Women's Nat'l Basketball Report

Credit: Mark Campbell, UD Athletics Media Relations Photo
Credit: Mark Campbell, UD Athletics Media Relations Photo

George Rodecker, National Women's Columnist

John Wooden once said, "To me, the best pure basketball I see today... is among the better women's teams."

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First thought on the way in

The media driven focus of WBB has always been on the title contenders with little concern for the remaining 300+ plus schools that also play Division I basketball.  At least that’s my view.  So this issue is devoted to and focused on the schools in the smaller, less covered world of WBB.  Some names, specifically Elena Delle Donne will be familiar to most of you, but Megan Herbert, Jessica Jenkins and Kevi Luper (who I've mentioned often this year) may not be.  Nor will the overall success of programs such as Central Arkansas, Appalachian State, UTEP and others.  Don’t forget your opportunity to be heard at @RoadieRodecker on Twitter.  I will answer every tweet!

Spotlight #1

What Saint Bonaventure has accomplished as a mid-major is totally amazing.  Head Coach Jim Crowley has taken a “Moneyball” approach to developing the Bonnie program and that plan is proving to be pure genius.  To some, driving through Olean, New York is like a drive well off the beaten path, and a stop off at SBU is a drive off the beaten path of the beaten path.  Often, talking a prospective student/athlete into choosing between Olean and say, Boston, Philadelphia, or even Washington, D.C. isn’t even close.  There just aren’t as many things to do in Olean.  But perhaps that explains the success of Crowley’s team in the focus they seem to have.  Currently, the Bonnies are ranked 22/25 and for the season sit at 25-2/12-0 with the opportunity to make some history, running the remainder of the A-10 schedule for their first ever league title and an undefeated one at that.   Saint Bonaventure has never made it past the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 Tournament and has their best opportunity in school history to not only accomplish that but reach a step or two further and secure the first ever NCAA bid in school.  Crowley relies on Megan Van Tatenhove (most recent A-10 Player of the Week) and Jessica Jenkins for the bulk of the firepower, but it’s the Bonnies defense which fires up their offense.  St. Bonaventure also leads the nation in protecting the ball, averaging a meager 12 turnovers per contest. 

In a future column I’ll bring you the full understanding about adopting “Moneyball” for non-BCS WBB in an interview I conducted with Head Coach Jim Crowley. 

Meanwhile the Buffalo News had a solid piece recently on the latest Bonnie victory.  You can read it <<HERE>>.  

Spotlight #2

When most people think of Sugar Bears, I’m guessing that the breakfast cereal or the lyrics from an Elton John song come to mind.  But if you’re a fan of WBB the Sugar Bears of Central Arkansas SHOULD!  Among the most overlooked squads in the nation, their leading scorer is one of 25 players in Division I averaging a double-double, something Baylor’s Brittany Griner can’t lay claim to.  The record of 21-5 is a strong indicator of their overall success and they can be proud of having the best record in the basketball rich State of Arkansas.  They’re 13-0 this season at home and lead the Southland Conference with an 11-1 mark.  As they look to claim their first ever Southland championship it is really worth noting and stopping to realize that they are only two seasons since completing the ridiculous four year reclassification period into Division I. It will nonetheless be the Sugar Bears third consecutive 20+ win season for Head Coach Matt Daniels, whose preseason goal was to “Hit Blackjack” and net 21 wins for the third straight year.

Meanwhile, the team is led by Megan Herbert (courtesy Josh Goff/ Central Arkansas) who we profiled a few weeks back.  She has been named conference Player of the Week for three consecutive weeks this season giving her five for the season and 12 for her career.  She’s rapidly climbing up the record lists and already she has 60 career double-doubles: 13 of which have come this year.  The 60 she’s netted to date have busted the old Southland record of 29, and Herbert has pulled into a tie with UConn great Rebecca Lobo.  Her career numbers: 18.8 points and 11.8 rebounds has her well positioned to climb to even higher heights before her storied career comes to a close after next season. 

Perhaps the most sensational of all her numbers is what she does playing against big time conferences.  He career marks are 19.3 points, 13.5 rebounds while shooting 47.2 from the floor.

People easily dismiss schools just arriving at Division I as doormats and patsies.  Don’t tell that to Indiana and Alabama who fell to Central Arkansas earlier this season.

Overtime

Unless you live in El Paso, Texas or root for a WBB team that plays in Conference USA, chances are that you’ve either not heard of – or paid any much attention to:  The University of Texas at El Paso or UTEP.  Your loss, because this team, currently 24-2/13-0 in a rather competitive conference, can also already boast of the number one seed at the conference championships come March.

An extremely deep squad in which 12 players collect at least 12 minutes of play, Head Coach Keitha Adams (photo courtesy UTEP Athletic Department) has molded the talent together necessary to challenge for the automatic bid from Conference USA.  Currently riding a 14 game winning streak, the Miners live and breathe off their defense.  Fourth nationally in FG% defense as well as three point defense, they are also eighth in block margins, 12th in scoring defense, 15th in glass cleaning margin and 16th in overall scoring margin.  Any big time schools out there want to travel to El Paso next year for a pre-season battle?  I wouldn’t think so!

The oddity in all this is that UTEP is such an outsider in both the AP Poll and the USATODAY/ESPN Poll: 28th in the latter and 31st in the former.  The Rodney Dangerfield of Conference USA may collect snickers from the elitists now but heaven help them in the post-season matching up against these Miners.

Around the Conferences

Expect to hear big and bigger things from Pacific’s Kendall Kenyon.  The 6-2 freshman center dropped 18 points and collected 11 rebounds in a win over UC Riverside and came back with a 22 point-7 board effort against UC Irvine.  For the two games, Kenyon shot a stunning 80% from the floor in garnering her first ever Big West Player of the Week award.

Over in the WAC, Louisiana Tech’s Shantale Bramble-Donaldson picked up her first ever Player of the Week honors in a two win week for the Lady Techsters.  After a 12 & nine output against Utah State, SBD came right back and helped insure the teams second road win of the week with a 25 & 14 effort against Idaho in compiling her seventh double-double of the season.

The Missouri Valley Conference selected Shannon Thomas of Indiana State as their Player of the Week after she delivered back-to-back double-doubles in a two win week.  The senior center contributed 24 points while cleaning the glass 11 times against Bradley, and then dropped 13 points while collecting a season high 18 rebounds and a career high five assists versus Northern Illinois.

In the MAAC, Loyola, Md. senior guard Miriam McKenzie was recognized as Player of the Week after back-to-back solid wins.  In the win over Iona she netted 22 points and 11 boards while playing all 40 minutes.  Then she came back with 18 and six against Fairfield, with much of her contributions coming in the final minutes of play.

Down in the Big South Dequesha McClanahan of Winthrop captured Player of the Week after going wild while leading the Eagles to a double win week.  First against Gardner-Webb she dropped 25 points and five assists.  Then she upped the production even further with 28 points another 5 helpers as well as three steals and a pair of boards versus UNC Asheville.  The sophomore guard is the first player in Eagle history to reach 800 points before their junior campaign.

Last thoughts on the way out

I’ve been waiting all season long for my trip to Hofstra to watch the visiting Blue Hens of Delaware battle the Pride.  Obviously I was there to watch and see the phenomenon known as EDD or Elena Delle Donne (Mark Campbell, UD Athletics Media Relations Photo).  The nation's leading scorer with 28.1 points per game also grabs 10.5 boards and blocks 2.6 shots per contest and wait – it gets better want to play “Hack-a-Shaq”?.  The lady is a blistering 89.6% from the line.  Delle Donne will also get you long: 42.7% and passes out of all the double and triple teams, collecting nearly three assists per game.

In the Hofstra game, I was amazed at how much contact she absorbs, getting few calls and never complaining.  She just played on.  After a triple team pounding in the beginning of the second half, she merely stepped outside and started raining threes on Hofstra.  On a couple of occasions she brought the ball upcourt and ran the offense at the point.  I was witness to her taking her man off the dribble, driving the lane and connecting on a lay-up.  She did it more than once.  The lady is 6-5.  She can play all five positions on the floor and play each of them very, very well.  I came away amazed at what I saw.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing Brittany Griner live and when choosing up sides, my very first pick is Elena Delle Donne – 10 out of 10 times.  There is no one like or as good as the Delaware junior and if you ever get the opportunity to see her play DO NOT pass it up.

Doug Feinberg, the fine AP WBB writer had a solid piece last week on former Boston College star Clare Droesch, who is battling breast cancer.  These past few weeks there’s been a pronounced focus on breast cancer as all Division I schools have participated in Play4Kay honoring Kay Yow the former college coach who succumbed to the disease recently.  (In fact, I kept running to the dry cleaner with my one and only pink shirt so I could show my support as well.)  You can catch Doug’s fine work here: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/womens-basketball/news?slug=ap-droesch-cancer

Next week, we’ll take a look at another unnoticed team: the Mountaineers of Appalachian State who sit atop the Southern Conference along with Davidson.  The Mountaineers are 21-4/15-2 and are making some noise over in Boone, North Carolina.  I was able to spend some time talking with Head Coach Darcie Vincent and Vincent is an intelligent, articulate coach with some important things to say about the current state of her team as well as college women’s basketball.

See you all next week –

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