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)