at Alabama, 8 p.m.
Colorado at Iowa, 8 p.m.
UC Davis at Washington State, 10 p.m.

Complete WNIT bracket

Top scorers remaining in WNIT

1. Precious Hall, JMU - 23.7 ppg (3rd in Division I)
2. Tori Jankoska, Michigan - 22.6 (9th)
3. Alex Johnson, Middle Tennessee - 20.6 (16th)
4. Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan - 19.8 (21st)
5. Teniya Page, Penn State - 19.8 (22nd)
6. Kolby Morgan, Tulane - 18.9 (35th)
7. Megan Gustafson, Iowa - 18.7 (40th)
8. Tyra Buss, Indiana - 18.4 (47th)
9. Ty Petty, Middle Tennessee - 18.4 (51st)
10. Kennedy Leonard, Colorado - 17.4 (74th)



Friday, March 17, 2017

Even minus Tate-DeFreitas, Bates and Green, this Hampton team can play a little, too



The last time Hampton visited Duke for an NCAA Tournament game, the Lady Pirates had the nation's best scoring defense, three all-conference performers, including the league's player of the year, and a resume featuring victories over LSU and at Mississippi State.

The Blue Devils won anyway.

Four years later, the Lady Pirates are back in Durham. The defense isn't quite as stingy, the resume not nearly as sterling. And the lone all-conference performer spent the past week wearing a walking boot.

Meanwhile, Duke is still, well, Duke. Clearly, on paper there isn't much to recommend these 15th-seeded Lady Pirates (20-12) when they tip off against the No. 2 Blue Devils (27-5) in an NCAA Tournament first-round game Saturday at 9 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Of course, if the Lady Pirates paid attention to what was "supposed to happen," Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T or some other Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contender would be in this spot. Instead, much to those teams' chagrin, we now know that even a wounded Hampton team is a menace in the MEAC.

It's not that Hampton didn't miss two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas, MEAC All-Rookie team guard Ashley Bates and point guard Chanel Green, all of whom went down with season-ending injuries.

But these healthy Lady Pirates can play, too.

Forward Jephany Brown was a two-time junior college All-American. Guard Monnazjea Finney-Smith, a transfer from VCU, was one of the top players in talent-rich Hampton Roads coming out of high school. Forward Kaylah Lupoe made the All-MEAC team.

Point guard DeJane "Snoop" James went for 16 points and five assists in the MEAC semifinal victory over North Carolina A&T; Aggies coach Tarrell Robinson said James has the potential to become one of the best players in the league. Georgianna Gilbeaux, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the conference from the day she arrived on campus.

A case can be made that, even with the injuries, Hampton still boasted arguably the league's best starting five. And then there's pint-sized point guard K'lynn Willis, often a dynamic contributor, and forward Mikayla Sayle, who capably stepped in when Lupoe (ankle) went down with yet another injury in the title game.

As strange as this may seem given all the hits to Hampton's roster, the best team still won the MEAC.

The problem now, is, Duke isn't a MEAC team. And the Blue Devils are especially tough at Cameron - Duke is 16-0 at home this season and has won its last 86 games against unranked teams at home.

"Last year our men's coach Edward Joyner speed-dialed Jesus before they played Kentucky," Lady Pirates coach David Six quipped. "I'm going to ask him to text me that number."

But again, as banged up as Hampton is, it's not as though Six will be sending a JV team out there Saturday night.

Notable nuggets

- When Hampton visited Duke in the 2013 NCAA Tournament first round, the Lady Pirates came in with a 19-game winning streak and a defense that allowed just 47.8 points per game, the fewest in Division I that season and the third-best mark in NCAA D-I history. Yet the Lady Pirates were still seeded 15th, a designation that even Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie considered inaccurate. The Lady Pirates pulled within six points midway through the second half before the Blue Devils pulled away for a 67-51 victory.

- Hampton and Duke also met in the 2010 NCAA first round, again at Duke. The Blue Devils rolled to a 72-37 decision.

- A No. 15 seed has never beaten a No. 2 seed in the NCAA women's tournament. The official count - No. 2 seeds 94, No. 15 seeds 0.

- Duke is an emphatic 5-0 against teams from Virginia this season. How emphatic? The Blue Devils beat Virginia by 19 points, Old Dominion by 28, Virginia Tech by 35, Longwood by 57 and Liberty by 60.

- These teams have had three common opponents in 2016-17. Duke beat Old Dominion by 28 points and South Carolina by nine, both at home, and lost by three at North Carolina State. Hampton lost at Old Dominion by three, at N.C. State by 25 and at South Carolina by (gulp) 54.

Related
Hampton to face Duke (again) in NCAA Tourney



The real deal on JMU's O'Regan: "What you see is what you get"


We thought we knew Sean O'Regan. After all, this blog is growing old at seven years and counting, and we've chitchatted with the first-year Dukes associate head coach over the years when he was an assistant to Kenny Brooks.

Nice guy, we'd say afterward. I mean really nice guy.

If we could use one word to describe O'Regan, it would be genuine, and that's refreshing. You see we're both familiar with coaches whom act one way in front of the cameras and crowds and another way behind closed doors.

Catching up with him at last week's CAA Tournament, we wondered, is he different now? I mean, he's the big boss now. Making the bigger bucks. Sitting in the bigger office. What's he really like? Who could we ask? Would Precious tell us? His assistants?

We checked with his wife, Cara. And here's what it boils down to.

"What you see is what you get," she said.

If anyone knows O'Regan, whose Dukes host Radford in a first-round WNIT game on Friday, it's Cara. Now we'd say that about any spouse, but these two go back really far. How far, exactly, is in dispute, however.

"He claims kindergarten," she said.

She says it was fourth grade. Both agree it was Union Elementary School in Montpelier, Vermont.

Now when we heard that, we had to push for a few more details. Sounds like an episode of "This is Us," right? Especially when she points to the bracelet on her right arm.

"He gave this to me in sixth grade," she said.

They knew each other through high school and connected at times in college, but then lost touch after the first year or so. He's a JMU alum;  she went to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

But one day they ran into each other back home in Vermont, and the rest is, well, O'Regan history. They've been married nine years and have two cutie-pie children, Addison and Liam.

The kids get a kick out of seeing their dad on the JMU team poster. He remains humble about all of it. O'Regan worked long hours as an assistant, so the days that spill into nights are nothing new, Cara said. He just has more to shoulder as the big cheese instead of the assistant to to the big cheese.

"I tell him, 'Don't tell me you're going to be home at 6 if it's 6:30,' "she said.

Or 7:30, 8:30. Is it 10:30 already?

"He takes a fatherly approach to the team," she said.

And, of course, he's a great dad and hubby at home (pick up the laundry, Coach).

"Truly, he's my best friend," said Cara, who wrapped up Duke Dog cufflinks to celebrate his inaugural head coaching victory. "He's just a really great guy."

Here's what else she told us, but we already knew. He cares. JMU is his alma mater. (Purple, by the way, was her favorite color before she lived in Harrisonburg.) This isn't just another job to these guys or a steppingstone. It's home.

It was hard not to notice his pain last weekend, pulling Hall out to a standing O with 1:34 left in the title game. The embrace was long, heartfelt, memorable. He answered every question postgame, taking that painful gulp when talking about losing a championship on your home floor.

But soon enough he was pumping JMU up, excited about the opportunity to play more basketball. There's more season left, and O'Regan will ensure his players understand that.

 We wrote earlier in the year that he was the right guy for the job. We stand by it. JMU's loss in the CAA title game was indeed disappointing. But the Dukes still have a chance to make a statement -- to produce a magical run as they did in 2012 when they advanced to the WNIT final. It was a run that laid a foundation for what turned into a trio of NCAA tournament appearances.

In his first season, O'Regan guided JMU to one win shy of an NCAA tournament. He didn't have reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Kayla Cooper-Williams, who went down in the preseason with an ACL tear. Starter Da'Lishia Griffin left the team in December after eight games.

O'Regan was still able to get this team to the finish line, and next year, we believe he'll finish.

Next year he'll have two more seasoned guards in Kamiah Smalls and Lexie Barrier. Cooper-Williams should be healed and Kelly Koshuta will be eligible. Perhaps he'll have a bunch of WNIT wins, maybe even a trophy, to give these Dukes the confidence they need in a conference that's gotten deeper and better since the day of Old Dominion domination.

Whatever the case, he'll have Cara in his corner or shall we say three rows behind press row opposite the bench.

Just like him, she's the genuine sort, easy to get to know. We leave you with the funniest part of our whole chat.

While Cara and Sean didn't go to prom together, they were high school classmates.
'
During their senior year, "he was vice president of the class," she said.

"I was president."




Thursday, March 16, 2017

CNU, Virginia Union stay on championship course


CNU is in its second Final Four in six years.

Two Virginia schools will continue their pursuit of national titles in the days ahead.

On Friday, seventh-seeded Christopher Newport will meet top-seeded and undefeated Amherst (31-0) in the Division III Final Four at 7:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich. And on Tuesday, sixth-seeded Virginia Union will try to invite itself to the Division II Final Four when the Lady Panthers meet No. 3 Columbus State in an Elite Eight matchup at noon in Columbus, Ohio.

The Division III Captains (29-2) will be making their second Final Four appearance in six years. The 2011 Christopher Newport squad, led by four-time All-American guard Chelsie Schweers, finished third in the nation. Ironically, those Captains were stopped by a 31-1 Amherst team in the national semifinals.

This marks the fourth time in five seasons under head coach Bill Broderick that the Captains have reached at least the Sweet 16. Broderick was named the Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year by d3hoops.com.

Click here for more information about the Captains and links to the Final Four coverage.

Virginia Union (26-4) earned its second straight Elite Eight berth on Monday by downing host and top-seeded California (Pa.) 85-69 in the Atlantic Region title game. Senior foward/center Lady Walker, the CIAA's Player and Defensive Player of the Year, led the way with a season-high 32 points and 10 rebounds.

Last year, the Lady Panthers were led by dynamic guard Kiana Johnson, a transfer from Michigan State who led the nation in points and assists and was named the Division II Player of the Year.

Virginia Union prevailed in Pennsylvania despite the absence of star guard Brittany Jackson (18.4 ppg), who was suspended for a violation of team rules and did not make the trip.

Elite Eight opponent Columbus State (31-1) won the Southeast Region by dispatching Lincoln Memorial 86-75.

The ABC's of the 2017 WNIT





The WNIT kicked off Wednesday, and four Virginia schools will begin Friday with first-round games in the 64-team tournament. Here's what you need to know:

Virginia teams in the field - Radford, JMU, Virginia, Virginia Tech

First-round pairings (Virginia schools):

Radford (24-8) at JMU (24-8), Friday, 7 p.m.

Rider (24-8) at Virginia Tech (17-13), Friday, 7 p.m.

Virginia (19-12) at St. Joseph's (17-14, Friday, 7 p.m.

Three keys to WNIT play

Momentum - If you're talking about the positive kind, in the WNIT first round, there's no such thing. Every team in the field is coming off a loss. So in this tournament, no one is trying to build off what just happened. The goal is to build something new.

Motivation - A tricky, at times elusive concept for this event. For some players, a WNIT bid is a coveted reward for a successful season. Others really enjoy playing together and relish the opportunity for more games. But for others, the WNIT is painful consolation after a season geared toward making the NCAAs. And some are just worn out after a long season and would really rather be doing something else. Everybody says the right stuff in the lead-up. But we usually don't learn who really wants to do this until the games begin.

Home court advantage - Since the WNIT expanded to 64 teams in 2010, the home team has won roughly 89 percent of first-round games. Keep that in mind when filling out your WNIT bracket.

You ARE filling out a WNIT bracket, right? You can borrow one here, in case you misplaced yours.

RPI nuggets

Highest RPIs in the field - South Dakota State (38); JMU (41); Central Michigan (43)

Lowest RPIs in the field - Grambling (201); Sacred Heart (202); Seattle (215)

Lowest RPI to receive at-large bid - Louisiana Tech (139)

Note: The RPI of Old Dominion, like Louisiana Tech a member of Conference USA, was 136. Had ODU won its regular season finale against UTSA, the Lady Monarchs would have nabbed the fourth seed in the C-USA Tournament. Instead, the Lady Techsters claimed that spot and positioned themselves for that last WNIT at-large bid. We knew that UTSA loss was damaging. Turns out it may have been even more damaging than we realized.

Surprise omissions

Not sure why Stephen F. Austin (25-7, RPI 89) or Buffalo (22-10, RPI 98, six wins over teams in the WNIT field) didn't get invited. Stephen F. Austin accepted a bid to the WBI. We also would have liked to have seen them find a spot for William and Mary (20-11, RPI 125), which closed with four straight victories, including decisions over WNIT-bound JMU and Drexel, before falling in the CAA Tournament semifinals to Elon.

Breaking it down

Radford at JMU

Both teams were denied a conference title (and NCAA Tournament bid) on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see if each can avoid any emotional hangover. JMU will be playing its sixth straight game at home. Based on the quality of the Dukes' season, relative to this field, the WNIT's hosting guidelines and the school's willingness to bid for home games in previous years, it's conceivable that JMU could continue hosting as long as it remains in the tournament. Of course, Radford aims to make that a one-game deal. The Highlanders have played six straight games decided by three points or fewer/overtime and have had three games end by a final score of 49-48 - including Sunday's heartbreaking loss to UNC Asheville in the Big South final - since Feb. 7. Given both teams' stingy defenses, no one should be surprised to see another low-scoring affair unfold.  But JMU has a fifth gear on offense, and if the Dukes find it, the Highlanders may be hard-pressed to keep up - especially at JMU.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's St. Joseph's-Virginia winner in the second round.


Rider at Virginia Tech

The Hokies will have gone 16 days without a game when they tip off Friday. The sense here is that in this case, the break was probably a good thing for a team that got caught in a vicious downward spiral - losses in 12 of its final 13 games - in the rugged ACC. That said, Virginia Tech still hasn't lost to a non-ACC opponent this season (13-0). If the Hokies haven't been beaten down by what happened the last couple months, this feels like the type of challenge they were successfully navigating in November and December. Rider is one of those teams for which making the WNIT is a major achievement as this is the first such bid in the program's history. The Broncs' 24 wins are the most in a single season at Rider since 1981-82.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's Navy-George Washington winner in the second round.

Virginia at St. Joseph's

On resume the Cavaliers, who narrowly missed out on an NCAA at-large bid, grade out as one of the best teams in this tournament. So it's odd to see them opening play on the road. But Virginia apparently does not bid for home games is this tournament as this is the third straight season the Cavs will kick off WNIT play in someone else's building. It worked out last season, albeit barely, as the Cavaliers traveled to Richmond and rallied from nine points down over the final 6:15 to stun VCU 52-50 in first round action. Virginia added a second victory at Rutgers before bowing in the third round at Hofstra. St. Joe's features former Cavaliers Amanda Fioravanti (8.5 ppg), who transferred after just one semester, and Jaryn Garner (tied for the team high in assists), Fioravanti in particular figures to be extremely motivated to perform well Friday.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's Radford-JMU winner in the second round.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Shot" in the NCAA tournament belongs to Elon's coach. Now Phoenix are NCAA-bound



The biggest shot all time in a women's basketball game? Are you thinking Kristi Toliver's stepback 3 over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales in the 2006 national championship game? Without it, Duke almost surely would have won its first NCAA title. With it, Maryland forces overtime and of course, the Terps prevail.

We've got one better. North Carolina and Louisiana Tech faced off in the national championship at the Richmond Coliseum. It was 1994.

The shot they called "The Shot" belongs to Charlotte Smith. She drained a 3 off an inbound pass at the buzzer lifting North Carolina to the national championship 60-59 over the Lady Techsters. It was Sylvia Hatchell's only national title and it came on Easter Sunday.

Last weekend, Smith, now the coach of Elon, celebrated another feat when her Phoenix won their first CAA tournament championship, earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Phoenix, an 11 seed, will play No. 6 West Virginia on Friday in College Park, Md.

Elon has never been to the NCAA tournament and had to knock out host James Madison, a team it had lost to twice during the regular season, to achieve the feat. The Phoenix left no doubt at a JMU Convocation Center decked out in purple, knocking out the Dukes 78-60.

Smith is humble about "The Shot." When asked initially about which moment was bigger -- that memory or reaching this milestone with Elon -- apples and oranges was her initial answer. But she had more to offer.

"I just have to compartmentalize it and separate it. But hitting the game winner to win the national championship is a whole other level. That's huge."

On the other hand . . .

"I'm so super excited for my team. I've wanted them to experience this for a very long time. For six years I've been working hard to try to position a team to be able to feel what I felt as a player. It's a great feeling. It's something that someone can never take away from you."

With a look at the players seated next to her on the podium, she said,  "You will always be the 2017 CAA champions"

"I've pushed them so hard because I believe in this team. I believe in the gifts that I've been blessed with and it was my responsibility to bring it out of them even if it was pushing them at times they didn't understand.

"Coach Hatchell did the same thing for me. She pushed us even when we didn't understand. She wanted more. She wanted more and always pushed for excellence. In order to be a champion, you have to stay hungry. You always have to strive for excellence."

As well as Elon played, Smith wasn't generous about heaping praise on her team until the final buzzer. Even so, she promised to study the tape from the championship to point out to the Phoenix what they could have done even better. Not surprising that she recently re-watched that '94 title game and despite her 23 rebounds -- "I know of five more I could have gotten."

Good stuff, Coach. Or better yet, excellent. In '94 and last Saturday, too.