Friday, November 8, 2013

LadySwish state rankings - 2013-14 preseason edition

Two years ago, we tabbed VCU as the preseason number one team in the state. The Rams went on to barely win as many games as they lost.

Last year, we picked JMU as our top team, a couple of days before the Dukes got blown out by 21 points at Virginia.

Keep this in mind as you check out our rankings for 2013-14. Just remember, eventually we're going to be right about this stuff.

13. Radford
Some tough sledding awaits new coach Mike McGuire as the Highlanders will open the season with just (a magnificent?) seven players, four of who have never played a college basketball game. Senior guard Breshara Gordon and junior forward Jordynn Gaymon will soon boost that number to nine, but given the whistle-happy nature of play this preseason, this may be the worst year in history to be caught with a short bench. It's not that Radford is devoid of talent. Ayana Avery, a three-point specialist a year ago, is developing into a complete player. Freshman Kermisha Clark seems poised to contribute quality minutes right away. And Kiera McIvor brings intangibles and an ability to make those around her more effective. In short, we like the players; there just aren't enough of them, particularly in the frontcourt. But hey, at least no one's going to be complaining about not getting enough minutes.
Season opener: Saturday vs. Emory and Henry, 6 p.m.

12. Norfolk State
Call us crazy, but there's a 16-18 win team in here somewhere. All-MEAC forward Rachel Gordon and Quineshia Leonard form a nice 1-2 in the frontcourt, and an infusion of promising freshmen guards should give NSU some nice options in the backcourt. Ebony Brown has the ability to be one of the best all-around players in the MEAC. Then there's speedy guard Rae Corbo, who looked sharp to our eyes recently in the Spartans' lone exhibition game. Afterward, NSU coach Debra Clark said Corbo was operating at about 70 percent. Based on what we saw, if Corbo has another 30 percent worth of burst in her, the NSU track coach would like a word with her after practice. Corbo's injury was a big reason why this group cratered a year ago and produced just seven wins. But there should be no excuses this time. OK, so we wish there was more perimeter shooting. But hey, the schedule's manageable and the talent seems capable. Sixteen-to-18 wins, guys. We're holding you to that.
Season opener: Today at Morehead State, noon

11. Longwood
The Lancers lost a lot of firepower from last year's surprise Big South Tournament finalist, but they do return one of the most exciting players around in sophomore Daeisha "Day-Day" Brown, the 5-foot-3 sparkplug who creates havoc at both ends of the court. While Day-Day's worth the price of a ticket by herself, Longwood has some nice young pieces around her in sophomores Raven Williams and Khalilah Ali (fellow sophomores Kyndal Skersick and Deborah Headen are coming off strong offseasons, too).  In addition, the return of shot-blocking ace Heather Tobeck provides something last year's tiny Lancers didn't have - a true low-post defensive presence. Tobeck sat out last season but blocked a school-record 122 shots over her first three years. Last year opposing Big South teams learned these Lancers play extremely hard and fear no one. Expect more of the same in 2013-14.
Season opener: Today at Seton Hall, 7 p.m.

10. George Mason
One shouldn't draw too many conclusions from exhibition-game results, so all we're really sure of after the Patriots' two preseason contests is that they're a lot better than Bowie State and Hood College. George Mason has a new coach, new system and a reshuffled lineup, so how the Patriots stack up against Division I foes remains unclear. But it does appear as though, after averaging 20.5 points and serving as the engine of the Patriots offense, Georgetown transfer Taylor Brown will be every bit as good as advertised. And that's a great place to start.
Season opener: Sunday at East Carolina, 6 p.m.

9. William and Mary
The Tribe graduated its top three scorers - two of whom notched more than 1,000 points in their career - and five significant contributors from last season, but new coach Ed Swanson is hardly starting from scratch. Kyra Kerstetter, Jazmen Boone, Anna Kestler and Kaitlyn Mathieu, a former CAA All-Rookie team member, form a nice nucleus of veteran players hungry to assume key roles. Add in five freshmen who all seem capable of contributing and the Tribe actually have one of the deeper teams in the state. It's hard to see how this group won't improve on last season's 8-22 record.
Season opener: Monday at Longwood, 7 p.m.

8. VCU
It certainly all sounds good - an uptempo style, lots of talented newcomers, a catchy slogan (Fury, anyone?). But after All-Atlantic 10 forward Robyn Parks and shooting star Jessica Pellechio, there's not much we're really sure about at this point. Rams coach Marlene Stollings has been light on specifics about the newcomers' progress during the preseason, and while we don't blame her, it doesn't help us figure things out. But a couple of years ago, Stollings took over a talented group at Winthrop and transformed it into a contender in one season. On paper, this VCU team has considerably more talent than that Winthrop team. Again, though, this all sounds good. Looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out on the court.
Season opener: Saturday at Youngstown State, 2 p.m.

7. Richmond
Former two-sport star Becca Wann's contributions were so varied losing her is kind of like losing two players. Still, it would be foolish to write off these Spiders. Kristina King is an All-Atlantic 10 player, and a healthy Genevieve Okoro is one, too. We keep hearing great things about freshman guard Olivia Healy. Plus, there are a lot of players - Liz Brown, Bria Powell, Kerri Soppe among them - who have been around a while and should be ready to step into more significant roles. In short, we're confident coach Michael Shafer will figure out a way to keep this team relevant.
Season opener: Today at Georgetown, 7 p.m.

6. Liberty
This is as close to a season of unknowns as it gets for the Lady Flames, who typically have 1-2 marquee players around which to build. Don't feel sorry for these guys, though. Ashley Rininger heads a deep frontcourt rotation that figures to continue Liberty's traditional rebounding dominance. Emily Frazier, Reagan Miller and Sadalia Ellis lead a loaded backcourt. And at least four freshmen are challenging for significant minutes. The non-conference schedule is formidable, so the Lady Flames may take a few lumps early. But by the time Big South conference play rolls around, we suspect Liberty will look like typical Liberty.
Season opener: Today at Charlotte, 5 p.m.

5. Virginia Tech
After years of being light on ACC-caliber players, the Hokies may have finally stockpiled enough talent to at least make league games a fair fight. Five newcomers have shored up the roster, most notably Australian point guard Vanessa Panousis, who helped her national U19 team to a third-place finish at last summer's world championships. Tech now has shooters to spread the floor and create space inside for posts Uju Ugoka and Taijah Campbell, which in turn could make it easier for guard Monet Tellier to get her 15-20 - or better yet make it possible that she doesn't have to. It's not saying much to predict this will be the best Hokies team in several years, but we'll say it anyway - This will be the best Tech team in several years.
Season opener: Saturday vs. Howard, 3 p.m.

4. Old Dominion
Talk about addressing your weakness. The Lady Monarchs, who ranked 307th out of 345 teams in rebounding margin last season, now look like a team capable of dominating the glass against some teams and at least holding its own on the boards against most others. Impact transfer Chelisa Painter is a big part of this transformation, as are freshmen bigs Destinee Young, Odegua Oigbokie and Ije Ajemba. Combine the added size with ODU's typically pesky defense and the all-around brilliance of Shae Kelley and the Lady Monarchs seem poised to take another step forward in Year 3 of the Karen Barefoot Era.
Season opener: Saturday vs. Delaware State, 2 p.m.

3. Hampton
With remarkable defenders Alyssa Bennett and Nicole Hamilton leading the way, all indications are the Lady Pirates will again be among the nation's stingiest teams in terms of points allowed (last year, they were THE stingiest, surrendering a Division I-low 47.8 points). We're not sure who will carry the load offensively, although Bennett and Hamilton are both capable and freshman Malia Tate-DeFreitas was a scoring machine in high school. And while the Lady Pirates do lack size, a couple of years ago we saw a Hampton team with no starter taller than 5-11 take Kentucky to overtime in the NCAA Tournament. In other words, it looks as though Hampton is set to kick a lot of MEAC - and non-conference - booty once again.
Season opener: Sunday vs. St. Peter's, 3 p.m.

2. Virginia
First and foremost, the Cavaliers are healthy, something they could never say last season. Beyond that they've got talented players all over the place, from All-ACC star Ataira Franklin and fellow seniors Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe to a veritable bounty of skilled underclassmen. The Cavaliers are undersized, which could cause them problems against some ACC heavyweights. But we're confident in Cavs coach Joanne Boyle's ability to not only work around that against most teams, but also exploit the opportunities smaller lineups can present. Besides, even middle-of-the-pack teams in this year's ACC should contend for NCAA Tournament bids, and we expect this Virginia team to do just that.
Season opener: Today at JMU, 7 p.m.

1. James Madison
Why JMU at No. 1? Simple. If there were checklists for women's basketball teams (experience, depth, front-line talent, etc.), the Dukes would have more boxes checked than any other team. From the presence of preseason CAA Player of the Year Kirby Burkholder to the return of defensive ace Nikki Newman and the emergence of point guard Muff Mickens, this team looks loaded. JMU coach Kenny Brooks knows what he has, too, which is why he has lined up a schedule (Virginia, UCLA, Vanderbilt, St. John's, North Carolina), that could make the Dukes a serious NCAA at-large candidate should his team not claim the CAA Tournament title. Of course, if this team is good as we expect, it won't need no stinkin' at-large bid.
Season opener: Today vs. Virginia, 7 p.m.

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