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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