Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cleaning Out the 2006 Basket

Guru's Note: Well, Not Quite.

We're still waiting to see if there will be room print-side to review 2006 sometime in the next few days before we do it here.

But first, off the cutting-room floor, here is the original medium-sized story on Saturday's Villanova win, with quotes, over Manhattan at the Pavilion. The print version for Sunday editions was chewed up by space limitations.

By Mel Greenberg


Villanova junior Stacie Witman won’t be hanging out with the masses in New York City’s Times Square Sunday night to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

The Plymouth Whitemarsh graduate took Manhattan in her own celebratory way Saturday afternoon without leaving home.

Witman scored a career-high 23 points to help the Wildcats (6-7) gain a relatively easy 62-46 nonconference victory over Manhattan's Jaspers (4-8) at the Pavilion.

By halftime, she had 15 points to surpass her previous high of 10 points, which she scored against Temple two seasons ago.

Jackie Adamshick had 13 points as the only other ’Nova player in double figures.

Gabrielle Cottrell and Michelle Pacheco each scored 11 points for Manhattan (4-8).

Witman’s milestone came in her second game back after being sidelined over a month with a stress fracture in her lower left leg.

The injury was discovered after the season-opening loss to Delaware.

“Coming off the other night, we needed a big win and we needed to play hard from the beginning,” Witman said, referring to the 61-54 loss at home Thursday night to Loyola of Maryland.

In that game, Witman’s return from injury was marked by a miserable 0-for-5 effort from the field.
Saturday, she shot 8 for 11

“I’m one of the upperclassmen and I have to lead by example on the floor,” Witman said. “It was hard sitting there (with the injury). Coming back, I just wanted to help the team.”

Villanova led all the way Saturday but didn’t really control the action until the last six minutes of the half, when the Wildcats built a double-digit advantage and entered the break ahead by 32-19.

“We’re struggling so much, it’s just good to play well in any game,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said.

With Witman sidelined, Adamshick and Lisa Carcic had been his only two consistent scoring options.

“I told her she’s a big person for us,” Perretta said. “When she got injured, it really hurt us. It’s not even the fact she got the 23 points, which was major. What she does is help the rotation. Lisa and Jackie, instead of playing 39 minutes, can play 34 and get a breather. And Stacie’s a pretty good offensive rebounder.”

illanova next travels to St. Joseph’s for a Big Five game at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

After that, the remainder of the schedule will be against rugged Big East opponents.

“It’s going to be tough,” Perretta said. “There may be only four games in which you can say that we’ll be the favorite.”

Year-End Chatter

We're hearing from several WNBA-types making their way around the country studying the collegiate talent for the next draft that the Charlotte Sting, which is now technically once again under league ownership, will be dispersed rather than moved outright to another city for the 2007 season.

If that holds up, the Phoenix Mercury could end up with the likes of Monique Currie, Tammy Sutton-Brown, or Janelle McCarville, which could be an added bonus in the hunt for a post player that at the moment will either come out of the draft or through a trade of the No. 1 pick if the Mercury could get the value the franchise seeks.

On the other hand, other WNBA mangement types have said they have yet to hear anything official from league headquarters. All acknowledge, however, the conversation that has been occurring in speculative dialogue at several internet sites.

We'll stay on the case.

On the college scene, score Old Dominion's win at home in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, over Rutgers as a major triumph that could right things for the Monarchs heading into CAA competition.

And also score it a major setback for the Scarlet Knights, who had appeared to begin to get some consistency in recent weeks. We haven't seen details as of this writing because we just remembered to check the scores after having been slightly busy working another turn on the desk.

The setback would be more serious for Rutgers down the road at NCAA time if Old Dominion doesn't make its annual dominating run in its conference and the Scarlet Knights are teetering on the bubble, come March.

But there is plenty of healthy food on the Big East table for Rutgers to get nourished and shake off Saturday's game.

On the other hand, the rising star at the moment appears to be George Washington, which won a tournament out West, upsetting No. 11 Georgia in the process.

We caught up with Colonials coach Joe McKeown, recovering from surgery to his leg from a recent injury sustained at practice. He did not make the trip out West. It was noted that when people had said ahead of the game in California he didn't have a leg to stand on against Georgia, apparently the remark didn't apply to his players.

McKeown is the same Joe McKeown you Philly readers remember selling hot dogs at Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium when he was a high school student here at Father Judge.

Looking at GW's high RPI right now, that will remaing high in the nonconference RPI category no matter what happens to the overall number off Atlantic Ten competition, McKeown's group could land a nice seed come March.

We didn't check in Friday due to having to tidy-up another story with our business page colleague Suzette Parmley that is running in Sunday's sports section.

You'll find it at Phily.com as we offer our home internet site the opportunity to get some extra visits.

But back to Friday, our recent streak of narrow outcomes in games we cover, was back in motion again with South Florida scoring sensation Jessica Dickson beating the regulation clock to force overtime and then beating the shot clock near the end of the extra period to deprive St. Joseph's the chance for gaining a big upset in the championship game of the Hawk Classic at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.

Then it was down to the Palestra where Temple extended its Big Five win streak to 12 straight by pulling away from Penn in the second half.

The two longest City Series win streaks in the women's round robin both belong to St. Joseph's at 14 and 15. Temple can match the 14 by beating La Salle and the Hawks to make it three straight 4-0 triumphs for Big Five titles.

On that note, we hear the restaurants of Chinatown harkening to our late-nite appetite.

Oh, and the blackberry replacement finally arrived so we are back in technological synch for those of you in the working world who deal with us through various devices.

As she promised, Erin will be providing you content all week leading into the UConn-Tennessee showdown Saturday in Hartford.

That's if for now.

-- Mel

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Huskies of Honor Part One

By Erin Semagin Damio

STORRS, CONN. -- I recently had the opportunity to attend the “Huskies of Honor” ceremony at Uconn. The women’s basketball program honored the 10 All-Americans that have graduated from the program with plaques and banners inside Gampel Pavilion. The list included Kerry Bascom, Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters, Nykesha Sales, Shea Ralph, Svetlana Abrosimova, Swin Cash, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi. Coach Geno Auriemma was also honored with a banner and plaque.

At the ceremony, after a game against Colorado State University, each honoree made a short speech, her accomplishments were listed, and her banner was unveiled. The current Uconn team was able to be a part of the ceremony by pulling the covering down from each banner.

The players were all thrilled to be a part of the ceremony. Jennifer Rizzotti was one of many who expressed the same sentiment.

“I think it’s an honor for all of us,” Rizzotti said. “I think all of us feel that being a part of this has done a lot for our lives. It’s tough to be singled out as only one of 10 because I think so many great players have gone before us or after us that deserve the same recognition, so I feel honored to be up here with nine other great players, but I think probably all of us would say that more important was being a part of what we had here. The teammates that we played with and the championship that we won will probably always mean more than an individual award.”

Over the next few days (leading up to the Uconn-Tennessee game in Hartford January 6) I’ll be posting the players’ speeches in their entirety from the event, as well as information from their careers, and other interesting stuff pulled from the events of the ceremony. This is the first installment.

Kerry Bascom

Unfortunately, Kerry Bascom’s acceptance speech was not recorded. However, it is important to honor and remember Bascom, who was the first All-American in the women’s basketball program at Uconn.

Bascom played at Uconn from 1987 to 1991…finished her career as Uconn’s all-time leading scorer with 2, 177 career points…Led Uconn to its first Big East championships in 1989, 1990, and 1991…Three-time Big East Player of the Year, member of first team, and member of all-tournament team…Kodak first team All-American in 1991 when she led Uconn to its first Final Four appearance…

Earned many other accolades, like Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year in 1991, and was a member of the gold medal team in the World University Games in 1991…Bascom’s banner was unveiled by freshman guard Jacquie Fernandes…Not her speech, but here’s some of what Bascom and others had to say…

Kerry Bascom: “I think to be put in a class with all the women that are here with me tonight, trying to compare myself – no, they were much better than I was. So to part of that tradition…”

Jennifer Rizzotti was trying to explain what her University of Hartford team needed to become break through to the next level and finally said, “We’ve got to get Kerry Bascom.”

Rebecca Lobo said Bascom was instrumental in her decision to attend the University of Connecticut, saying that she had wanted to help build a program, but she “didn’t want to build it from scratch.”

“I loved to watch her play,” Lobo said. “It was kind of how I played in high school. I wanted to play somewhere where I could shoot threes, it wasn’t just rebounding and blocking. That’s exactly what she was. I wanted to have a little bit of my game be what hers was.”

Rebecca Lobo

Kerry Bascom laid the groundwork, but Lobo is often cited as the player to put Uconn basketball on the map…Uconn student—athlete from 1991 to 1995, and a first team All-American in 1994 and 1995…also a Rhodes scholar at Uconn…

Led Huskies to first undefeated season and national championship in 1994-1995, when she was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and the National Collegiate Player of the Year…Big East Conference’s Player of the Year in 1994 and 1995…

Drafted to New York Liberty as part of the inaugural WNBA class and played seven WNBA seasons…currently does women’s basketball reporting for ESPN…Lobo’s banner was uncovered by Uconn freshman center Tina Charles…her speech:

“I’m going to be as short as possible because my soon-to-be-2-year-old daughter is crying her eyes out over there, but I just want to say thank you very much, especially to all the fans. I remember playing all my home games right here in Gampel Pavilion for my four years here, and I’m very thankful for this.

“I’m most thankful for the placement, and who I have on each side of me – Kerry Bascom who started it all here at the University of Connecticut and just embodies everything that Connecticut basketball is all about, and the player next, Jen Rizzotti, who has embodied the heart and soul of what Connecticut basketball is all about.

“And thank you very much to Coach Auriemma. When I was here, every day, for the most part, he told me I was the worst post player in America. I’m just happy that he just told me that this year he has the five worst post players in America.”

Jennifer Rizzotti

Jen Rizzotti played at Uconn from 1992 to 1996, and was point guard on the undefeated 1994-1995 team…

First team All-American in 1995 and 1996…1995-1996 National Collegiate Player of the Year…1995-1996 Big East Conference Player of the Year…Dean’s List student at Uconn

Played professionally with the Houston Comets and New England Blizzard…currently coaches at the University of Hartford, where she is the winningest coach in school history…Uconn freshman guard Meghan Gardler unveiled Rizzotti’s banner…her speech:

“Rebecca’s a tough act to follow, but my only hope is Kara’s after me, so I think I’ll be alright.

“I just want to thank my family, my parents that are here, my husband and my son, and probably my most loyal fan ever, my brother Tom. I just wanted to thank the fans here at Gampel, and all the fans that supported us throughout the years, the players that went before us that paved the way, my teammates…couldn’t have done it without you J.J. …

“C.D., and Tonya, and Coach Auriemma, you built a program the right way here obviously and I plan to model everything I do after you guys in Hartford, because I’m so proud to be a former Husky. Thank you for building a program and having me be a part of it… Thanks and good luck!”

Kara Wolters

Kara Wolters was also a member of the undefeated 1994-1995 team, playing at Uconn from 1993-1997…garnered first team All-American honors in 1996 and 1997…

Wolters was the National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1997…also the Big East Conference Player of the Year the same year…Big East Championship Most Outstanding Player in 1995 and 1996

Wolters played professionally in the ABL for the New England Blizzard and earned a gold medal as part of the United States Olympic team in 2000…currently works for WTIC Radio, where she does play-by-play for Uconn games…banner was unveiled by another Uconn “big,” freshman Kaili McLaren…Wolters’ speech:

“I’m at a loss for words after Jen Rizzotti! Unbelievable! Wow! I’ll be quick – I know the young guys can’t wait to get the microphone back there.

“It’s an honor to be a part of our inaugural class. The thing about it is that so many great players have come through this program, and … just to represent this amazing place, it’s just such an honor.

“Coach Auriemma has not only developed us as basketball players, but he’s developed us as people, as women, as we go in our directions… It’s not just a basketball program, it’s family, and everything that he’s taught us on-the court, off-the court, has really increased the respect I have for Kerry Bascom, for Meagan Pattyson, and the way that the younger guys have us to lean on – it’s a family. It’s a sisterhood, and I honor the chance to be a part of this sisterhood at Uconn, and these guys have our support up there. Thanks you guys!”

Friday, December 29, 2006

Day and Night With The Guru

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ As Jonathan indicated in the post just below this 24 hours or so ago, the Guru had a busy day Thursday working the St. Joseph's tournament opener in the afternoon and then dashing off to the sensitivity class at night, which featured yet another dynamic win by the Drexel men, who turned back CAA-rival George Mason, the team that went to the Final Four.

Afterwards, we indicated to Drexel coach Bruiser Flint that if he keeps this up, we may need to make him one of the escorts for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Knoxville in June.

Speaking of Drexel, if you know how a DVD package gives you alternative endings, The Guru now brings you an alternative beginning. This was the lede to the early edition story, much of which was actually composed before the game got under way and then we waited until the outcome to swing the result. Where we did that will be obvious.

By Mel Greenberg

They had made emphatic statements about their worthiness to opponents from the Big Five and the powerful Big East Conference.

Last night, it was time for the Drexel Dragons to deal with one of their own.

Drexel opened its Colonial Athletic Association season against George Mason, the team that was the talk of the nation last spring when it made a Cinderella run to the Final Four.

The Dragons, however, are the new topic in college basketball circles, as validated by last night’s standing-room-only crowd in the 2,500-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center in West Philadelphia.

Fans crammed into the small arena last night to see just how the Dragons, a third-place preseason pick in the CAA, would measure up against the team chosen just above them.

Quite well, thank you.

The Dragons rolled from a 30-28 halftime lead to a 61-49 victory over the Patriots, extending their win streak to seven games.

Senior perimeter sharpshooter Dominick Mejia scored 20 points for Drexel (9-2 overall), including six three-pointers, to lead the Dragons. Frank Elegar added 12 points, and Tramayne Hawthorne scored 10. Chaz Crawford grabbed 14 rebounds.Will Thomas led George Mason (5-5) with 19, and Folarin Campbell scored 11 points.

(Running then existed the rest of the way).

Meanwhile, so Jonathan can get credit for drawing traffic to Philly.com, here's the link to the final edition Drexel print story that's sitting over there.

Meanwhile, over at St. Joseph's, the Hawks had an easy time with Northeastern, while South Florida didn't get control of Vermont until early in the second half.

In another part of the area Thursday night, while we were doing our thing at Drexel, out on the Main Line, former St. Joseph's women's assistant Joe Logan, who now coaches Loyola of Md., led his squad to an upset of Villanova. On his last visit, his team beat the Drexel women.

We'll be back at St. Joseph's Friday afternoon and then head down to Penn for Friday night's Big Five women's matchup with Temple, which will be going for its 12th straight City Series win.

Elsewhere, Erin expects to be checking in with you all the next several days offering full text transcripts from all the speeches at last week's All-America tribute at Connecticut after the Huskies beat Colorado State.

Both of us will be in the house in Hartford next Saturday when Connecticut renews its rivalry with Tennessee.

Somewhere in the neighborhood Thursday night, Kate's heart was probably pounding with joy as her beloved Rutgers actually won a bowl game.

On Saturday we'll be at Villanova for the Wildcats' game with Manhattan.

On the technological side of things, the Guru's new blackberry that replaced the previous dysfunctional model quickly became disfunctional itself. Not to worry. Although we're temporarily out of 24/7 mode with our email -- we'll have laptop access at St. Joseph's -- the replacement for the replacement is due to arrive sometime Friday.

All the addresses were saved to the laptop, so there is no crises. Those who communicate with the Guru on his company cell can continue to do so.

So that's it for now unless another episode of administrative eyes appears if he catches glitches in this transmission written off the top of the Guru's brain [consider it done - Ed.].

We'll be back later in the day. We'll also try to check in with one of our friendly WNBA GMs to find out what's new with Charlotte unless events overtake this.

And if any of you followers think you can what it takes to be a public address announcer this summer at Connecticut Sun games, there's a vacancy so contact them if you have interest.

-- Mel

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Administrative Interlude

By Jonathan Tannenwald

Greetings from behind the scenes, as I emerge with early-morning news of Mel's latest story. For various reasons, both he and I are up this early in the morning, which doesn't often happen, but Mel asked me to find and post his Drexel advance story that he referred to in his most recent post.

You can find it here. The game, for those of you who care about the men's side, is generating quite a bit of buzz in town. If I had to put my prognosticating cap on, I'd certainly favor Drexel in this one as they're at home and Mason has lost a good bit of its talent from last year's Final Four team. Nonetheless, this is one of the marquee games of the season in the CAA, a conference whose stock continues to rise both on the men's and women's sides of the game. Those of you in the Northeast can see the game on TV on CN8 tonight at 7 p.m.

On the women's side, Mel will also be covering the Northeastern-St. Joe's women's game on Hawk Hill (the local nickname for the St. Joe's campus) this afternoon at 2 p.m. I am sure he will have more to say about that on here later.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The AP's Voting Link for Week Eight Ballots

By Mel Greenberg

Greetings all on this short note.

For those of you who haven't bookmarked the last post, here is the AP Voting Link again for how ballots were casted in this week's poll.

The Guru is staying short this time while doing a Wednesday night stint on the desk. But we'll be on the scene with our gender-equity class Thursday night when the Drexel men, the city's hottest team, hosts George Mason in the Colonial Athletic Association opener.

Although Delaware went 3-0 against Big Five women's teams since the start of the season and Drexel went 3-1 against Big Five men's teams, the conference isn't planning psuedo trophies at the post-season dinners.

It was the first-ever for Drexel to beat three Big Five'ers in the same season, including a first-ever win over Villanova.

That said, it's back to the Guru's main salaried job. However, for those who have begun following us on the crossover, we have an online advance on the Drexel men at Philly.com for the George Mason game that couldn't be fitted into print because of space.

Ray Parrillo included Drexel in the print version in his overall advance.

-- Mel

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Illusions Abound During The Holiday Break

Guru's note: Before we embark on the following tome, perhaps because of the holiday, we note that although the Associated Press poll was released Monday, the site where the link to individual voting leads still had last week's balloting on the page.

We'll see what Tuesday brings and then we'll toss another quick link late in the day because we won't be near a computer until then.

Now, on with the inspired commentary.

By Mel Greenberg

Well that time has arrived during the shutdown period when we try to get some idea how things are shaping up heading into conference competition.

In the good old days where everything seemed to exist in layers, we could quickly spot who had earned insurance policies worth holding when March Madness rolls around and just needs to avoid serious stumbles the rest of the way.

Conversely, this is when we can notice who needs to step it up quickly and get back in the hunt, not only for a ticket to the ball in March but also for the better seats in the house.

Well, folks, it is quite foggy out there right now and not just because we're experiencing some above-normal temperatures outside here in the Northeast with the official recent arrival of winter.

There is a belief that some of this uncertainty has been caused by what teams did with those two extra games the NCAA added to regular-season schedules.

Some people added some meat to their plate. Others stayed on snack side of things. And still others stayed away period, in part because they couldn't scramble fast enough to produce the right navigational charts in the front part of the season.

Thus those Ratings Percentage Index numbers (RPI) are good for pre-game notes, but this time the NCAA committee might be right in terms of limiting the previous high importance of those rankings.

Looking at standings, the numbers and what actually is in uniform on the floor seem to be more out of synch than in the past.

This week's poll produced a rarity with the Atlantic Coast Conference going 1-2-3 at the top, which only occured twice before in the 31-year history of the rankings, and both times by Southeastern Conference squads.

However, it is difficult to determine how much weight that kind of power can add to the rest of the ACC.

The Big East also is interesting in that the conference has five schools represented. But look a little closer. Three of those schools, which arrived last season, are actually former competitors in Conference-USA.

Among the traditional members, Connecticut is making a move to be among the best in the nation. We'll know more beginning Jan. 6 when Tennessee visits Hartford. Pittsburgh, a former longtime doormat, is having its best season to date. The lone loss was to Duke. A double-test involving Rutgers and Pittsburgh will occur on Jan. 6 when the two meet in Piscataway.

Rutgers, off injuries, a young roster and a rugged nonconference schedule, recently fell out of the rankings. Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer recently talked about the need to return soon to be in the NCAA discussion down the stretch.

But the poll, which is actually meaningless to the NCAA committee when it deliberates, reflects the action most times. Thus, Rutgers has the tools through the Big East to succeed if it gets to the upper group by late January.

Meanwhile, those other three Big East members - DePaul, Marquette, and Louisville _ all were once NCAA contenders out of Conference USA.

Here's quick thoughts at the conferences off the CollegeRPI site.

The Atlantic Coast. Someone could make a name for themselves by upsetting one or more of the top three -- defending NCAA champion Maryland, North Carolina, and Duke. The next thing will be to see who can dominate everyone else. It's very difficult now to project total numbers.

America East. It looks like a one-team deal but Hartford might be considered at-large material if it dominates the regular season and falls short in the tournament.

Atlantic Ten. Pre-season favorite George Washington is holding an NCAA ticket right now barring some startling upset losses to conference teams not considered in the hunt. Three-time defending NCAA champion Temple has a competitive RPI number off playing four ACC teams but will need to be in the top three heading into March. Xavier has been on a roller-coaster. La Salle has the best record in the league in terms of wins and losses, but the Explorers will have to pass those conference tests ahead to be in the hunt. Others will have to put together some kind of streak to start catching attention.

Big 12. Here's an illusion for you and the kind of dilemma that would exist if it were later in the season. Oklahoma has an RPI of 40. Now, off that, we'd be forecasting a seed from fourth to seventh. But when one considers the Sooners' talent, that prediction is out of whack. Of course, another huge conference run can do all the talking. Baylor also seems NCAA-bound. We know more will come from here, but, again, the conference race will determine the pecking order.

Big 10. Ohio State and Purdue seem solid and Michigan State could be right there, also, by being in the top three. Others will have to get some wins against that trio and also fight to become the dominate fourth and, if necessary, fifth teams. Yeah, Indiana has a nice RPI number, but the Hoosiers will have to draw some attention within the conference.

Big East. Well, the five poll teams are all in the hunt. Pittsburgh's non-conference RPI is vastly improved. Rutgers has an outside game of interest, Saturday, with a trip to Old Dominion.
Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and South Florida need to cause a free-for-all in the upper group. Providence and Georgetown have improvement but bad numbers. Some conference upsets could improve things.

Colonial. Old Dominion, an overwhelming preseason favorite it 3-7, which is why the Rutgers visit is huge in long-range terms for the Monarchs. If Hofstra and Delaware, with impressive non-conference wins, could keep it up, this could be a time that the CAA will get multiples at the expense of some other conference. Keep an eye on James Madison. Towson has a nice record but needs to make some conference noise, judging by its RPI number.

Conference USA. The best C-USA teams are alumni now in the Big East, but we'll cause a discussion here to say we don't know if multiples are possible. Tulane and Rice need to run a 1-2 race. Everyone else needs to get after the duo we just mentioned.

Mid-American. Bowling Green could get an at-large bid if it doesn't prevail in March. But it will have to avoid upset losses to weaker teams.

Missouri Valley. We're giving them a paragraph to just to say hard times have occurred here. Normally a multiple representative conference, it's hard to imagine an at-large bid given to anyone now. But, we'll see.

Mountain West. Some nice computer numbers but not a bunch of standout non-conference wins. But this is a place to always seems to surprise with an at-large bid or two beyond the projection. We'll focus more once the first half of the conference race is run. Obviously, New Mexico, BYU and TCU have potential. Wyoming needs to beat a few of these. And some teams with weaker nonconference records can be disruptive.

PAC-10. Here's what we mean about the AP poll being a non-factor. Stanford is below the Top 10 in the rankings but can still finishing shining in March on selection day. Arizona State and Cal, and how far Cal has come, seem capable of a Selection Monday mention. There are other possibilities but we'll wait for the sorting to occur over the first half of the race.

Patriot. The Guru is using this space to say it's great to see Army performing up to the standards set by the late Maggie Dixon a year ago before her tragic passing. We'll wait until the race comes down the stretch to say more. However, in a few weeks, look for the United States Basketball Writers Association to add their name to the groups honoring Dixon with special awards and other tributes in her name.

Southeastern. Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt should have their names called, perhaps prominently in many cases. Everyone else, get after those teams to get into the discussion.

Sun Belt. Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky could both earn bids by getting to the conference title game. This is another place we need to see how the race developes.

Western Athletic. Louisiana Tech needs to make up a lot of lost ground quickly. Could become a one-team conference.

The Others. Those not yet mentioned -- Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-Continent, Mid-Eastern, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Southern, Southland, SWAC, and West Coast all seem likely to be in the category of conference winners-only, for now.

-- Mel

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Acacia's Reporting at Vassar

Guru's Note: The following is a story Acacia recently wrote for her school newspaper at Vassar as the senior editor. We have been given permission to re-run it here so her new audience can view another sample of her work.

Meanwhile, on Friday the Guru covered Temple's buzzer-beating win over Villanova in a Big Five game that made it three games in three straight days under the Guru's name that went to the final minute.

And, oh yes, we were on the desk, but the Drexel men beat Temple Friday night. The male Dragons return to our hands next Thursday when they open Colonial Athletic Association play at home against George Mason, the team that went to the Final Four last season.

And now, here's Acacia's recent story.

-- Mel

Seven Sisters in Danger

Acacia O'Connor

Senior Editor

In the world of competitive athletics, it’s not often that athletes play a hard-fought game against an opponent, sometimes even losing, and then sit down elbow-to-elbow with them for dinner.

But for the teams that participate in the Seven Sisters Tournaments, the inter-team meal is an accepted, if not awkward, part of the long-standing tradition.

On Dec. 1, the Vassar women’s basketball team traveled to Haverford College for the 27th annual Seven Sisters Women’s Basketball Tournament. Going abroad next semester and therefore missing all of league play, I traveled with the team this year as their manager. I think many Vassar female athletes would agree with me when I say that Seven Sisters is a special tradition.

Unfortunately, this may have been the final basketball tournament between the schools, as a number of issues have caused coaches to rethink the format of the weekend.

Vassar is one of seven sister schools; that is, private American women’s colleges built between 1837 and 1889. The term was coined in 1927, in reference to the Pleiades seven sisters of ancient Greek mythos.

Today, only four of the seven are technically still single-sex institutions: Smith College, Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College and Mount Holyoke College. Barnard College, though supposedly an independent school, is closely affiliated with Columbia University.

Vassar has been co-ed for 37 years, after refusing to be integrated with Yale University. Radcliffe College, the final sister school, accepted a similar offer made by Harvard University and has since been dissolved entirely.

The Seven Sisters Tournament was born around the same time as the implementation of Title IX, the controversial legislation ruling that colleges must offer equal athletic opportunities for both men and women.

Today only Smith, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Vassar, and Mount Holyoke participate in the tournaments, which are run for nearly all women’s sports.

In order to build the eight-team field of the tournament, three other schools are invited.

For several years, Swarthmore College, Haverford College and St. Joseph’s College in Connecticut have been the additional basketball competitors. But as of next year, Haverford and Swarthmore have indicated that they no longer wish to participate in the tournaments.

The decision to pull out of the competition rests on a variety of reasons. “Generally speaking, across the board it’s taxing,” said Tournament Director and Haverford women’s lacrosse Head Coach MaryAnne Schiller. “It’s taxing on our budgets, it’s taxing on our schedules.”

For Haverford, who is in the Centennial Conference with Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, and for Mount Holyoke and Smith who are both in in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletics Conference, the tournament means risking playing an opponent three times in one season.

Playing three of the few allotted non-conference games in one tournament also takes away opportunities for teams to play other competitors.

More specifically, the basketball tournament comes at an extremely inconvenient time for college students. “There are parts [of the tournament] that I like,” said Jessica Fuhr ’07 of Swarthmore, sister of Vassar’s Shannon Fuhr ’09. “But it falls in a bad time in the academic year. It’s always right before finals.”

Sitting at the Saturday evening banquet, both sisters remarked how it would be disappointing if the tournament dissolved entirely.

We all joked about how for their father, a frequent fan at Vassar games, the tournament was like the Super Bowl, a chance to see both of his daughters play in three games in one weekend.

“I value the tradition of the tournament and what it represents: opportunity and competition for women,” said Schiller. “It saddens me that the future of it is uncertain. I hope the original schools work on a way to keep it alive in some form.”

Schiller added she was certain that athletic departments of the schools could find a way to hold onto the tradition of the tournaments if they thought creatively.

Did all of the female student-athletes eating in Bryn Mawr’s dining hall on Dec. 2 realize that this might be the last gathering of sister basketball teams?

Surely not.

It would be idealistic to call for the continuation of a tournament that, for many reasons, no longer makes logical sense.

But the tournament has been a great thing, a commemoration of strong women, like Schiller, whom it is hoped will continue to be observed in some regard.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Acacia's View: Male Practice Ban Absurd Concept

Guru's Note: One day after presenting Acacia O'Connor as the newest member of the Guru's blog squad, she returns in column mode to comment on the male practice player controversy.

Acacia has played on Vassar's women's team, thus offering a viewpoint from a Division III perspective.

-- Mel

By Acacia O’Connor

Recently there has been a lot of commentary on the proposal issued by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics to ban the use of male practice players in women’s college athletics.

The main reason for the proposal, according to the committee, is to provide as many opportunities for growth and improvement as possible to female athletes.

The committee claims the inclusion of male players in a practice setting takes the chance to be challenged away from bench players.

As someone who has been that female bench player at a Division III level, I have to say I think the CWA's concept is a little bit absurd.

Now, I would consider myself a feminist, certainly a proponent for gender equality and a strong supporter of Title IX.

I hate it when people try to get me to “accept the fact” that guys are just anatomically more athletic than girls.

However, I think eliminating male practice players would not succeed in doing the good the CWA hopes to accomplish.

I can only speak from my experience right now — I’m not certain how or how frequently practice players are used at the DI level — but even as the last player on the bench, I never questioned the use of men in our practice or begrudged their presence.

During my first two years at Vassar, our coach would bring in five or six guys every once in awhile to scrimmage against us.

Since we only had twelve players, it allowed us to split into two teams and have a three-way scrimmage. That way, everyone got to play and also got a little bit of a rest.

Furthermore, as beneficial as it is to scrimmage against your teammates, there are limitations to how effective your plays and game are against yourself.

Even though I was not as talented as some of our starters, by my sophomore year I knew their games inside and out.

I could predict exactly how people would shoot and who favored their right side.

And we all knew the plays, how to frustrate the starters, and how to cheat around screens — something that is useful and challenging, but entirely different from what they will face from an opponent.

Even great, extensive scouting can’t make the players and plays as familiar as they became being on the team.

Far from taking away opportunities, I got to play against the guys along with everyone else, which without doubt improved my game.

And even if I hadn’t played in those practices, their playing against the starting lineup would have been a valuable experience for the team.

Of course, players on the bench always want to get better and gain more playing time.

But if you are a bench player at the DIII level (at any level for that matter), you already understand that `team' is bigger than yourself.

Action limited to only a couple minutes per game is a frustration you must suck up.


Because it’s what’s right for your team.

When you work to get better, usually you're on your own.

Read the stories of the legends of the women's game -- Diana Taurasi, Nancy Lieberman, Cheryl Miller, Dawn Staley, to name just a few -- and you'll learn of the countless hours they spent on their own in gyms and schoolyards honing their skills.

This year, I got a different look at what practice players do for a team.

I was a practice player myself, due to the fact that I will be studying in Italy for the spring semester, consequently missing all of our league competitions.

Practice players are chosen as such because they want to help the team.

Most of our practice players have been some of our team’s biggest fans, something that is important at small schools.

They would do more than scrimmage against us. Some would give us tips or offer to shoot around on off days.

Most importantly, they would be there in the stands to give their vocal support -- some of the few students on our highly academic campus that cared about the results of the women’s games.

Now, a few of those guys are my close friends and I’ve gone to them in the off-season to gain their help to improve my game.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at here, is that I would hate to see male practice players banned from our gyms.

The CWA's concerns are legitimate. Upholding the values of Title IX is vitally important.

However, I’m not at all convinced that complete elimination of male practice players, a valuable tool in many respects, is the way to go.

-- Acacia

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guru World Welcomes New Member: Drexel (Men's) Upset Highlights Debut

Guru’s note: The young talent keeps flowing in our direction.

Several weeks ago, after your Guru spoke at the Seven Sisters Tournament at Bryn Mawr College, members of the traveling parties of the various teams stopped by our table to continue the discussion.

Among them was Acacia O’Connor (pronounced, if I’m right, A-Kay-Sha), the senior editor of her school paper at Vassar College.

A week later she emailed the Guru.

Upon learning that Acacia lived in Syracuse and was going home for the holidays, the Guru noted he was going to be in the neighborhood to cover the Drexel men’s game at the Carrier Dome.

We invited her to join us on press row and observe the Guru navigating the men's side of the aisle in his on-going gender-equity experience.

The day and night of activity also included a great meal at Dinosaur Barbeque, which was previously highly recommended by Jonathan.

Next month, Acacia will become the Guru’s first foreign correspondent while she spends the semester in Italy. Because this blog is also about all facets of the Guru’s world besides the reasons you all normally stop by, we gave Acacia the OK to debut with her impressions of her night at a men’s game.

She intends to follow up in the next 24 hours with her take on the male practice players issue in the women’s game. And we give her a go-ahead in a precede next time to tell you a little more about herself.

Erin, meanwhile, will be on the scene at UConn Thursday night for the ceremony honoring the former Huskies all-Americans and also the game against Colorado State.

We mentioned Jonathan, who is currently suffering at home with some kind of stomach virus. So feel free to send him get well wishes.

Finally, Kate has finished her tour of duty with the Targum and will be trying the PR side of the world for a while, working next semester as an intern in the Rutgers Sports Information Deptartment.

She may check in at some point to say hello – she’s working here in town at Jefferson Hospital over the break – although we think she should post her Targum farewell piece, which was eloquently written. We leave that decision to her.

So, enough of the Guru, who will be at Penn-Drexel women Thursday afternoon, Villanova-Temple women on Friday, and Wis.-Milwaukee/La Salle women in town on Saturday.

-- Mel

Drexel Upsets Syracuse in Cinderella-Style

By Acacia O’Connor

SYRACUSE, N.Y. _ As the final seconds ticked off the clock, looking at the disappointed faces of Nichols, Watkins and the rest of the Syracuse Men’s team, I wanted to be sad.

I had just watched the Drexel Dragons—a school relatively unknown to the world of “Big East consecutive champs” and “Carmelo Anthony”—overtake the Orangemen on home turf. Several things made lament impossible, not least of which were the giddy screams of the 5 visiting Drexel fans behind me.

For a start, the story is amazing.

The Dragons, who have been described as the “red-headed stepchild” of Philly college sports, have already beaten two Big Five schools, including a first-ever win at Villanova, and now have upset 23rd-ranked Syracuse.

If their roll continues…well, let’s not jinx it.

There are few true basketball fans who don’t love an underdog success. Even as a Syracusan, I had to admit it was exciting.

Then there was my seat.

Not only was I in front of the handful of Drexel fans, I was also courtside for the first time in my life, and I was between Mel Greenberg and two very enthused writers for the Drexel University Triangle.

Not twenty feet away were the celebrating Dragons, congratulating one another with overjoyed grins on their faces.

Don’t get me wrong, it was frustrating, painful even, to watch Nichols’ 31-point career high game go to waste.

Seeing Terrence Roberts limp off the court after going down in the first half was disheartening. There was essentially a shared sigh by the sixteen thousand Syracuse fans as they filed out. It was partly my duty to sigh right along.

But the excitement was visible on the faces of Coach Bruiser Flint, Frank Elegar and Bashir Mason during the post-game press conference. (Did I mention that I was sitting in on the post-game press conference? And that I was shadowing Mel Greenberg?)

They deserved the win.

They had fought hard for it—not only Tuesday night—but for the past several seasons when, as they noted, they didn’t have the athletes it took to win games against teams like Syracuse or Villanova.

It was a little bid of validation and the good vibes were catching.

Now, if this were late March instead of December, would I have caught the Drexel excitement the same way?

Come on, I told you I’m from Syracuse.

But still, nothing boosts holiday cheer and goodwill toward all than to share the true joy of a great Cinderella story.

-- Acacia

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Guru's Gift: The AP Poll voting link.

By Mel Greenberg

Hello all.

This is a quickie note. If I copied this right (I did), here is the link to ap voting site thanks to a Guru ally who found it. You click on the paper's name in the list to get to that voter's designated site, which is this one for me off the Inquirer name.

Don't know about past history, but this is the first published one, so we'll see how it's all displayed next week.

Here's the AP voting link. Of course, you can help your Guru by book marking here to get there.


-- Mel

Staley Favors Using Male Practice Players at Temple

By Mel Greenberg

After Temple’s relatively easy 88-70 nonconference victory over Miami (Ohio) on Sunday, we gave coach Dawn Staley a chance to weigh in on the national debate over an NCAA’s committee desires to restrict the use of male practice players.

Staley, herself, practiced long ago and continued for years against male players as a member of USA Basketball’s various international squads, including the Olympics.

The former storied point guard, who retired from the WNBA after last summer, said she and her staff use male players as often as possible in practice. Two members of her staff also participate with the male squads.

Darius Taylor, who was a big-bodied post player who starred at Michigan and also worked for USA Basketball, helped develop former Temple all-American Candice Dupree who was one of the top WNBA rookies last summer.

“Coach Chimel, he’s a good guy, he likes to pus the tempo,” Staley said about Fred Chimel, who was an assistant coach on the WNBA Charlotte Sting when Staley played there before being traded to Houston late in the 2005 season.

“I’m all for practice players, especially when you have injuries,” Staley said. “It’s just hard to practice when you don’t have as many bodies. An injury or two can keep you practicing and keeping your players fresh. I’m all for it.

“I know people may oppose it, but I think it’s helpful for any program if it’s used the right way.”

Senior Kamesha Hairston, who is starting to become seriously considered in the next WNBA draft, is agreed with the benefits.

“I know it’s helped me,” Hairston said. “They’re stronger than what we face.”

Staley made another point about programs below the Marylands, Tennessees and Connecticuts of the world.

“You’re not always fortunate to have 10 all-Americans on your team in the quality of reps each and every time,” Staley said. “So you gotta have stronger (players) to measure yourself on a daily basis so everything won’t be a shock during a game if you have to play a Maryland or Tennessee and those type of players from 1-15 on the roster.

:We like to use them every day during the school year,” Staley said of male opponents in practice. We want them there.”

Incidentally, Dupree, who was at Sunday’s game was asked if Hairston could play in the WNBA now that the former Temple center has had experience in the physicality of the pros.

“Yeah, people keep asking me that question about her,” Dupree smiled. “I think she’d do all right.”

AP Public Voting

OK. So it’s several hours from sunrise and your Guru needs to get home to get some shuteye since after his turn on the desk Monday night, he is driving up to Syracuse to cover Tuesday night’s men’s game between Drexel and the Orangemen.

At this hour, the specifics of links to the Associated Press site showing how people voted in the men’s and women’s poll is still a mystery.

Usually the polls are released in early afternoon. So if any of you figure it out before I return to the office, feel free to weigh in. I’m sure I’ll see it somewhere and then will post the references here.

As for this voter, it was a relatively quiet week, so there wasn’t much to do.

I stayed with the first 17 teams from the previous vote – none of them lost. I moved No. 20 George Washington to No. 18 after the Colonials’ quality win over Auburn. (I didn’t say high quality.). I dropped Michigan State from 18 to 19 and Texas A&M from 19 to 20 in a small shuffle in that area.

I kept Marquette at No. 21, New Mexico at No. 22, and moved Pittsburgh to No. 23 from No. 24. I then went with Delaware and Hofstra for my final two positions because they had been on my ballot so there was no reason to drop them.

That forced me to drop Texas out after a lop-sided loss to Tennessee and I had not voted for Arkansas, although they appear to have the makings of a fine season. The SEC will tell us soon enough, and, hey, we’re only talking about a couple of points here.

This voter can’t wait until the start of conference play or some more major matchups to begin the sorting process.

Geno’s Other Homecoming

Connecticut is at Virginia Monday night in Charlottesville, where Huskies coach Geno Auriemma will make a homecoming of sorts visit against a program he served as an assistant coach before being hired to run the world of Storrs.

There are slightly different versions on how the hire occurred.

Former Immaculata coach Cathy Rush once told us the tale this way:

“Debbie Ryan had called our camp one afternoon where everyone was sitting around and had an interest in hiring Phil Martelli (now the St. Joseph’s men’s coach in Philadelphia),” Rush said.

“I said, `No, Phil wants to coach the boys.’

“At that point someone yelled out, `Does anyone want to coach at Virginia?’ and Geno shot back, `What’s it pay?’”

I’m sure there are probably a bunch of stories today (Monday) at the web sites of the Connecticut horde who will be covering the game.

Since we’re discussing old history and Geno, the return of Pittsburgh to the rankings for the first time since 1979 reminds us of another tale.

The brief appearance of the Panthers helped Jean Balthaser, then the coach of Pittsburgh, to eventually move on and coach Connecticut.

She did not fare too well with the Huskies, however. Her departure from UConn then paved the way for Auriemma to be hired and the rest is his-story, which he’ll tell you many times.

-- Mel

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rutgers Lineup Shuffle Yields Third Straight Win

By Mel Greenberg

Rutgers didn’t have Essence Carson for Saturday night’s nonconference matchup for Iowa at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center.

The Scarlet Knights’ junior guard had suffered a mild concussion and abdominal injury during Tuesday night’s suspenseful triple overtime victory here against Mississippi.

Coach C. Vivian Stringer didn’t have junior guard Matee Ajavon anywhere near full recovery yet from a stress fracture, although she is on the floor ahead of schedule.

And freshman Dee Dee Jernigan continues to miss action due to a stress fracture.

But the Scarlet Knights did have several things to give Stringer some delight heading into the holiday break after a solid 70-53 over the Hawkeyes.

Although having to go with a fourth different starting lineup since the season got under way, this one led to a third-straight victory in a game in which Rutgers (5-4) did not wilt from a 20-point lead midway through the second half.

That’s what happened Tuesday until the freshmen and sophomore center Kia Vaughn hung tough in the extended game to save the Scarlet Knights.

“Right now it’s a case of whatever we can steal,” Stringer said of having to navigate one of the nation’s top out-of-league schedules until heading into the heart of competition in the rugged Big East Conference.

The victory made it two straight for Stringer over the Hawkeyes she brought to national prominence in the mid-1980s. She took the Rutgers job here in the summer of 1995.

Freshman Epiphanny Prince led the Rutgers scoring parade Saturday night with 18 points against the Hawkeyes (7-4). Brittany Ray, the freshman Bronx bomber, fired away again with a 4-for-5 effort on three-point attempts and 14 points overall. Prince also had six of the Scarlet Knights’ 13 steals.

Vaughn, who helped Rutgers’ 32-10 domination on the inside, finished with 16 points.

“They’re learning, that’s what you want,” Stringer said of her group, which has won three straight “It has to be encouraging for the upper classmen as the injuries heal and we get ready to get into the Big East.

“The freshmen are getting some valuable time and it’s very clearly there is no bench, it’s just how we want to play it,” Stringer said of Rutgers’ strategical approach. ”Do we want to start with two posts or start with players with given skills to match the talent we’re playing against.

“What was most important today is we really made a focused, concentrated effort to play defense,” Stringer added. “We really did and we’ll get better.”

The Rutgers coach built her Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame reputation on defense, a quality that had been missing during the Scarlet Knights’ early struggles.

Iowa is also dealing with injuries.

“We both are struggling with huge injury problems,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “And I’m not feeling sorry for any seniors, either. My only senior (Johanna Solverson) is out with an ACL injury.”

Megan Skouby scored 19 points for the Hawkeyes and Wendy Ausdemore added 15 points.

Rutgers jumped to a 24-6 lead in the first half and finished the first 20 minutes ahead, 35-22.

The advantage grew to its widest margin at 63-40 with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game.

Prince, who scored 113 points in a high school game last season in New York to set a national record, is the only Rutgers players this season to score in double digits in all nine games.

Rutgers is off until Dec. 30 when the Scarlet Knights will travel to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va. The game will be a homecoming of sorts for assistant coach Marianne Stanley who led the Monarchs to three national championships in her first job as a head coach in a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame career.

-- Mel

Friday, December 15, 2006

Teresa Edwards - The Time Is Right

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ While sitting in heavy traffic in the suburbs here on Thursday afternoon, we checked in with our good friend Teresa Edwards, the five-time Olympian and former Georgia star, who has signed on as an assistant to new Minnesota Lynx coach Don Zierden in the WNBA.

Edwards played for Minnesota under former coach Suzie McConnell Serio for two seasons.

So what made Edwards finally succumb to life on the sidelines after resisting previous offers all these years?

"I think the time is just right," Edwards said. "Roger had called me during their coaching search and I just think the world of him plus I had a great experience in Minnesota and a lot of fun."

Roger is Roger Griffth the chief operating officer of the Lynx.

"And coach`Z,' I just think I can learn a lot from him," Edwards said.

The native of Cairo, Ga., is the only male or female player from the United States to compete in five Olympics, beginning in 1984.

The storied point guard is now united with a future all-timer in former LSU all-American Seimone Augustus, the overall No. 1 pick of last year's draft who became the WNBA's rookie of the year.

Edwards is a good friend of Temple coach Dawn Staley from their days competing together in USA Basketball.

"She's out there trying to get them into college, I'm trying to look at them out of college as potential players for us," Edwards laughed while talking about the differences in recruiting desires.

Edwards was a founding player of the former American Basketball League and also spent a short season here with the Philadelphia Rage before the league collapsed under bankruptcy in December, 1998.

In fact, the Guru has been indebted to Edwards for showing him the secret of the freight elevator in Temple's Liacouras Center, enabling him to take short cuts to the court when he's lugging his computer and other equipment from the parking garage out back to cover games.

We mentioned that the WNBA is going to have to darken Minnesota's schedule the weekend of June 8 and 9 when Edward's college coach Andy Landers is inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Don't worry," Edwards laughed. "I'll be there. I'm a coach so I can take days off."

Edwards also became a member of the women's hall's board of directors last spring.

Update: AP Poll Voters Go Public

This is probably going to be rocket science until we see it in operation, but here is the latest information regarding Wednesday's previous post about the Associated Press revealing the votes each week of its voters in the men's and women's basketball polls, as is already done in the football poll.

In terms of links, we mentioned that AP could go to several places from each voter's name to lead to their coverage of their sport. Data central informed me Thursday, they can link to only one site, so the Guru chose this blog. (You all already know how to find the print versions on Philly.com).

Also, there's no direct link into the AP site. You get there through an AP member paper's link. So we'll see what kind of streamlining we can do on Monday. I'm sure many of you techno-artists out there will figure it out long before the Guru sees daylight.

Celebrity Watching at Rutgers

When Rutgers' was squandering a 20-point lead to Mississippi on Tuesday night before gaining a triple-overtime victory, the Guru noted to a colleague on press row that the abundance of experienced talent sitting in the house was wearing street clothes as opposed to coach C. Vivian Stringer's youth squad wearing the uniforms.

Observers from WNBA teams included Seattle Storm coach Anne Donovan, a former Olympic gold medalist, New York Liberty coach Patty Coyle, who starred for the Scarlet Knights. Additionally, former Rutgers all-American June Olkowski, in the area on business, also took in the game.

On the other side, Stringer's assistances include former Iowa star Jolette Law, former Immaculata all-American Marianne Stanley, former Rutgers star Chelsea Newton, who now plays for the Chicago Sky in the WNBA, and Michelle Edwards, another former Iowa star under Stringer.

The Hawkeyes, incidentally, will visit Rutgers Saturday night to return the Scarlet Knights' visit to Iowa City last season.

And of course Mississippi coach Carol Ross was a star for the Rebels under former coach Van Chancellor.

Temple Nostalgia

Candice Dupree, the all-American who led Staley's Owls to their best effors in the program's history before graduating to the WNBA last summer, was among former Temple stars at the Maryland game Sunday.

"We were trying to do things she could never do," Staley laughed. "Beat Stony Brook and also the No. 1 team in the nation."

The Owls got their revenge against the New Yorkers but fell just short of the Terrapins on Sunday.

-- Mel

Thursday, December 14, 2006

AP Voting Going Public

By Mel Greenberg

Greetings everyone.

It appears most of the news you can use this week is out there and your Guru has been rather busy on several fronts to go longer right now.

So here's something to whet your appetities.

The Associated Press voting boards for men and women's basketball polls received notice that beginning Sunday, each voter's ballot will be posted at the AP's online site. (No, I don't have the link yet, but will unless one of you Guru readers find it first, I'll be back late today.)

Each week's vote will remain posted throughout the rest of the season.

Terry Taylor, who heads the AP sports operation, told me Wednesday, that they already do it for football (there's a link hint for you) and she didn't think about it until recently about applying the practice to the basketball polls.

Additionally, where obtainable, there will be dynamic links to each voter's coverage of the sport at their respective newspaper sites and/or blogs

For example, the AP would link my name to this site and Philly.com (or something deeper in Philly.com to cut down the fishing you sometimes have to do to find the print stories I do. (But that's why Jonathan got my recommendation for a job there to solve these situations. :) ).

So that's the news. Speaking of Philly.com, I did a follow-up for our Jersey zones in print for today's (Thursday editions) although much of what I wrote you all got from me after the game in the blog report here.

We'll be back late today.

-- Mel

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rutgers Rescinds Gift Giveaway for Landmark Win

Guru's note: Another version written for our print edition zoned for New Jersey that, because of the nature of the extended game, was written right at the finish, probably appears somewhere on Philly.com.

Also, for those who have been following the news of the paper, based on an email here and posting by now on Philly.com, there is a tentative agreement on the labor situation at the Inquirer.

By Mel Greenberg

_ Rutgers’ fountain of youth sprung a landmark victory here in the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center Tuesday night just when it appeared that the Scarlet Knights might be spending a glum week ahead until Saturday’s night home contest against Iowa.

In the first triple overtime game in the women’s basketball program’s history, Rutgers emerged with an 89-84 triumph after the Scarlet Knights had squandered a 42-22 second-half lead with 16 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game.

Most of the heavy-lifting to provide the victory that got Rutgers back to an even record at 4-4 was provided by the freshmen, especially after junior guards Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson had both fouled out near the end of regulation.

The rally by Mississippi (7-3) in the nonconference game produced an awkward moment in more ways than one for Rutgers’ fans when Rebel senior guard Ashley Awkward nailed a three-pointer with four seconds left in regulation to create a 59-59 deadlock.

It was quite a turnaround from earlier in the half when coach C. Vivian Stringer’s team looked like the Cappie Pondexter-led force of a year ago. At that moment, it seemed the Scarlet Knights, who had struggled defensively much of the season, were getting their denial act together on the heels of a comforting win over Princeton here last Saturday night.

But then again, in terms of relativity, Rutgers was the Big East power being challenged by what might become the best of the Ivy League. Mississippi is one of those Southeastern Conference schools that are always trouble such as a year ago in Oxford when the Rebels upset the Scarlet Knights, who then had long-range thoughts about playing in the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Rutgers set a school record Tuesday night with 17 blocked shots, eclipsing the 15 rejections in an 82-57 win over West Virginia on Jan. 3, 1987.

Freshman Rashidat Juniad finally got Rutgers to safety with a pair of foul shots with 28 seconds left in the third overtime for an 86-82 lead. She finished with 14 points. Freshman Brittany Ray led the Scarlet Knights by scoring 23 points, and another freshman, Epiphanny Prince, scored 22 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kia Vaughn had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Carson scored 10. Vaughn had nine blocks, one short of producing a triple double in the stats.

Armintie Price, one of three Mississippi players in double figures, scored a game-high 33 points.

Rutgers seemed to have an advantage in each overtime, but Mississippi kept coming back to extend the action.

“It appears that Rutgers is doing a lot of things with this group that Rutgers has never done before,” Vaughn said with a laugh afterwards.

But Heather Zurich also talked about the reality of the night.

“We have to learn to finish games,” she said. “I mean, we came out, we had them down by 20 in the second half, and I don’t know if we didn’t have enough energy, but on the defensive side, we let them get back into it. We have to learn to close teams out.”

Still, for a team that had just dropped out of the Associated Press Poll for the first time in 43 weeks since the end of the 2003-04 season, Stringer was willing to enjoy the moment. That was especially true considering a previous overtime encounter this season resulted in a loss to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.

“I thought Epiphanny did a nice job setting up isolations,” Stringer said. “What did we learn? Well, they started pressing us and we weren’t sure as ball handlers. We started dribbling the ball off our own legs and things of that sort. Straight up open court strips. That made everyone else nervous and uncomfortable because we were taking our time getting the ball down the floor.

“But what was key was there were certain isolations where we now know who we can count on to finish those isolations,” Stringer said. “I hope that will help us a little later.

“I’m hoping, having seen those freshmen handle that kind of pressure, that I can be more trusting of them being together. Because it was a bit much to have three of them together. It’s got to go a long way for them. And a long way for us. The freshmen grew up quite a bit.

“We lost to that team last year. So it was kind of nice to see us come back.”

-- Mel

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cultural Learnings of Philadelphia for Make National Champion University of Maryland

By Jonathan Tannenwald

Those of you readers out there who have even a marginal connection to the Philadelphia area know about the rather parochial nature of the sports landscape around here. As such, the presence of two players from this area on Maryland’s roster was a bigger story ahead of the Terrapins’ game against Temple than the fact that the Owls were playing the No. 1-ranked team in the country, or at least that’s how it seemed from this keyboard.

So, playing dutifully to stereotype, this story has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with how Laura Harper, Crystal Langhorne, their families and Maryland coach Brenda Frese saw this quasi-homecoming game for those two players.

(Mel’s recap of the game, which appeared in this morning’s paper, can be read here. It merited the front page of the non-Eagles sports section, which was found a few pages after coverage of the day’s football action. There is also a nice photo slideshow of the game by Inquirer photographer Charles Fox.)

We start with the most obvious thing, which is to note the friends and family Laura and Crystal had among the many Maryland fans in attendance yesterday

“It was fun having everyone come out and watch me play,” said Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J. (Willingboro H.S.) “My old AAU team was here and my parents and AAU coaches “A lot of people don’t get the chance to come and see me play at Maryland.”

Harper, who hails from Elkins Park, Pa. (Cheltenham H.S.), was no stranger to the Temple program, which she followed while growing up.

“I’ve been to the Liacouras Center quite a few times – my dad used to bring me to all the men’s games,” she said. “It’s nice to play here and just to have so much support behind me.”

Haviland Harper, the father in question, played for George Washington from 1973 to 1976 and is now a quite successful boys’ basketball coach at Philadelphia’s Central High School.

“It was a big and she was excited about it,” Haviland said about being able to watch her daughter play this close to home. “I just wanted her to play well – and for Maryland to win.”

Haviland said that Laura had to get “probably at least a dozen” tickets for the Harper party. “She had to get other players get some for her,” he added.

Laura’s mother Maria, who has a brother in graduate school at Maryland, said the game “was awesome – it was exciting, it was exhilarating, it was humbling, too.”

There were only two Langhornes in attendance, father Cryhten and mother Jule.

“It was fantastic to see her almost home,” Cryhten said. “To know that they came out in the end as winners, that was extra gravy.”

Jule said that “the family couldn’t come” because some people were under the weather and others just had too many things to do.

One of those things shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“My son went to the Eagles-Redskins game,” Cryhten said. “He thought this would be a blowout, so he said I’m not coming to this one.”

At least he also got to see a close game.

Indeed, it was a nice coincidence that a team from Maryland was in Philadelphia while a team from Philadelphia was in Maryland.

(The Redskins, though named for Washington, play in a large stadium in the middle of a large parking lot in Landover, Md.)

I asked Frese how she has found recruiting around Philadelphia, and she said there is “absolutely” a lot of talent to be found.

“We’re always going to recruit this area – it’s obviously been very good to us,” she said. “We also feel like the location is great for us here, the fact that it’s a 2 hour ride to campus, to be able to get home so that their family and friends can see them play. So this is an area that we recruit very heavily.”

That got me to thinking about the many sporting personalities over the years who have gone back and forth between Philadelphia in Washington. I came up with what I hope is a reasonably short list of those who have made names for themselves on the collegiate sports scene in recent years.

In football:

Bruce Perry – Philadelphia, Pa. (George Washington)

Brian Westbrook – Fort Washington, Md. (DeMatha H.S.) to Villanova to the Philadelphia Eagles

Derrick Williams – Greenbelt, Md. (Eleanor Roosevelt) to Penn State

Tony Hunt – T.C. Williams (Alexandria, Va.) to Penn State

Jeremy Kapinos – West Springfield (Springfield, Va.) to Penn State

(Not that you Maryland fans need reminding, but Penn State has recruited heavily in the Washington area in recent years and now has 17 players on its roster from the region.)

In basketball:

Gary Williams – Collingswood, N.J. to Maryland, where he is now the head men’s coach

Allen Iverson – Hampton, Va. (Bethel) to Georgetown to the Philadelphia 76ers (at least as of this writing)

David Hawkins – Washington, D.C, (Archbishop Carroll) to Temple

John Bryant – Woodbridge, Va. (Woodbridge) to Saint Joseph’s

Delonte West – Greenbelt, Md. (Eleanor Roosevelt) to Saint Joseph’s

Maureece Rice – Philadelphia, Pa. (Lutheran Christian, where he set a new record for most points scored by a Philadelphia high school player) to George Washington

Noel Wilmore – Philadelphia (Chester) to George Washington

Sean Singletary – Philadelphia (Penn Charter) to Virginia (which is included in the Washington sports landscape)

Jason Cain – Philadelphia (John Bartram) to Virginia

And of course, Dawn Staley – Philadelphia (Dobbins Tech) to Virginia, and now at Temple as the head women’s coach.

I'm sure there are many others I couldn't think of, both from the present and the past. So for the time being, I'll leave the list-making to Mel and get back to my usual behind-the-scenes work.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Guru's Take: Parity or Anarchy in AP Rankings?

By Mel Greenberg

Forget parity when it comes to watching team movement in the lower portions of the Associated Press weekly women’s poll.

How about anarchy?

While records have never been kept when it comes to point totals from the voters in the 31-year history of the ranking, this much can be said.

The totals of the bottom three teams that made it through the revolving door this week _ New Mexico, Marquette, and Nebraska _ might be some of the lowest point accumulations from voters ever held by teams in a given week since the expansion from a Top 20 to a Top 25 in the early 1990s.

This is not a knock at the trio in those last three spots. But until some solidification occurs and more meaningful games are played, which may not happen until conference competition gets under way, anyone can become nationally-ranked.

This is not to say things are diluted out there, either, because there are a lot of talented teams that can begin to rise once they hit the key games on their schedule.

Over the years, there has always been a concern in a given season that if soft teams show up in the early weeks of the rankings, it might a few months before the pecking order shows its true nature.

Our ballot the last few weeks has included Delaware and Hofstra because of our old-fashioned approach to consideration during the front end of the season.

If you can get a big win, especially on the road, to go with your record, you earn a vote.

Delaware beats Kentucky, which had a lot of regard, in a tournament in a neutral site, the Blue Hens proved worthy of a reward. Hofstra wins at Michigan State, considered one of the best of the Big Ten Conference, likewise is true.

Understand, this is not about those two should be ranked right now ahead of teams that made the list. Only voters in this part of the country know about the two CAA teams. And voters in the Midwest know more about Nebraska and Marquette.

But overall, few voters know about anything, which one can quickly discern by looking at the points.

Tennessee fell from out of the Top 5 from fourth to sixth after Sunday’s loss at North Carolina, but the Vols were only a point in the voting behind Ohio State.

Yet if those two were going to play each other this weekend, you tell me the overwhelming favorite going into that game. Down below, George Washington missed cracking the Top 20 area by a point behind Michigan State.

In some ways, it’s interesting because a match-up between those two teams could be as close.

There are schools not even showing themselves with votes that could end up in the Top 15 once they get to play the strong favorites in their respective conferences.

Pittsburgh is a team that might be AP-ready. The Panthers were on our ballot, by the way.

But they may have to wait a while. However, the opportunity is there. If Pitt keeps winning, eventually their forthcoming Big East battles will help them along.

Meanwhile, things may get worse before they get better at Rutgers, which got routed at home by Duke Monday night. A loss at DePaul on Thursday night will put the Scarlet Knights’ 42-week ranking streak in jeopardy despite an assumed victory at home Saturday night against Princeton.

Incidentally that Saturday night game in Piscataway has been billed in the underground as “The Two Sisters Classic” for reasons that have nothing to do with anything that will occur on the court.

But even if Rutgers vanishes from the poll for a while, it won’t be the first time that has happened to a young C. Vivian Stringer-coached team.

What usually happens soon afterwards is a re-grouping followed by a bolt right back into the thick of things.

Interestingly, if the NCAA selection committee had to fill out a field right now, its members would really have their hands full. In fact, if a statement was made that would minimize the RPI (computer ranking) in importance, unlike the debate of last March, this time the comment would be right on the mark.

-- Mel

Monday, December 04, 2006

Exam Time On The Court for Philly-Area Teams

Guru’s Note: The Guru interrupts himself for the following announcements.

A little while ago here in the middle of the night another of a myriad of email announcements concerning the current labor negotiations at the paper spoke of a tentative settlement on non-economic issues.

At this moment, we are still in our normal operating mode. Another meeting won’t occur until sometime Monday night at the earliest, so business as usual should continue through Wednesday and, perhaps, beyond.

Also, we had a delightful time Saturday night speaking at the Seven Sisters tournament dinner in the suburbs at Bryn Mawr College and meeting players from the various teams.

The Guru now returns you to his regular commentary.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ What better time than the approaching final exam period for schools here in the City of Brotherly Love and in the immediate region beyond to be tested on the hardwood, which is exactly what is about to happen.

It begins Monday night to the north of us when Rutgers hosts Duke in a game that would have seemed more attractive a year ago.

That’s because the Scarlet Knights would have been in better shape than right now to take on the Blue Devils in a game that will have long-range implications.

Duke needs the win to maintain a strong profile heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference wars that will include defending NCAA champion Maryland and North Carolina, which is just off an impressive victory over Tennessee.

Rutgers will get merit points for showing up and anything beyond that will be a pleasant surprise.

For coach C. Vivian Stringer’s team, it is still about the education of a young squad that doesn’t have all its leadership pieces in place due to injuries. But for the newcomers, the Big East conflicts are on the horizon so the key Monday is to perform well and get experience from the kind of competition that will have to be handled to become a spotlight group later in the season.

In some ways, if only one victory is available from two games in the front part of the week, Thursday night’s Big East opener at DePaul in Chicago will actually have more value. Now if one wants to dream the improbable of a two-game sweep, that’s not likely to happen yet, is it?

On Tuesday night, Delaware, which is now attracting some national attention, will visit La Salle, which is off to the program’s second-best start ever at 7-0.

This game is usually competitive and somewhat personal because players from both teams compete in the Department of Recreation’s NCAA Summer League in Northeast Philadelphia in the off-season.

The visiting Blue Hens need the win to maintain their visibility. They’ve already had a major test they passed with an upset of then-nationally-ranked Kentucky recently in San Francisco.

La Salle will get its first major exam and a win could be an omen to spring some surprises down the road when the Explorers begin their Atlantic Ten Conference schedule.

Temple, which is in somewhat of a re-tooling mode after the graduation of Candice Dupree, has already suffered narrow road losses to ACC members Virginia and North Carolina State.

On Wednesday, the Owls get a chance for some revenge when Stony Brook visits. But one of the big games of the season for fans here is Sunday when Maryland will visit in a game that offers homecoming visits for the Terrapins’ Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper.

Villanova, struggling with a youthful roster, gets its first Big East test Thursday when South Florida visits.

St. Joseph’s, which has had some surprising struggles despite the most experienced roster in town, will host Boston College on Friday night.

Almost But Not Quite

We covered the Penn-Villanova game at the Palestra Sunday afternoon for the print edition, which also appears electronically at Philly.Com.

It was an intriguing contest in which Villanova built a 14-point lead and then managed to squander nearly all of it by going 0-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers in the final 11 minutes, 21 seconds, while grabbing a 57-50 victory.

Wildcats coach Harry Perretta’s take on his team’s performance appears in the print story. Penn coach Pat Knapp, whose Georgetown teams used to duel Villanova in the Big East, was in the opposite corner of the Palestra at the same time after the game.

However, Jonathan Tannenwald had our back by collecting the following quotes from Mr. Knapp and and some of his players in the media room afterwards concerning the Quakers’ performance.

“Well, certainly the score’s not bad, but that’s not why we play,” Knapp said. “I told the team, we had a lot of opportunities. They wanted it. They played hard.”

When Villanova went cold, Penn had narrowed the gap with a 12-0 run but was unable to forge ahead despite several opportunities on offense.

“Obviously we would have like to score a couple ourselves, but it’s not like we weren’t trying,” Knapp said of the final minutes of action.

“Our team did a lot of good things,” he continued. “I think the first thing we said, to be honest with you, the first half was not about Villanova making a lot of threes, it was about No. 11 (Lisa Karcic) making a lot of threes, and we did not guard her worth a damn.

“In the second half, I think we paid better attention and these guys (Villanova) switched in certain situations and we were more aware of that,” Knapp added.

Penn point guard Joey Rhoads and forward Monica Naltner talked about the game from the players’ perspective.

“I know as seniors we’ve never beaten ‘Nova, so we were really fired up and obviously this was a game we really wanted to win. But it also had to do with being more aggressive and trying to get to the basket more,” Rhoads added.

“It was too little, too late I guess. Losing by such a close margin. I guess you just think about the little things you could have done early on or throughout the game,” Rhoads said. “We had them, we were in it.”

Naltner also talked about her last game against the Wildcats.

“It hurts a lot more because as seniors, we’ve never beaten them. It’s the one Big Five team we’ve never beaten. We knew we had the opportunity to beat them and it stings a lot more this year.”

Knapp, whose team travels to Lafayette, Thursday in Easton for a non-conference game, was complimentary of his players’ effort.

“The ladies were great. They listen. They work hard, and they believe. They were very disappointed. It was one that we wanted and didn’t get, and we move on to the next game.”

-- Mel with Jonathan’s assistance.

Friday, December 01, 2006

NCAA Title Field Narrowing Early

Guru’s Precede: Before going forward, a few quick notes.

I’m told I’m to thank management and labor at the home office for continuing contract talks through the night that enabled the Friday paper to be printed in which a certain half-page ad in the sports section appears involving the Guru and a recent headline-making event.

Dinner with Erin Damio and her family was absolutely delightful – superb Italian cooking, as promised in a country setting minutes away from the UConn campus. She’s now back in Boston at Northeastern U. where she headed into an early wake-up call to be back on the Charles rowing before taking class. Erin’s threatening to make her next blog appearance after attending the UConn-Holy Cross game in Worcester next week.

By Mel Greenberg

STORRS, Conn. –
The polls are billed as Top 25 rankings. There’s a lot of talk about the arrival of parity in women’s basketball these days.

Now, here’s the reality.

The race to spots for the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland is narrowing quickly and it’s only the first of December. Major matchups are still to occur, but most of those involve teams against each other that will be in the hunt over the long haul.

Such a game loomed here Thursday night when No. 7 Connecticut hosted No. 9 Purdue in a non-conference meeting that seemed a good test for each side.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t ready to give his Huskies an “A” after their 66-55 triumph over a team with great size, if not great speed, but he saw enough to indicate it could be like old times by the time March Madness comes rolling along.

The Huskies (4-0), who just returned from a week in Italy, dealt Purdue (6-1) its first loss of the season.

Auriemma, whose night began with the unveiling of two banners celebrating his inductions earlier this year into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, is a little more mellow these days.

He gave his team’s performance a “5” but noted, “maybe in the past it might have been a `4.’”

He wasn’t saying “We have Renee Montgomery and no one else in America does,” which meant substituting a name for the prolific Diana Taurasi, who was a past recipient of similar boasts in her UConn career.

But after Montgomery matched a career-high with 26 points, he acknowledged that she had the keys to the offense as the point guard.

Defensively, there was much to like from Mel Thomas, who hounded Purdue all-America candidate Katie Gearlds into a 2-for-18 effort from the field.

“Basketball’s a very humbling game,” Geralds said afterwards. “Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. I thought I had great looks – great, great looks. It felt good going off my fingers all night.

“I was frustrated, but I kept shooting,” Geralds said to laughter. “She (Thomas) contested a lot, but I thought I used my height as an advantage. She was smart. She knew where to put her hands when I shot.”

Purdue has enough to make its Big Ten meetings with No. 6 Ohio State intriguing, but, again, can either team bust the looming monopoly involving the national pursuit?

As of now, the front five in the Associated Press poll – defending champion Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Duke, are the frontrunners.

So the question becomes, where are the challengers?

Connecticut showed much on Thursday night to indicate the Huskies might barge through. More will be known after games against LSU and North Carolina, to name a few.

Georgia, once the whole team is back together, is another with the potential moxie to advance. The Bulldogs’ run through the Southeastern Conference will tell us much.

LSU has Sylvia Fowles, but do the Tigers have enough overall stuff to make things happen now that Seimone Augustus is gone?

Looking at the rest of the rankings, Rutgers, which might slide off the list before moving upwards, has enough talent that if the Scarlet Knights have it all together in late February, they might be a decent threat.

But that seems to be all of it, unless injuries or other unforeseen maladies affect the teams we mentioned.

There’s room for a Cinderella, to be sure, and we can say that the competition for that honor is definitely wide-open.

-- Mel