Thursday, December 27, 2012

Let's the games begin (again)

OK, folks, break's over. Hope everyone had a happy holiday and got recharged for the second half of the season. Now let's get back to work. Here's a look at each team's post-Christmas opener:

Thursday, Dec. 27
VCU (6-6) at Ohio State (8-3)
Game returns head coach Marlene Stollings to the place where she began her college playing career as well as the school where assistant coach Niki Dawkins earned All-America honors and is a member of the athletic hall of fame. As for the current Rams, it will be interesting to see how their long-range shooting abilities match up against a Buckeyes team that has been statistically outstanding at defending the 3-point line. VCU must also find a way to contain Ohio State star Tayler Hill, a player many believe will be a Top-5 pick in next year's WNBA draft.
Prediction: Ohio State 77, VCU 59

Hampton (8-4) at St. Peter's (0-9), 7 p.m.
Lady Pirates coach David Six is a Brooklyn native and has recruited the New York area heavily, factors that may or may not have played a role in this post-Christmas scheduling. Breaks in routine can throw off an offense, but we expect Hampton's typically-stellar defense to be as tenacious as ever. If so, that should be more than enough against the offense-challenged Peacocks, one of six winless teams remaining in Division I.
Prediction: Hampton 62, St. Peter's 43

Friday, Dec. 28
Norfolk State (2-8) at Virginia (6-4) in Cavalier Classic, 7 p.m.
The Spartans' come-from-behind 4-point home victory over Division II Chowan surely wasn't the most emphatic of decisions, but it did snap an eight-game losing streak and send them into the holiday on an uptick. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, struggled to put away Coppin State, then fell in double-overtime at Alabama for their third loss in four games since dominating Minnesota 90-68 on Nov. 29. No question Virginia has been in something of a funk of late. Still, the Cavaliers defense figures to pose a host of problems for an NSU team that can really struggle to score. The winner will meet either Northern Illinois (4-6) or Xavier (5-6) in Saturday's championship game; the two losing teams will meet in the consolation game.
Prediction: Virginia 81, Norfolk State 52
Richmond (7-5) at College of Charleston (4-5),7 p.m.
We know this much - both teams can handle UNC Greensboro. On Dec. 3, Charleston won at UNCG by 27. Five days later, the Spiders won at UNCG by 35. So if we use the UNCG scale, Richmond should win this by eight, right? One real edge Richmond should enjoy, particularly if it's a close game, is free throw shooting. The Spiders have made 73.1 percent from the line, while the Cougars check in at 55.1 percent.
Prediction: Richmond 66, College of Charleston 58
North Carolina A&T (6-4) at Virginia Tech (5-5), 7 p.m.
Can't wait to see what reigning ACC Player of the Week Uju Ugoka does for an encore after her 28-point (on 13 of 18 shooting) Hokies debut Saturday against Wake Forest. But Tech can't sleep on the pesky Lady Aggies, who under new head coach and former VCU assistant Tarrell Robinson have gone 2-1 against Virginia schools after taking out Liberty and William and Mary. Only Richmond was able to handle these guys.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 68, North Carolina A&T 66
Maine (1-9) at James Madison (4-6), 7 p.m.
A homecoming of sorts for Maine freshman Liz Wood, who will be performing a couple hours drive from where she starred at Liberty High in Bedford. The game will also be a reunion of Wood and JMU redshirt freshman Jazmon Gwathmey, who played together on Liberty's 2011 Virginia state championship team. The two (Wood No. 1 and Gwathmey No. 2) are the all-time leading scorers at Liberty. Several teammates from that 2011 state title team as well as current and former players will be in attendance at the JMU Convocation Center along with principal Roger Lee. Maine's struggles are hardly unexpected, as Wood is one of the team's nine freshmen. It also hasn't helped that the Black Bears have played only two home games. Under normal circumstances we'd wonder how much JMU could get out of a matchup with a team in such an early stage of rebuilding. But given how much the Dukes are still trying to figure things out, this Maine team is showing up at just the right time.
Prediction: JMU 61, Maine 51
Saturday, Dec. 29
Liberty (9-4, 1-0 Big South) at Winthrop (6-4, 1-0 Big South), 1 p.m.
A dangerous Big South road game for the Lady Flames, who dropped a 71-69 decision at  high-scoring Winthrop last season for their only conference road loss. The Eagles succeeded in getting that game played on their uptempo, 3-point-shooting terms as they splashed 10 triples and outscored the Lady Flames 17-4 on the fast break. By contrast, when the teams met in Lynchburg last season, Winthrop managed just two points on the fast break and shot just 20 percent from 3-point range. Liberty won that game by 30. Whichever team controls the pace and style of play in this one should emerge victorious.
Prediction: Liberty 60, Winthrop 51

Georgia Southern (1-8) at George Mason (4-5), 3 p.m.
The Lady Eagles have lost six straight games - all away from home - failed to exceed 49 points in any of them and played its last game without two injured starters. The Patriots aren't exactly a high-scoring outfit, but if they can get to 50, that might be enough. To do so, however, the Pats need to rediscover their shooting touch. They shot just 26.8 percent in a 50-point road loss at mighty Maryland, which is somewhat understandable given the quality of opponent. But the Patriots followed that up with a 29.0 percent effort in a road loss at George Washington.
Prediction: George Mason 59, Georgia Southern 42
Longwood (3-8, 0-0 Big South) at Radford (5-5, 0-1 Big South), 3 p.m.
The long-awaited conference opener for Big South newcomer Longwood. But the Lancers have already proven they can play in this league as on Dec. 9 they thumped league rival Gardner-Webb in a game that doesn't count in the conference standings. Also, last season Longwood defeated Radford 73-59 when these teams met in Farmville. This game takes on added significance for the Highlanders since they've already dropped one conference home game (67-65 to Liberty).
Prediction: Radford 65, Longwood 64
South Carolina State (8-3) at Old Dominion (8-2), 4 p.m.
The Lady Monarchs have already played two other MEAC teams, but these Lady Bulldogs, who have already beaten Clemson, appear much more dangerous than either Maryland-Eastern Shore or North Carolina State. A key will be turnovers - ODU has been among the nation's best at forcing them (24.5 per game), while S.C. State ranks among Division I's top 30 teams in not committing them (15.3 per game). This doubles as a homecoming game for South Carolina State senior Trinese Fox (6.2 ppg), a former star at Nansemond River High in Suffolk. The contest is also the first part of a women's-men's doubleheader at the Constant Center. The Monarchs will host Fairfield at 7 p.m.
Prediction: Old Dominion 77, South Carolina State 61
Sunday, Dec. 30
William and Mary (2-7) at Cornell (5-5), 1 p.m.
There certainly are worse places to bring in the new year than New York, and with their next game set for Jan. 6 at Hofstra, the Tribe will have the opportunity to welcome 2013 in the Big Apple. First things first, though, and the Tribe will be out to snap a four-game losing streak. When these teams met last year in Williamsburg, the Tribe scored 38 points off Cornell turnovers and made 11 of 17 3-pointers in a 31-point victory. Cornell has been much more competitive this season, though, as evidenced by their 53-40 loss at Texas on Dec. 20.
Prediction: Cornell 71, William and Mary 64

Also on Sunday, Hampton returns to action at Virginia Tech at 2 p.m., and Richmond gets in a second post-Christmas game at UNC Wilmington, also at 2 p.m.

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