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.

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