Wednesday, May 26, 2010

JMU, Hampton in preseason WNIT

With most of their key players slated to return, conference tournament champions JMU and Hampton could both get the 2010-11 season off to a strong start in the Preseason WNIT, the 16-team tournament featuring a solid-but-unspectacular field.

In fact, assuming they have a healthy Dawn Evans, on paper at least the Dukes will go in as one of the favorites. JMU finished at No. 44 in the final RPI, second only to DePaul (35) among this year's WNIT entrants. No other team ranked in the Top 50, and nine of the 16 teams ended up the 2009-10 season outside the Top 100 (Hampton was at 130).

Of course, RPI numbers are just a guide, and teams can change dramatically from season to season. But there's clearly no heavyweight in this year's tournament the way there's been in years past. Last year, for example, Ohio State was ranked No. 3 in the country when it won the preseason WNIT. The year before that, No. 4 North Carolina won it all. And in 2007, No. 3 Maryland beat No. 4 LSU for the crown.

The event begins on Nov. 12-13, and each team is guaranteed three games. All contests will be played at home sites. First-round pairings will be announced in June.

In other scheduling news, Virginia will visit Ohio State (gulp!) and Virgnia Tech will travel to Minnesota (hmmm) on Dec. 2 as part of the 2010 ACC/Big Ten Women's Basketball Challenge. (By the way, the leagues alternate which conference's name comes first in the event's title. Last year, it was the Big Ten/ACC Challenge).

The Cavaliers are 3-0 in this annual event but will need a major effort to make it four in a row. The Buckeyes return all five starters - including three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender - from a team that went 31-5 last season.

The Hokies have a less daunting assignment, as the Golden Gophers finished the 2009-10 campaign at 13-17 for their first losing season in nine years. Then again, Minnesota was 10-6 at Williams Arena where, despite the off-season, the Golden Gophers still finished among the nation's top 20 teams in average attendance (4,347).

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