Friday, October 28, 2011

The LadySwish preseason state rankings

VCU's Courtney Hurt
The Associated Press women's basketball Top 25 poll comes out Saturday, and we're pretty sure there won't be a single Virginia team on the list.

So, who needs that poll? We've got our own list and it's all Virginia schools, neatly ranked for your enjoyment, amusement and/or annoyance. Understand that these rankings are meant to reflect how teams look right now, not necessarily how we think they'll wind up in March. Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns at this point. But that's part of the fun.

Finally, the rankings are unveiled in reverse order. We admit it's kind of a cheesy way of getting you to scroll through the entire post. But honestly, that's not why we did it. We just figured that if we're going to pick someone last, at least we ought to have the decency to write about them first.

Now, onto the rankings....

13. Longwood

What's to like: Quality performers Chelsea Coward and Brittanni Billups...a breakout star candidate in Mina Jovanovic...A full offseason of preparation for the systems of coach Bill Reinson, who took over last December...Stability - Reinson was an interim coach last year. Interestingly, Billups, Jovanovic and guard/forward Brittany Jones were on the committee that recommended Reinson's approval for the full-time job. In other words, these players wanted to play for this guy. That ought to count for something.

So why only 13th? - Someone has to be. And while we think the Lancers certainly have the ability to climb out of this spot, we're leery of their 3-33 record away from home the last two years, especially since that's where they'll be playing 21 of their 30 games this season. Reinson has a plan for more road success, and it certainly makes sense to us. But until we actually see it work...well, like we said, somebody has to be 13th.

12. Norfolk State

What's to like: Four returning starters, including exciting MEAC all-rookie guard Rae Corbo...the significant upside of sophomore Rachel Gordon...the quality preseason work put in by guard Whitney Long.

So why only 12th? - Someone has to...wait, we did that already. Seriously, we can't forget about how the wheels came off for NSU over the second half of the season (3-15 over their last 18 games). More seasoned leadership and the general improvement throughout the roster should help the Spartans avoid a repeat performance. And if they can play the entire 2011-12 season the way they played the first half of 2010-11, the Spartans will be just fine.

11. George Mason
Amber Easter
What's to like: Dynamic guard Taleia Moton and underrated forward Amber Easter...The pattern of improvement under coach Jeri Porter - the Patriots went 4-26 in her first season, 10-20 in her second and were 13-17 last year. So...this means the Pats will surely be .500 or better this season, right?

So why only 11th? - Moton and Easter are the only returning starters, so a bunch of Patriots will need to produce a lot more than they have previously for this thing to work. Not saying they can't, and Porter seems to really like what she has. We'd just like to see it for ourselves.

 10. Radford

What's to like: Big South blue-chipper Da' Naria Erwin Spencer leading a group of talented returners...pesky, the-basketball-or-your-life interesting batch of recruits.

So why only 10th? - Over the last three seasons, the Highlanders have won 30 games. Twenty-five of those victories have come against teams in the Big South. Now, conference wins are important, no doubt. But with so little out-of-conference success, it's hard to gauge where Radford fits in with the rest of the world. Last year, one of Radford's non-conference wins came at George Mason, which explains why the Highlanders are here and the Patriots are up there. But we'd like to see a few more non-league wins before we move these guys past anyone else.

9. Virginia Tech

What's to like: A quality sophomore class led by Monet Tellier and Nia Evans that think might really blossom in 2011-12...the return from injury of 6-3 redshirt sophomore Porschia Hadley, who played in just 9 games last season before suffering an ACL injury...the steady all-around play of Alyssa Fenyn.

So why only 9th? - With no seniors and only nine scholarship players having to adjust to a new system and an entire new coaching staff, this is hardly the time to be making any bold proclamations about how good Tech is right now. No one's saying new coach Dennis Wolff and his staff can't eventually produce a quality ACC outfit. We're just figuring it's going to take some time.

8. William and Mary

Emily Correal 
What's to like: Take the names off the front of all the team's jerseys. Now suppose we told you that one of the groups had eight returners with starting experience, five players 6-2 or taller, three former conference all-rookie team members, one of the league's 10 best players (Taysha Pye), another who was one of ESPN's Top 100 recruits (Emily Correal) and another who spent time on ESPN's list (Anna Kestler) and headlines an intriguing four-player recruiting class. Be honest, when you hear all of that, you're not thinking William and Mary, right? Well, that's William and Mary.

So why only 8th? - Last year's 3-26 record gives us pause. Injuries can wreck any team's season, and the 2011-12 Tribe certainly had its share of those. So we'll buy that. But right now, we see a group that should at least contend for a CAA title (That's right, we said it). Heck, if we had any guts we'd rank the Tribe a lot higher than this. But Show us something, guys, because the talent's in place to be much, much, much better than that.

7. Old Dominion

What's to like: A big-time talent in redshirt senior Tia Lewis...the fresh energy and enthusiasm of new coach Karen Barefoot and what appears to be a crack staff of assistants...The return of forward Mairi Buchan, who missed all of last season with foot problems...Portuguese newcomer Michelle Brandao, who appears poised to step right in at point guard.

So why only 7th? - Four senior starters are gone, and while last season didn't end the way any Lady Monarch fan wanted, let's not forget that those players fueled a group that won 20 games and snagged the No. 2 seed in the CAA Tournament. The signs are positive for an eventual ODU resurgence, and it may happen sooner than later. Like Virginia Tech, though, it's not really fair to expect too much right away.

6. Liberty

Devon Brown
What's to like: The Lady Flames' usual rebounding mastery, which should be enhanced this year by the addition of three freshmen 6-foot-4 or taller...Two Big South Players of the Year contenders in Pan Am Games girl Avery Warley and Devon Brown...The team's motivation level, which should be high after having to watch Gardner-Webb snatch away a Big South tournament title the Lady Flames had pretty much owned the past 15 years.

So why only 6th: Turnovers killed this team last year, and it'll be up to more or less the same cast of characters - minus the gifted Jelena Antic - to reign those mistakes in. If they do, look out. If they don't, well....

5. Richmond

What's to like: Preseason second-team All-Atlantic 10 guard Abby Oliver (when you're one of the 10 best players in a 14-team league, you're pretty good)...Healthy Bilney twins (for once, and forever we hope)...talented sophomores, promising freshmen.

So why only 5th? - Let's senior and 11 freshmen and sophomores...sounds like a recipe of inconsistency to us. Honestly, we have less of a feel for these Spiders than any of the teams on this list. We love the talent, though, so I guess we're trusting Michael Shafer to figure it all out.

4. James Madison

What's to like: Championship pedigree (times two, actually)...A player coach Kenny Brooks is promoting as the Dukes' next big star in Tarik Hislop...A more conventional, balanced approach post-Dawn Evans, and the talent to pull it off.

So why only 4th? - No team lost more starting unit firepower than these Dukes, and we can't just ignore that and just elevate them to the top spot out of habit. Have to hand it to the Dukes, though. Their slogan's not "Rebuild" or "Let's See What Happens." It's "Encore." In other words, regardless of what anyone else thinks, they're putting that championship carrot right back out there.

3. Hampton

Jericka Jenkins
What's to like: Honorable mention All-American guard Jericka Jenkins, the Peyton Manning of the Lady Pirates (With Jenkins in the lineup last season, Hampton played like last year's Colts. When she sat out, Hampton looked like this year's Colts)...Older, wiser former high school star Alyssa Bennett...Coach David Six's proven blueprint for success.

So why only 3rd? - Two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Quanneisha Perry and Laura Lewis may not have had overwhelming statistics. But few teams in the country had better chemistry within its starting five than the Lady Pirates, who used these intangibles to achieve things that, on paper, many didn't believe possible. With Perry and Lewis now gone, can the Lady Pirates' new pieces blend in so seamlessly? Player for player, this is the best roster Six has had in his three seasons. But with so many newcomers, no one should expect this team to just pick up where last year's left off.

2. Virginia

China Crosby
What's to like: No, the Cavaliers didn't have a first-, second- or third-team All-ACC player for the first time in league history. Still, there are a lot of really fine players on this team, and relative to the rest of this state, this Virginia team is loaded...New coach Joanne Boyle's track record for putting teams together, and the fact that these players appear to be embracing her teachings.

So why only 2nd? - Boyle has taken this group back to the basics, and she freely admits there's an "under construction" sign over Cavaliers practices. Even an in-transition Virginia team is pretty close to the class of this state, but since this is a preseason poll, we're going to give the No. 1 nod to a team that will open the year more defined, with considerably less variables. A team like....

1. VCU

Andrea Barbour
What's to like: Four senior starters - honorable mention All-American Courtney Hurt (23.6 ppg and a Division I-leading 12.4 rpg, elite scoring guard Andrea Barbour, fourth-year starting point guard Jennifer Lane and 6-6 center Chelsea Snyder...A solid mix of returners and newcomers behind the "Big Four."

Why they're No. 1 - One of the differences between the top BCS conference schools and quality mid-majors is the BCS schools can recruit at a level to where they're really good every year, while the mid-majors often need to build for a couple of years towards a peak season. For VCU, this should be one of those seasons. So we're setting the bar high because, with Hurt, Barbour and Co. in their final season, that's where the bar should be.

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