Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Matinee games highlight Nov. 30 schedule

Three early tipoff matinees, two home, one road, highlight Wednesday's schedule:

Dartmouth (2-2) at Old Dominion (2-2), 11 a.m.

We're not sure any program does this event better than Old Dominion. More than 7,000 local elementary school students with be on hand of ODU's sixth annual Education Day, a contest that has featured sellout crowds of 8,472 in each of the past two years. The day typically turns out to be a win-win - the kids have a blast, and the Lady Monarchs win comfortably. This Dartmouth squad appears to be a bit stronger than the ones typically invited to play this game, so we'll see what happens.

Dartmouth is coached by former Richmond star Belle Koclanes, who spent three years at Old Dominion from 2008-11 and was part of Wendy Larry's final staff. Koclanes was one of two coaches Larry hired to replace current ODU coach Karen Barefoot, who took the Elon head coaching job, and Marie Christian.

On Thursday, Dartmouth will travel to William and Mary. Playing back-to-back games in different cities is unusual for most teams but quite common in an Ivy League that has weekly conference play on Friday and Saturday.

Iona (2-3) at VCU (4-2), noon

The Rams are coming off a three-games-in-four-days gauntlet that saw them drop an overtime decision to IUPUI last Tuesday before ambushing American on Thanksgiving Day and vanquishing Villanova on Friday. The latter two games were in the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based San Juan Shootout.

Iona is on a three-game losing streak but is 1-1 so far against Atlantic 10 teams. The Gaels dropped a 61-58 decision to Duquesne but scored a 58-57 win over St. Joseph's.

George Mason (3-4) at Detroit (3-3), 11 a.m.

Detroit's second Field Trip Day featuring hundreds of local public schoolers. The inaugural event, in February of 2015, drew a season-high 1,623 fans.

The Patriots arrived in Detroit Tuesday and promptly began to prepare for the unusual environment:

After tough start, Richmond rebounds in style

Our two-word breakdown of Spiders basketball so far:

Preseason: Hmmm... Richmond?

One week in: Poor Richmond.

Two weeks in: Hey, Richmond!

It's been that wild of a ride so far for the resilient Spiders, who answered a discouraging opening seven days with a tournament title to cap a satisfying three-game winning streak.

Spiders coach Michael Shafer cautioned that his team still has a long way to go. A week ago, though, Richmond seemed to be light years away from its goals when, after tough losses to Columbia and Virginia, the Spiders got absolutely waylaid by William and Mary 67-39.

Now, we know William and Mary is a tough team. But...39 points?

"The next morning, I walked into the locker room, sat down and told the players, 'This is all on me,' " Shafer recalled. "And then we just talked about playing together. No screaming, no come-to-Jesus speech. Just an open, candid conversation about how we could improve."

As one might expect, the discussion touched on some common, albeit often elusive themes, such as embracing roles and no one player trying to be Supergirl (except for Janelle Hubbard, who at times IS Supergirl). But it also honed in on one of the specific challenges of these Spiders, who combine three legitimate backcourt stars in Hubbard, Lauren Tolson and Micaela Parson with a cadre of still-developing forwards. In addition to playing well themselves, part of the guards' responsibility, Shafer said, is to help make sure the frontcourt guys get off, too.

"We need to appreciate and value our forwards," Shafer said.

Flashes of improvement  were evident on Nov. 20 when the Spiders finally broke into the win column with a 55-46 win over Appalachian State. But it wasn't until the the second half of Richmond's next game, against Florida A&M, where the sustained level of execution was to the point where the coach could think to himself, "By Jove, I think they've got it!"

The Spiders went on to race past the Rattlers 64-51 Friday in the opener the Florida Atlantic Thanksgiving Tournament. And on Saturday, they claimed the title with a 77-67 triumph over the host FAU.

Not surprisingly, Hubbard was sensational in the tournament, which she capped by dropping 30 on FAU en route to claiming MVP honors. But every Spider nailed her part in this tourney, which featured:

- A career-high 15-point explosion from forward Karleigh Wike (way to pad your part, Karleigh);

- A welcome Wiseman sighting - 9 points and 8 rebounds (both season highs) in the title game from freshman forward Regan Wiseman.

- A breakout, season-high 17 point night from Tolson;

- A Rodmanesque 12-rebound effort from the 5-8 Parson (huh?);

- 8.5 ppg over the two games from freshman forward Jaide Hinds-Clarke.

And on it went. Again, Shafer said there's still plenty of work to be done. But actually winning while you work sure is a lot more fun, isn't it?

Speaking of struggling, next up for Richmond, at Saturday's Navy Classic in Annapolis, Md., is retooling Liberty (0-4). The Lady Flames, who are breaking in virtually an entirely new cast of characters, have experienced the expected getting-to-know-each-other kinks in the early going.

That said, consider this trend:

First game - Liberty loses by 60

Second game - Liberty loses by 14

Third game - Liberty loses by 9

Fourth game - Liberty loses by 2, on a shot at the buzzer.

Be careful Spiders, 'cause these guys are knocking on the door.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Everybody's a winner when Tennessee's in your gym; just ask Va. Tech, JMU

If it seems like yesterday that we wrote a post about Tennessee, then maybe it was, but hey, we're at it again 'cause in case you didn't see Kenny Brooks' Hokies pulled off the upset and beat the Lady Vols 67-63 in Cassell on Sunday afternoon behind 24 points from Chanette Hicks. That's ACC co-Player of the Week and espnW national player of the week Hicks.

As an aside, we've already lamented in a tweet that it makes no sense to us why the Lady Vols remain  in the rankings at No. 22. With wins over East Tennessee, Navy and James Madison (and we're surely not knocking the Dukes) and losses to Penn State and Tech, the Lady Vols have not done enough to prove themselves to be among the top 25 teams in this young season yet. And that is what the poll is measuring, right?

But alas, we digress or do we? Tennessee is still ranked because, well, it's Tennessee. Hicks is player of the week because, well, all those points and eight steals to boot came against Tennessee. And that name, even minus Pat Summitt, who this game so sorely misses, holds mystique that just about every other Division I team that doesn't have UConn across its jersey, lacks. It sells tickets. It grabs headlines. It fills gyms. It gets your league's and ESPN's attention when player of the week honors come rolling around. And we must say, that's pretty cool.

JMU didn't beat Tennessee, but the Convo was electric for almost the entire 40 minutes during a heckuva game to open the season. And you know what? Credit Coach Sean O'Regan for making the call that turned into a home-and-home series, one he didn't anticipate. Tennessee was looking for a game. JMU had an opening. Done deal.

We have to believe Old Dominion fans have a bit of envy this morning. Hicks is a local kid and Tennessee used to be a regular in Norfolk until 2012, but thus farm Lady Monarchs fans have been treated to two MEAC teams to open the season (no knock on the Spartans, either or Hampton, which crosses the river for a tiff next month). These are fans used to seeing the best teams in the nation take a turn at playing in Norfolk, including Tennessee every other year.

Wins against the Lady Vols? Well, Brooks can brag about being 1-0 against them at Tech, but usually they're pretty hard to come by. But know what? You want Tennessee on your schedule because no matter the records or rankings, this sport has two glamour teams and one of them remains the Lady Vols.

Win or lose, with Tennessee in the building, your program can't lose.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

LadySwish fantasy league update - Nov. 28

The first round of our LadySwish fantasy league is in the books. If you missed our introduction and selection of teams, click here. Otherwise, read on to see how things haven shaken out so far.

The teams

Team Vicki - Jennie Simms, Old Dominion; Marlena Tremba, William and Mary; Janelle Hubbard, Richmond; Isis Thorpe, VCU; Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech; Tiffany Padgett, George Mason; Da'Lishia Griffin, JMU; Chanette Hicks, Virginia Tech; Alexandra Masaquel, William and Mary; Lauren Tolson, Richmond

Team Paul: Precious Hall, JMU; Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton; Aliyah Huland El, Virginia; Jephany Brown, Hampton; Amber Porter, JMU; Abby Rendle, William and Mary; Janayla White, Radford; Eboni Gilliam, Longwood; Kayla Roberts, Norfolk State; Destinee Young, Old Dominion.

The categories

Points, made 3-pointers, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks.

Round one results

Team Vicki - 4 (points, 3-pointers, assists, steals)

Team Paul - 2 (rebounds, blocks)

Raw totals

Points: Vicki - 635; Paul - 634
3-pointers: Vicki 57, Paul 42
Rebounds: Paul 293, Vicki 272
Assists: Vicki 98, Paul 86
Steals: Vicki 75, Paul 67
Blocks: Paul 46, Vicki 18


Tean Vicki - Chanette Hicks, Virginia Tech
Points, assists, steals (especially steals), even 3-pointers....it's Chanette Hicks' world these days; the rest of us are just chillin'.

Team Paul: Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton, Precious Hall, JMU
Top two draft picks, top two producers. Figures, right?


Pretty close calls for the most part, especially in a points category Team Paul lost my a mere missed free throw. Having Virginia Tech's Hicks and William and Mary's Masaquel is going to make Team Vicki hard to catch in the steals category, but that squad could use a shot blocker or three. Meanwhile, Team Paul has the low post pretty well locked down but could struggle to keep up with Team Vicki's deeper arsenal of 3-point snipers.

Expansion draft

Vicki: Lauren Moses, Virginia
The Cavaliers leading scorer (14.0 ppg) and a solid rebounder.

Paul: Kara Wright, George Mason
Having a fantastic all-around season for the Patriots.

Round Two began with Monday's Delaware State-William and Mary game and will continue through Sunday's action. Our next update will be Monday, Dec. 5.

Tennessee-Virginia Tech, Round Two

Vanessa Panousis

Welcome back, Lady Vols.

Perennial national power Tennessee,  which opened the 2016-17 season at JMU, will return to the Commonwealth for the second time this month Sunday when the 17th-ranked Lady Vols (3-1) visit Virginia Tech (5-0) at 2 p.m. in Cassell Coliseum.

The eight-time NCAA champion Lady Vols used to make bi-annual visits to Virginia as part of a home-and-home series with Old Dominion that dated back to 1978. But ODU ended that series in 2012 (an idea we weren't crazy about) and hasn't faced one of its most storied rivals ever since.

By contrast, several Hokies are quite familiar with the modern-day Lady Vols. Last season, Tech tattooed Tennessee 57-43 in Knoxville, snapping the home team's 44-game winning streak against unranked non-conference foes.

We're sure the Lady Vols remember - Tennessee coach Holly Warlick made sure of that.

"We're going to bring it up," Warlick said several days ago during her weekly press conference. "We're going to show it. They need to know. They need to feel how they felt after the game, because that style of play and what we did is not acceptable. We're going to understand what we don't need to do. That film will be a great example to us."

In last season's meeting, Tennessee made just 1 of 19 3-pointers as the Lady Vols became increasingly frustrated by Virginia Tech's zone defense and began settling for ill-advised shots.

On Nov. 11, JMU went zone and made similar shots available to Tennessee. The Lady Vols responded by splashing 10 3s during an 81-69 victory. Two days later, they hit 10 more triples in a 30-point home rout of Navy.

But last Sunday, they went just 2 of 19 from deep in a disappointing 70-56 setback at Penn State. We're pretty sure Virginia Tech has reviewed that tape (in addition to talking Xs and Os with his former wingman, JMU head coach Sean O'Regan). So one of the major setups for today is, will Tennessee work to get the shots it wants? Or will the Lady Vols settle for the shots Virginia Tech is cool with them taking?

Last year, Vanessa Panousis went 5 of 8 from 3-point range and led all scorers with 21 points for the Hokies, who trailed Tennessee by a point after three quarters before outscoring the Lady Vols 21-6 over the final 10 minutes.

On Nov. 11, Tennessee led JMU by just two points through three quarters in this year's season opener before pulling away. After the game, Warlick said last year's team probably wouldn't have held on. If pressed, we suspect she would have offered the Tech debacle as Exhibit A to support her claim.

One of Tech's biggest challenges, and not just figuratively, will be dealing with Lady Vols 6-6 center Mercedes Russell, who went for 14 points and 15 rebounds against the Hokies and has been terrific so far in 2016-17.

Tennessee, meanwhile, must come up with an answer for Hokies point guard Chanette Hicks, who has had a sensational run at both ends of the floor in helping the Hokies remain undefeated.

Finally, we're sure Virginia Tech fans will notice the charismatic, classy way the Lady Vols players and coaches (as well as their traveling army of orange-clad fans) conduct themselves throughout their stay in Blacksburg. It's one of the many Tennessee traditions started by the late Pat Summitt that has continued to flourish under Warlick.

Make no mistake - this is still a special program.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

This LadySwish battle is just a fantasy

ODU's Jennie Simms, our overall No. 1 pick
Fantasy...women’s basketball?

Hey, why not?  Why should football, baseball and basketball folks have all the fun?

Since there’s only two of us, we’ll have to settle for a two-team league. We’ll call it, hmmm, how ‘bout the LadySwish League? No points for creativity, but it fits..

The rules: The initial draft consists of 10 players, with all active Division I players in Virginia eligible. We’ll add each add one player each week after the Thanksgiving weekend to reach a 15-player roster limit. No one is ever dropped; once you draft ‘em, they’re yours for the rest of the season (except in the case of injury).  Ten players are activated each week. The categories  - points, made 3s, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Results will be updated weekly.

Just before the season started, we staged our player draft. Now, we either waded through reams of data before making each selection, or picked names off the top of our heads during the drive to Harrisonburg. One of the two….

Anyway, the draft recap: .

First round

Vicki - Jennie Simms, Old Dominion - “A triple-double in the making, every night!”

Paul - Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton - “Hey, did we come up a fair, impartial way of deciding who gets right to draft Simms, or did you just tell me I’m picking second? I can’t recall…. No matter. Love Jennie, but I got me a stud, too. MTD, you’re with me.

Second round

Vicki - Marlena Tremba, William and Mary - “Love everything about her, including the way she plays the cello.”

Paul - Precious Hall, JMU - “Are you kidding me? Hall in the second round? Get out of here!

Third round

Vicki - Janelle Hubbard, Richmond - Great to have one-third of (Richmond’s) Big Three.”

Paul - Abby Rendle, William and Mary - “That rarest of species, a post player that can consistently deliver points, rebounds and blocks in bunches? Where do I sign?”

Fourth round

Vicki -Isis Thorpe, VCU - “VCU’s soon-to-be all-time leading 3-point shotmaker definitely deserves a spot on this squad.”

Paul - Aliyah Huland El, Virginia - “I’m feeling a breakout season coming.”

Fifth round

Vicki - Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech - “I think she’ll find her range more consistently under Kenny (Brooks).”

Paul - Jephany Brown, Hampton - “Never seen her play, but she comes highly recommended by Hampton coach David Six and, you know, in Six I trust.”

Sixth round
Vicki - Tiffany Padgett, George Mason - “Expect her to have a big year alongside Kara Wright.”

Paul - Janayla White, Radford - “JW’s still on the board? A flat-out steal in the sixth round. Besides, in these uncertain times, us White people need to stick together."

Seventh round

Vicki - Da’Lishia Griffin, JMU - “My kids were (Western Branch) Bruins, too, so I;ve gotta go with the CAA’s leading rebounder.”

Paul - Amber Porter, JMU - “My kids were….nah, just kidding. Blocked shots count, too, and Porter was the queen of rejection in her two years at Stetson. So, as they used to say on “Hollywood Squares.” I’ll take Amber for the block.”

Eighth round

Vicki - Chanette Hicks, Maury - Another Hampton Roads homegirl. She’ll be the difference-maker for Tech.”

Paul - Eboni Gilliam, Longwood - “What’s a draft without a Longwood player? So welcome to the squad, Eboni.”

Ninth round

Vicki - Alexandra Masaquel, William and Mary - “How can you not love the Tribe’s Hawaiian Punch?”

Paul: Destinee Young, Old Dominion - “Got the sweet midrange J market cornered with this pick. Heck of a rebounder, too.”

Tenth round

Vicki - Lauren Tolson, Richmond - “Glad to have two-thirds of Richmond’s Big Three.”

Paul - Kayla Roberts, Norfolk State - “Spartans in the house, y'all! Kayla was a beast as a freshman. I think we’re going to see that Kayla again (please?).”

Remember, we made these picks before the season started, so hold off on giving us grief about the selections. It’s easy to second-guess things now with 4-6 games in the books, but if you roll back to Nov. 11, do you honestly think you could have done better?

Wait, don’t answer that.

The first scoring period ends Sunday, and we’ll provide an update sometime Monday, along with our first one-player expansion draft. Suggestions on which player each of us should add are always welcome (ladyswishing@hotmail.com or twitter.com/ladyswish). I know at least one of us could certainly use the help.

As for how the teams are faring so far, well, without giving away too much, let’s just say that Paul’s Ballers could use a few big performances over the next couple days. Along with some advice on how to pick a team name.

See ya on Monday.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hokies' Hicks hoopin' like crazy

Who's been the best player among the Division I performers in Virginia on the young season so far?

Our vote goes to Virginia Tech's dramatically improved Chanette Hicks, and, with all due respect to the state's other top ballers, it's not even all that close.

Consider that, through five games, the Hokies' sophomore point guard ranks third among Virginia D-I players in points per game (17.8) and is also third in field goal percentage (51.7). Now, 50 percent shooting from any player is noteworthy. Fifty percent-plus from a high-scoring point guard is ridiculous.

Last year, Hicks averaged 8.6 points on 42.4 percent shooting.

The former Maury High School star announced herself as a prime-time scorer by dropping a career-high 24 points on UNC Asheville in Tech's season opener. And on Tuesday, she went for 22 points - 10 in the pivotal third quarter - as the Hokies held off the College of Charleston. Coming into the season, Hicks' career high was 19 points.

And she's producing points in a variety of ways. Hicks ranks sixth in Division I in getting to the free throw line, where she's converting at a 70.3 percent chip (Hicks shot 53.8 percent from the stripe last season). And after going just 1-for-7 from 3-point range a year ago, Hicks has made 3 of 8 shots from deep through five games in 2016-17.

Scoring is just part of the package, though. Hicks has also dished out 19 assists (3.8 apg) against just 12 turnovers. The Hokies' star has also embellished her college reputation as a master thief by racking up 20 steals, second among all Division I players through Nov. 23. As a freshman, Hicks set the Hokies' single-season record for steals with 91.

Again, the season is just getting started. And it's fair to point out that to date Virginia Tech hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of competition.

But Hicks didn't make the Hokies' schedule.

All she's done is ball.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hey, ODU, long time, no see!

Norfolk State's Gabrielle Swinson
Of the 349 women's basketball teams in Division I, 348 of them have played at least one game in the 2016-17 season.

And then there's Old Dominion. A tournament cancellation blew a season-opening week-long hole in ODU's schedule. So while many teams were squeezing in up to three games the past seven days, the Lady Monarchs practiced.

It's a good thing Allen Iverson isn't on this squad.

The exaggerated preseason finally ends Friday when crosstown rival Norfolk State visits the Constant Center at 7 p.m. for a matchup we wouldn't mind seeing become an annual thing.

We know talented Lady Monarchs sophomore guard Gianna Smith is ready. Heck, she was ready several days ago.

 Don't get me wrong, I love basketball, but I'm tired of watching it. I'm ready to play man 😤
Of course, few things excite a coach as much as the words "extra time to prepare." So, characterizing the break as "an opportunity," Lady Monarchs coach Karen Barefoot used work against the men's practice players, intra-squad scrimmages and attention-to-detail drills to fine-tune ODU's game.

Besides, if any group can thrive despite a delayed opening night, it's these veteran Lady Monarchs, who return 10 letterwinners and the entire starting five that finished 2015-16 on a roll. Most coaches use the first few games to figure out what they have. With so much experience on hand, Barefoot already knows what she has.

"The buildup is there," Barefoot said. "We're really, really excited about Friday."

There's also some excitement building a few miles down the road at Norfolk State, especially after Tuesday's 40-point drubbing of Division II St. Augustine's. Now, any Division I team should roll over a rebuilding D-II squad like St. Aug's (3-24 last year). But frankly, we're not sure last season's star-crossed Spartans would have looked as dominant.

In fact, in a preseason exhibition game last year, the 2015-16 Spartans actually lost to Division II Virginia Union. Granted, that Union squad blossomed into a D-II power. But the game set an ominous tone for a season in which the Spartans didn't win a home game until March 3, the final day of the regular season.

 Fortunately for NSU fans, nothing about these present-day Spartans feels the way things did at this point last year, from the coach - Larry Vickers, who took over with 10 games left in 2015-16 and had the interim tag removed in March - to a roster augmented by impact transfers.

Transfer guards Gabrielle Swinson (Bryant and Stratton) and Jordan Strode (St. Joseph's) in particular arrived at NSU looking like fully-formed Division I-caliber performers. Both delivered double-figure point totals against the Lady Falcons, as did four other Spartans. Again, they weren't playing UConn. Still, NSU's talent upgrade was distinct.

Barefoot certainly noticed.

"They're deep," she said. "They can rebound. They're a pressing team and a transition team. They've really, really improved."

That said, Vickers fully understands what he and his Spartans will be up against Friday. ODU's sheer physicality stands in start contrast to the passive resistance St. Augustine's offered Tuesday. And it's one thing to rule the boards against the vertically challenged Lady Falcons; it's quite another to keep pace on the glass with forward Destinee Young and an ODU squad that led Conference-USA in rebounding.

Then there's ODU star Jennie Simms, a versatile, All-American-caliber performer capable of taking over a game at any point.

"I haven't seen my team play against a dominant guard before," Vickers said. "I'll be interested to see how we accept that challenge."

Oh, and Coach Vickers, we'd humbly like to add one more concern:

When it comes to this Old Dominion team, fatigue won't be an issue.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ex-VCU staff, meet the new VCU staff

Marlene Stollings
Who ya got in Tuesday's Minnesota-VCU game? Our money is on the team with the former state championship point guard at Princess Anne High.

That way we can't lose - when the teams square off at 6 p.m. Tuesday at VCU, both will have the Virginia Beach angle well-covered

Golden Gophers true freshman Gadiva Hubbard, who led PA to three straight state titles, debuted for Minnesota Saturday with 16 points, eight rebounds and five steals Saturday in a 103-87 victory over Harvard.

VCU counters with redshirt senior GG Goodhope, who was part of a 2011 Princess Anne state title team that included WNBA Most Improved Player Elizabeth Williams, former Radford All-Big South guard Aisha Foy and ex-William and Mary star Jazmen Boone.

The game also features the return of Marlene Stollings, the Minnesota coach who led the Rams for two seasons (2012-14) before accepting the Big Ten job.  Four current Rams - guards Keira Robinson, Ashlee Mitchell and Isis Thorpe and forward Camille Calhoun - played for Stollings as VCU freshmen.

The Minnesota staff also includes associate head coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins, who was the first member of Stollings' VCU staff and prior to that spent seven seasons as the right hand to Old Dominion's Wendy Larry. Another Golden Gophers assistant, Tamisha Augustin, spent one year under Stollings at VCU.

The Gophers (1-0) will be playing their first road game. VCU (1-0) opened by thumping Coppin State 73-44 at home Friday.

Other games Tuesday:

JMU (1-1) at Liberty (0-1), 5 p.m.
      - The near-complete makeover of the Lady Flames continues as the team started three freshmen for the first time in 20 years and saw seven players make their Liberty debut in Friday's season-opening 98-38 loss at Duke. JMU will be hitting the road for the first time this season after falling to Tennessee Friday and thumping St. Francis (N.Y.) Sunday at the Convocation Center.

St. Augustine's (1-1) at Norfolk State (0-1), 5:30 p.m.
     - The Spartans return to their CIAA roots for their home opener against the Division II Lady Falcons. St. Augustine's redshirt freshman guard Quiera Gilmore was a Spartan last season but sat out the entire campaign with a knee injury. Norfolk State opened with a 64-56 loss at UNC Wilmington.

Longwood (0-1) at Duke (2-0), 7 p.m.
     - Another tough assignment for the Lancers, who fell 87-37 at Marquette Friday. A rare highlight was the strong debut of Longwood freshman Jada Russell (13 points), the one-time high school teammate of Virginia freshman Felicia Aiyeotan at Neumann-Goretti (Pa.). Game is also a homecoming for Longwood assistant Wanisha Smith, who starred for some elite Duke teams from 2004-08.

George Mason (1-1) at LIU-Brooklyn (0-1), 7 p.m.
     - Third game in five days for the Patriots, who have struggled on the road for years (2-11 last year, 7-35 the last three years) and are coming off Sunday's 67-51 setback at Delaware. The Blackbirds stumbled badly out of the gate, committing 32 turnovers in a 68-47 home loss to defending Patriot League champion Army.

What, no top rookie honors for UVa.'s fab freshmen?

What does a player have to do to earn ACC Rookie of the Week honors?

We ask because it's hard to do much more than Virginia's Joceyln Willoughby and Felicia Aiyeotan, two Cavaliers freshmen who have been simply sensational two games into their college debuts.

In victories over Middle Tennessee State and Coppin State, Willoughby averaged a team-best 17.0 points on 52.4 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds. Meanwhile, the 6-9 Aiyeotan;s two-game numbers are 13.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 5.0 blocks - in just 15.5 minutes per.

Yet neither earned their league's initial top rookie award. Pitt freshman guard Jasmine Whitney, who registered a 17-point, 11-assist double-double in the Panthers' rout of Mount St. Mary's, got the nod from the ACC's Blue Ribbon Panel.

Now, we're not here to argue with the selection committee. Besides, this is far from the most surprising voting result we've had to digest over the last several days.

Let's just say that, if Willoughby and Aiyeotan - or Dominique Toussaint (10.5 ppg) for that matter - keep this up, that award figures to find its way to Charlottesville eventually.

We doubt anyone's quibbling with the choice for ACC Player of the Week honors, not after Notre Dame sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale lit Central Michigan up for 30 points on 12-of-13 shooting, 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

Conference Player of the Week? She should be in the conversation for National Player of the Week.

As for weekly honors in selected other conferences:

Colonial Athletic Association

JMU made it a clean sweep by snagging both player and rookie of the week awards. Senior guard Precious Hall was the no-brainer choice for top player after she dropped 39 points on Tennessee Friday and followed it up with 24 more Sunday against St. Francis (N.Y.). The 31.5 ppg average is fifth in Division I on the young season and tops among players that have appeared in more than one game.

Meanwhile, Dukes fearless freshman Kamiah Smalls has been nothing short of a revelation. The 5-10 rookie debuted with 15 points and 12 rebounds against the Lady Vols, then backed that up with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (4-4 FTs, too) in Sunday's romp over St. Francis. Through two games, Smalls leads the team in rebounding (9.5 rpg) and field goal percentage (63.2).

We saw the JMU-Tennessee game, and numbers aside, we marveled at how confidently Smalls attacked the vaunted Lady Vols. It's a cliche, but in this case it fits - Smalls played big.

Maybe we should call her Biggie Smalls.

Wait, that name's taken.

Never mind.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Top performers

Monnazjea Finney-Smith, Hampton - The ex-VCU standout made her Hampton debut with 16 points and three steals in Friday's loss at Northwestern, then followed up with a 10-point, two-steal effort Sunday at Iowa. Finney-Smith is 7-15 from 3-point range so far.

Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton - The high-scoring senior delivered what for her is standard output - 22 points -  Sunday in a loss at Iowa. The surprise came Friday, when Tate-DeFreitas was held to just five points at Northwestern, one point north of her career low (4 points in the NCAA Tournament first round against Michigan State as a freshman). Tate-DeFreitas has scored at least 10 points in 89 of her 98 career games and has 1,966 for her career, one shy of LaShondra Gordon-Dixon (1,967) for second on Hampton's all-time scoring list.

Gabrielle Swinson, Norfolk State - Junior college transfer guard from Bryant and Stratton racked up six steals in her NSU debut Friday at UNC Wilmington.

NOTE: The MEAC Player of the Week was Savannah State graduate student guard Lauren Moss (39 points in two games, 19 against Seton Hall. The Rookie of the Week was Coppin State freshman center Chance Graham, who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds in losses at VCU and Virginia. MEAC Defensive Player of the Week honors went to Savannah State senior center Tiyonda Davis, who had 20 rebounds and six blocks against the NAIA Columbia College Koalas and averaged 17.0 boards in two games.

Atlantic 10

Honor roll

Kara Wright, George Mason - The Patriots senior guard torched Radford for a career-high 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting and averaged 19.5 points, six rebounds and 2.5 steals in two games.

Jaide Hinds-Clarke - Freshman forward came off the bench to contribute seven points and eight rebounds in just 14 minutes in Sunday's home loss to Columbia. She also did a nice job of explaining the meaning behind being Richmond's No. 1.

NOTE: The Atlantic 10 Player of the Week was Saint Louis star guard Jackie Kemph, who followed up a 20-point, eight-assist performance in a victory over UC-Irvine with a 25-point, 10-assist effort in a win over Loyola-Marymount. A-10 Rookie of the Week honors went to UMass freshman Hailey Leidel, who debuted with 16 points and seven rebounds in 40 minutes against Buffalo.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Big-time opponents bring out best in JMU's Hall

Precious Hall
We're not saying we predicted JMU's Precious Hall would score a career-high 39 points - the single-game high in Division I so far this season - in Friday's 81-69 loss to No. 13 Tennessee. But we certainly weren't surprised to see her turn it up a notch (or three) against a big-time team.

That's just how she rolls.

Consider that Hall, who sat out last season with an ACL injury, averaged 20.8 points per game in 2014-15. Here are her numbers against the three Associated Press Top-25 teams the Dukes played that season:

- vs. No. 23 UCLA - 25 points
- vs. No. 10 Maryland - 29 points
- vs. No. 23 Ohio State (NCAA Tournament) - 28 points.

Add Friday's production against the Lady Vols and JMU's redshirt senior guard is averaging 30.3 points over her last four games against nationally-ranked teams. 

By the way, Hall and the Dukes visit No. 12 Florida State a week from today (Nov. 20).

They'll worry about the Seminoles later, though. Today it's all about St. Francis (N.Y.), which will visit the Convocation Center for a 4:30 p.m. tip. In terms of size and length St. Francis (0-0) is kind of the anti-Tennessee - no Terriers projected starter exceeds 6-0. Look for the Dukes to try and create more scoring opportunities inside than they were able to manage against the towering Lady Vols.

St. Francis coach John Thurston spent 13  at JMU, as a men's basketball assistant to Lou Campanelli from 1975-85 and then as the men's hoops head coach the following three seasons.

Also on Sunday's schedule:

Hampton (0-1) at Iowa (1-0), 1 p.m.
     - Monnazjea Finney-Smith scored a team-high 16 points in Friday's 67-48 loss at Northwestern.
Coppin State (0-1) at Virginia (1-0), 2 p.m.
     - The Cavalliers' four freshmen accounted for 37 of the team's 63 points in Friday's win over Middle Tennessee State. Two of the rookies started - guards Dominique Toussaint (team-high 16 points) and Jocelyn Willoughby (team-high 9 rebounds). A third freshman, 6-9 Felecia Aiyeotan, added four blocks in just nine minutes.

Columbia (0-1) at Richmond (0-0), 2 p.m.
     - Season opener for the Spiders; the Lions come in off a 67-56 home loss to UMBC.

George Mason (1-0) at Delaware (0-0), 2 p.m.
     - Senior Kara Wright scored a career-high 25 points and sophomore Chinyere Bell added a career-high 18 in Friday's 70-56 win over Radford.

St. John's at William and Mary, 2 p.m.
     - First game for Tribe center Abby Rendle since her 24-point, 15-rebound, 10-block triple-double against UNC Wilmington on Jan. 22. Rendle sustained a season-ending injury the next day.

Georgetown at Virginia Tech (1-0), 4 p.m.
     - Hokies sophomore guard Chanette Hicks led four players in double figures with a career-high 24 point in Friday's 71-52 win over defending Big South champion UNC Asheville. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Catching up with JMU frosh Kamiah Smalls and Devon Merritt

James Madison fell to 13th-ranked Tennessee on Friday night in its season opener at the Convo. The Dukes got fabulous play from its freshmen Kamiah Smalls and Devon Merritt. Smalls had 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and an assist. Merritt finished with four points and eight rebounds. BTW, we can't wait to see Da'Lishia Griffin's impression of Sean O'Regan.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The things coaches say.....

Karen Barefoot
When Old Dominion coach Karen Barefoot first said she wanted her team to lead the nation in "high-fives and floor burns," - at her debut press conference back in 2010 - we smiled. Everyone smiled. Hey, it's a pretty good line. A little corny, sure, but pretty good.

Then she said it again. And again. And again.... Now, we're not saying that, in the ensuing six years, Barefoot has used that line more times than her players have actually given high-fives or induced floor burn.

It's probably close, though.

But we're not mad at her, especially when we consider the source. "High-fives and floor burns" is quintessential Barefoot, a woman who played and now talks and coaches with precisely the type of hyperkinetic enthusiasm that phrase suggests.

So keep saying it, Coach. We have your back.

That said, as we approach the 2016-17 season, there are a few phrases we’d like coaches to consider cutting back on considerably, if not dropping from their rotations altogether. Among them:

“Score the basketball”
Or its evil  cousin, “rebound the basketball.”

As opposed to, what, scoring the casaba melon? Look, there are obviously two extra words in there. If you just say “score” or “rebound,” we guarantee everyone will know what you’re talking about.

Who started that one, anyway?

“We overcame adversity”

To be fair, sometimes this phrase fits. Last season, for example, Radford lost three starting-caliber guards to season-ending knee injuries before the New Year, then a fourth - leading scorer Aisha Foy - in mid-February. So if Highlanders coach Mike McGuire wants to talk about overcoming adversity, we’re all ears.

Far too often, though, coaches pull the “adversity” card whenever anything goes wrong.

Down by eight in the second quarter?

“So much adversity!”

Kid picks up a second foul?

“Oh, the adversity!”

It’s to the point where the word has lost much of its potency. When coaches spew that word now, we’re thinking, “What, did someone chip a nail?”

Again, we know there’s real adversity to overcome over the course of a game or a season, and we have no issue with coaches pointing it out. But please, pick your spots.

“We’re young”

When you think about it, since virtually every player is between 18-22 years old, that line technically fits every team in America. Now, we know what coaches really mean is that they have inexperienced players in some spots. Well, how about simply saying that? “We’re young” is awfully vague.

Apparently, it can lead to confusion. At the Atlantic 10’s media day, the realization that Rhode Island’s roster featured 10 freshmen and sophomores prompted the following exchange with Rams coach Daynia La-Force:

Us: “You’re really young.”

La-Force: “No I’m not!”

Us: “Er, we were talking about your team.”

We’ll take the hit for that. After all, ask a dumb question….

Let the games begin! - 2016-17 edition

Longwood's Eboni Gilliam
Thank God it's Friday, right?

Or more specifically, Friday, Nov. 11 - the official opening day/night of the 2016-17 women's basketball team featuring 10 of Virginia's 13 teams. From a national perspective, the highlight is No. 14 Tennessee at JMU. But no matter which team you root for, the Nov. 11 schedule features something for just about everyone.

For more on the Tennessee-JMU game, click here. As for the rest of the slate....

Coppin State (16-16) at VCU (23-10), 11 a.m.

The 2016-17 Division I schedule begins at 10 a.m. with Robert Morris taking on NAIA Point Park, but this is one of three contests - along with Savannah State-Seton Hall and Arkansas-Pine Bluff-Ball State - that are this season's initial games involving two D-I schools. Coppin State is in transition after the loss of six seniors and the retirement of Derek Brown, the winningest coach in school history (269-237 record in 17 seasons, three NCAA tournament appearances).

What to watch for: It'll be interesting to see what graduate transfer Mooriah Rowser, who averaged 11.1 ppg at Memphis last year, will add to VCU's already-impressive backcourt rotation. I mean, if teams could only use players 5-11 and shorter, the Rams might win the national championship. But who can get it done in the VCU frontcourt? We know Curteeona Brelove (7.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) can hold her own, but who else?

UNC Asheville (26-7) at Virginia Tech (18-14), 3:30 p.m.

Sneaky-tough tipoff to Tech's Kenny Brooks Era as the Hokies will host one of the most experienced teams in the country. UNC Asheville returns four senior starters - including Big South Player of the Year Chatori Major - and 12 letterwinners from a conference regular season and tournament championship squad.

What to watch for: The Hokies have a solid veteran core - Vanessa Panousis, Chanette Hicks, Regan Magarity, Sidney Cook, Rachel Camp and Samantha Hill - but little established depth behind this group. Which of Tech's newcomers can deliver quality minutes?

Hampton (14-17) at Northwestern (18-17), 4:30 p.m.

Typically rugged road opener for the Lady Pirates. The veteran Wildcats feature honorable mention All-America senior forward Nia Coffey, who averaged 20.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season, and point guard Ashley Dreary, the Division I leader in steals (4.34 spg) in 2015-16. Two years ago, Hampton fell 62-36 at Northwestern despite 23 points and 10 rebounds from Lady Pirates star Malia Tate-DeFreitas. Only three of the current Lady Pirates - Tate-DeFreitas, Kaylah Lupoe and Mikayla Sayle - appeared in that game.

What to watch for: Hampton has a pair of talented junior college transfers in Jephany Brown and Chenya Sealey and one Division I transfer in ex-VCU performer Monnazjea Finney-Smith. How quickly can these players effectively fold into Hampton coach David Six's defend-'til-you-drop system?
Duke (20-12) at Liberty (20-13), 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

The Blue Devils didn't crack the Associated Press Top-25 preseason poll for the first time since 1994. Duke still has some premium talent, though, most notably senior forward Oderah Chidom, junior forward Rebecca Greenwell and Maryland transfer guard Lexie Brown. Duke pounded Liberty 79-41 in Durham last December, but these Blue Devils bear only a slight resemblance to last year's squad - and retooled Liberty is almost unrecognizable from its 2015-16 edition.

What to watch for: With eight of last season's top nine scorers no longer around, seven freshmen breaking in and only five career college starts among the 15 players combined, well, good luck preparing a scouting report on the 2016-17 Lady Flames, Duke. Among the Liberty newcomers, we've heard some good things about freshman guard/forward Lela Sellers and junior college transfer Nene Johnson. But as for how the minutes will be doled out among this group, at this point we're not even sure Liberty coach Carey Green really knows.

Middle Tennessee State (24-9) at Virginia (18-16), 7 p.m.

First-rate matchup pitting the Cavaliers against the defending Conference-USA tournament champions. UVa. scored a road win at MTSU in last year's season opener by outlasting the Blue Raiders 70-66. Forward Brea Edwards, who dropped 30 points on Virginia in that game, has graduated, but MTSU still has star point guard Ty Petty and sophomore forward Alex Johnson, last year's C-USA Freshman of the Year.

What to watch for: We know about the Cavaliers' established core featuring Breyana Mason, Lauren Moses, Aliyah Huland El and J'Kyra Brown. But how high a ceiling Virginia has will likely be determined by how much the talented freshmen can augment this group. Who among the quartet of Dominique Toussaint, Lisa Jablonowski, Jocelyn Willoughby and the 6-9 Felicia Aiyeotan can contribute right away?

Norfolk State (3-24) at UNC Wilmington (7-23), 4:30 p.m.

Ex-NSU men's basketball assistant Larry Vickers isn't exactly new; he took charge of the women for the final 11 games last season. Still, this feels like a fresh start for the Spartans, who have augmented their roster with transfers and are out to avoid anything close to a repeat of last season's struggles.

What to watch for: Can the transfer newcomers - Gabrielle Swinson, Jordan Strode and former Longwood performer Khalilah Ali - help stabilize NSU? And can junior Kayla Roberts return to the form that made her one of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's top players as a freshman?

Radford (18-13) at George Mason (12-19), 7 p.m.

In last year's season opener, the Highlanders escaped with a 66-63 overtime win over the Patriots at Radford. First-team All-Big South forward Janayla White (19 points, 8 rebounds) and running mate forward Jayda Worthy (13 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) led the way for the winners. The Patriots, meanwhile, relied heavily on departed senior Taylor Brown in this game and throughout 2015-16 but look to get more players touches and shots this season. Redshirt seniors Kara Wright and Tiffany Padgett are poised to lead the way.

What to watch for

Radford: Guards Brittany Allen, Claudia Quevedo and Jen Falconer are all starting-caliber guards who missed all (Allen, Quevedo) or most (Falconer) of last season with knee injuries. Having these players back should, among other things, help turn a 2015-16 weakness - 3-point shooting - into a strength. This in turn should create more space inside for Radford's frontcourt stars to operate.

George Mason: Patriots coach Nyla Milleson is very excited about her quartet of freshmen - Sarah Kaminski, Jacy Bolton, DeJah Williford-Kelley, Alexsis Grate and Allie McCool. The coach said all will contribute early and one will even start, although she declined to name which one. For what it's worth, Kaminski and Bolton started Mason's lone exhibition game. Another newcomer, Niagara transfer Sylvia Maxwell, led all scorers with 15 points.

Longwood (8-22) at Marquette (14-16), 8 p.m.

The Lancers have an interesting mix of veterans and newcomers, and coach Bill Reinson acknowledges it may take some time for the group to gel. Marquette, by contrast, shouldn't need much time at all - the Golden Eagles return all five starters and 99.8 percent of last year's scoring.

What to watch for: Lancers senior Eboni Gilliam, who scored at least 15 points in five of her last nine games a year ago, is one of the most underrated players in the state.

Other openers

William and Mary (15-15) will host St. John's (23-10) on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the season opener for both.

Richmond (13-18) will host Columbia (12-17) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Columbia has its opener on Friday at UMBC.

A tournament cancellation left Old Dominion (17-17) without a game until Nov. 18, when the Lady Monarchs will host Norfolk State. It will be the Spartans' third game.