Category archive: Duquesne Dukes
The headlines Monday morning are about Baylor beating Connecticut and Notre Dame beating Kentucky, but there's still cause to consider an abbreviated look at other weekend action.
Frank Victores/US PresswireCoach Dawn Staley liked what she saw Sunday when South Carolina held No. 16 North Carolina to 48 points and improved to 9-2.
Best team performance: South Carolina. There wasn't much heft to the 8-2 record South Carolina brought to Myrtle Beach for the neutral-site clash with North Carolina, but a 79-48 win presumably hit the ACC team like a ton of bricks.
The Tar Heels played two games of consequence this season, against Penn State and South Carolina, and lost both of them without being within single digits on the scoreboard over the final 10 minutes.
Dawn Staley's Gamecocks did just about everything right, shooting 47 percent, claiming a 47-30 advantage in rebounds, turning over the ball just nine times and getting 21 points from La'Keisha Sutton and 20 points from Markeshia Grant.
Considering a third of the team's wins came while scoring 60 or fewer points, defense still rules for Staley, but at least it's nice to know the offense has this in it.
Best individual performance: Gennifer Brandon, California. It came in a loss against Ohio State, California's third of the season by three or fewer points against a ranked opponent, but Brandon's line of 24 points and 24 rebounds in 33 minutes jumps off the page. Brandon entered the weekend tied for 48th in the nation in rebounding. Her average went from 9.6 per game to 10.9 per game after her effort against the Buckeyes, the latter average bettered by just 10 players entering the weekend.
Brandon might dwell, as players are wont to do, on the shot she missed in the closing seconds to try to force overtime, but it's safe to say her team wouldn't have been in that position in the first place without her points and rebounds.
Best coaching milestone: Jim Foster. Brandon's super-sized double-double wasn't the only big number that came out of Ohio State's victory against Cal. Buckeyes coach Jim Foster became the ninth Division I coach with 750 career wins.
It's difficult to believe it has been nearly two decades since he took Vanderbilt to the Final Four in 1993, but he keeps piling up victories. He needs 11 more of them to make Ohio State the most successful stop of a career that includes St. Joseph's and Vanderbilt.
Best comeback: Duquesne against West Virginia. Duquesne beat a nationally ranked Ohio State team on the road a season ago during the holiday portion of the schedule and proceeded to miss the NCAA tournament out of the ultra-competitive Atlantic 10. So Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio wasn't ready to put any special labels on Saturday's 61-55 win against an unranked West Virginia team. But it sure beats losing, an outcome that seemed certain when Duquesne trailed by 17 points early in the second half.
Behind clutch 3-pointers from Alex Gensler, big baskets from Wumi Agunbiade, unsung role play from Jocelyn Floyd, Vanessa Abel and Ahjah Hall and a 2-2-1 press that left the Mountaineers flummoxed and coach Mike Carey apoplectic on the bench, the Dukes closed the game on a 38-15 run and claimed the win.
Best early start to the week: Northwestern. Sunday was only the beginning of things for Northwestern, which played UNLV in the first of three games in three days in Las Vegas. But it was a good start. The Wildcats improved to 9-1 with a 79-49 win against a Lady Rebels team that entered with just two losses on the season and a victory against Big Ten side Iowa.
It seems there is life after Amy Jaeschke for Northwestern, in large part because Joe McKeown is still the man in charge. Highly touted freshman Morgan Jones is living up to the hype and finished with 18 points, seven assists and three steals Sunday, but holdover Kendall Hackney is the star so far. Hackney scored 22 against UNLV, her fourth game in a row with at least 20 points. A win Monday against Kansas State and Northwestern would be 4-1 against teams from BCS leagues.
Monday morning headline: Stanford is off and running.
Gonzaga stayed with Stanford for a half Sunday, saddling the Cardinal with their first halftime deficit at home since Jan. 30, 2010, a stretch of 24 games at Maples Pavilion. Texas hung around, too, seizing on home-court advantage and a shorthanded opponent to stay within five points with 10 minutes to play against the Cardinal on Friday.
AP Photo/LM OteroKim Mulkey got a lift from 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, left, and 6-4 Sune Agbuke after winning her 300th game.
But after three days of the 2011-12 regular season, it's pretty clear that if you want to knock down Stanford, you had best bring a knockout punch.
Testing itself while other contenders test their attention spans during the second half of blowouts against overmatched opponents, Stanford beat Texas 72-59 on the road without Nnemkadi Ogwumike (unspecified upper body injury). Then it beat Gonzaga 76-61 in large part because of the elder half of the Ogwumike sisters. With Gonzaga constantly looking to push the tempo and having already turned an early 24-14 deficit into a 30-29 lead, Stanford kept punching the ball inside for run-ending, soul-sapping baskets down low. Nneka finished with 33 points and 18 rebounds against Gonzaga, while younger sister Chiney followed up 16 points and 14 rebounds against the Longhorns with 19 points against the Bulldogs.
The Cardinal have a star capable of taking over a game and singlehandedly reversing momentum. And they have a team that can win without her.
That's not bad work for a season barely 72 hours old.
Best individual weekend performance: Alex Gensler. The elder Ogwumike probably deserves top billing for her effort against Gonzaga, but since we've been over that, it's worth giving some space to Duquesne's Alex Gensler. The senior guard made sure the Dukes avoided a potential opening stumble by scoring a career-high 33 points, including a career-best eight 3-pointers from the new line, in a 74-70 win at Saint Francis. Part of what landed Duquesne in the preseason mid-major top 10 is the balance the team displayed last season, with five players averaging between 8.2 and 12.6 points per game. But if balance is nice over the span of a season, sometimes there's no substitute for a single hot hand over the span of 40 minutes.
Best team weekend performance: Maryland. It isn't going to soothe the sting of an embarrassing loss in a game of more import in the NCAA tournament last spring, but Maryland's 72-53 win against Georgetown on Sunday is the only game that matters to the current state of affairs for both teams. The Terrapins exploited everything a team is supposed to try and exploit against the Hoyas, limiting Sugar Rodgers to 1-of-12 shooting, forcing other shooters to beat them (the Hoyas hit 2 of 17 3-pointers) and dominating the glass. Alyssa Thomas and Tiana Hawkins combined for just two fewer rebounds than Georgetown. An 84-46 win against Loyola to open the regular season isn't without merit, either. There are contending teams that will register far less convincing wins against far more inferior teams in the season's opening weeks.
Best individual performance, coaching division: Kim Mulkey. Granted, it wasn't Mulkey's toughest assignment -- although Chattanooga should have a much better season than the final score in Waco indicates -- but win No. 300 is a big deal. Baylor's 91-31 demolition of the Mocs provided Mulkey her milestone win. And come to think of it, trying to balance while being carried on the shoulders of 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner and anyone else on the roster, as Mulkey was after the win, might be among the tougher challenges of her career.
Biggest surprise: Villanova beating Michigan State. Mulkey wasn't the only coach to hit a milestone over the weekend. In fact, Villanova's Harry Perretta doubled her up by collecting win No. 600 in Sunday's 76-47 win against Iona. He's just the seventh Division I coach to total 600 wins at one school. But nobody is probably more pleased than Perretta himself that the milestone was overshadowed by win No. 599. That came courtesy of a 75-64 win against No. 25 Michigan State on Friday, the first against a ranked foe for the Wildcats in more than two years.
Villanova's next three games come at Marist and Princeton and home against Delaware, quality opponents that should test what Perretta has on his hands with Rachel Roberts and Lauren Burford (a combined 13-of-24 shooting from the 3-point line through two games).
Beyond the headlines: Xavier tries to stay in the game: No team took a bigger offseason hit than Xavier, which dropped from No. 5 in the final AP poll last season to the suburbs of oblivion. We know first-year coach Amy Waugh's hand doesn't include two aces, Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips, but the Musketeers could at least stay at the table if forwards Amber Gray and Marquette transfer Jessica Pachko form a productive partnership and guard Tyeasha Moss emerges as a go-to player. Moss had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in an opening win against Eastern Kentucky, but she used 17 shots to get those points. Against a schedule still loaded with the kind of opponents you book when you have two WNBA giants, the defenses are only going to get more difficult, starting with Monday's trip to Mississippi State and Sunday's visit to Louisville.
Nobody expects Xavier to get back to the rarified air of recent seasons, and Waugh is going to pile up some early losses to go along with her first career win. But if you forget who used to here and only look at the talent that is here, there is at least enough potential to make this a team worth keeping tabs on as Atlantic 10 season nears.
Setting up the week to come (Monday-Friday)
• Louisville at Texas A&M (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday): The matinee between teams with a lot of familiar faces on the perimeter -- Tyra White, Sydney Carter, Becky Burke and Tia Gibbs among them -- also features some new faces in the paint. Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone managed just 11 points and one rebound while battling foul trouble in her first game for the Aggies, while Cierra Warren scored 18 points in just 12 minutes for Louisville in an opening win against Missouri State. It appears Louisville will be without Shoni Schimmel, forced to sit out two games as a result of playing in a non-sanctioned 3-on-3 tournament, but highly touted freshman Sara Hammond stepped into the void with 13 points and 13 rebounds in the team's first game.
• Miami at Tennessee (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET Tuesday): This one is the definition of new school against old school when it comes to program prestige. Shenise Johnson was, well, Shenise Johnson in Miami's opener against Texas-Pan American, falling one assist shy of a triple-double and two steals shy of a quadruple double (she finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and eight steals -- and just nine field-goal attempts). But the question in Knoxville is what can the supporting cast -- namely Stefanie Yderstrom and Morgan Stromando -- do for Johnson and Riquna Williams. We know the Hurricanes have the stars to compete for a title. This is the first of many chances for them to prove they have a supporting cast fit for a trip to Denver.
• Georgetown at LSU (Wednesday): Yes, Georgetown can't afford many shooting performances like the one Sugar Rodgers had against Maryland on Sunday. But in arguably the team's brightest moment last season, when it pushed Connecticut to the limit on a neutral court in the Sweet 16, Rodgers shot a woeful 3 of 17 from the floor. The rest of the team shot 21-for-45 that day. So as much as we wait to see how Rodgers bounces back against an always-tough LSU defense, we also wait to see how her supporting cast responds (at least outside of Tia Magee, who more than held her own Sunday).
• Penn State at Delaware (Thursday): There is some meat on Delaware's nonconference schedule this season, meaning plenty of opportunities to see Elena Delle Donne against quality opposition. That wasn't so much the case as she poured in 33 points in an opening win against Rhode Island, but this game is the best of all worlds -- a opponent that can challenge her physically but which has little interest in slowing down the game.
• South Dakota State at Middle Tennessee (Thursday): A lot of coaches for successful mid-major programs hold to the principle that it does them little good to play each other, the loser incurring more damage than the winner reaps benefit. That's not the case for South Dakota State's Aaron Johnston and Middle Tennessee's Rick Insell, and the sport is better for it. I'm intrigued to see Ashley Eide's second line after the Jackrabbits junior put up 27 points (with eight turnovers) in a win against Utah State.
The mid-major top 10 returns with the same ground rules. All conferences beyond the BCS six (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) qualify for consideration.
No, Courtney Vandersloot didn't gain additional eligibility. But just as Tennessee won a football national championship the season after Peyton Manning exited, Gonzaga isn't doomed without its All-American. Depth is the reason the Bulldogs will be fine. Few teams in any conference have size like the Bulldogs do in 6-foot-3 sophomore Stephanie Golden, 6-4 freshman Sonja Greinacher (a German youth international who coach Kelly Garves went head-to-head with Louisville to land) and 6-5 freshman Shelby Cheslek. Instant eligibility for Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr is a big backcourt plus.
Key player: Kayla Standish. Seniors Standish and Katelan Redmon give the Bulldogs two established stars, but that doesn't mean Standish, a 6-2 former prep high jump champion, is anywhere close to hitting her ceiling just yet. She's a 20-10-3 (points-rebounds-blocks) threat every time she steps on the court.
Key games: Playing at Stanford on Nov. 13 is the attention grabber, but back-to-back December games against Georgia and Dayton in Las Vegas are the real proving ground.
With just more than 12 minutes to play in its second-round game last season, Temple was within five points of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish went on a run that carried them all the way to Indianapolis, and the Owls went home, but Tonya Cardoza has taken what Dawn Staley turned around and continued crafting a nationally relevant program. A full season of Hofstra transfer Joelle Connelly inside to complement 6-4 Victoria Macaulay means one more way for Temple to frustrate the heck out of opponents defensively.
Key player: Kristen McCarthy. Point guard Shey Peddy drives the Owls, but she needs a partner. McCarthy's shooting efficiency slipped last season, but she's a do-everything forward.
Key games: There is no shortage, including defending champion Texas A&M in the Bahamas and Duke at home on Dec. 30. Road games against Ohio State and Rutgers are also important tests.
Preseason scrimmages are usually fool's gold. Consider Justine Raterman's 10 points in a recent Dayton scrimmage the exception to that rule. Reports early this fall were Raterman was on the leading edge of the typical timeframe for rehabbing a torn ACL, an injury she suffered in last season's NCAA tournament, and her presence on the court in the scrimmage seems to confirm as much. With Raterman, an elite player when healthy, alongisde underrated point guard Patrice Lalor, shot-blocking center Casey Nance and freshman Ally Malott, Dayton has Sweet 16 talent.
Key player: Malott. It's a lot to put on a freshman, but McDonald's All-Americans/Under-18 national team players are rare at this level, even for the semi-major A-10. The Ohio native is a 6-4 talent with an all-court game.
Key games: A trip to Connecticut over Thanksgiving break jumps off the page, but games against Boston College, Illinois and Gonzaga in about a two-week span in December might be more useful measures.
4. Green Bay
Like Gonzaga, Green Bay is eager to prove once-in-a-generation players don't mean once-in-a-generation success. Celeste Hoewisch and Kayla Tetschlag are gone, taking a lot of on-court production and even more leadership with them from a team that reached the Sweet 16 and lost just twice all season. But five of seven rotation players return for a program that, at least statistically, doesn't rely on the individual. With senior Hannah Quilling and juniors Lydia Bauer, Adrian Ritchie and Hannah Quilling around, ball possession and 3-point shooting will remain strengths.
Key player: Julie Wojta. You don't survive as a 6-foot post without being versatile, but Wojta thrives in that role by taking versatility to new levels. She led the Phoenix in assists, defensive rebounds and blocks. A quiet presence, at least in comparison to Tetschlag and Hoewisch, leadership is the next thing she'll be asked to provide.
Key games: Playing Illinois and Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico is the best test against top competition, although the Dec. 23 game at Wisconsin has meaning after the offseason coaching carousel.
5. Florida Gulf Coast
Finally eligible for the NCAA tournament after completing the transition to Division I, Florida Gulf Coast might not waste much time availing itself of the new opportunity. Five of the six main rotation players return from a team that went 28-4 a season ago, including leading scorer Sarah Hansen and 3-point wizard Kelsey Jacobson. Newly eligible Oregon State transfer Brittany Kennedy and a freshman class highlighted by top-100 signee Whitney Knight and Greek foward Anthi Chatzigiakoumi suggest depth won't be an issue.
Key player: Courtney Chihil. Any 5-8 player who leads a team in rebounding (5.8 per game) and leads a conference in assist-turnover ratio (1.89) is worth singling out for attention. The one rotation loss, Shannon Murphy, was a big one, but Chihil could soften the loss. She does everything else.
Key games: It isn't the biggest BCS opponent, but a road game at Seton Hall to open the season is a start and sets the stage for a Nov. 19 showdown at home against Michigan State.
If you're starting to sense that the Atlantic 10, even with Xavier in rebuilding mode, is on another level, you're right. The third A-10 entry in these rankings missed the NCAA tournament a season ago, but won 24 games, beat Ohio State in Columbus and advanced to the third round of the WNIT. Momentum is building for coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. Five players averaged between 8.2 and 12.6 points per game last season, and four of them return, two of them as mere sophomores. A fifth returnee, guard Jocelyn Ford, averaged 4.9 assists and 4.5 steals per 40 minutes.
Key player: Alex Gensler. Sophomores Wumi Agunbiade and Orsi Szecsi are the potential stars with unlimited ceilings, but Gensler is the senior who grabbed a starting spot as a freshman and carved out a heck of a career. A proficient shooter, she's also the kind of player who will be interesting to track as she adjusts to the new 3-point line.
Key games: Duquesne is setting itself up to miss out on NCAA at-large consideration with a weak nonconference schedule, but the final two weeks of December will include West Virginia and Pittsburgh and could include Florida.
They lost consummate point guard Alisa Kresge and went back to the NCAA tournament. They lost all-time leading scorer Rachele Fitz and went back to the NCAA tournament. Now they lose MAAC Player of the Year Erica Allenspach. And yes, they should go back to the NCAA tournament. Coach Brian Giorgis still has Corielle Yarde, the team's leading rebounder at 5-8 and on Allenspach's heels in just about every other category, and a lot of rotation players who gained experience as freshmen and sophomores last season.
Key player: Kristina Danella. The Massachusetts transfer is eligible after sitting out last season and should play a big role. A 6-1 forward, Danella averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds as a sophomore at UMass and has 3-point range.
Key games: An early road trip to Princeton makes for an interesting mid-major clash, but the high-profile tests come around Christmas against Auburn (on a neutral court) and when Kansas State comes to Poughkeepsie on Dec. 29.
South Dakota State proved it's possible for Summit League teams to wedge their way into the national conversation. Oral Roberts is the obvious choice to follow suit this season, but Oakland's defense and ball control could win the day. Led by junior forward Bethany Watterworth (17.9 points per game), the top five scorers return from an Oakland team that won 20 games, led the Summit in field goal defense and finished with a positive assist-turnover ratio last season. Center Brittany Carnago gives the Grizzlies a 6-4 shot-blocking presence few mid-major teams have.
Key player: Watterworth. Mid-major teams can't afford a lot of one-dimensional players, and Watterworth is the kind of all-around star that shines in leagues like the Summit. She averaged nearly a block and steal per game last season, led her team in assists and 3-pointers and finished second in rebounding.
Key games: They won't be long road trips, but bus rides to play Michigan State on Nov. 27 and Purdue on Dec. 20 will give the Grizzlies a chance to compete with the best in the region.
9. Oral Roberts
If nothing else, Oral Roberts is going to be fun to watch. But with five starters and the Summit League's top reserve returning from a team that won a pair of WNIT games, there should be plenty else besides entertainment. The Golden Eagles run, averaging 84.4 points and forcing 23 turnovers per game last season. National scoring and steals leader Kevi Luper (23.7 points per game, 3.7 steals per game) is the embodiment of the team's philosophy.
Key player: Jaci Bigham. Luper is clearly the star of the show, but her backcourt partner since both arrived as freshmen is the X factor. Bigham shot 42.5 percent on 233 3-point attempts as a freshman. That dipped to 31.5 percent on 143 attempts last season, as Jordan Pyle became a bigger part of the offense. Bigham also played through an ACL tear at the end of the season, proving her toughness but delaying the start of her rehabilitation.
Key games: It's a schedule built for a veteran team. The first weekend includes a trip to Wisconsin, and road trips to Houston, Arkansas and Kansas follow, along with home games against Missouri State and Louisiana Tech.
A season can hardly be considered a missed opportunity when it ends with an Ivy League championship and another trip to the NCAA tournament, but Princeton's chance to be a real March sleeper undeniably went by the wayside when leading scorer Niveen Rasheed suffered a season-ending knee injury after 12 games. If she's back to 100 percent alongside three other returning full-time starters and the player who took her place in the starting lineup, the Tigers once again have the look of a team that could exceed the typical Ivy profile.
Key player: Lauren Edwards. Rasheed is obviously a key player, but she's not alone. Princeton won't have Addie Micir, the team's leader in assists and 3-pointers last season. That makes Edwards, a 6-foot guard coming off back-to-back All-Ivy selections, all the more important in both distribution and long-distance shooting.
Key games: In addition to the game against Marist, Princeton welcomes Delaware and DePaul to Jadwin Gym, in addition to a monumental road game at Stanford and more manageable ones at Drexel and Hofstra.
11. Saint Joseph's: The Hawks return all five starters and 95 percent of the scoring from a team that went 20-12 and reached the second round of the WNIT. Five regulars had more assists than turnovers for a ball-control team.
12. Missouri State: It hurts losing Tia Mays, who left the program after averaging six rebounds and three blocks per game in her lone season, but Missouri State returns four starters. Senior Casey Garrison is going for a second MVC player of the year award.
13. Chattanooga: The Mocs should be back after missing the postseason (NCAA or WNIT) for the first time since 1999. Leading scorer Whitney Hood (18.8 ppg), shooter Kayla Christopher (41.2 percent on 3-pointers) and playmaker Tenisha Townsend (3.7 assists, 1.71 assist-turnover ratio) return.
14. Delaware: They have one of the 10 or 15 most talented players in the country, and a returning cast that held its own when that player, Elena Delle Donne, was injured for part of last season. But a team that totaled 297 assists against 568 turnovers still needs to prove it's at least the sum of its parts.
15. TCU: A talented freshman class and Iowa State transfer Whitney Williams will help replace Helena Sverrisdottir and Emily Carter, but losing Starr Crawford for the season with concussion-related issues is a big blow.
Delaware star Elena Delle Donne might be the biggest name in the mid-major ranks, but she's not the only player who bears watching. From established stars to breakthrough candidates, here are 10 players to keep an eye on from beyond the BCS conferences.
Wumi Agunbiade, Duquesne
She didn't receive a lot of attention in the discussion of the nation's best freshmen last season, but it wasn't for a lack of supporting evidence. The 6-foot-2 Canadian did earn Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals for the Dukes (just for good measure, she also hit 16 3-pointers). No other A-10 player ranked in the top 15 in the conference in rebounds, steals and blocks.
Sophia Aleksandravicius, Davidson
A stranger in a strange land (which is to say, a New Yorker in North Carolina), Aleksandravicius is becoming a familiar face when it comes to Big South accolades. A versatile 6-4 forward, she averaged 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.7 steals last season. She's one of just three returning players in Division I who averaged at least three blocks per game last season, joining Baylor's Brittney Griner and Texas' Ashley Gayle. Fouling her won't help, either. After shooting 68.5 percent from the free throw line as a freshman, she improved to 82.6 percent last season.
Brogan Berry, Harvard
Princeton will be difficult to unseat in the Ivy League, particularly if Niveen Rasheed returns at full strength from last season's knee injury, but Berry is going to do her best to give Harvard an opportunity. Specifically, she's going to do her best to get her teammates opportunities. The 5-8 Ohio native averaged 4.6 assists per game as a junior and ranked ninth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. She's not all pass, holding onto the ball often enough to lead the Crimson by averaging 13.6 points per game and shoot 39 percent from the 3-point line.
Casey Garrison, Missouri State
It's not the way anyone wanted her to become the favorite, but the season-ending injury sustained by Northern Iowa standout Jacqui Kalin leaves Garrison as the clear front-runner for top individual honors in the Missouri Valley Conference, an award named in honor of former Missouri State star Jackie Stiles. Although Garrison apparently shrank over the summer, going from 6-foot in last year's media guide to 5-11 this season (old age is catching up to the senior), she remains a big guard (5.7 rebounds, 187 free throw attempts) with a small guard's playmaking eye.
Courtney Hurt, VCU
Even with Dawn Evans gone, Elena Delle Donne isn't the only player in the Colonial Athletic Association who could make a run at All-American honors. Hurt came close to doing just that last season when she averaged 23.2 points per game (second in the nation) and 12.4 rebounds (first in the nation). Short of a potential meeting with Miami in a tournament hosted by the Hurricanes, VCU doesn't have a lot of marquee games on the schedule with which to showcase Hurt, but another season of double-doubles will attract attention.
Kevi Luper, Oral Roberts
Do I hear 1,000 points in a season? It's a possibility for Luper, who scored 806 points last season as a sophomore to lead the nation at 23.7 points per game. The latter has to make her one of the only players to lead the nation in scoring in a season in which her scoring average dropped (she averaged 24.4 points per game as a freshman). She is what she is on the offensive end -- she totaled just 29 assists in 1,179 minutes last season -- but when you shoot 38 percent from the 3-point line and 84 percent from the free throw line, how wise is passing, anyway?
Kamile Nacickaite, Drexel
Schools shifting conferences is all the rage these days, but there's no truth to the rumor that Drexel applied to play in the next European championship. Following in the footsteps of former Drexel standout Gabriela Marginean on a roster that rarely lacks for international flavor, Nacickaite is poised for big things this season. The Lithuanian guard averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season as a junior. She shot an astounding 47.8 percent from the 3-point line on 157 attempts, compared to 40.7 percent on 295 2-point attempts.
Shey Peddy, Temple
Take heart, Eagles fans. Not every new arrival struggles in the City of Brotherly Love. A standout in the Horizon League at Wright State, Peddy had no trouble adjusting to a slightly tougher level of competition in the Atlantic 10 in her first season on the court for the Owls. It's always a good sign when a team's leading scorer also piles up defensive accolades, and Peddy managed both of those things last season. Just to make sure she had all her bases covered, the 5-7 star also led the team in assists and missed doing so on the boards by just three rebounds.
Adrian Ritchie, Green Bay
Phoenix senior Julie Wojta was a strong contender for the Horizon preseason player of the year (that honor went to Youngstown State's Brandi Brown), but last year's Sweet 16 participants need others to step up around her to keep the dynasty healthy. A long-limbed 5-11 guard, Ritchie has the tools for a breakthrough junior campaign. She played through injuries last season but still shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, finished second on the team in 3-pointers despite missing five games and finished with nearly a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Katie Sheahin, Loyola (Md.)
There is life in the MAAC beyond Marist (just don't expect the Red Foxes to give up the conference crown). Loyola's Sheahin was named the league's top defender last season as a sophomore after the 5-10 guard averaged 3.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. There were 21 players in Division I who averaged at least three steals a game last season. Only three of those also blocked at least a shot per game: Sheahin, Appalachian State's Anna Freeman and former Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap. Sheahin also led the Greyhounds in assists and averaged 13.1 points per game.
1. Xavier (21-2, 10-0 Atlantic 10)
There's still a home game against Duquesne, but it looks increasingly like a second consecutive season of A-10 perfection for the Musketeers will come down to the finale at Temple on Feb. 27. Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips get plenty of attention, and deservedly so, but Special Jennings is having an extraordinary senior season. She leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio for a team quietly in the back in that category. With conference perfection on the line, she came up with 19 points and eight assists in a 70-66 overtime victory at Dayton on Feb. 5.
2. Green Bay (24-1, 13-0 Horizon League)
A season ago, Green Bay endured a lost weekend in Chicago. This year, it opened the second half at Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 10 with a 19-2 run en route to an 81-50 victory. Two days later, it led Loyola 42-8 at one point in the first half. And those results came on the heels of an 84-25 victory against Youngstown State in which a first-half shutout appeared to be in play. The Phoenix are playing too well not to bump them up to second, and Xavier shouldn't get too comfortable in the top spot. Celeste Hoewisch was slighted in the Naismith midseason top 30 released recently, but the senior pulse of the team is shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from the 3-point line and 81.6 percent from the free throw line.
3. Marist (23-2, 14-0 MAAC)
It must be nice when winning by double digits constitutes a close call, but Marist has come up with some closer-than-usual victories of late, including an honest-to-goodness nail-biter in a 54-52 win at Fairfield on Feb. 6. That said, the Red Foxes are still winning by an average of 17 points per game, setting up a closing stretch in which three of their final four opponents own winning conference records. Marist's overall 3-point shooting has actually tailed off slightly in conference play, making freshman Leanne Ockenden (44.1 percent from behind the arc in MAAC play) potentially that much more useful off the bench down the stretch.
4. Gonzaga (22-4, 10-0 WCC)
Courtney Vandersloot keeps moving up the charts. The senior recorded career assist No. 1,000 against Pepperdine on Feb. 12, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history -- and the first since 1995 -- to reach quadruple figures. The senior has either scored or assisted on 49 percent of the team's field goals this season. A home game against second-place Saint Mary's looms at the end of the month, but all that otherwise stands between the Bulldogs and a spotless conference record are games against three of the four teams with losing records in WCC play.
5. Temple (19-6, 10-0 Atlantic 10)
The Owls have knocked off Duquesne and St. Bonaventure on the road in the past two weeks, leaving an intra-city trip to Saint Joseph's as the toughest remaining test away from home. Shey Peddy is four rebounds shy of leading the team in points, assists, steals, free throw attempts and rebounds. She does have some ground to cover if she wants to catch Victoria Macaulay for the lead in blocks, so the 5-foot-7 star in her first season in Philadelphia is at least mortal. Even with a potential rematch looming a week later in the conference tournament in Lowell, Mass., the finale against Xavier shapes up as one of the season's most interesting games.
6. Houston (20-4, 11-0 Conference USA)
Houston owns a four-game lead with five to play in Conference USA, so there isn't much math to do in working out the magic number to clinch a title. As always, it's worth noting the team is 19-2 with Courtney Taylor in the lineup. Why is it worth noting? Consider Taylor's 21 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and two blocks on the road against Tulane on Feb. 6. After shooting 39.2 percent in nonconference games, Houston is up to 41.7 percent in league play.
7. Louisiana Tech (18-5, 10-0 WAC)
It has taken five overtimes, including four in two games against Fresno State, but Louisiana Tech is still unbeaten in the WAC. The Lady Techsters lead the league in scoring offense during conference play and have hit at least 85 points in each of their past four games. Points per game is the only major team category Tech leads the league in during conference play, but where other contenders have weak spots the Lady Techsters are near the top in every major category (scoring margin, field goal offense, field goal defense, assist-to-turnover ratio, 3-point offense, etc.).
8. Northern Iowa (19-5, 12-1 Missouri Valley)
The winning streak is at 11 games in conference play for the Panthers, who took a big step toward winning the regular-season title and proving themselves relevant beyond the league by beating Missouri State on the road on Feb. 6 and turning around to beat Creighton at home on Feb. 10. Lizzie Boeck had double-doubles in both victories, while Jacqui Kalin scored 44 points and got to the free throw line 23 times. Northern Iowa now faces three road games in nine days, but those games come against the three teams at the bottom of the standings.
9. James Madison (19-6, 12-1 Colonial)
After starting the season 5-5, including losses against Hampton and Monmouth and a pair of overtime victories against Montana and Central Florida, James Madison heads toward March on firmer ground. Wins at home against Old Dominion on Feb. 6 and at Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 10 put the Dukes out in front in the conference race, although difficult road games remain at Delaware and Hofstra before a home finale against third-place UNC-Wilmington. Boston College transfer Lauren Whitehurst is averaging 8.1 rebounds per game in CAA competition, compared to 4.9 per game prior to conference play.
10. TCU (17-8, 9-2 Mountain West)
TCU trails BYU by a game in the standings, but in a top-heavy league, the Horned Frogs are 3-0 against the only other two teams with winning conference records. The defending champions put a curious two-game slide against New Mexico and Air Force behind them with recent victories against third-place Wyoming, UNLV and San Diego State. Helena Sverrisdottir played 93 minutes combined in those games and turned over the ball a grand total of once.
Next five: Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, Dayton, BYU, Toledo
1. Xavier (17-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10)
The Musketeers appear to be in cruise mode, in the best sense of the term, in the Atlantic 10. They face a challenging two-game road swing this weekend at Dayton and Richmond, but they've won all three of their conference road games to this point by 20-plus points, including an impressive 82-61 victory at Charlotte last week. As much as Xavier returned this season, starting with Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips, it lost a key piece in April Phillips. But in conference play, particularly recently, senior Megan Askew has given Xavier the same rebounding presence April Phillips provided. She's averaging seven rebounds per game over the past five contests.
AP Photo/Matt SlocumLike Xavier, Shey Peddy and the Temple Owls are 6-0 in the Atlantic 10.
2. Marist (19-2, 10-0 MAAC)
It's a sign things are going well when you beat the second-place team in your conference by double digits and face questions about what went wrong. That was the case for Marist after a sloppy second half in a 62-52 victory at home against Loyola. Including that win and a subsequent 70-41 victory at Rider, the Red Foxes have won nine games in a row by double figures and haven't allowed more than 52 points since Jan. 2. And if the game against Loyola wasn't pretty, it did reinforce just what kind of player Erica Allenspach is. With her team needing the production, she totaled 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover.
3. Green Bay (20-1, 9-0 Horizon)
Green Bay put together about as complete a performance as a team can in demolishing rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee 87-39 on Jan. 22 and promptly dropped a spot in both Top 25 polls the following week. But beyond that puzzler, Green Bay passed what looks like its toughest test in the Horizon League with a 66-62 victory at previously unbeaten Butler. With 3-point shooter Adrian Ritchie still out of the lineup with a knee injury, do-everything guard Celeste Hoewisch lived up to that label by hitting 6 of 8 shots from the 3-point line in the two-game swing through Butler and Valparaiso.
4. Gonzaga (19-4, 7-0 WCC)
A 70-49 victory at San Diego on Saturday more or less qualifies as a close call for Gonzaga; the Bulldogs' past four wins came by an average margin of 30.8 points, including a 106-77 victory at Saint Mary's, purportedly Gonzaga's chief competition in the WCC. Courtney Vandersloot totaled 45 assists in four games since these rankings last appeared. And Janelle Bekkering, a key complementary piece for any postseason run, hit 14 of 23 shots in the same span. What hurdles remain don't seem likely to trip the Bulldogs (especially prep hurdler Kayla Standish); Gonzaga plays five of its final seven conference games at home, with only a road swing to last-place San Francisco and sixth-place Santa Clara interrupting the stretch.
5. Temple (15-6, 6-0 Atlantic 10)
As well as Xavier is playing, it can't claim to be the only unbeaten team in the Atlantic 10. Unbeaten Temple gets a test Saturday at Duquesne, but it added an impressive 84-56 home victory against Richmond to its profile on Saturday. Wright State transfer Shey Peddy seems to be coming into her own in conference play. Through six league games, Peddy leads the team in free throw attempts, assists and steals, owns a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and is averaging 14.3 points per game, up from 12.1 out of conference. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kristen McCarthy's shooting percentages are also up noticeably in A-10 play.
6. Duquesne (18-3, 5-1 Atlantic 10)
A home loss against Richmond on Jan. 19 put a slight damper on Duquesne's rise, but the team bounced back to win the games it should against La Salle, George Washington and Fordham over the past two weeks. That sets up an opportunity to follow up earlier road victories at Ohio State and Dayton with a big home meeting with Temple this weekend. The game against the Owls will be a matchup of guards on the rise, with Duquesne's Vanessa Abel squaring off against Peddy. A stat-stuffer in everything but points prior to conference play, Abel is averaging 11 points per game in A-10 competition.
7. Louisiana Tech (15-5, 7-0 WAC)
A familiar name makes its first appearance. Louisiana Tech got off to a slow start this season without Shanavia Dowdell, but the past month has been a major success. After a victory against Georgia and narrow loss against Marquette in Miami just before New Year's, Tech opened 2011 with a win against Southern Miss and seven victories in a row in WAC play, including a triple-overtime win at Fresno State on Jan. 13, a 24-point victory against Nevada on Jan. 24 and a successful swing through Idaho this past weekend. All of which sets up Saturday's rematch with Fresno State. Adrienne Johnson ranks first in scoring, fifth in rebounding and third in steals in the WAC.
8. Houston (17-4, 8-0 Conference USA)
It's almost worth noting above that Houston is also 16-2 with Courtney Taylor in the lineup. Then again, Houston was also 36 seconds from being 16-5 overall. Down six points with that much time remaining on the clock in Sunday's game against SMU, Houston scored 11 points in a row for a 72-67 victory. A two-time member of the Conference USA all-defensive team, Taylor might have to fend off a challenge from within this season. Teammate Lesslee Mason had five blocks and three steals against SMU and is averaging 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2.2 steals per game.
9. Dayton (14-7, 5-2 Atlantic 10)
February is a short month, but it's going to offer more than enough to prove once and for all what Dayton is this season. The fun starts Wednesday with a trip to St. Bonaventure, never an easy trek and never an easy team to play. That sets up Saturday's rematch with Xavier after the Flyers pushed the Musketeers to the wire in Cincinnati on Jan. 9. And if that's not enough, trips to Charlotte and Temple loom before the month is three weeks old. The Flyers took care of business building up to this stretch, winning their past four games by double digits, including a 66-55 victory at Richmond on Jan. 22. Worth watching is that as Dayton's pace has slowed against conference foes, its torrid early 3-point shooting has also cooled.
10. Northern Iowa (15-5, 8-1 Missouri Valley)
Granted, Northern Iowa hit a favorable patch of scheduling in recent weeks, but the Missouri Valley leader is doing exactly what needs to be done with a gift like that. Against Evansville, Southern Illinois and Bradley in the team's three most recent games, Northern Iowa has three victories by 24 or more points and has not allowed an opponent to reach 40 points. Not to mention the Panthers already have wins against the two teams tied for second, Creighton and Missouri State. They shoot the 3-pointer often and accurately, value possession and turn over opponents. That's a tried-and-true formula.
Next five: Middle Tennessee, Florida Gulf Coast, TCU, Princeton, Toledo