Saturday, December 17, 2011

With exams over, let the games resume

Sunday's previews:

Central Connecticut State (6-2) at James Madison (6-1), 1 p.m.
The Dukes are riding a 14-game home winning streak but are playing at the Convocation Center for just the third time this season and first in nearly a month (Nov. 20). The Blue Devils' record is even more impressive when you consider that they had to replace all five starters from last year's 19-11 WNIT team. JMU guards attacking the rim need to be mindful of CCSU's 6-3 junior center Kirsten Daamen, who blocked 7 shots last Saturday against Siena and began the week ranked 10th in Division I in rejections. We were so busy marveling at the early scoring prowess of Kirby Burkholder - and the extra attention she's been drawing recently - that we failed to realize she's currently the team's leading rebounder (8.0). It would help if post players Lauren Whitehurst and Nikki Newman can build on their offensive output in the Dukes' last game against Maine when the duo combined for 20 points. Our sense is that these Blue Devils have yet to face a team with the level of athleticism the Dukes can present, and that JMU will get CSSU out of its comfort zone enough times to prevail. But we don't expect it to be easy. JMU 66, CCSU 59

Longwood (2-7) at Wright State (5-4) in Wright State Tournament, 2 p.m.
A three-games-in-three-days event is hardly ideal for the undermanned Lancers, who had just seven basketball-scholarship players available for Thursday's loss at Marshall. The expected return of junior forward Heather Tobeck, who sat out Thursday with an injury, will definitely help. Longwood has also enlisted the services of four walk-ons, three of whom have or are currently playing other sports for the Lancers. Freshman Megan Baltzell and senior Courtney Long are on the softball team, and senior Kacie Oliver just completed a four-year career in soccer. The fourth walk-on is freshman LeeAnn Sullivan; her sister, Lauren, was a five-year member of the field hockey team. These guys aren't just practice fodder, either, particularly Baltzell, who played 12 minutes in the Lancers' loss at Marshall. Wright State 59, Longwood 49

Virginia Tech (3-6) at UCF (4-5), 2 p.m.
Talk about comfortable scheduling. The Knights will be playing their ninth straight home game; the Hokies won't play home game No. 9 until Jan. 29. Tech left for Florida on a upswing after Sunday's 70-52 victory over North Carolina Central that snapped a five-game losing streak. Sophomore forward Latorri Hines-Allen continued her emergence that game by recording her first career double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds). Hines-Allen had a career-high 12 rebounds in Tech's previous game at Penn State and is averaged 10 boards in her last three games. The Knights are one of the nation's worst at committing turnovers. If the Hokies can capitalize on some of those mistakes, we like their chances of becoming the fifth team in the past month to overcome UCF's homecourt advantage. Virginia Tech 56, UCF 53

Radford (6-3) at Virginia (8-2), 2 p.m.
The Highlanders have been impressive in road victories at Wofford and Norfolk State, but those guys aren't these guys. Radford has had a tendency to start slowly, and if the Highlanders do that today, this one will be over quickly. On the other hand, if they can use their quick hands and defensive tenacity to force mistakes and get some easy scores, they can hang around for a while. It may help their cause that the Highlanders have played twice since Virginia's last game 11 days ago. Ultimately, though, we just don't think Radford can score enough points against a Virginia defense that has held six of its opponents to 49 points or less. Virginia 69, Radford 48 

North Carolina A&T (6-3) at Old Dominion (2-8), 2 p.m.
Teams coming out of an exam break often look for a MEAC opponent to ease their way back into battle, but the Lady Monarchs figure to have their hands full today against an A&T club that may wind up being Hampton's chief challenger for the MEAC title. The Lady Aggies haven't quite been the same team on the road as they've been at home. Still, they gave William and Mary fits Thursday before bowing by six points in Williamsburg. Also, the Lady Monarchs had better not relax if they get a seemingly comfortable lead because A&T is often at its most explosive when playing from behind. Most teams worry about rust coming out of an exam break, but we figure the Lady Monarchs should actually thrive with the extra rest given their jam-packed, travel-crazy November schedule. That, and the fact that this game is at the Constant Center, is why we're giving a slight edge to ODU. ODU 72, North Carolina A&T 66

Coppin State (2-7) at VCU (5-3), 2 p.m.
Rams are playing their first game since a 62-49 victory at East Carolina on Dec. 7 that featured a 28-point, 12-rebound effort from Courtney Hurt. Coppin averages about 13 steals a game so Rams guards are going to have to be strong and decisive with the ball. Also, the Eagles aren't likely to be intimidated by their surroundings as they've already played road games at Syracuse, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest. But we don't expect Coppin has enough other answers for Hurt and Co. VCU 67, Coppin State 54

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