Monday, November 30, 2015

Gimme Five - the state's top teams (Nov. 30)

        1. JMU (4-1)
      Last week: 3
      The Dukes vault to the top after a 2-0 week featuring a dominant win over tough Liberty (ask Cal and Ohio State how tough) and an escape-from-the-dead overtime win at Hampton Sunday that left coach Kenny Brooks scrambling for superlatives.

      Shoutout to: Jazmon Gwathmey, your new Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week.

      Next up: vs. American (0-6), Saturday, 7 p.m.

2. Virginia (5-2)
Last week: 1
The Cavaliers drop a notch after Rutgers and Tulane cooled off Virginia’s formerly sizzling guards on consecutive days at the Paradise Jam. Still a lot to like about the way the Cavaliers have started, though. And to be fair, Virginia still owns arguably the two best wins of any of the state’s teams so far – at Middle Tennessee State and against Green Bay in the Paradise Jam opener.
Shoutout to: Lauren Moses. On a team where the guards have dominated, the 6-2 Moses was Virginia’s lone representative on the Paradise Jam all-tournament team. She particularly stood tall in the Tulane and Rutgers matchups, averaging 14 points  on 54.5 percent shooting and 5.5 rebounds over the two games. With the guards likely to continue drawing the prime focus of opposing defenses, here’s hoping Moses can continue to get hers.

Next up: vs. Iowa  (6-1), 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Game kicks off a stretch in which the Cavaliers play eight of nine games at home.
       3. Richmond (5-1)
       Last week: 2

       The Spiders opened with five straight wins before they got caught on the wrong end of a shootout Sunday in a 98-80 loss to Marquette in the FIU Turkey Slam final. Going in Richmond hadn’t allowed more than 62 points in any game and had kept four teams in the 50s. Marquette, on the other hand, hung 95 on FIU in the tournament opener.

      Shoutout to: Janelle Hubbard and Micaela Parson, both of whom made the FIU Turkey Slam all-tournament team.

      Next up: vs. Furman (4-2), 5 p.m. Tuesday.

      4. Virginia Tech (5-1)

       Last week: 5

      A light week for the Hokies with just one result – Wednesday’s 73-42 whipping of Wofford – on the books. Tech’s lineup of opponents to date hasn’t exactly been rigorous so we’re giving them a bit of the benefit of the doubt here. We’ll have a lot more to go on a week from now, though, as Tech’s schedule is about to get a lot more interesting – and revealing.

      Shoutout to: Chanette Hicks. The true freshman enduring a trial-by-fire as the Hokies starting point guard came up big against Wofford with six steals, the most by a Tech player since 2011.

      Next up: Thursday at Penn State (3-3), 8 p.m. in Big Ten/ACC Challenge; Sunday at No. 8 Tennessee (5-1), 2 p.m.
      5. William and Mary (4-1)

Last week: (NR)

Is this really the fifth-best team in Virginia? Well...the team is off to its best start since the 1998-99 season, and there’s certainly no shame in the lone stumble, a six-point setback at Richmond. A couple of key stats: out of 344 Division I teams, William and Mary ranks among the nation’s Top 35 in fewest turnovers committed per game (13.2, 34th) and free throw percentage (77.5, 13th). So OK, maybe we're not absolutely convinced this is a Top-5 team, at least right now. But given those numbers, we are confident someone’s going to have to actually beat these guys, because they don’t beat themselves.

Shoutout to:  Marlena Tremba, who lit up American for 22 points in last week’s 62-51 victory. When Tremba is feeling it like this, the Tribe is truly dangerous.

Next up: at Delaware State (1-5), Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. 

On the verge

Liberty (2-4) – Team’s mired in a four-game losing streak, although the competitiveness of the Lady Flames’ games against N.C. State, Ohio State and California – and the second half against JMU - indicates a team much better than that record. It would help if the Lady Flames would stop falling 15-20 points down before top form kicks in. 

VCU (4-1) – Those thieving Rams (11.2 steals per game) have made themselves extremely tough to run offense against (and nearly impossible for Campbell, which trailed VCU 23-8 at halftime last week).

Rear echelon 
(not necessarily in order)

Radford (2-2) – Wednesday’s home date with Davidson will mark the Highlanders’ first game against a Division I team since Nov. 20’s last-second 54-53 loss at Youngstown State.

Longwood (1-4) – The Lancers are 1-0 at home after last week’s 60-49 win over N.C. Central, and star guard Daeisha Brown appears to be closing in on the form she displayed prior to last season’s ACL injury. Longwood will play three of its next five games at home.

George Mason (3-5) – Guard Taylor Brown scored 21 points and nailed the game-winning jumper in Sunday’s 64-63 victory that gave the Patriots third place in UNLV’s Lady Rebels Roundup and brought a successful end to Mason’s five-game, 11-day road trip.

Hampton (0-6) – JMU spectacular comeback in Sunday’s 68-56 overtime victory at Hampton obscured the fact that the Dukes didn’t crack the 40-point barrier until less than three minutes remained in regulation. Elite defensive performances are nothing new at Hampton, and if that kind of effort becomes routine the Lady Pirates should be in good shape going forward. That said, Hampton clearly left a victory on the free throw line – missed five straight in the final 31 seconds – and the ability to knock these shots down may be an ongoing concern. Hampton was shooting 59 percent from the line heading into the JMU game and is now at 56.3 percent, a figure which ranks 332nd in Division I.

Old Dominion (1-6) –  Some Paradise. The Lady Monarchs went 0-3 in the Virgin Islands – including losses by 46 and 32 points – and played their third game without leading scorer Jennie Simms and starting center Ije Ajemba after both were benched for a violation of team rules. In short, the trip will provide a stern test of coach Karen Barefoot’s renowned skill in finding positives in any situation.

Norfolk State (0-5) – As expected, Siobhan Beslow (10.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg), a graduate transfer from La Salle, has been a nice addition and pairs with Kayla Roberts (11.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg) to provide a solid post duo. But the Spartans are allowing 83.6 points per game, and it’s hard to beat anyone with a defense that leaky. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What happened, what's ahead (Nov. 29)

ICYMI – Saturday’s results

No. 16 California 77, Liberty 72 -  Stunning near-comeback for the Lady Flames, who trailed by 16 with five minutes to go but got to within three with a minute left at the South Point Shootout. Ashley Rininger was Ashley Rininger (18 points, 7 rebounds) and made the all-tournament team; Sadalia Ellis, Katelyn Adams and Jaymee Fisher-Davis all scored in double figures.  The Lady Flames (2-4) have now lost three straight, but  the setbacks were all by 10 points or less to N.C. State and nationally ranked Ohio State and this Cal squad.  

Tulane 67, Virginia 62 – The Cavaliers took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter but fell behind quickly in the final frame and couldn’t recover at the Paradise Jam.  Faith Randolph finished with 19 points but made just 6 of 20 field goals; the typically sweet-shooting Randolph-Mikayla Venson-Breyana Mason guard trio combined to make just 10 of 36 field goals. Virginia’s second straight loss and a  disappointing ending to a Paradise Jam outing that began strongly with a Cavaliers win over Green Bay.

South Dakota State 71, Old Dominion 39 – Speaking of disappointing…. With starters Jennie Simms and Ije Ajemba unavailable after a violation of team rules, the shorthanded Lady Monarchs hung around for a half before getting their doors blown off by the powerful Jackrabbits after the break. The defeat was ODU’s fifth straight and left the Lady Monarchs as the only one of the eight Paradise Jam teams to leave the Virgin Islands winless in the three-game event.

Radford 84, Lees-McRae 39 – The Highlanders got what they wanted – and perhaps needed – out of this one – a strong, confidence-building effort against the Division II Bobcats in which all healthy hands contributed. Jayda Worthy led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

UNLV 67, George Mason 62 – Another tough shooting night for the Patriots, who made just 31.9 percent of their field goals in falling to the host Lady Rebels. Taylor Brown led the way with 14 points but made just 4 of her 16 shots. The Patriots starters were a combined 10 of 40 from the field.

UNC Greensboro 81, Longwood 60 – It’s tough to win when you send an opponent to the free throw line 41 times (UNCG converted 29). On the plus side for the Lancers, Kyndal Skersick (16 points) scored in double figures for the third straight game, Micaela Ellis added 12 points and Daeisha Brown added a season-high 12 and she continues her push to regain top form after last season’s ACL injury.

Team records

Richmond 5-0; Virginia Tech 5-1; Virginia 5-2; William and Mary 4-1; JMU 3-1; VCU 3-1; Radford 2-2; Liberty 2-4; Longwood 1-4; George Mason 2-5; Old Dominion 1-6; Norfolk State 0-5; Hampton 0-5

Sunday’s games

Richmond vs. Marquette (1-4), noon – Title game of the FIU Turkey Slam. A victory would continue the Spiders’ best start since the 2008-09 team opened with an 8-0 mark.

Furman (4-1) at VCU, 1 p.m. – The Rams will unleash their turnover-inducing defense on the Paladins, who have won four straight but will be playing on the road for the first time this season. Furman head coach Jackie Carson , a Woodbridge native, was an assistant at JMU from 2006-10 before returning to lead her alma mater.

George Mason vs. Tulsa (1-4), 3 p.m. – Third-place game in the Lady Rebel Round-up and finale of the Patriots’ 11-day, five-game cross-country road trip.

JMU at Hampton, 5 p.m. – The first home game of the season for the Lady Pirates. JMU prevailed 85-53 when these programs met in Harrisonburg last season. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What happened, what's ahead (Nov. 28)

Could the law firm of Hubbard, Tolson and Parson successfully close another case? Should we start calling her “Downtown” Keyana Brown? And was Liberty really leading mighty Ohio State in the fourth quarter?

Let’s check the highlights….

ICYMI – Friday’s results

Rutgers 60, Virginia 48 – You can’t win them all, right? The Cavaliers (5-1) got a career-high 18 points from forward Lauren Moses and 19 points off 19 Scarlet Knights turnovers, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offset an overall poor shooting night (28.8 percent FG, 65.8 percent FT) at the Paradise Jam.

Pittsburgh 67, Old Dominion 58 – Old Dominion’s second game at the Paradise Jam featured some encouraging signs for the Lady Monarchs (1-5) on offense. Jennie Simms had 9 assists to go with her team-high 17 points, Keyana Brown got white-hot from 3 (5-5) for the second time in three games and Destinee Young (13 points) added some much-needed scoring from a post player.  The attack whimpered down the stretch, though, as the Lady Monarchs made just one of their last seven shots as the Panthers pulled away. ODU has now been outscored in its last five fourth quarters and by a combined 66-37 in the fourth quarters during its four-game losing streak . Before the season began the Lady Monarchs boasted of outstanding conditioning, but so far that hasn’t translated into winning basketball at the business end of these games. More on Downtown Keyana Brown – DKB is now 8-14 from 3 over her last three games, and that includes an 0-4 effort in Thursday’s blowout loss to Maryland.

Richmond 60, Wichita State 48 – In the team’s FIU Turkey Slam opener, The Spiders’ sensational guard trio led the way again as Micaela Parson (a career-high 20 points), Janelle Hubbard (12) and Lauren Tolson (11) all scored in double figures for the third time in five games. Freshman forward Tuuli Menna chipped in seven points and eight boards as the Spiders cruised past a depleted Shockers bunch that is just a shell (shell-Shockers?) of the squad that won 29 games and the Missouri Valley Conference title last season. The Spiders’ 5-0 record marks the team’s best since 2008-09.

No. 11 Ohio State 75, Liberty 65 – Led by twin towers Ashley Rininger (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Catherine Kearney (11 points, 8 boards), the Lady Flames (2-3) gave the Buckeyes fits for three-plus quarters at the South Point Shootout and actually led 61-60 with 7:29 left. Ultimately, Ohio State’s ability to turn Liberty over (the Buckeyes scored 37 points off 29 Lady Flames giveaways) carried the day. Still, we doubt anyone who saw this game is still wondering what Liberty is doing in a tournament with Ohio State, California and Texas A&M.

No. 8 Mississippi State 94, Norfolk State 32 -  Koryn Lawrence led Norfolk State (0-5) with 12 points. Otherwise, the final score pretty much says it all.

Team records

Richmond 5-0; Virginia 5-1; Virginia Tech 5-1; William and Mary 4-1; JMU 3-1; VCU 3-1; Liberty 2-3; Radford 1-2; Longwood 1-3; George Mason 2-4; Old Dominion 1-5; Norfolk State 0-5; Hampton 0-5

Saturday’s games

Virginia vs. Tulane (3-3), 1 p.m. – Survival of the fittest as it’s the third game in three days for both at the Paradise Jam.  Tulane has gotten cuffed around in this event by Green Bay (a 21-point loss) and Rutgers (a 24-point setback). A little over a week ago, though, the Green Wave held its own in a six-point loss at Florida State, then followed that up with a one-point win over LSU.

Lees-McRae (0-5, Division II) at Radford, 2 p.m. – A year ago, Radford lost its non-Division I encounter. The humbled Highlanders regrouped and went on to have a successful season, but here’s hoping the team doesn’t learn its lesson the embarrassing way again.

Longwood at UNC Greensboro (2-3), 2 p.m. – The Lancers are coming off Tuesday’s 60-49 victory over North Carolina Central. UNCG is 0-3 against Division I programs (losses to South Carolina, High Point and Gardner-Webb).

George Mason at UNLV (4-0), 3 p.m. – The Patriots are winding up an 11-day odyssey that has taken them from Utah to Alaska before this two-day tournament in Las Vegas. Odds are the players have either formed an incredible bond or can’t wait to finally get away from each other.  Let’s hope it’s the former. UNLV has played all its games at home.

Liberty vs. No. 16 California (4-1), 5:15 p.m. - Another big challenge awaits the Lady Flames in the South Point Shootout (Las Vegas).

Old Dominion vs. South Dakota State (3-2), 5:45 p.m. – This will be the third of three games in the Paradise Jam for both. The quality of the Jackrabbits is evidenced by their extremely competitive losses to Notre Dame (by 11 points) and Maryland (7), teams that – as Old Dominion can attest – make a habit out of crushing folks by 40 or 50.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What happened, what's ahead (Nov. 27)

ICYMI - Thursday’s results

Virginia 68, Green Bay 59 – Guards Mikayla Venson (25 points), Breyana Mason (16) and Faith Randolph (15) supplied 82 percent of the scoring for the Cavaliers (5-0), who seized control by outscoring the Phoenix 22-7 in the third quarter during their Paradise Jam opener. The 5-0 record marks Virginia’s best start since the 1997-98 season. And remember, this stretch includes games at Auburn and Middle Tennessee State and just two at home.

No. 6 Maryland 95, Old Dominion 49 – The Terrapins (4-0) are really good at basketball. As for Old Dominion, Jennie Sims checked in with 23 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent the Lady Monarchs from kicking off the Paradise Jam with their third straight loss.

Team records
Virginia 5-0; Richmond 4-0; Virginia Tech 5-1; William and Mary 4-1; JMU 3-1; VCU 3-1; Liberty 2-2; Radford 1-2; Longwood 1-3; George Mason 2-4; Old Dominion 1-4; Norfolk State 0-4; Hampton 0-5

Friday’s games

Paradise Jam, Virgin Islands

Virginia vs. Rutgers (3-2), 3:15 p.m.

-          The Scarlet Knights toasted Tulane 75-51 Thursday to open tournament play. The victory was the 435th at Rutgers for coach C. Vivian Stringer, the most of any basketball coach in school history.

Old Dominion vs. Pittsburgh, 8 p.m.

-          Pittsburgh’s 55-54 loss to South Dakota State must surely sting, as the Panthers (3-1) led 54-51 with 3:29 left but had three turnovers and no points the rest of the way. Ominous stats  – Pittsburgh has held all four of its opponents below 32 percent field goal shooting: ODU is a 31.3 percent shooting team so far.   

South Point Shootout, Las Vegas

Liberty vs. No. 11 Ohio State (2-2), 5:15 p.m.

-          The Lady Flames will try for their first win over a Top-25 opponent since 2005 (def. No. 16 DePaul in the second round of the 2005 NCAA tournament). They’ll get two cracks at it – Saturday’s opponent is No. 16 California. But Liberty will need to avoid getting off to a poor start to give itself a chance. The Lady Flames have trailed by at least eight points at halftime in each of their last three games. This includes a 13-point deficit against N.C. State and a 22-point hole versus JMU. Don’t be fooled by the Buckeyes’ record as the losses are to No. 1 UConn and No. 2 South Carolina.

FIU Turkey Slam, Miami

Richmond vs. Wichita State (0-3), 2 p.m.
-          The Spiders play away from home for the first time this season. Guard Lauren Tolson needs one 3-pointer to have 100 for her career. With no starters and just three returners from last year’s roster in the fold, these Shockers bear virtually no resemblance to the squad that won a school-record 29 games and its third straight Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles.

And in our lone non-tournament game:

Norfolk State at No. 8 Mississippi State (3-0), 7 p.m.

-          The Spartans have allowed at least 82 points in three of their four games (not to mention 94 in an overtime loss to Virginia Union). The Bulldogs are averging 94.7 ppg. Uh-oh….

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What happened, what's ahead (Nov. 26)

ICYMI – Wednesday’s results

William and Mary 62, American 51 – Marlena Tremba scored 22 points -  the second time this season she’s had 20 or more – for the Tribe (4-1), who are off to their best start since the 1998-99 season.

George Mason 71, Pepperdine 63 -  Transfer guard Kara Wright’s season-high 20 points (on 7-12 FG shooting, with team highs of four assists, two blocks and two steals) helped the Patriots (2-4) seize third place in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Pats also visited a glacier during their stay (Send pictures!). Erica Ogwumike, a 5-9 freshman and the younger sister of former Stanford stars Nneka and Chiney, led Pepperdine with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Western Kentucky, big winners (84-58) over Mason in the opening round, nipped host Alaska-Anchorage 62-58 in the Shootout title game. Hilltoppers guard Kendall Noble earned tournament MVP honors. Taylor Brown, who averaged 12.5 ppg in the two-game set, represented the Patriots on the all-tournament team (what, no Kara Wright?).

Virginia Tech 73, Wofford 42 – Taijah Campbell (10 points, 10 rebounds), Sidney Cook (14 points, 9 rebounds), Rachel Camp (10 points, 4 assists) and Chanette Hicks (10 points, 6 steals) led the way as the Hokies (5-1) walloped winless Wofford (0-5).

No. 8 Texas 79, Hampton 52 – Malia Tate-DeFreitas scored 21 points and Kaylah Lupoe added 16 points and 8 rebounds as Hampton (0-5) wound down its season-opening "Lady Pirates Across America" tour. We could tell you the competition Hampton faced during this stretch was intense. Or we could simply point out that the combined record of Hampton’s five opponents to date – Iowa State, Oregon, Washington State, UTEP and Texas – is 16-1, and then we wouldn't have to.

Team records

Virginia 4-0; Richmond 4-0; Virginia Tech 5-1; William and Mary 4-1; JMU 3-1; VCU 3-1; Liberty 2-2; Radford 1-2; Longwood 1-3; Old Dominion 1-3; George Mason 2-4; Norfolk State 0-4; Hampton 0-5

Thanksgiving Day games

Paradise Jam, Virgin Islands

Virginia vs. Green Bay (2-0), 1 p.m.

-          Green Bay’s disruptive defense should provide a stern test for the Virginia’s talented guards. The Phoenix forced 25 Vanderbilt turnovers in a 58-56 victory.

Old Dominion vs. No. 6 Maryland (3-0), 5:45 p.m. (approx.)

-          The Terrapins have scored at least 97 points in each of their three games; the Lady Monarchs totaled 87 in their last two games combined. But hey, that's why they play the games, right?


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

W&M's Boggs saves game, then wins game

The free throw William and Mary freshman Bianca Boggs drained with one second left to boost the Tribe past Loyola (Md.) 62-61 Monday night understandably made the headline.

But before Boggs could win the game, she had to save the game. So as clutch as that free throw was, the biggest play of the night may have come a few seconds earlier when the 5-8 rookie combo guard closed out quickly and blocked the Greyhounds' potential game-winning 3-pointer to set up the dramatic conclusion.

Now, we'll admit the sight of Boggs charging hard at Loyola's Diana Logan made us a bit nervous. Had we realized Boggs leads the team in personal fouls (14) we'd have been even more nervous. Tribe coach Ed Swanson, on the other hand, probably liked his odds a whole lot better. About a year ago, upon signing Boggs, he called her "a high-energy, high-effort type kid" and added that "she fits in very nicely to what we like to do defensively."

You nailed it, Coach. Boggs not only timed the play perfectly, but also kept the deflection in play and appeared poised to pluck the ball out of the air herself before Logan bumped into her from behind (Go to the 2:21 mark on the above video to see the sequence).

It was Boggs' first blocked shot of the season - . again, perfect timing.

It seemed as though the Greyhounds had fouled the wrong young lady, as Boggs stepped to the line having made 14 of her 16 free throw attempts on the young season. But nothing comes easily to this Tribe, so naturally Boggs missed her first try. And it was a flat-out brick, too, caroming off the rim, the rim again and then the backboard before crashing to the deck.

But the second one was money, and the Tribe (3-1) left the floor winners. 

Bianca Boggs, ladies and gentlemen. We suspect you'll be hearing quite a bit more from her as this season unfolds.

Top 10: Why JMU's Gwathmey went off on Liberty

What caused JMU's Jazmon Gwathmey to light up Liberty (a career-high 33 points in a 72-56 victory) Monday night? This Top-10 list features nine pet theories followed by the one most likely factor.

Drum roll, please....

10. Someone convinced Gwathmey the Liberty contest was actually a CAA tournament game. And as we all know, Gwathmey owns that event.

9. She already knew this, but after Friday's UCLA debacle (fouled out in 16 minutes), Gwathmey drew extra motivation from that reminder that it's a lot more fun actually playing basketball than it is sitting on the bench watching others do so.

8. Wanted to see if she could outscore an entire team for one half. Monday's halftime score: Gwathmey 21, Liberty 16. Check.

7. Misunderstood instructions. Was told to get three 3s, thought they said "3-3." Wound up doing both (3-4 3FGs).

6. Was miffed that we dropped JMU to No. 3 in our weekly state rankings (Oopsie?)

5. Inserted herself in her own lineup on her fantasy women's college basketball team. (Off topic: The one week I sit Russell Wilson is the one week he puts up numbers? Sheesh!)

4.  Wanted to make up for her scoreless, four-fouls-in-12-minutes stint as a redshirt freshman reserve in a 60-48 loss the last time Liberty visited Harrionsburg, on Nov. 4, 2012. Consider that debt settled, Jazmon - with interest.

3. As a tribute to her beloved Lakers, Gwathmey decided to play like the Kobe of old - instead of the old Kobe we're seeing these days (Hey, we're Celtics fans. Cheap shots against the Lakers are in our blood. By the way, good luck with Steph and Golden State tonight!).

2. Wanted to keep JMU's winning streak against in-state opponents intact - it's now 18 and counting since that 2012 loss to Liberty.

And, of course, the No. 1, most obvious reason:

1. Gwathmey is really good at basketball. As Dukes coach Kenny Brooks put it in the postgame, "Jaz was just Jaz tonight."

Monday, November 23, 2015

What's on tap tonight (Nov. 23)

Liberty at JMU, 7 p.m.

Both teams will be looking to shake off disappointing efforts on Friday. The Lady Flames (2-1) couldn’t capitalize on a rare home opportunity against N.C. State and fell by eight. Later that evening, the Dukes (2-1) suffered through a disastrous first half and lost by 29 at UCLA.

Liberty and JMU will also be out to continue their habit of having their way with in-state opponents. The Dukes have won 17 straight games against teams from Virginia since a 60-48 home loss to Liberty on Dec. 4, 2012. The streak includes six victories over William and Mary, two apiece against Old Dominion, George Mason and Richmond and single wins over Longwood, Hampton, Virginia, Liberty and Norfolk State.

Ironically, prior to the 17-game streak the Dukes had lost three straight to Virginia teams in less than a month. JMU opened the 2012-13 season by losing to Virginia, then fell to Richmond two days before losing to Liberty.

The Lady Flames, meanwhile, have won 10 straight against Commonwealth opponents since a 61-60 home setback to Virginia on Nov. 19, 2013. Liberty's streak features four wins each against Radford and Longwood and single triumphs over VCU and Richmond.

East Tennessee State at Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

ETSU has gotten big production out of star guard Shamauria Bridges, who is coming off a career-high 30-point effort and has notched at least 20 in three straight. But the Bucs (2-2) may again be without preseason All-Southern Conference point guard Tianna Tarter, who has missed ETSU’s last three games (one media report says she suffered a “severe concussion”). The Bucs are also averaging 21 turnovers per game, a stat that suggests this could be a good matchup for a Lady Monarchs team that at this stage of the season needs aggressive, opportunistic defense to fuel its offense. Last week ODU (1-2) managed just three steals and forced only 12 turnovers against Miami, a key reason why the offense generated just 35 points.

William and Mary at Loyola (Md.), 7 p.m.

Something about (William and) Mary and close games…. Last year, the Tribe opened and closed their season with one-point results and had four overtime games in between. This year, they began play with a two-point win at Mount St. Mary’s and are coming off a six-point loss to Richmond. The last time these teams met, in the 2014-15 season opener, Latrice Hunter’s layup with four seconds left boosted the Tribe to a 72-71 victory. Suffice to say we’re expecting another close game tonight – that’s all this Tribe (2-1) seems to play.

The Greyhounds (2-2), who are coming off Saturday’s 75-67 victory over Norfolk State, have been led by sophomore guard Bri Betz-White, the younger sister of former Old Dominion standout Ashley Betz-White. Bri smoked Norfolk State for 19 points and leads the Greyhounds on the season with 15.8 ppg.

UNC Wilmington at Richmond, 7 p.m.

The Spiders (3-0) will play their fourth straight home game against a hard-luck Seahawks bunch that is already down to just eight players - and only two taller than 5-9. The group is also pretty much untested as this will be just the second game of the season for UNCW and the first against a Division I team.

Gimme Five - the state's top teams (Nov. 23 edition)

In doing these rankings, we place a premium on road victories because, well, they're so hard to get (particularly at this stage of the season, where many of the schedules are shaped with success at home in mind). 

How hard is it to win on the road? Consider that, through the games of Nov. 22, the teams in Virginia have combined to go 17-3 at home but just 5-19 in rival gyms. Clearly, any Division I road win is an accomplishment. 

Other than that, the usual caveats apply, most notably the one which states that it still way too early to judge anything definitely. With that in mind, here's how we see the state's finest shaking out after the first chunk of games.

1.       Virginia (4-0) 

Aliyah Huland El
Owners of by far the state’s best resume to date; the Cavaliers’ record includes road victories over likely Top-100 (at least) RPI owners Middle Tennessee State and Auburn. As expected, Virginia’s strong cadre of guards has led the way, as Aliyah Huland El (a team-leading 15.0 ppg despite coming off the bench), Faith Randolph (13.5), Mikayla Venson (11.5) and Breyana Mason (10.3) are all averaging in double figures.

Shoutout to:  Huland El, who appears to have made the type of significant freshman-to-sophomore year improvement coaches talk about a lot but is actually detected a lot less often than projected.

Next up: A three-games-in-three-days set at the Paradise Jam (Virgin Islands): Thursday vs. Green Bay; Friday vs. Rutgers; Saturday vs. Tulane.
2. Richmond (3-0)

These Spiders also know about excellent guard play as Janelle Hubbard, Lauren Tolson and Micaela Parson have fueled the operation while the youthful frontcourt has, for the most part, held its own. It's probably helped that over the summer, the Spiders had a series of games - and the practices that went with them - in Europe. Teams that make an offseason overseas rotation often get out to strong start. Still, we should point out that all three victories (Old Dominion, Eastern Kentucky, William and Mary) so far have been at home. We'll be interested to see how well this act travels against Division I foes.

Shoutout to: Freshmen forwards Tuuli Menna and Salita Greene, who rank first and second respectively among Spiders in rebounding.

Next up: Monday vs. UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m.

3. JMU (2-1)

Home wins over Longwood and Morgan State were expected, although the UConn-level victory margins (58 and 61 points) still made a statement of sorts. But the good times came to an emphatic halt Friday at UCLA where the Bruins rolled up a 30-point halftime lead and cruised through a 90-61 rout. Now there’s no shame in losing to these Bruins, who fell by just three points to No. 2 South Carolina Sunday and are benefiting from the maturation of last year’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class. That said, we’re not used to seeing JMU down by 30, to anyone. Foul trouble was a big issue Friday; three Dukes, including starters Jazmon Gwathmey and Da’Lishia Griffin, finished the first half with three fouls. Gwathmey, the preseason Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, wound up fouling out after logging just 16 minutes. One of our favorite NFL axioms is “the best ability is availability.” Translation for these purposes: it’s tough to win, or even compete, against good teams when your key players are sitting next to the head coach.

 Shoutout to: Savannah Felgemacher, the most statistically productive of the three Dukes freshmen (Logan Reynolds and Kayla Cooper-Williams are the others) averaging at least 21 minutes per game. Felgemacher is delivering 10.7 points on 48-percent shooting and 8.0 rebounds per contest.

Next up: Monday vs. Liberty, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

4.       Liberty (2-1)

Road wins are tough to come by so kudos to Liberty for opening its season with a six-point triumph at Appalachian State. But the Lady Flames missed a great opportunity Friday when they fell behind big early and couldn’t quite reel in visiting North Carolina State. ACC teams don’t make a habit of visiting Big South venues, and this Liberty team has the experience and weaponry to deal with a team of the Wolfpack’s caliber. But the Lady Flames simply missed too many shots, particularly in the first half.

Shoutout to: Senior point guard Sadalia Ellis (17.7 ppg) and redshirt senior center Ashley Rininger (16.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Few teams get have this much experience and get this much production at the one and the five.

Next up: Monday at JMU, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
5.       Virginia Tech (4-1)

Granted, the schedule hasn’t exactly been rigorous. Still, credit the Hokies for delivering plenty of good stuff in their four double-digit home victories. The lone time Tech left Blacksburg  produced an ominous result, though, as a barrage of turnovers lowlighted a 17-point loss at Georgetown. The same issue surfaced the few times Tech stepped up in non-conference class last year, and it went on to define the Hokies’ play during the ACC campaign. We think this year’s team has the talent, experience and wherewithal to handle itself, not to mention the ball, better against quality foes. But we’ll feel a lot more comfortable when we actually see the Hokies do it.

 Shoutout to: Vanessa Panousis, who with the move from point guard to two-guard has gone from a solid 3-point shooter to, at least so far, one of the nation’s best. Panousis is shooting a robust 48.7 percent from distance (she sot 28.3 percent from deep last season), and her 19 3-pointers are the second-most of any Division I player in the country through the games of Nov. 23 (Tennessee-Martin’s Jessy Ward has 20).

Next up: Wednesday vs. Wofford, 7 p.m. 

The next wave: VCU (2-1); William and Mary (2-1); Old Dominion (1-2)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's on tap tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 17)

What we'll be watching for tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 17):

VCU (1-0) at Iona (0-1), 7 p.m.

   - The Rams' season-opening 73-42 victory over Coppin State looks even more impressive when one considers the team did so much damage without last year's leading scorer Isis Thorpe, who sat out with an injury. We're told Thorpe is day-to-day (aren't we all?), so let's see if she can give it a go tonight. The Gaels opened with a 58-53 loss at Stony Brook Friday despite a career-high 24 points from guard Marina Lizarazu, a native of Spain who began her college career at Texas Tech. Iona is coached by Billi Godsey, who spent two years as an assistant at Virginia Tech before taking over the Gaels in 2013.

Miami (2-0) at Old Dominion (1-1), 7 p.m.

   - Click here for a full preview of Miami-ODU.

Towson (0-1) at George Mason (0-2), 7 p.m.

   - Two days after getting burned for 14 3-pointers in a loss at Virginia Tech, the Patriots will face a Towson team that splashed 12 treys in a season-opening loss to Rider. The Tigers also feature transfer guard Raven Bankston, who two years ago lit up the Patriots for 33 points while playing for Delaware State. The teams have alternated victories the last five meetings, with Towson claiming a 72-70 win over the Patriots in Baltimore. For the Patriots, star guard Taylor Brown (10.0 ppg, 6-22 FGs) has been relatively quiet by her standards so far, but we fully expect that to change soon. Really soon.

Radford (1-0) at North Carolina State (2-0), 7 p.m.

   - The Big South has been a surprising nemesis to the ACC so far, with Gardner-Webb winning at North Carolina and Coastal Carolina prevailing at Clemson. But N.C. State wasn't having any of that Sunday and pasted High Point 89-41. The resiliency of these Highlanders isn't in question, not after Friday's gutty 66-63 overtime win over George Mason. But Radford will need a lot of things to go right to make it two in a row.

Morgan State (1-0) at JMU (1-0), 7 p.m.

   - Morgan State opened its season with a 74-36 victory over Washington Adventist, an NAIA school located in Takoma Park, Md. Meanwhile, the Dukes faced even less resistance in Sunday's 88-30 victory over travel-weary Longwood and thus were able to get liberal use out of talented freshmen Savannah Felgemacher, Kayla Cooper-Williams and Logan Reynolds. Felgemacher responded with the first double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) by a freshman during coach Kenny Brooks' tenure. This is Game No. 2 in a stretch of four games in eight days; the Dukes will visit UCLA on Friday before concluding the stretch at home next Monday against Liberty.

Old Dominion hosting Miami - A great opportunity?

Old Dominion fans should embrace the chance to see their Lady Monarchs host a high-profile opponent - Miami, Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Constant Center - because in recent history games like this haven't come along that often.

Over the previous four seasons, only three non-conference teams that finished the year with an RPI inside the top 100 have visited the Constant Center during the November-December window:

   - Richmond (46) in 2011; California (9) in 2012; and Duke (15) in 2014.

The Lady Monarchs lost all three games. ODU did beat Navy (RPI 71) during in the 2014 WNIT first round. But in terms of games under the Lady Monarchs' scheduling control, the team's best non-conference win over these four years came in 2014 against VCU (RPI 141).

Miami, which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, ended 2014-15 with an RPI of 56. So we feel comfortable in pegging these Hurricanes as easily one of the four best non-conference visitors scheduled by Old Dominion during Karen Barefoot's tenure.

Furthermore, we'll go as far as to say that, with two games under their belts, the homecourt advantage and an All American-caliber performer (Jennie Simms) in the fold, Barefoot-coached Lady Monarchs have never been better positioned this early in the season to engineer a victory of this quality. Not perfectly positioned, mind you - ODU is still young and/or inexperienced in key spots, the halfcourt offense remains a work-in-progress and Miami's no joke.

But this is as good a set-up as ODU has ever had under this coach in a November game against a big-time team.

Let's see what they do with the opportunity.

Motley's Crew

- Tuesday night's game marks a return to Hampton Roads for Miami junior guard Adrienne Motley, who starred at Newport News' Woodside High before taking her talents to...well, you know. The 5-9 Motley earned first-team All-ACC honors after averaging 16.9 ppg (fifth-best in the conference) and generated national buzz by dropping 32 points on eventual NCAA tournament finalist Notre Dame in a stunning upset victory.

Prior to arriving at Miami, Motley was a flat-out scoring machine first at Hampton Roads Academy and then at Woodside, where she occasionally matched wits - and jumpers - with current Old Dominion guard and then-Warwick High standout LaQuanda Younger.

Motley isn't the only star hooper in her extended family, either. Her second cousin, 6-1 junior Megan Walker of Monacan High, is currently No. 1 on ESPN's ranking of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2017.

Survival of the fittest? 

Both Miami (2-0) and Old Dominion (1-1) will be playing for the third time in five nights. But Barefoot has indicated the Lady Monarchs have trained specifically with this kind of grind in mind. The coach spoke confidently about her team's ramped-up strength and conditioning efforts during the offseason, and she doubled down on those comments after Sunday's victory over Wagner.

In short, their coach has talked the talk. Now it's up to the Lady Monarchs to walk the walk.

Key matchup

The Lady Monarchs have hounded their two opponents into 44 turnovers, including 17 from Wagner in Sunday's first half alone. But this won't be the first tough defense rodeo for these Hurricanes, who have experience aplenty at the guard slot with Motley (64 career games, 61 starts), junior Jessica Thomas (64 career games, 34 starts) and redshirt senior Michelle Woods (95 career games, 30 starts).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What's on tap today (Sunday, Nov. 15)

MaKayla Timmons

Four games dot the slate in Division I women's basketball across the state. Here's what to watch for:

Wagner (0-1) at Old Dominion (0-1), 2 p.m.

   - Old Dominion coach Karen Barefoot is famous for her glass-half-full takes on losses, but we completely understood why she focused on the positives after Friday's 62-57 loss at Richmond. After all, a fair question regarding the Lady Monarchs heading into the season went something like, OK, we know Jennie Simms will get hers, but then what?

   Well, in Friday's opener Simms collected two points and foul fouls in the opening 30 minutes. Sounds like one of those "30 for 30" episodes..."What if I told you Jennie Simms would be Diana Prince for three quarters before turning into Wonder Woman in the fourth...."

   Last season, it took several games for the Lady Monarchs to figure out how to survive against a good team when Simms wasn't on (and the same thing two years ago with Shae Kelley). But on Friday, when Simms didn't have it early Keyana Brown got busy. So did fearless freshmen MaKayla Timmons and Gianna Smith. And post player Ije Ajemba. The combination of these performances and a tough pressure defense kept the Lady Monarchs afloat. And when Simms got it going late, ODU almost wiped out a 12-point second-half deficit and stole one on the road.

   Simms isn't going to have many nights like she had Friday (the same with forward Destinee Young, who has been slowed by a calf injury). If other Lady Monarchs can deliver the way they did Friday in games where Jennie is typical Jennie, this ODU team appears set to come together a lot quicker than its predecessors in recent years.

   As for Wagner, the Seahawks are led by ultra-productive guard Jasmine Nwajei, a 5-8 junior who scored 30 or more points 10 times last season and averaged 24.8 ppg, second among all Division I players. Pittsburgh held Nwajei in check Friday, though - the Seahawks star finished with just six points on 2-of-13 shooting in a 67-41 loss. Also, for all of Nwajei's statistical brilliance - she also ranked sixth in D-I in steals per game (3.28) - the Seahawks were just 7-22 in 2014-15 and won only two of 15 road games.

   We like: Old Dominion, going away. Too much defense. And something tells us Simms might have a pretty good day.

Eastern Kentucky (0-0) at Richmond (1-0), 1 p.m.

   - Janelle Hubbard (20 points) and Lauren Tolson (14) led the way when Richmond visited EKU - located in Richmond, Ky. - last season and sped off with a 70-56 victory. We fully expect the Spiders backcourt stars to do damage again. But because Richmond's young frontcourt players are still devloping, the Spiders braintrust is concerned about Eastern Kentucky's addition of Jalen O'Bannon, a 6-1 transfer forward (Arkansas State) that Richmond coach Michael Shafer said reminds him of ex-Spiders star Gen Okoro. For Richmond's sake, let's hope she's not too much like Okoro.

   Game within the game: Richmond is working on a streak of 21 straight made free throws (including all 20 attempted in Friday's second half against ODU). We're setting the over/under on the total before a Spider misses at 25. Any takers?

   We like: Richmond, relatively comfortably. After all, there's only one Okoro.

Longwood (0-1) at JMU (0-0), 2 p.m.

   - Poor Lancers. On Friday night they were in Corvallis, Ore. taking a thumping (110-45) at No. 9 Oregon State. Roughly a day and a half and three time zones later, welcome to Harrisonburg, guys! Meet the two-time defending CAA champion Dukes! But it's OK - players sign with Longwood for a good education, to travel to interesting locales and to win basketball games. Two out of three ain't bad.

   All kidding aside, we like the team coach Bill Reinson has assembled in Farmville, particularly the veteran guards, and believe this group will win a bunch of games in the Big South. But the early non-conference schedule - Game No. 3 is at Virginia - is simply brutal.

   Prior the game, the Dukes will unveil a banner celebrating last season's CAA title and NCAA tournament appearance. It's become a familiar ritual at JMU, and something the Lancers are getting used to seeing, too. On Friday, they watched Oregon State do the same thing to mark its 2014-15 Pac-12 regular-season crown.

   We like: JMU, big

George Mason (0-1) at Virginia Tech (1-0), 5 p.m.

   The Hokies didn't look overly impressive in Friday's 58-44 victory over Presbyterian, particularly during a first half that ended with the home team trailing by two. But a lot of that is a credit to the pesky Blue Hose, whose deliberate style and pesky matchup zone forces opponents to re-calibrate. The Hokies ultimately solved Presbyterian, so to quote the great Dawn Staley, "Got that 'W,' Check!" Who cares about style points?

   That said, Tech knows it can't afford to get off to a sluggish start today, particularly against Patriots star Taylor Brown. In last year's season opener, Brown flat-out went off on the Hokies, racking up career highs of 35 points and 11 rebounds in a 77-69 takedown of Tech in Fairfax.

   Brown is coming off a 5-for-17 shooting effort in Friday's 66-63 overtime loss at Radford. But she's capable of much more - and no one knows that better than these Hokies.

   We like: Virginia Tech to exact revenge on their home floor in a competitive game. Look for the Hokies to employ their ABB defense - Anyone But Brown.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Let the games begin

What time is it?


Your season-opening menu for Friday, Nov. 13:

Coppin State at VCU, 11 a.m.

Liberty at Appalachian State, 11:30 a.m.

Old Dominion at Richmond, 3 p.m.

South Carolina Upstate at Norfolk State, 6 p.m.

George Mason at Radford, 7 p.m.

Presbyterian at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.

William and Mary at Mount St. Mary's, 7 p.m.

Virginia at Middle Tennessee State, 7:30 p.m.

Hampton at Iowa State, 8 p.m.

Longwood at No. 10 Oregon State, 10 p.m.

Tech's Hicks, Mason's Bell among next wave of stars

A look at some of the newcomers poised to make significant contributions on Division I teams across the state:

It’s usually risky to hand Division I point guard duties to a true freshman, but as Old Dominion assistant – and Hicks’ former high school coach - Jermaine Woods pointed out – Virginia Tech's Chanette Hicks isn’t your typical freshman. The ex-Maury High star figures to inject pace and creativity into a Hokies offense that bogged down repeatedly a year ago, while also providing a more effective counter to the pressure defenses that tormented Tech throughout the 2014-15 campaign. That she’ll be surrounded by veterans should help Hicks’ development, as should the fact that she’ll be sharing the backcourt with sharpshooter/former point guard Vanessa Panousis. Now no one should expect Hicks to run the team flawlessly from the jump. But if she can adjust reasonably quickly, these Hokies could be a handful (finally, right?).  

By the way, from our “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That” Department, Hicks is the only member of the Hokies’ projected starting five that was born in the United States. Panousis and Hannah Young are Australians, Taijah Campbell is Canadian and Regan Magarity hails from Sweden. No truth to the rumor that the Hokies warm up to the strains of “We Are The World.”

Hicks isn’t the only rookie point guard being handed the keys right away, as Old Dominion’s MaKayla Timmons and Radford’s Jen Falconer appear set to earn starts today, too. Timmons caught our eye during ODU’s exhibition game when she snapped off a three-quarters court pass that had us exchanging “Did you see that?” expressions with Lady Monarchs play-by-play voice Doug Ripley. This doesn’t make her the next Magic Johnson. But man, it was one heck of a pass.

Meanwhile, the Roanoke Times reports that the addition of Falconer, a pass-first point guard, will allow All-Big South performer Aisha Foy to slide over to off-guard after a succession of injuries left the Highlanders shorthanded at that position.

At George Mason, much of the preseason talk has centered on scoring machine Taylor Brown (understandably) and the bounty of talented transfers. But don’t sleep on rookie forward Chinyere Bell, who put up monster numbers in high school and a double-double in her lone college exhibition game.

We’re equally excited to check out Richmond’s Tuuli Menna, a 6-1 forward from Finland. Word is she’s a highly skilled performer, which makes her ideally suited to the way the Spiders play (at their best) under coach Michael Shafer. It may take a little while, but when Menna gets comfortable with the American college game, watch out.

Others to keep an eye on….

It was only an exhibition game, but Old Dominion first-timer Gianna Smith performed with such confidence and self-assuredness it was as though she’d been in the program for years…Longwood’s Eboni Gilliam, a junior college transfer, should give the guard-oriented Lancers the type of physical rebounding presence they haven’t had in years…Not sure where Virginia Tech’s Kelly Koshuta will fit in, but given that ESPN has her as a national Top-35 recruit, she should fit in somewhere….The same is true of Virginia’s Mone Jones, the most acclaimed of the Cavaliers’ much-needed frontcourt recruits…Hampton’s collection of newcomers includes two pint-sized guards in K’lynn Willis and Dejane “Snoop” James. Willis has drawn praise from coach David Six during the preseason, while James is already first-team All-Nickname…JMU rookie center Kayla Cooper-Williams grabbed 11 rebounds in the Dukes’ exhibition…Norfolk State forward Siobhan Beslow, a graduate transfer from La Salle, was a strong rebounder in the rugged Atlantic 10, so she figures to handle herself on the boards quite nicely in the MEAC.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Who ya like in WBB in our state? We say JMU, Liberty and Virginia Tech are 1-2-3

We're expecting another big year for Liberty's Rininger.
Rankings are tough business during the preseason, but we thought we'd take a stab. Don't judge us too harshly, as no games have been played until tomorrow (we think of this as Christmas Eve) and if you prove us wrong, all the better.

1. James Madison

Yes, we know the Dukes lost Precious Hall for the season and we haven't forgotten that Toia and Lady graduated. The three are huge losses for the Dukes, whose consistency under Kenny Brooks is a bragging point for the program. So admittedly, we have questions about how the 2015-16 version of JMU can hold up to the teams of the last few years that have advanced to the NCAA tournament. That said, one of the best point guards in the country, Muff Mickens, returns along with Jazmon Gwathmey, MVP of the last two CAA championships. Gwathmey is loaded with talent but her  shooting inconsistency has prevented her from becoming a dominant player during the regular season. This could be her year -- especially given her improvement on the perimeter. Love the energy Ashley Perez brought to this group last season, and bigs Kayla Cooper-Williams and Savannah Felgemacher could be the rare freshmen on Brooks' team that get ample playing time. Then there's Da'Lishia Griffin, a junior who has waited her turn, and finally could get it, bringing the size and post presence JMU needs to be nationally relevant yet again.

2. Liberty

The Lady Flames are a beacon of consistency and size, and 2015-16 is no different. Bigs Ashley Rininger (the Big South Preseason Player of the Year) and Katelyn Adams will get help from a finally healthy Catherine Kearney, and Sadalia Ellis is a heady point who can set the table for them. Also expecting shooter Jaymee Fisher-Davis to drive more given her excellent free-throw capability. Like JMU, this program does not underachieve.

3. Virginia Tech

On paper, it's hard not to love this Hokie team. Other teams are looking for answers to fill holes; the Hokies have no major holes. While so many teams around the state have question marks at key positions, the Hokies are a proven commodity. They are deep with a talented pool of freshman coming in, including 6-3 Kelly Koshuta, a five-star ESPN recruit, and Chanette Hicks, who should make an immediate impact at the point. Remember how Regan Megarity started last year before a calf injury ended her season five games in? (Scoring 25 in her collegiate debut, she averaged 14 ppg and 10 rpg before being sidelined.) She's back and healthy, ready to join a starting lineup that includes the 6-3 Vanessa Panousis and stat-sheet filler Taijah Campbell. Then there's Rachel Camp, an All-ACC freshman from a year ago, who averaged 11.4 ppg. Yes, we love this VT team, which should easily be Dennis Wolff's best.

4. Virginia

The Cavaliers haven't made the NCAA tournament in six years and will miss Sarah Imovbioh, who transferred to South Carolina for her senior season; she led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring. Faith Randolph and Mikayla Venson bring double-digit scoring back, but Virginia needs an infusion of new blood to make an impact in the ridiculously deep ACC. Leading candidates are 6-3 forward Mone Jones, the 11th ranked recruit at her position, according to ESPN, and eligible transfer J'Kyra Brown, a 5-11 guard from East Carolina. Should the Cavs be 3 here given their dominance over Tech? Maybe, but we gave VT the edge just slightly.

5. Richmond

Michael Shafer is lavish with his praise of the guard tandem of Janelle Hubbard, Lauren Tolson and Micaela Parson, perhaps the best in the Atlantic 10, but post play is a question mark. A healthy Karleigh Wike and Rennie Harrison, both physically stronger than a year ago, are prospects, and we're eager to see what Finnish forward  Tuuli Menna can add. The Spiders are ready given the summer European tour that combined basketball with the sights. Rebounding might be tough, especially against a conference stalwart like George Washington. But ODU/Richmond on Friday at the Robins Center led us to give the Spiders the 5 spot over the Lady Monarchs.

6. Old Dominion

If we had to pick the top player in the state, we'd go with Jennie Simms, who scored 43 in ODU's exhibition, showing what looks to be already mid-season form for our pick for Conference USA POY. The question is who's going to help Simms get it done? It should be a breakout year for Destinee Young offensively, and ideally Ije Ajemba will be able to add points to her already solid defense. It wouldn't surprise us if the Lady Monarchs figure it out in time for the CUSA tournament, but finding the right mix early will be a challenge. Though just a freshman, MaKayla Timmons showed potential at point during preseason; now the hard part begins.

7. VCU

Beth O'Boyle's bunch has a new practice gym with all the bells and whistles (underwater treadmill machine sounds cool), and the Rams should be a more confident team under O'Boyle, in her second season from Stony Brook. Former ODU point Galaisha Goodhope will bring a scoring touch, trusty handle and defense to match for a team that will welcome her in the spring semester. VCU must shoot the ball better than a year ago when poor free-throw shooting and indecision affected its offense. O'Boyle said much of the summer was spent on individual shooting and team offense, and we're eager to see an improved Isis Thorpe and Adaeze Alaeze. Another boon: Rebounding ace Jessica Ogunnorin, 6-1, has transferred in from Stony Brook and is immediately eligible.

8. Hampton

Do we think the Pirates will be the eighth best team in the state by season's middle? No. We're tempted to move them much higher, but we'd like to see David Six's bunch play a few games first. Defensively, we're not worried, and Malia Tate-DeFreitas is our bet to repeat as MEAC Player of the Year. We look forward to seeing the Pirates perhaps more than any other team because you never know what David Six has in store.

9. George Mason

No question about Taylor Brown. The A10 scoring leader is one of the five best players in the state. Coach Nyla Milleson has also lauded this group that includes transfers Kara Wright and Bridget O'Donnell isn't short on work ethic, making for the competitive practices she has yearned for since taking over the program. Among the most intriguing newcomers, we think, is Chinyere Bell. Surrounded by a team full of transfers, she is a freshman who pulled down 16 rebounds to go with 10 points in the team's only exhibition. We can't wait to see what the 5-11 forward, who also lettered four years in track, will bring to her first season of collegiate ball.

10. William and Mary

We'd like to pick the Tribe higher and think Ed Swanson has laid the foundation for W&M to be the most improved team in the state alongside Tech. They'll miss Jazmen Boone, but three of the top four scorers return, including Marlena Tremba. W&M experienced postseason success last season for the first time in Division I. The stock is rising for 2015-16.

11. Radford

Love the frontcourt with Janayla White and Jayda Worthy, and of course, preseason first-team PG Aisha Foy. But preseason ACL tears to Brittany Allen and Claudia Quevado hurt the Highlanders depth. Looking forward to seeing freshman Jen Falconer making the start on Friday against George Mason.

12. Norfolk State

They'll miss Rae Corbo, but Kayla Roberts and Koryn Lawrence bring needed experience. Depth will be an issue, but the Spartans hope to build on their promising 2014-15 season.

13. Longwood

We have no doubt that the Lancers will improve on their 5-win season despite a brutal schedule that starts at Oregon State on Friday and continues in Harrisonburg vs. JMU on Sunday. The great news is Khalilah Ali and Daeisha Brown are healthy again; early-season injuries to the starters was a huge blow to Longwood a year ago.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reflecting on losing my mother one year later

Mom and Dad
Deviating from the usual WBB just for today.

We played music on a boom box the day we buried my mother, who died one year ago today. The first song was her favorite, "How Deep is the Ocean." When Frank Sinatra uttered the lyric, "And if you should ever leave me, how much will I cry? How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky," I felt as if those words were freshly written for me standing alongside my sister in that chilly cemetery overlooking a busy street in Altoona, Pa.

I miss my mother. I miss her, quite honestly, more than I felt it was possible to miss another. I confess I didn't see the hole she left coming. My dad has been gone 18-plus years, and he was easier for me to connect with for much of my life. A simple man who wanted hot dogs every night for dinner, my pinochle partner who never had meld, a guy who left Tastykakes on my dresser was so easy to love.

A therapist once asked me to describe my mother, and I said she was hard. The therapist said she had never heard that word used that way before, but it fits. When I was a kid, I could never seem to please my mother, who had an opinion on everything and was never shy about voicing it. When I became an adult, she could drive me crazy in a heartbeat. If she hated a certain piece of furniture you had, she mentioned it every time she saw it. If the sweater you were wearing made you look fat, she told you. I remember picking her up from the train station nearly two decades ago, asking my husband his prediction on how long it might be before I got perturbed by something she said. He said, "I think you'll make it back from the train station."

I didn't.

But what I slowly began to understand as I watched her fade in a hospital bed last October was how rooted she was in every aspect of me. Nobody asks about my dentist appointment anymore. Nobody knows if I don't go to the dentist. "What are you having for dinner?" My mother wanted to know. She asked questions, fittingly the kinds of questions I often ask my kids who shrug them off. She reminded me of the obvious, and yet, I still asked. I have a master's degree; she barely finished high school, yet she was the one I would turn to for seemingly things I should know for myself. Harry has mono, I told her, about 2 1/2 weeks before she died. His throat is raw. She told me what kind of throat lozenges to buy. I've bought throat lozenges all my life, but I asked her what she would do.

You see my mother always knew what to do.

I drive a lot, and she used to talk me home. There were times I'd think she didn't really know much about me anymore; after all, we rarely chatted about women's basketball or the class I teach or the college where I work. But she knew me from the inside out; just about everybody else knows me from the outside in. We could get off the phone after two hours having talked about nothing beyond the ordinary and yet add all those conversations up and they turned into something extraordinary.

She made me laugh. My sister always said that for some reason, no matter how old we got, we cared what Mom thought. Even in my 40s, I'd swallow hard before telling her something I thought she might not agree with.

"Mom, I don't care what you say, I've done something and I know it's the right thing to do," I said into the phone.

"You're getting divorced."

"No, Mom. We got two puppies."

Life in the last year has been profoundly different in ways that I don't wear on my sleeve. For one, it is so ridiculously quiet. The silence without her is deafening. Quite literally, my mother was a loud person. Her voice was loud as was her personality. When my sister and I cleaned out her apartment sorting through a range of stuff that ranged from the Cosmopolitan with the Burt Reynolds centerfold to the massive painting of the horse galloping in the ocean that had hung on the wall for decades to the railroad passes of her father's she carried in her purse, I half expected her to walk in the door and shout at us for making a mess. But I only hear her voice in the occasional dream now; even a voicemail she left me that I clung to for months has strangely disappeared.

While people tell you to cherish the memories, simply focusing too hard on them hurts. Instead I find myself snuggling in the robe she regularly wore, and sometimes I warm myself in the oversized Redskins sweatshirt from her closet. I wear her blue gloves, though one is gone now. The jade necklace that she always said I could have when she was dead is one of those treasures you'll say you'll grab in a fire. I watch "The Good Wife" and wonder why I didn't listen to her when she told me it was such a good show. I wish we could have talked about it.

Unlike the hard woman I described to that therapist, I think of my mom in only the tenderest terms now.

And sometimes, when I am able, I listen to the final song played at the cemetery that day, Sinatra's "I'll be seeing you." Often I hum the lyrics when I walk my dogs, looking skyward for two stars that I often spot that seem to always be close to one another. One is dull while the other shines, my dad and my mom, I think.

Sometimes I sing the song aloud.

"I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through. 
In that small cafe, the park across the way, the children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well.
 I'll be seeing you in every lovely summer's day, in everything that's light and gay, I always think of you that way. 
I will find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new . . .

I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you.