Monday, November 26, 2012

Saunders, Hislop among stars of holiday hoops

Liberty's Devon Brown
All-Turkey Team
The five top players from last week's Thanksgiving holiday hoops extravaganza

Rahneeka Saunders, George Mason: Usually content to defend, run the offense and set up others, Saunders decided to get hers Saturday in Las Cruces, New Mexico and torched Drake for a career-high 33 points, or the same number she'd scored in her previous four games combined. A sign of things to come?

Tarik Hislop, JMU: ESPNW's Player of the Week went for 32 points in the Dukes' remarkable Cancun Challenge overtime victory over Green Bay, then came back two days later and went for 30 in JMU's win over Wichita State. Just as notably, Hislop, a career 33.7 percent shooter entering the season, made 56 percent of her shots in the two games (23 of 41).

Devon Brown, Liberty: In road games at two of the toughest teams in the country, Brown delivered the following numbers: at Texas A&M: 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting; at Baylor: 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Oh, and Brown shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the two games and made 8 of 9 free throws.

Genevieve Okoro, Richmond: Went for 12 points and 17 rebounds as the Spiders snapped a three-game losing streak with a 58-46 victory over Minnesota in the Cancun Challenge. The 17 boards were the most by a Richmond player in 10 years (Kate Flavin had 22 rebounds in 2002).

Jazmin Pitts, Virginia: Notched a career-high 20 points in the Cavaliers' 73-66 victory over then-No. 17 Vanderbilt in a satisfying San Juan Shootout opener.

But let's not forget about....

Janine Aldridge, William and Mary: Lit up Austin Peay for five 3-pointers and 22 points on Saturday, and on Sunday became just the 15th Tribe performer to crack the 1,000 career-point barrier in a loss to host Texas-San Antonio.

Robyn Parks
Robyn Parks, VCU: The reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Week notched her third straight double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds in a 24-point victory at Maine. Remember, folks, this is a player who averaged 6.6 points and 3.2 rebounds last season.

Ashley Buckhannon, Radford: Scored a team-high 17 points in a win over Southern Illinois, then led the Highlanders again with 15 points in a strong showing against tournament host Miami - yet somehow failed to make the all-tournament team. Happy to see those honors did go to Radford's Sarah Tabb and Ayana Avery, though.

Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia, The Cavaliers' beast-in-training singed Syracuse for 20 points - the second time she's reached the 20-point plateau in her five-game college career.

Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech: The talented Hokies junior finally caught fire Sunday against George Washington, posting 19 points in a 50-31 victory. Tech's leading scorer last season, Tellier had opened the 2012-13 campaign with just 16 points in her first three games combined.

Rachael Bilney, Richmond - Led the way in Saturday's victory over Wichita State with a season-high 20 points.

Other highlights from the week that was:

Best game
JMU 89, Green Bay 86 (OT). There were 239 Division I games played from last Wednesday through Sunday. It's hard to imagine any of the other 238 being more exciting.

Team of the week
First Radford hung 85 points on Southern Illinois in a 23-point victory. Then the Highlanders played Miami to a 46-46 tie after nearly 30 minutes on the 'Canes' own floor before things got away. The rest of the Big South had better recognize - this is shaping up to be the most dangerous Radford team in years.

- DePaul 68, Hampton 67: The Lady Pirates led by 13 with a little over 9 minutes remaining and never trailed in the second half until Anna Martin's free throw with 3 seconds left.
- Syracuse 74, Virginia 73 - After two Kelsey Wolfe free throws put the Cavs up 73-72, Pitts was whistled for a foul with 0.4 seconds left. Syracuse's Elashier Hall drained both free throws.
- New Mexico State 55, George Mason 52: A Saunders layup got Mason to within two with 1:01 to play, but the Patriots missed their final two shots and were unable to get off a third in the final 10 seconds.

Whatever happened to....
After starring in Richmond's first two games, Okoro did not play in Saturday's 79-48 loss to Green Bay. (Update: Okoro tore an ACL in Friday's victory over Wichita State and is out for the season)...Hampton's Alyssa Bennett (11.2 points, 5.8 rebounds) also did not appear in the Lady Pirates' 70-59 loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday. It was the second time in less than a week Bennett was out of the lineup. She also sat out Hampton's 87-35 home victory over Chicago State on Nov. 18. (Update: According to the Virgin Island Daily News Bennett suffered a broken toe on Nov. 16 against LSU and has been trying to play through the pain). Also from Hampton, center Verdine Warner has missed the Lady Pirates' last four games. The junior college transfer posted 17 points, 18 rebounds and 4 blocks in Hampton's season opener but saw just 24 combined minutes in HU's next two games...JMU played all three of its Cancun Challenge games without sophomore forward Toia Giggetts, who was held out after she sustained a concussion...Norfolk State continues to be without starting guard Rae Corbo, who suffered an ACL injury on Nov. 15 against South Carolina-Upstate and is out for the season.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

JMU, Richmond, Hampton in action today

JMU's Tarik Hislop
A huge holiday stretch of games kicks off Thanksgiving Day with three contests in exotic locales. Here's how we see them:

Cancun Challenge, Cancun, Mexico
Richmond (1-3) vs. Minnesota (4-0), 1 p.m.
All four of the Golden Gophers' victories have come in their own Williams Arena, a place where they went 15-4 last season. That they went just 4-13 in road/neutral games suggests some regression to the mean in their performance today. That said, the Spiders will still be up against it today and will have to avoid the tendency to play too fast that has cost them in close losses to Miami, Boston University and Hartford (by the way, those teams have a combined record of 9-3). We think the Spiders will rise to the challenge and deliver its best effort of the season. They'll need to. Richmond 67, Minnesota 62

Paradise Jam, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Hampton (4-0) vs. South Carolina (4-0)
The Gamecocks will be Hampton's third SEC opponent in its last four games and its most challenging foe to date. But the reverse is also true - the Lady Pirates represent the most daunting opponent South Carolina (wins over Elon, Louisiana Tech, Savannah State and Clemson) has seen as well. In addition, the Lady Pirates typically travel well, and we know they are very excited about this opportunity. Hampton will need to control its turnovers, hold its own on the boards and have a player or two find success from the perimeter. We like their chances. Hampton 70, South Carolina 66

Cancun Challenge, Cancun, Mexico
James Madison (1-2) vs. Green Bay (2-0), 6 p.m.
JMU is still sorting through combinations and trying to integrate new players while Green Bay is still getting used to a new coach (Kevin Borseth). In other words, neither team is quite what they are going to be. So far, though, Green Bay has played closer to its normal standard. If this game were to be played a month from now, we'd feel better about the Dukes' chances. Today, though, they'll need to perform at a level they haven't quite found yet. Green Bay 62, JMU 56

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ODU's Lewis, Richmond's Oliver leave Israeli team; VCU's Hurt remains

And then there was one.

Three of LadySwish's own -- Courtney Hurt, Abby Oliver and Tia Lewis -- as we reported earlier were set to play for Elizur Netanya in Israel. Netanya is a bustling resort city, about 18 miles from Tel Aviv -- and 63 miles from Gaza, which has been part of a bombing campaign that has made international headlines.

Richmond's Oliver has left the country, citing on her Twitter, "I came home from Israel due to the situation there," and Old Dominion's Lewis is also no longer on the team.

VCU's Hurt, who scored 20 points in her professional debut this week, opted to stay.

"Netanya is a real safe area in Israel, and today a ceasefire was announced, so hopefully everything will settle down," Hurt says. "My coaches and their families are still in Netanya, and that assured me a little bit about the situation. My coaches have children of their own and would never risk their lives or the lives of their athletes. I am still taking it day by day, as this is a serious situation. I'm just so grateful that I am not near Gaza and haven't had to be directly involved in any of the bombing and missiles."

Elizur Netanya has signed Maurita Reid (Miami), Chastity Reed (Arkansas-Little Rock) and Porsha Phillips (Georgia) to replace the departed players; Notre Dame's Charel Allen also left.

Hurt says she plans to spend Thanksgiving preparing a meal with her new teammates.

"I have three new teammates, so building chemistry is a must," she says. "I am the only rookie now."

We wish Hurt the best and will continue to follow her pro career that is off to a great start. We'll also try to catch up with Tia and Abby to find out what's next for both.

VCU's Pellechio for three...Yes!

Jessica Pellechio
Recapping Tuesday's action:
Star of stars

Jessica Pellechio: In the press conference Saturday night following Old Dominion's 74-51 victory over VCU, the Lady Monarchs took a good deal pride in their defensive work on Pellechio, a 5-8 freshman and the pride of North Hunterdon High (N.J.). Now we see why they were so pleased with themselves. After scoring just two points against ODU, Pellechio lit up UMKC three nights later with 9 3-pointers and a game-high 30 points as the Rams rolled 79-55 in their Siegel Center debut. The 9 3s are just one shy of the program record (Meagan Evans made 10 on Nov. 16, 2001 against UMBC) and leaves her with 18 through her first four games. By the way, the VCU single-season record for 3s in a season is 94 by Anna Pavlikhina in 1991-92. Not trying to put pressure on Jess or anything, but that number certainly seems like something she can, ah, shoot for. Also noteworthy in VCU's first victory of the season was the play of Robyn Parks, who notched her second straight double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the fact that the Rams (1-3) had just 12 turnovers after coughing it up 25 times at ODU.

Game balls

- Devon Brown: The Liberty star went for a game-high 23 points (making 8 of 10 field goals) as part of a commendable overall team effort by the Lady Flames in a 70-55 loss at Texas A&M. The last these teams met in College Station, almost two years ago to the day (Nov. 22, 2010), the Aggies won by 34. This time, though, Liberty (2-2) trailed by just four at halftime and was still within seven midway through the second half.

ODU's defense: The Lady Monarchs (4-0) smothered yet another opponent, holding Maryland-Eastern Shore to 24.5 percent shooting in a 62-46 road victory. Some pertinent numbers from ODU's first three games: Virginia Tech shot just 25 percent, South Carolina-Upstate turned it over 34 times and VCU shot 31.3 percent with 25 turnovers. ODU still has some work to do on the offensive end (26 turnovers against UMES, including 10 by Shae Kelley, who also had 12 points and 10 rebounds for an unusual triple-double). But so far, the Lady Monarchs' defense has been money.

Chelsea Coward: The Longwood senior went into Tuesday's game against Coppin State averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds. Her stats for the game - 18 points, 11 rebounds.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silent Majority Report No. 2 (through Nov. 18)

Dedicated to the belief that the term "mid-major" is an insult to the majority of Division I teams.

Non-BCS programs continue to make major statements when given opportunities to host the more-celebrated BCS teams.

Last Friday, Hampton knocked off visiting LSU 67-58. The Lady Pirates led by 15-20 throughout most of the final 30 minutes. Later that evening, Gonzaga also scored a 9-point home victory over the Big Ten's Wisconsin.

The following day, St. Joseph's of the Atlantic 10 shocked then-No. 5 Maryland 50-49 at Hagan Arena. And on Sunday, Dayton (Vanderbilt), South Dakota State (Nebraska), UTEP (Arizona State) and Long Beach State (Washington) all thrived in the familiar surroundings and engineered victories.

BCS programs still win the vast majority of these matchups, 70 percent (69.8, to be exact) of which have been true road games for the non-BCS team. But while non-BCS home or neutral site games make up just 30 percent of these contests, non-BCS teams have actually scored more wins in these 46 games than they have in 109 road contests.

The raw numbers (through games of Nov. 18)
Total number of BCS vs. non-BCS games: 156
Overall record: BCS 131, non-BCS 25
When non-BCS team is at home or at a neutral site: BCS 34, non-BCS 13
When non-BCS team is on the road: BCS 97, non-BCS 12

Laundry list
The non-BCS victories over BCS programs (through Nov. 18)

Nov. 9
Youngstown State (Horizon) 64, Pitt (Big East) 50 (road)
Old Dominion (CAA) 55, Virginia Tech (ACC) 35 (road)
Drexel (CAA) 60, Providence (Big East) 50 (road)
Boston University (America East) 52, Boston College (ACC) 46 (home)
Valparaiso (Horizon) 64, Indiana (Big Ten) 52 (home)
Chattanooga (Southern) 80, Tennessee (SEC) 71 (home)
Nov. 10
Dayton (Atlantic 10) 92, DePaul (Big East) 80 (road)
Nov. 11
Presbyterian (Big South) 49, Clemson (ACC) 46 (road)
Gonzaga (WCC) 63, USC (Pac-12) 52 (road)
St. Mary’s 78 (WCC), Oregon (Pac-12) 69 (road)
South Dakota State 65 (Summit), Washington State (Pac-12) 56 (neutral)
Nov. 12
Hampton (MEAC) 56, Mississippi State (SEC) 48 (road)
Cal Poly (Big West) 72, Oregon State (Pac-12) 62 (road)
Nov. 14
Temple (Atlantic 10) 54, Seton Hall (Big East) 38 (home)
Charlotte (Atlantic 10) 82, TCU (Big 12) 68 (road)
Nov. 15
New Mexico (Mountain West) 65, Texas Tech (Big 12) 61 (home)
Bradley (Missouri Valley) 83, Illinois (Big Ten) 77 (road)
Portland State (Big Sky) 87, Oregon (Pac-12) 85 (OT) (road)
Nov. 16
Hampton (MEAC) 67, LSU (SEC) 58 (home)
Gonzaga (WCC) 62, Wisconsin (Big Ten) 53 (home)
Nov. 17
St. Joseph's (Atlantic 10) 50, Maryland (ACC) 49 (home)
Nov. 18
Dayton (Atlantic 10) 71, Vanderbilt (SEC) 66 (home)
South Dakota State (Summit) 60, Nebraska (Big Ten) 55 (home)
UTEP (C-USA) 60, Arizona State (Pac-12) 54 (home)
Long Beach State (Big West) 71, Washington (Pac-12) 62 (home)
Who's hot?

A non-partisan ranking of non-BCS teams based solely on results to date:

1. Dayton (4-0) - Congrats to the Flyers for cracking the AP Top 25. Interestingly, the Flyers' toughest game to date wasn't at DePaul or against Vanderbilt but last Wednesday against visiting Toledo. Dayton had to rally from a 9-point second-half deficit before surviving 79-76. Coming up: Buffalo Friday, Eastern Illinois Saturday in the Flyers' own Marriott Classic.

2. Chattanooga (3-0) - Early success dampened by a knee injury suffered by center Faith Dupree in the Mocs' 81-48 rout of East Tennessee State. The 6-3 redshirt junior has a torn MCL and a sprain and is expected to be out 10 weeks. Coming up: Portland State Friday, St. Mary's Saturday in St. Mary's Thanksgiving Tournament.

3. Hampton (4-0) - The Lady Pirates highlighted Sunday's 87-35 rout of Chicago State with the following statistics - 21 assists, 7 turnovers. Coming up: South Carolina Thursday, DePaul Friday and Florida Gulf Coast Saturday in the Virgin Islands' Paradise Jam

4. Gonzaga (4-0) - The Zags aren't just good, they're defensively consistent. Their point totals allowed in the four victories: 53, 52, 53 and 51. Coming up: Missouri State Tuesday, Louisville or Central Florida Wednesday and an opponent to be determined Thursday in the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

5. Hartford (4-0) - Victories over Marist and Richmond indicate the Hawks have no intention of reprising last year's disappointing 13-loss season. Coming up: at UMass Wednesday, home vs. St. John's Sunday.

Loose change

It's way too early for this to mean a whole lot, but for what it's worth, here are the 64 Division I teams that remain unbeaten through games of Nov. 19:

America East
Hartford (4-0); New Hampshire (2-0)
N.C. State (3-0); UNC (4-0); Florida State (3-0); Virginia (3-0); Duke (2-0)
Atlantic Sun
Mercer (3-0)
Atlantic 10
Dayton (3-0); Charlotte (3-0); St. Bonaventure (3-0); Fordham (3-0)
Big East
Syracuse (3-0); Louisville (3-0); South Florida (2-0); UConn (2-0); Notre Dame (2-0)
Big Sky
Portland State (2-0); Montana State (2-0)
Big South
Campbell (3-0); Charleston Southern (2-0)
Big Ten
Minnesota (4-0); Northwestern (2-0); Purdue (2-0); Michigan State (3-0); Penn State (3-0)
Big 12
West Virginia (3-0); Oklahoma State (3-0); Kansas State (2-0); Texas (2-0); Kansas (3-0); Iowa State (2-0)
Big West
Pacific (3-0)
Old Dominion (3-0); Towson (2-0)
Conference USA
Tulane (3-0); UTEP (3-0)
Green Bay (2-0); Youngstown State (3-0)
Hampton (4-0)
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Boise State (3-0); Wyoming (2-0); New Mexico (3-0)
Quinnipiac (2-0); St. Francis Pa (3-0); St. Francis NY (2-0)
Ohio Valley
Eastern Kentucky (3-0)
Stanford (5-0); Utah (3-0); Arizona (3-0); California (2-0); UCLA (2-0);
Colorado (2-0)
Alabama (4-0); South Carolina (4-0); Missouri (3-0); Georgia (4-0); Arkansas (3-0)
Chattanooga (3-0)
Central Arkansas (3-0)
Nebraska Omaha (2-0)
Sun Belt
South Alabama (3-0); Western Kentucky (3-0)
West Coast
Gonzaga (4-0)
Texas State (2-0)

Thanks for making it this far. Happy holidays, everybody!

Chatting with Jackie Cook about ODU, Wendy, her dog and more

LadySwish loved chatting with Old Dominion senior Jackie Cook, this week's CAA Player of the Week after averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds against USC Upstate and VCU. The guard from Hinkley, Ohio, also added six assists, seven steals and one block for the week.

Cook opened the season with 17 points and nine boards against Virginia Tech. The Lady Monarchs are 3-0.

We've heard folks noting you've lost weight and are in better shape this season. What's your take?

I did lose a little weight, but really I toned up. Everyone says, 'You've lost all this weight!' Not really, but I did so many workouts during the day in the offseason. I wasn't happy with the way our season went last year, and it is my senior year and my team. I was going to make sure I was in the best shape possible coming into my senior year, so it wasn't going to be anything like last year.

You were recruited by former coach Wendy Larry, who spoke highly of your maturity in addition to your game when you signed (Larry took Cook out on her boat during Cook's visit.) Was Wendy leaving a hard adjustment for you?

Definitely. That's the coach who recruited me, so there was uncertainty with me being a young player at that. But everything happens for a reason. I wish her the best of luck. She's a great lady, legendary coach.

Do you keep in touch?

She always calls me on my birthday. She's so good with birthdays, which is so cool. Every now and then, she'll shoot me a text and I'll shoot her a text. My family keeps in touch with all my old coaches.

Despite all the good things happening with your team, this probably wasn't the career you envisioned. Can you talk about that?

I'm a winner at heart. I despise losing. It's just about adapting to the adversity that comes your way and being able to overcome things, just knowing that at the end of the day, this is what God had in store for me. Everyone thinks it's so crazy and it's not worth talking about us in the NCAAs, but that's what we're going for. We're dreaming big. That's what we want.

How do you feel about ODU not being able to compete for a CAA Tournament championship?

Horrible. It's not our fault. We didn't choose to switch conferences. It hurts because they punish the athletes for it. Our school has big plans and is doing big things changing conferences, but we're in the crossfire, which stinks, but there's nothing we can do about it.

Tell us outside of basketball what is important to you.

I have a strong support system with my family. My brother, Connor, plays football at Michigan State. My parents go back and forth. (He's a redshirt freshman QB.) I have a big old English mastiff named Duke. He's our good luck charm for the team. He's 6, so I got him when I was a freshman in high school. My parents dress him up in ODU stuff and put shirts on him and send me pictures all the time. I just put one on Twitter.

Why the name Duke?

He actually was named for Duke, the school. When I was a (high school) freshman, I loved Duke. My brother came up with the name, actually.

What other hobbies do you have?

I love working out. I'm big into CrossFit. If I had the opportunity, I would do CrossFit all year round. I love the kettle bell. I love fashion.

Who do you enjoy watching play the game?

I enjoy watching NBA, but there's not one specific person I love. I used to love LeBron. He's a phenomenal player, but there's bad blood there. (Hint: Her hometown is a half hour away from Cleveland.)

What do you see in your future?

I would love to play overseas. I'd love to be able to see the world through basketball. I was always interested in sports broadcasting, but I've recently become interested in being an NFL sideline reporter.

Talk about this year's Lady Monarch team.

We're a lot closer. Trust has developed. Last year it was all  new people. We didn't really have chemistry and know each other. When you don't know someone, you can't trust them. Coach is a ball of energy and she's always positive. That's what she preaches with us like a sandwich: Give a positive, negative, positive.

Your secret indulgence?

I love coffee. Starbucks. I get a vanilla latte, but I've recently switched to the pumpkin spice latte.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How does your team grade out?

Longwood's Chelsea Coward
Is it too early to be handing out grades for what teams have done so far? Of course it is. But we'll take a crack at it anyway:

Old Dominion (3-0) - The Lady Monarchs have beaten Virginia Tech by 20, South Carolina-Upstate by 31 and VCU by 23. No, it's not a murderer's row of competition. Remember, though, ODU won just 11 games last year. Who were they supposed to schedule, UConn, Baylor and Stanford? But even more than the margins of victory, what's struck us about this team is how enthusiastically they're going about their business. You know how coach Karen Barefoot is relentlessly upbeat and chipper? This team is becoming just like her. It's as though their water bottles have been spiked with 5-hour energy. It just looks like they're having so much fun out there. Then again, what's more fun than winning by 20-plus every night?
Grade: A-plus
Honor roll: Jackie Cook: The newly crowned CAA Player of the Week is averaging 17.7 points and 8 rebounds while carrying herself like someone who has been waiting her whole career for leadership duties.

Hampton (4-0) - Click here for a more detailed analysis of the Lady Pirates' season so far. Here's the short version: a Hampton team that graduated its top three players from a year ago, including an All-American (honorable mention) point guard, has apparently somehow gotten even better. We'll know a lot more after this week, as the Lady Pirates are headed to the Virgin Islands for a three-games-in-three-days-gauntlet of South Carolina, DePaul and Florida Gulf Coast. Any win in this series would be impressive. Based on what the Lady Pirates have done so far, we won't be shocked if they win all three.
Grade: A-plus
Honor roll: Keiara Avant. 22 points, 12.5 rebounds per game and one MEAC Player of the Week honor to her credit so far.

Liberty (2-1) - The Lady Flames posted two consolation-round victories in the preseason WNIT, and they hardly need to apologize for losing their opener at Duquesne (a lot of teams are going to lose there). But if we could just do something about the turnovers. Liberty had 35 turnovers against Duquesne, and 29 more in Saturday's 68-63 win over Sacred Heart. In three games the Lady Flames have committed 85 turnovers, which have led to 85 points by their opponents. We hate to keep harping on this, and the Lady Flames do so many other things well that they'll always win their share of games. We just can't help but imagine how good they could be if they even took average care of the ball.
Grade: C-plus
Honor roll: Tolu Omatola: Earned Big South Player of the Week honors for spearheading Liberty's victories over Grambling and Sacred Heart.

Virginia (3-0) - The Cavaliers surprised us with how thoroughly they took apart JMU in their opener, then surprised us again by barely surviving at Penn three days later. Sunday finally brought kind of what we expected from this team - an often-suffocating, never-in-doubt rout of overmatched Providence. So far, so good - and remember, this team isn't completely healthy yet.
Grade: A
Honor roll: Sarah Imovbioh: First on the team in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and second in scoring (13.3 ppg), all while still learning the nuances of college basketball.

Richmond (1-3) - The Spiders are turning it over way too much. Assuming they can clean that up, this team is still going to win a bunch of games. As it is, there's no shame in any of the close losses they've had already. Not sure a lot of people realize how challenging the Spiders' schedule has been. Everyone knows about Miami, but road games at Boston University and Hartford are no joke, either. In fact, the best player the Spiders have seen so far probably isn't one of the Miami kids, but BU's Chantell Alford, the reigning two-time America East Player of the Year.
Grade: B-minus
Honor roll: Rachael Bilney: A team-high 14.5 ppg constructed in part on 44-percent 3-point shooting.

Janaa Pickard
George Mason (2-1): After comfortable victories over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Morgan State, we know this much - the Patriots would do great in the MEAC. They also nearly overcame a disastrous first half to catch Oakland in their season opener. We're still not sure how the Patriots will stack up against tougher competition. But they've looked pretty good against who they've been matched up against so far.
Grade: B
Honor roll: Janaa Pickard: The Patriots asked for improved production from Pickard this season. So far, Pickard has delivered (a team-high 12.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

Norfolk State (1-1) - The Spartans turned in an 'A' effort in turning back Penn in their opener, then put in 'D-minus' work a week later against South Carolina-Upstate by losing focus, then panicking as what looked to be a 15-20-point victory morphed into a 7-point overtime loss. Since this happened in Game 2, the hope is the Spartans can learn from it. Then again, given how many veterans are on the team, this NSU team should have already known better.
Grade: C-plus
Honor roll: Kashay Barnes: Offense-minded junior college transfer who has provided the Spartans one of the few dimensions they lacked - a pure scorer.

Longwood (1-3) - We're not going to factor in last week's 102-49 loss at N.C. State, a game the Lancers likely agreed to for financial concerns. Instead, we're focusing on how the Lancers gave Richmond fits, handled Air Force and hung within a point of Murray State before losing their grip on the rope in the final six minutes. All in all, the efforts of this group have been a mildly pleasant surprise.
Grade: B-minus
Honor roll: Chelsea Coward: Team-high totals of 18.5 ppg and 11.5 rpg.

Ayana Avery

Radford (2-1)
Late-game hiccups in their season-opening 65-63 loss at Marshall are all that stands between the Highlanders and an unblemished record. The competition hasn't been the most rugged (Bluefield?), but otherwise we've liked what we've seen from a Radford team that has caused its usual defensive havoc while showing signs of being a bit more explosive offensively.
Grade: B
Honor roll: Ayana Avery: The sophomore sharpshooter has made 4-of-6 3-pointers off the bench in two of the Highlanders' three games.

VCU (0-3)
Everyone could see this season was going to be tough sledding, particularly early, for this stripped-down Rams team. So when we checked them out on Saturday at Old Dominion, we paid little attention to the scoreboard and focused instead on whether the Rams were playing hard and trying to run their stuff. They were. As long as that keeps up, the Rams have enough talented players to eventually starting picking some teams off.
Grade: C
Honor roll: Robyn Parks, who lit up Manhattan for 34 points last week and, like ODU's Jackie Cook, seems to be embracing her leadership role.

William and Mary (1-3)
The Tribe came into the season lugging a recent history of struggling to close out winnable games, so it was particularly disappointing to see them open 2012-13 with less-than-stellar efforts in the final two minutes of narrow losses to East Carolina and at Pitt. And on Sunday, the Tribe shot 27 percent from the field and just 55 percent from the free-throw line (16-of-29) in a 7-point loss at George Washington. We keep saying it, but once again this team's talent and potential is much better than its record. We're still convinced a breakthrough is coming.
Grade: C-minus
Honor roll: Emily Correal:17.8 ppg and 11.3 rpg, stats highlighted by a 24-point, 21-rebound effort against ECU.

Kirby Burkholder
James Madison (1-2)
One of our favorite shows back in the day was "Hogan's Heroes" featuring a character named General Burkhalter. We think of that show every time we see the name Kirby Burkholder, to the point where we've mentally nicknamed her "The General." So far, JMU's General has been in complete command of her talents, as she was scorching hot in the Dukes' first two games, then didn't force things when she became to focus of the opposing defense in the third. So an A-plus for Kirby, who by the way looks NOTHING like the TV show general. As for the Dukes overall, though, well, they got caught with their pants down (figuratively speaking) at Virginia, then came home and got bitten by the Bobcats of better-than-people-realize Quinnipiac. The 20-point rout of Murray State that followed suggests the Dukes may be restoring order. But while they're trending upward, at this point grade-wise we can't go higher than....
Grade: C-minus
Honor roll: The General

Virginia Tech (1-2)
There's no question the Hokies have a deeper, more talented bunch this season. Unfortunately, games against Old Dominion (35 points) and Michigan State (29) showcased the same kind of offensive impotence Tech endured during its 7-win campaign in 2011-12. The good news is that in between these drought-filled contests, they were able to hang 71 points on a good Appalachian State team. So the potential is there. We just need better performance.
Grade: C-minus
Honor roll: Alyssa Fenyn (a team-high 8.7 ppg) is shooting 47 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the line. Can we get this girl some more shots?

Back by popular demand: Our predix

We at LadySwish like posting what our fans and followers enjoy reading. And it seems our predictions, lofty as they were, were a popular feature that our readers would love to see again. So we're bringing them back, and remember, we don't mind if you chide us for being wrong as long as we can crow when we're right.

Drumroll, please, along with our thoughts.....

Monday, Nov. 19:

Texas Southern at Norfolk State, 6 p.m.
NSU 77, Texas Southern 58
Says LadySwish: We see new coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke working her magic with this program in time, but for now we expect the Spartans to take advantage of the turnover-prone Lady Tigers (0-2) just as they did a year ago.
Tuesday, Nov. 20
UMKC at VCU, 7 p.m.
UMKC 78, VCU 64
Says LadySwish: Rebuilding Rams (0-3) likely to struggle against a UMKC team picked to finish second in the Summit League. Hoping for a big night from VCU's Robyn Parks.
Longwood at Coppin State, 6 p.m.
Coppin State 85, Longwood 69
Says LadySwish: We'd love to see the Lancers win this, but on the road, against a Coppin team that nearly upset Wake Forest forces us give the nod to the MEAC team.
Old Dominion at Maryland-Eastern Shore, 6 p.m.
ODU 81, Maryland-Eastern Shore 57
Says LadySwish: Yep, we remember these Lady Monarch losing this game a year ago, and we bet they do, too. We don't expect a repeat. Hawks are 1-1 (pummeled by George Mason 64-38); ODU is 3-0.
Liberty at Texas A&M, 8 p.m.
Texas A&M 84, Liberty 53
Says LadySwish: We hate to pick against one of our own again, but despite the Aggies 0-3 start (the losses were to Louisville, Penn State and UConn), we like 'em big here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hampton seizes resume-boosting win over LSU

Hampton's Alyssa Bennett

From the day David Six took over as Hampton's coach four years ago, he maintained that his goal was to develop a nationally relevant squad, a team good enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid whether it won the MEAC or not.

This might be that team.

The final score in Hampton's 67-58 victory over LSU Friday before a spirited crowd - and jammin' band - at the HU Convocation Center barely hints at the Lady Pirates' dominance. This was a 15-20 point spread most of the night, as the quicker, more finely-honed Lady Pirates imposed their defensive will on the Lady Tigers.

"They disrupted us in our guard play and set the tone on the boards," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "Their kids came to play, and I don't think we were ready to match their intensity. I give a lot credit to Hampton."

The NCAA Tournament Committee may have no choice but to do the same. A year ago, Hampton was miffed at receiving a No. 16 seed in the Big Dance. The Lady Pirates wanted more respect; this year, they're compiling the kind of resume that will demand it. Hampton's 3-0 record includes two road victories, one by 37 points, the other at SEC member Mississippi State, and Friday night's home triumph over a program that was No. 25 in the RPI last year and played in the SEC championship game.

To be fair, the Lady Tigers had just nine players available Friday night and are in a state of transition after losing five seniors off last season's 23-11 team.

Then again, Hampton is undergoing even more retooling. The Lady Pirates' three most accomplished players from a year ago all graduated, and every player Hampton put on the floor Friday was either a returner asked to play an expanded role, or a newcomer performing in the Convocation Center for the first time.

But based on Friday's performance, this team has the potential to not just match the achievements of its three straight MEAC championship predecessors, but actually be the best of the group. Had someone taken the names off the jerseys, it would have been easy to mistake Hampton for the SEC power and LSU the MEAC upstart. At times it appeared as though the Lady Pirates had six defenders attacking LSU's five. The Lady Tigers finished the first half with nearly as many turnovers (15) as points (18).

When Hampton had the ball, the Lady Tigers deployed themselves in a zone and invited the Lady Pirates (2 of 15 from 3-point range through their first two games) to take their chances from the outside. The tactic paid off initially, as Hampton was 0 for 6 from 3-point range before the first media timeout.

But on her first shot as a Lady Pirate, ex-Old Dominion standout Jo Guilford buried 3-pointer No. 7. The shot triggered a 19-0 Hampton blitz that vaulted the Lady Pirates in front 21-6 with 11:02 left in the first half. The game was effectively decided there.

Keiara Avant
Keiara Avant, who didn't crack Hampton's starting lineup until late last season, continued her remarkable run of games with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The 5-11 Avant now has double-doubles in each of Hampton's three games this season and eight of her last 12 dating back to 2011-12. A year ago, Avant averaged 7.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. This year she's averaging 21.3 points and 13.0 boards.

Alyssa Bennett added 16 points and 10 rebounds, point guard Nicole Hamilton dished out a career-high 10 assists and guard Olivia Allen added eight points off the bench as the Lady Pirates improved to 3-2 against SEC schools under Six.

Given this success, we were initially a bit surprised when LSU's Caldwell agreed to bring her team to the Peninsula. Sure, her Lady Tigers will be at Georgetown Monday so it made sense for her to want another game reasonably close to the D.C. area. But given Hampton's success in recent years, a lot of coaches in Caldwell's position likely would see little to gain from taking on such a dangerous foe on the road.

After the game, though, Caldwell said the danger Hampton posed was precisely why she signed on.

"Hampton's established itself," she said. "These are the type of road games we need to play if we want to be ready for SEC play."

Think about that for a minute. Caldwell believes playing at Hampton will help her team prepare to play teams like Tennessee and Kentucky. That might be the highest compliment anyone's ever paid the HU program.

Meanwhile, Six did his part to make sure his Lady Pirates seized the moment.

"I told them in the locker room, you may get to play LSU again, but you won't be here," he said. "And you want people to support the program? Then go out and give 'em something to cheer about. Put on the kind of show they'll want to come back and see."

Mission accomplished.

Friday, November 16, 2012

VCU gets a goddess in Isis

We're dating ourselves here, but we admit, when we hear the name Isis we think of the Saturday morning show about the first female superhero.

Now we have a new Isis that comes to mind: Isis Thorpe, a 5-7 guard from Reading (Pa.) High signed during the early period with VCU on Wednesday.

The Berks County Player of the Year in 2011-12 averaged 20.2 ppg, 10 rpg, 6 apt and 3 bpg her junior season. Thorpe also played for the AAU powerhouse Philadelphia Belles (one of her teammates last year was Sierra Moore, now a Duke freshman).

As for that wonderful first name, "It comes from my mom," she says. "It means Egyptian goddess."

In VCU, Isis found what she calls "my perfect spot."

"I love the atmosphere and the people and fell in love with the environment and the diversity at the school. There's so many opportunities in the city."

She took a visit to N.C. State and another on her own to Rutgers.

Isis calls herself largely a self-taught player with a mean crossover who relishes the fast break. That's another reason she found VCU so appealing. Coach Marlene Stollings loves the uptempo game that Isis says she thrives in playing.

"I never went to a camp and played fundamental basketball," she says. "I do not like setting up the offense. I like getting the ball and just running with it."

Some other fun facts about Isis:

Her planned major? Ask her that question every day, and you might get a different answer.

"I want to do everything when I grow up," she confesses. On the list: medicine, music and law. Musically, she plays piano and wants to learn guitar. She loves to play this piece on piano).

Other fun facts about Isis:

Given she lives in Reading, we had to ask about her favorite outlet. That would be.....

"The Nike store."

Player she likes to watch?

"Kobe. I like everything Kobe."

As for women's ball?

"Candace Parker."

Her philosophy?

"I'm addicted to success. I think I can do everything."

Can't wait to see Isis in a Rams uniform!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dribbles and bits: Cook does it all for ODU

Jackie Cook
There was a lot to like about Jackie Cook's performance in Old Dominion's 77-46 spanking of South Carolina-Upstate Tuesday night. Start with the time when, after freshman Galaisha Goodhope showed some frustration after picking up a foul, Cook grabbed the rookie with both hands, talked her head back into the game and sent Goodhope on her way with instructions to "Just get that one back for us."

Or how about the play where Cook, despite having a hot hand, passed on an open baseline jump to feed Myeisha Hall for an even easier layup? Or her game-high five steals, the best statistical evidence of her fire-in-her-belly approach to play throughout the night?

Maybe this is what happens when you become a senior. Whatever the case, Cook would have been the best player on the floor if she'd never scored a point.

Oh, by the way, she had a career-high 24 of those.

Five takeaways from Miami 69, Richmond 63

     - The Spiders never gave up. After Miami opened the second half with a 13-0 run and threatened to run away with things, Rachael Bilney, Becca Wann, Kristina King and Genevieve Okoro spearheaded a Spiders surge that got Richmond to within three with less than 20 seconds to go. Had Richmond been able to secure a defensive rebound, the Spiders could have taken the final shot in regulation with a chance to tie.

    - No wonder Bilney couldn't get many open looks. Bilney said the Hurricanes recruited her heavily, and that Miami was her first official visit. "They've known about me since I was 16 years old," she said.

     - A few more contributions from their reserves will make the Spiders even more dangerous. Said Richmond coach Michael Shafer: "This was an early opportunity for us to play a really good basketball team that's used to winning. And it gave some of the players on our bench a chance to see the competitiveness you need to play with at this level."

     - Okoro's scoring prowess isn't limited to the low post. OK, so one of her perimeter jumpers went in off glass (not sure she called that), and another ricocheted off every bit of the rim before falling through. Still, the fact that she had the courage to take those shots - the only ones available against the bigger, physical Hurricanes - bodes well for her development.

     - If there's such a thing as a good loss, this may have been it. We're not trying to suggest the Spiders were happy in defeat, but Bilney in particular seemed energized by having gone through the experience. "I love being in fun games like this," she said. "This was a gut-check, and I think we responded. Stringing 40 minutes together is the biggest thing we need to get to. But we're fine. We're going to be fine."

Managing crunch time

An inability to take care of the ball in the final two minutes cost Radford and William and Mary dearly in a pair of early-season games. On Friday, after an Ayana Avery 3-pointer with 1:23 to play pulled Radford into a 63-63 tie at Marshall, the Highlanders turned the ball over on three of their next four possessions, then were unable to get off a shot in the final seven seconds of a 65-63 loss. Two days later, William and Mary led at Pitt 72-67 with just under three minutes left but turned it over on four straight trips. The Tribe also allowed Pitt offensive rebounds that led to fouls and free throws twice in the final 25 seconds. Those last two free throws, by Pitt's Asia Logan with one second left, were the difference in a 76-74 loss.

In the short-term, both teams solved the problem by eliminating late-game drama altogether. In William and Mary's next outing the Tribe trounced Virginia Union 78-44. And Radford rebounded from the Marshall defeat by thumping UNC Greensboro 76-64.

This and that

     - Norfolk State's season-opening 60-51 victory over Penn gained a little more luster after those same Quakers nearly took down Virginia three days later (68-65). A breakout performance from Cavaliers junior Kelsey Wolfe (22 points, 18 in the second half) carried Virginia out of upset mode, as you can read in this excellent recap of events by the venerable Mel Greenberg. If there was any chance the Cavaliers were going to take Norfolk State for granted in the first round of the Cavalier Classic on Dec. 28, that's gone now.

     - Heading into Wednesday's game at Manhattan, VCU guard Robyn Parks' career high was 18 points. The junior then nearly matched that in the first half alone (17) en route to a 34-point blitz in the Rams' 68-63 loss. A few weeks ago, Rams coach Marlene Stollings predicted that Parks would double last season's scoring average (6.6 ppg). OK. But five times last year's average?

     - Longwood didn't get its first victory until Tuesday (Air Force, 68-63), but the Lancers got their first dose of respect Friday after their season-opening 71-61 loss at Richmond. The Lancers trailed by just a point at halftime, then rallied from 21 points down in the second half to again make a game of it. "Longwood deserves a ton of credit," Richmond's Shafer said. "They absolutely played really hard. They're a lot better."
       Added Rachael Bilney: "They're really tough to play." Crystal Smith led the way in Longwood's victory over Air Force with 23 points.

     - Finally, we were moved by this signing day tweet from future Old Dominion Lady Monarch Destinee Young:

Thank you to the people who were there for me since day one. One of the happiest days of my life! #ThankingGod

Because of the volume of signings flowing into the various schools, we sometimes forget how special officially accepting a college scholarship feels to each player, each family. Thanks, Destinee, for helping us remember.

Coming up

Thursday, Nov. 15

USC Upstate at Norfolk State, 6 p.m.
Murray State at James Madison, 7 p.m.
Longwood at North Carolina State, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 16
LSU at Hampton, 7 p.m.
Richmond at Boston University, 7 p.m.
Morgan State at George Mason, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 17
VCU at Old Dominion, 7 p.m.
Murray State at Longwood, 2 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 18
Virginia Tech at Michigan State, 2 p.m.
Providence at Virginia, 2 p.m.
Richmond at Hartford, 2 p.m.
William and Mary at George Washington, 2 p.m.
Bluefield at Radford, 3 p.m.
Chicago State at Hampton, 4 p.m.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Silent Majority Report

Dedicated to the belief that the term "mid-major" is an insult to the majority of Division I teams.

Hampton's Keiara Avant

One of the more interesting, albeit hardly surprisingly, trends of the young season is watching how much more compelling games pitting teams from BCS conferences against their non-BCS counterparts tend to play out when staged somewhere other than the BCS school's gym. Check out these scores from Monday night:

Virginia 68, Penn 65
Indiana 63, Murray State 62
West Virginia 60, Boston University 57
Miami 69, Richmond 63

In each case, the non-BCS school played host. After four days of play, non-BCS programs are just 5-17 in road/neutral site contests against BCS programs. But six of the losses were by single digits, five by 6 points or less. In other words, competitive early-season games. This sport can use as many of those as it can get.

The raw data (through games of Nov. 12)

Overall record of non-BCS teams vs. BCS teams: 13-71

Home/neutral: 5-17

Road: 8-54

And the winners were...

Chattanooga (Southern) 80, Tennessee (SEC) 71
Dayton (Atlantic 10) 92, DePaul (Big East) 80
Youngstown State (Horizon) 64, Pittsburgh (Big East) 50
Valparaiso (Horizon) 64, Indiana (Big Ten) 52
Old Dominion (CAA) 55, Virginia Tech (ACC) 46
Boston University (America East) 52, Indiana (Big Ten) 46
Drexel (CAA) 60, Providence (Big East) 50
Hampton (MEAC) 54, Mississippi State (SEC) 48
Presbyterian (Big South) 49, Clemson (ACC) 46
Gonzaga (WCC) 63, USC (Pac-12) 52
St. Mary's (WCC) 78, Oregon (Pac-12) 69
South Dakota St. (Summit) 65, Washington State (Pac-12) 56
Cal Poly (Big West) 72, Oregon State (Pac-12) 62

Hot Hooper 

Keiara Avant, Hampton: The Lady Pirates senior and reigning MEAC Player of the Week torched Southern Mississippi for 26 points on Friday, then dropped a game-high 19 points on Mississippi State. And scoring isn't even her best asset. Despite standing just 5-foot-11, Avant is averaging 14.5 rebounds in the two victories. Inch-for-inch, this may be the best rebounder in the country.

Big Shot Dria

Presbyterian senior guard Dria David (above) splashed a 3-pointer at the buzzer Sunday to vault the Blue Hose to a 49-46 victory at Clemson. David was an 18-percent 3-pointer shooter last season, and was just 1 of 6 from deep against Clemson before letting the game-winner fly. Evidently, as Shaquille O'Neal used to say about his free-throw shooting, she's makes 'em when it counts.

Breakout star

Amber Deane
There's been a lot of talk about the great young talent at Dayton, but little of it had centered on freshman Amber Deane - that is, until the 5-9 guard lit up DePaul for a game-high 27 points and copped tournament MVP honors at the Maggie Dixon Classic. But while the rest of us may be just now learning the deal on Deane, Flyers coach Jim Jabir sounds like a man who already knew what he had and also understands what it's going to take for Deane to realize her considerable potential.

"I knew several years ago when she was at Detroit Country Day that she would be a special player for us," Jabir said of Deane, who earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors. "Now the task is to get her to play hard all the time. Most freshmen have that same problem. She needs to run hard, stay mentally locked in defensively and not take breaks. (But) she has a chance to be a great one. Amber is a great kid who works hard and is mature. Put that together with her athleticism and you have something very special."

She said it

"I told my players, 'ACC teams don't come and play at Richmond. They're smarter than that.' " - Miami coach Katie Meier, who nevertheless booked a date at the dangerous Spiders (23-9 last season) and challenged her team to respond. As expected, the Spiders gave Miami fits before the 'Canes got out of Dodge with a 69-63 decision. Best of all, both Meier and Richmond coach Michael Shafer came away believing each team got a lot out of the experience.

Who's hot?

Finally, we're ignoring all the preseason polls - including our own - and resisting the urge to project what teams will look like in the future. So consider this a snapshot of what's gone down so far. Through four games of play, the non-BCS teams that have achieved the most are:

1. Dayton (2-0) - Hard to ignore a double-digit victory over a nationally-ranked team in a place where the home team rarely loses.

2. Chattanooga (1-0) - In a better world, people would focus less on what Tennessee did wrong and more on all the things the Mocs did right.

3. Hampton (2-0) - Two road victories, one by 37 points (Southern Miss) and the other over an SEC school (Mississippi State). Not bad for a team that graduated its top three players from a year ago.

4. Middle Tennessee State (2-0) - Wins over Kennesaw State and Memphis move the Blue Raiders into the WNIT semifinals Wednesday at Iowa.

5. Gonzaga (2-0) - The beat goes on in Spokane, as the Zags pick up wins over UC Riverside and at USC.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The stars of opening day/night

Emily Correal
With the first day of the 2012-13 season now in the books, here are a few of the players that demanded our attention:

Kashay Barnes, Norfolk State - If you get a chance, check this young lady out. Missed layups are all-too-common in the women's game, but Barnes has an uncanny and most-welcome ability to finish in traffic around the rim. And while she's got a bit of a funky release on her 3-pointer, it doesn't prevent that shot from being money, too. At least it was Friday night, when she torched Penn for a team-high 16 points off the bench in the Spartans' well-executed 60-51 victory. Heading into the season, it appeared the Spartans had everything except a player who could just get hers, a pure scorer. In Barnes, it looks like they have one now.

Keiara Avant/Verdine Warner, Hampton - The Lady Pirates' two emphatic answers to the question: Who's Hampton going to turn to in the post-Jericka Jenkins era? The formerly underrated Avant went for 26 points and 13 rebounds in HU's 37-point beatdown of Southern Miss (in the Golden Eagles' own gym, no less). The 6-6 Warner, meanwhile, punctuated her Hampton debut with the following numbers: 17 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks. Last season, Warner and Norfolk State's Barnes were teammates at Monroe College, along with another Norfolk State transfer, Aivah Parham. No wonder that team won an NJCAA national title.

Sarah Imovbioh
Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia: We kept hearing about  how raw she is and how much basketball she still has to learn. Then in her first game, the former Parade All-American gets a start, scores 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabs 10 rebounds in UVa.'s 78-57 rout of JMU. Can't wait to see what she does once she figures this game out. By the way, Imovbioh's start came at the expense of senior Simone Egwu, who is sidelined with a leg injury. Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said the hope is that Egwu will be out only 2-3 weeks.

Jackie Cook, Old Dominion: Delivered 17 points and 9 rebounds in ODU's 55-35 suffocation of Virginia Tech. When sizing up the Lady Monarchs this season, there was a tendency to focus on this newcomer or that transfer or such-and-such-a-sophomore. Thanks Jackie - along with Mairi Buchan (10 points) and Becca Allison (7 points, 8 rebounds), too - for reminding everyone that the veterans on this squad can play a little basketball, too.

Emily Correal, William and Mary - Hindsight wasn't the only thing that was 20-20 at Kaplan Arena Friday. The senior forward's 25 point, 21-rebound effort wasn't enough to prevent her Tribe from falling to East Carolina, but it looks as though EmCo is set to really go off in her final season. The 21 boards tied the school's single-game record. By the way, it was players with ties to teams in this state that did William and Mary in - twins Whitny (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Britny (12 points) Edwards, formerly of Virginia, and Virginia Tech transfer Kyani White (12 points, 7 steals) led East Carolina.

More kudos

- Led by Chelsea Coward (16 points and 15 rebounds) and freshman Daiesha Brown (18 points), Longwood gave Richmond fits before succumbing by 10 at the Robins Center. First impressions suggest the Lancers may be better than anyone predicted - including us.

- Congrats on crossing the 1,000-point threshold at George Mason, Amber Easter,

- Seven 7-pointers from Kirby Burkholder? What a potent weapon. Too bad it was the only one locked and loaded for JMU Friday night.

- Welcome to the Top 5 on Liberty's all-time scoring list, Devon Brown (1,460 career points).

A few concerns

Look, it's only one game, so no overreactions here. That said, we couldn't help arching an eyebrow about:

- Virginia Tech's shooting: All hail ODU's defensive efforts. But 35 points? C'mon Hokies. We know you're better than that. A lot better. So just burn the tape. Or better yet, send it to Norfolk. We suspect the Lady Monarchs won't mind an extra copy.

- JMU's readiness for battle - Again, full credit to Virginia. But with 28 turnovers and no offensive thrust coming from anyone exceept Burkholder, the Cavs defense was coupled with a surprisingly not-quite-ready-for-primetime performance by the Dukes. Here's JMU coach Kenny Brooks' post-mortem:

- 35 Liberty's turnovers: Unfortunately, turnovers have become something of a systemic problem with the Lady Flames in recent years, the biggest thing holding them back from taking that next step as a program. I mean, the Lady Flames held Duquesne to 29.7 percent shooting, won the rebounding battle by 10 and got a game-high 19 points from Brown. But when you surrender 36 points off turnovers, it's like you're giving all of that back.

But again, for Liberty and everyone else that suffered defeat Friday, it's only one game. No one's season was made or broken Friday night. We're just getting started.

Coming up

Sunday, Nov. 11
Quinnipiac at James Madison, 1 p.m.
William and Mary at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 12
Miami at Richmond, 7 p.m.
Hampton at Mississippi State, 7 p.m.
Virginia at Penn, 7 p.m.
VCU at Elon, 7 p.m.
Air Force at Longwood, 7 p.m.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

JMU tops LadySwish state rankings

They don't give out a prize for being the best women's basketball team in Virginia, but that doesn't mean we don't get a kick out of trying to figure out which team deserves that designation. With the season set to begin Friday, here's our stab at how the 13 teams rank heading into 2012-13.

13. Longwood
Hate to leave anyone at the bottom, or in this case the top, of this list. But with just five returners off a seven-win team and eight newcomers needing to be folded in, expectations can only be so high. This doesn't mean the Lancers have to play down to them, though. For example, the coaches (and selected media) in Longwood's new home, the Big South, picked the Lancers to finish 11th in the 11-team league, even though, quiet as it's kept, Longwood went 2-2 against Big South teams last season. We may not have enough guts to pick Longwood anywhere but last in our poll, but we feel really good about the Lancers' chances of escaping the cellar in their new league.
Season opener: Friday, 7 p.m. at Richmond.

12. VCU
No, this isn't a revenge pick because we picked the Rams No. 1 in the state at this time last year, only to see them struggle much of the season. It's just that no team lost more (graduation, transfer), and no team faces greater adjustments (new coach, new system, new conference). Long-term we love the playing style and level of talent Marlene Stollings is bringing to Broad Street. But this first season could be a long one.
Season opener: Monday, 7 p.m. at Elon.

11. William and Mary
The Tribe has quality players all over the place. Problem is, we said that two years ago, and they only won three games. We said the same thing last year, and they won just 10 games. So this year, we're going to underrate these guys and hope they prove us wrong. Except they won't really be proving us wrong because despite this prediction, we remain convinced there's a really good, 18-20-win team in there somewhere.
Season opener: Friday, 5 p.m. vs. East Carolina.

10. George Mason
Not sure how deep this team is, and it's tough replacing a talent like Taleia Moton. On the other hand, the Patriots have one of the game's most valuable commodities - quality, veteran point guard play from Rahneeka Saunders - and a player in Amber Easter who has 18 and 10 potential. We know the Patriots will defend and play with grit. If Saunders and Easter perform to their capabilities, this team will be fine.
Season opener: Friday, 5 p.m. at Oakland

9. Norfolk State
We're not used to picking the Spartans this high, but Debra Clark has been quietly building something pretty good at NSU and this will almost certainly be her best edition yet. Forward Rachel Gordon is poised for a breakout season, and guards Rae Corbo and Recca Trice are other key components on a now-veteran group that should be ready to make a major move in the MEAC. We're not sure if there's any perimeter shooting, and NSU's performance in Monday's exhibition game against Virginia Wesleyan was a little less than we expected. But only a fool reads too much into exhibition games, right?
Season opener: Friday, 6 p.m. vs. Penn

8. Radford
Like Norfolk State, the Highlanders appear set to reap the dividends of the gradual build-up of the past few years. Radford returns 12 letterwinners and all five starters led by the sensational Da'Naria Erwin Spencer. Everything should be in place for a serious challenge to Liberty's annual Big South supremacy.
Season opener: Friday, noon at Marshall

7. Virginia Tech
Yes, the Hokies won just seven games a year ago. But at the ACC Tournament, we were impressed with how hard they were still playing after such a difficult transitional season. We're just as impressed with what appears to be a strong recruiting class. It should all add up to a much-improved Tech team, particularly when newcomers Hannah Young and particularly Uju Ugoka enter the fray.
Season opener: Friday, 2 p.m. vs. Old Dominion

6. Old Dominion
Even with the loss of impact player Tia Lewis, all signs point to a much-improved Lady Monarchs squad capable of successfully executing the fullcourt style coach Karen Barefoot prefers. Early indications are that newcomer Shae Kelley may be capable of giving ODU a lot of what Lewis provided last year, and the early-January additions of transfer Stephanie Gardner and Portugal's Michelle Brandao should help make the Lady Monarchs extremely dangerous.
Season opener: Friday, 2 p.m. at Virginia Tech

5. Liberty
The Lady Flames seem to have a patent on 20-win, high-rebound total seasons that end with a Big South title, and it appears they're poised for another such season. The question is, can they take it a notch higher? One thing that would help would be a completely healthy season from senior Devon Brown. Even battling injuries, as has been the case the past two seasons, Brown has been really good. If she can stay out of the trainer's room, we think she's the type of talent who can carry a team to greater-than-normal heights.
Season opener: Friday, 7 p.m. at Duquesne (Preseason WNIT)

4. Hampton
We're not sure how this is going to look initially, as the handful of returners have expanded roles, the influx of newcomers are still figuring things out and the nonconference schedule is unforgiving. Ultimately, though, we're banking on coach David Six's proven ability to get his group to rebound, defend and limit turnovers. Following that script tends to take this team a long way.
Season opener: Friday, noon at Southern Mississippi

3. Richmond
The Spiders' 23-win season was something of a surprise last season given the team's youth. But with veterans Rachael Bilney, Genevieve Okoro and the great Becca Wann leading the way, this group ain't sneaking up on anyone. That shouldn't matter, though, as this team is as good a bet as any to win the Atlantic 10.
Season opener: Friday, 4 p.m. vs. Longwood

2. Virginia
It stinks that guard Lexie Gerson went down for the season with injury, mostly for her but also because she was the most pivotal defender on a defense-first team. Also, other niggling injuries have plagued the Cavaliers through the preseason. But there's still a lot to like here, and last year proved that coach Joanne Boyle can squeeze a lot out of this group. We're particulary intrigued by the reports on rookie Sarah Imovbioh, who by all accounts is a phenomenal athlete who is just scratching the surface of understanding the nuances of basketball. Freshman Faith Randolph sounds like a keeper, too.
Season opener: Friday, 7 p.m. vs. James Madison

1. JMU
Why the Dukes over Virginia? Well, JMU prevailed the last time these teams met in the 2012 WNIT quarterfinals. Granted, that game was in Harrisonburg, and we won't be shocked if the Cavaliers score some payback in Friday's rematch at John Paul Jones Arena. But we're starting off with JMU in the No. 1 spot because, with the nucleus of last season's team returning virtually intact, the Dukes begin the year in better position to quickly start building on last season's run to the WNIT title game. Of course, this doesn't mean JMU doesn't have some kinks to work out. We weren't always sure where the points were coming from last season, and frankly, we're still not sure. But even a slight improvement in offensive efficiency, assuming it's combined with last season's commitment to defense, should result in a unit that can challenge mighty Delaware for the CAA title.
Season opener: Friday, 7 p.m. at Virginia

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