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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guru's College Report: Delaware's Women Become Historic

By Mel Greenberg

In American history, Delaware is known as the First State after becoming the leadoff signer of the constitution to form the federal government.

However, in terms of the 36-year history of the weekly Associated Press women’s basketball rankings, the University of Delaware became the 149th school to land in poll Monday following a week in which the Blue Hens (4-0) won at Villanova last Tuesday and then Sunday in a first-ever meeting traveled to St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., and topped the Bonnies to stay unbeaten.

“It’s been a matter of building blocks, no doubt,” said Delaware coach Tina Martin, who experienced being with a ranked team as an assistant at Seton Hall when the Pirates were in the poll during the 1994-95 season. “It takes time to get to this level.

“We actually had the day off so I was getting words of congratulations by text messages from families of players who were probably getting the news through the papers and internet,” she said. “(Tuesday) will be the first time we’re together since the news broke.”

Martin becomes the 245th head women’s coach to guide a team into the rankings.

The Blue Hens, one of the better mid-major teams in the early going, are listed at No. 24.

Delaware, which joined the Colonial Athletic Association for the 2001-02 season, is only the third school to earn a national ranking as a CAA member following Old Dominion and James Madison.

ODU was also in the poll through previous affiliations and Georgia State, a current CAA member, had a one-week appearance back in the days of competition in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) prior to women participating in NCAA championships.

The Blue Hens jumped from virtually nowhere into the cusp of a ranking a week ago from the nationwide media panel of voters following an upset at home in the Bob Carpenter Center of then-No. 11 Penn State, which this week moved up to 16th after a drop to 17th.

Rutgers, which hosts Temple Wednesday night, moved from 13th to 11th for the Scarlet Knights’ highest ranking since being No. 3 in the second week of the 2008-09 season.

The Blue Hens received some votes during the 2006-07 season which ended with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but then Martin had to endure a youthful roster the next time around after a sizeable group of talented seniors graduated.

Delaware also earned an automatic NCAA bid in 2000-01 as champions of the America East.

But in the fall of 2008 Delaware drew national attention when Elena Delle Donne, who had been the high school player of the year at nearby Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, decided not to move forward with her scholarship to play at powerful Connecticut and enrolled at the university in Newark, but to play volleyball.

Martin, meanwhile, was working on getting her squad back to respectability while maintain a hands off approach unless Delle Donne had other intentions.

Following volleyball season the versatile player began drifting back to her original sport of desire and in the spring of 2009 told Martin she was ready to help the Blue Hens’ cause.

That path creates an interesting side note when Delaware visits Princeton Thursday night at the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym.

The two-time defending Ivy champions have been making their own mark and earning votes in the poll, which has been a rarity for members of the league.

For all intentions in an otherwise world when Stanford traveled to play Connecticut a week ago Tigers star junior Niveen Rasheed and Delle Donne should have been opposing players in the marquee matchup.

But Rasheed, a native of California who missed most of last season with a knee injury, decided Princeton was the place to be and helped lead the Tigers to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearances.

“It’s odd how that worked out. One kid is on a team because she wanted to get away and another is on a team because she wanted to stay home and now they’ll still end up opposing each other.”

Princeton has won the last two meetings but Delle Donne did not play on the Newark campus at home a year ago suffering the early stages of what was eventually diagnosed as Lyme’s disease.

She fought her way out of the illness last spring and led Delaware to two upsets to advance to the CAA title game before losing to James Madison.

Delle Donne continued to get healthier and last summer was the top scorer and rebounder on the gold medal winning USA squad loaded with elite collegians in the World University Games.

Off to a great start this season, she scored 40 in the win over Penn State and is currently averaging 30.3 points per game, the best in Division I according to this week’s statistical report.

Delaware, the conference favorite, is one of several CAA schools, such as Hofstra, making an early impact that could actually result some rare at-large bids if they don’t stumble.

The Blue Hens’ ranking along with the return for the first time this season of Wisconsin-Green Bay ends a three-week drought of mid-major teams in the poll, which had been absent for the first time since that terminology came into usage to different from the so-called BCS crowd.

More Poll History For UConn

A year ago Connecticut set a record for both men and women in NCAA competition when the Huskies rode a 90-game win streak before losing at Stanford.

During the run they also set several AP records in terms of consecutive weeks and total rankings holding the No. 1 spot.

This past weekend, coach Geno Auriemma’s squad set a women’s NCAA record in all divisions with their 89th straight home victory, including games in Hartford at the XL Center and contests winning as hosts during Big East and NCAA tournament history.

On Monday UConn was back in the AP history books as a result of the Huskies’ second straight No. 2 ranking.

That gave them 279 appearances in the top five of the AP poll, tying UConn with Louisiana Tech for second place on the all-time list behind Tennessee at 445.

The Lady Techsters’ last appearance in the group was in the 2001-01 season, though they made a few appearances in the Top 10 afterwards.

Louisiana Tech, under Hall of Fame coaches Sonja Hogg and Leon Barmore made their mark beginning in 1978-79 and taking 24 seasons to reach their total.

UConn was first ranked in 1989-90 for to weeks and got to the same total as Tech in 23 seasons. A huge favorite to win at home against Towson Wednesday night for their only game this week, the Huskies are likely to be in sole position of second all-time heading into Tuesday night’s showdown in Hartford against No. 4 Texas A&M, the defending national champion.

More Poll Notes

Texas coach Gail Goestenkors has tied former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi for 13th on the all-time list with 290 appearances in the AP poll, though all of Ciampi’s were with the Tigers while Goestenkors has 229 appearances with Duke and 61 with Texas.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, one of only a few coaches to have three different teams in the poll, reached his 250th appearance, which also includes teams at Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin.

Maryland’s ranking of sixth is the Terrapins’ highest since the a No. 3 in the final poll of the 2008-09 season, while Purdue’s listing at 13th is the Boilermakers’ highest since 11th in the final poll of the 2006-07 season.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, whose Bears retained their No. 1 ranking, has 173 appearances, three short of matching former Kansas coach Marian Washington at 26th on the all-time list.

Mulkey is 13th on the active list ahead of Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, who has 151 appearances with the Blue Devils and previously with Michigan State.

The return of Vanderbilt to the poll at No. 25 put coach Melanie Balcomb at 146th, tied for 29th on the all-time list with former Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry.

Speaking of Mid-Majors

Maybe losses St. Joseph’s suffered to Princeton and Vermont were not as bad as the uninformed might think.
Princeton has already been addressed here several times.

Meanwhile, Vermont is off on an early tear at 6-1 out of the America East bunch.

It’s the best start for the Catamounts since a 7-1 start in 2002-03.

For North Carolina star Lori Gear McBride, who was a transfer on the Tar Heels’ 1994 NCAA champions is in her second season at Vermont, which has already passed last win total off a dreadful 5-25 struggle, including an 0-15 start.

Sophomore guard Sam Simononis from Perkasie, Pa. and Pennridge High in suburban Philadelphia is second on the team in scoring (10.0 ppg) and is shooting a team-best 88.5% (23-26) from the foul line. She also leads the team in steals with 17 on the season.

A year ago she saw limited time as a reserve, though she moved up as a starter for Vermont’s final eight games and has started all seven games to date this season.

Seton Hall transfer Shanai Heber has started all seven games for Vermont and ranks fourth on the team in scoring (8.3 ppg) and second in rebounding (7.6 rpg). She also leads the team in assists (28).

Gear McBride’s previous stops included assistant positions at Seton Hall (1998-03) and Charlotte (2003-04) while she came to Vermont from a head coaching position at Colby College in Maine from 2005-10.

Local Awards

The Big Five player of the week for women’s competition went to La Salle’s Alexis Scott, while Penn newcomer Kara Bonenberger was named the Ivy freshman of the week.

-- Mel

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