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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guru's College Musings: Delaware and Delle Donne Still Making Their Own Histories


By Mel Greenberg

A year ago going into the season, Delaware was below the radar by a short distance in terms of the Associated Press Poll, and, for that matter, was also barely blipping on the radar of the USA Today/ESPN Women's Coaches Poll.

Similarly was the situation for then-Blue Hens junior Elena Delle Donne, who would have been the nation's leading scorer in 2010-11 had not she missed 12 games suffering from Lyme's Disease before its determination by doctors finally allowed her to go on the road to recovery.

And once she hit the trail, though she still wasn't strong enough to carry Delaware to one last upset in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, once the formal season was over, she worked herself into shape to try out for the USA World University Team, competing among the best of the collegians below the level of the WNBA/Olympic crowd.

She made the squad, became the offensive and defensive statistical leader on the Gold Medalists and returned to school where she carried both herself and Delaware into national prominence, this time winning the national scoring title in Division I.

The key early in the season was an upset of Penn State at home and then getting lucky on what was a decent schedule at the outset but one that rocketed Delaware to the top in the nonconference RPI going into January because the Blue Hens' opponents all had dynamite records and many played each other to emhance the value.

And the CAA must have been better than the regard the Mid-Major usually gets because once Delaware got into conference play, the Blue Hens' RPI never fell out of the Top 15, fueling Tina Martin's bunch to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Penn State win also earned Delaware its first-ever national ranking and the Blue Hens' winning everything but a competitive loss at Maryland enabled them to finish seventh in the final AP vote taken before the NCAAs opened play.

Princeton, by comparison, also had a very strong nonconference schedule, but once the Ivy League kicked in, the Tigers dropped into the 30s, still not bad for an Ivy power winning three straight titles and actually getting into the final AP Poll, which was a first-ever for a league member.

Many believed that if Princeton were an Ivy runnerup, the Tigers were still tournament worthy as an at-large bid, though whether the committee would have the guts to offer the invite is another discussion.

Perhaps they might have considering Princeton landed the highest seed ever for an Ivy squad, though it would have collided with UConn had not Kansas State ousted the Tigers in the first round in Bridgeport.

Meanwhile, this time around, Delaware and Delle Donne are getting elite status approaching the opening gate with the Blue Hens picked 11th by the AP media voters and 10th by the coaches, their first ranking ever in preseason balloting.

In Delle Donne's situation, AP national writer Doug Feinberg, who was stranded in Chicago because of Hurricane Sandy and unable to return to the New York City home office, reported by remote Tuesday that in presenting the AP preseason All-American women's five, Delle Donne joined Baylor's Brittney Griner and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins in unanimously collecting all 40 votes from the media panel.

Delle Donne, however, is the first from a non-BCS conference to make the AP team since Amanda Wilson did likewise in 1998-99.

The AP preseason squad began in 1995-96, which is why you won't see Nancy Lieberman, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Ann Meyers-Drysdale, Lynette Woodard or Carol Blazejowski's names on historical lists.

Technically, one could say Delle Donne is the first from a Mid-Major per se because back in 1998-99 no one was using BCS terminology, which is derived from the Bowl Championship Series in football.

The six power conferences usually monopolizing the BCS are Pac-12, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences.

No one was using Mid-Major terminology, either.

But when more media got into covering the sport before less media began covering the sport -- Feinberg has 12 new voters this season among the 40, which one can attribute to downsizing in the newspaper industry -- the BCS terminology came into play as a reference point.

In the days of pre-2000, the women's world was its own league, and Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech were at the top in polls and history and players and awards along with the Tennessees of the world.

Heck, UConn was still a baby in the woods back then, even though the Huskies had one NCAA title in 1995 before the 2000 triumph in Philadelphia flipped the switch.

The AP Poll history shows performance numbers that in some ways is a reflection of the influence of Title IX and the coming of the BCS crowd, which had the dollars to spend when they wanted to over-run existing Mid-Major types.

DePaul becomes a interesting specimen in this laboratory discussion because before the first wave of mass conference movement the Blue Demons were a power in an amalgamation of conference names through Conference USA, their last affiliation prior to joining the Big East.

Under veteran coach Doug Bruno, an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma on the USA Gold Medalists in London last summer, you didn't tell DePaul by its affiliation, you noted his bunch by their performance.

But the Big East brand did wonders for DePaul's status in the women's game as it did for Notre Dame, which had competed in similar leagues but had gained national recognition starting in the early 1990s when the Irish upset Louisiana Tech at Muffet McGraw's alma mater St. Joseph's in Philadelphia and earned their first ranking.

Actually, schools branded with the Mid-Major name, or sub Mid-Major, have done well in terms of polling in recent seasons. Xavier out of the Atlantic Ten, shot up into the Top Five in AP voting before being hit by graduation and the ensuing departure of coach Kevin McGuff for Washington.

St. Bonaventure in the A-10 came out of nowhere last season to eventually fill a spot Xavier held in terms of being ranked.

Wisconsin-Green Bay and Gonzaga have also been recent on-and-off consistent residents in the ranking with their former stars gaining national recognition.

But it is what it is today. However, one believes this Delaware team with Delle Donne would have been welcomed to the ranking and All-American party in any era.

But to see how times have changed, a look at the teams, who are called Mid-Major today, and how they stand in terms of total AP rankings through the start of Year No. 37, Louisiana Tech is still fourth because of a long run in the Top 5 and Top 10, Old Dominion is 18th, Long Beach, resulting from the Joan Bonvicini coaching era, is 23rd, Stephen F. Austin, mostly due to the late Sue Gunter, is 28th, Western Kentucky, which rose to power in the 1980s, is 30th, UNLV, off the late 1970s which were the first five seasons of the poll, is 44th, George Washington, resulting from the Joe McKeown era, is 45th, and Cheyney, dating back to the days of Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer's first coaching job in Division I, is 48th.

DePaul, by the way is 37th.

Louisiana Tech holds in preseason appearances at fourth but Old Dominion is 13th, while the others are close to their overall all-time numbers, though George Washington is actually 31st.

The next major shifts to come in terms of poll appearance rankings will be next season at the conference levels when teams with significant poll histories as Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech switch conferences, though the penthouse levels will be affected, also, especially when Notre Dame exits the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That's it for now as the Guru continues his own adminstrative readiness for opening night Nov. 9.

-- Mel









- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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