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.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Guru's Musings: Temple of Gloom Has Potential to Lift Eventually

By Mel Greenberg

Though Rutgers and Temple have met in recent seasons, Saturday will mark the first time the two will play each other as conference rivals since both were in the Atlantic 10 prior to the Scarlet Knights departure for the old Big East back in 1995-96.

But Saturday’s visit to McGonigle Hallat 2 p.m. will be the first of just two and possibly three times the duo will be in that role before Rutgers takes off from the American Athletic Conference for the Big 10 this summer.

It is not out of the question that the series might continue in the previous nonconference designation since Temple coach Tonya Cardoza believes in a strong out of league schedule and Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer said Sunday after the UConn visit that it made sense to continue to play schools in the same geographical cusp.

The game becomes Stringer’s homecoming visit in a different setting since Rutgers no longer meets Villanova in the wake of the breakup of the former Big East configuration.

Homecomings will also be celebrated by Kahleah Copper, the Scarlet Knights’ sophomore sensation, and junior Betnijah Laney, who’s from nearby Wilmington, Del., but whose mother Yolanda was an all-American for Stringer at Cheyney in the early 1980s after graduating University City.

Temple is coming into the game on a bit of a downer after being upset by Penn in McGonigle Hall Wednesday night in the final game of this season’s Philadelphia Big 5 round-robin.

For Penn, which soon returns to the Ivy wars next weekend, winning in the last minute was historic in it being only the second time the Quakers have gained two local triumphs in the same season.

But for Temple, which had earmarked winning the Big 5 as a goal, the loss completed a run of disappointments that did not sit well with Cardoza, considering all three losses were at home with Saint Joseph’s and Villanova being the other winners.

It’s now a rough two-game stretch for the Owls with top-ranked Connecticut coming to McGonigle Hall Tuesday night with its undefeated and No. 1 status besides being the defending NCAA champion.

Temple already met the Huskies earlier this month in the first of two reunions for Cardoza against Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma, whose staff she was on for 14 seasons and five of the previous eight UConn championships prior to taking the Temple job in June, 2008.

Though the meeting in Bridgeport, Conn., became the wipeout in UConn’s direction that was predicted, Cardoza was pleased with the way her Owls competed the first 15 minutes. However, it was the other 25 that left her perplexed not that she had a notion of pulling off a national shocker.

Though the next games might be gruesome for Temple and thoughts of breaking the two-year NCAA absence is slipping away, there are still things to salvage from the rest of the season and into the future if the Owls learn to maintain their focus all the way.

The fact that the strength of schedule is one of the toughest in the nation – 14th this week in some of the RPI simulations – means a decent finish could land a WNIT bid and with that opportunity Temple needs to only look across town to Drexel, last season’s champion, to see what can be harvested.

Temple is showing that beyond the super powers of Louisville, Connecticut, and probably Rutgers, the Owls can compete with the rest of The American Conference.

That ability will be enhanced next season because besides Rutgers’ departure for the Big 10, Louisville heads out to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the replacements coming aboard are more manageable.

So with the addition of a promising recruiting class and a more even playing field, the Owls can battle for second beyond UConn if all the pieces come together, meaning the future can still be bright.

The Rest of the Weekend

Besides the Rutgers game at Temple, locally there are more games of interest beginning with Penn hosting NJIT, the nation’s only remaining Division I Independent, Saturday at 5 p.m. in the front part of a doubleheader with the men at The Palestra.

The Quakers are a strong favorite and a win will add to the lore already being set this season because a victory will enable the Quakers to set a program record with 10 non-conference triumphs.

After Saturday, the Ivy slate kicks in with Harvard, picked second just above Penn, and Dartmouth, visiting next weekend.

La Salle is on the road in Atlantic 10 action at George Washington, Saturday, and both teams will have something in common – each is coming off a previous game that was a loss to Saint Joseph’s.

Speaking of the Hawks, Sunday is a major A-10 showdown because regular-season defending champion Dayton, unbeaten in conference again, comes visiting looking for a payback after being upset by Saint Joseph’s in the conference semifinals in March that led to the first A-10 crown in over a decade.

The 6 p.m. game will be televised from Hagan Arena on the NBC Sports Network.

In one other game Saturday, Villanova, which has gone into a conference slide in the reconfigured Big East, meets the third and last of brand new rivals when Xavier, a former A-10 power, visits the Pavilion at 2 p.m. on what is also the annual alumnae day designation.

For those who want a twosome of games Sunday, Drexel, coming off Thursday’s spanking at James Madison, will host Northeastern in a Colonial Athletic Association game at 2 p.m. at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Penn State, holding a one-game lead in the Big 10, in which the Lady Lions are defending regular season champions, will host Minnesota.

Delaware, meanwhile, has a CAA stop at conference-newcomer College of Charleston.

National Note

Though some of the luster is off with Maryland’s loss in ACC play the other night, the Terrapins host Notre Dame Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Comcast Center in College Park.

The Irish, one of the defectors to the ACC from the Big East, are the only other Division I school besides UConn who are unbeaten and Notre Dame is ranked second.

The game is part of the ESPN Big Monday package.

On Saturday, Tennessee-Chattanooga Jim Foster, who got his start coaching Saint Joseph’s, will be going for his 800th career victory of which the previous 799 also includes wins at Vanderbilt and Ohio State.

Barb Stevens at top-ranked Division II Bentley, which is unbeaten, will be trying to become the sixth overall member from all three NCAA Divisions to join the 900 victory club.

Midseason Local Watch Lists

Besides the national watch lists for postseason awards from various organizations that are being released, the hunt for local honors is as wide open as ever, especially in player of the year and rookie of the year categories.

Right off the bat within the Big Five, in terms of newcomers, Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald, Penn’s Sydney Stipanovich, and La Salle’s Micahya Owens are having standout seasons. Outside the Big 5, Shanice Johnson at Delaware has also made an impact.

Other newcomer contributing to their respective team’s causes but have prior Division I experience are Alicia Crooper and Leeza Burdgess at La Salle, while Sha-Heria Shipp is doing is doing likewise at Temple.

Being Big 5 champs can usual help in landing player of the year honors but the vote is not clear-cut when one has to decide between Erin Shields or Natasha Cloud at Saint Joseph’s. Temple has a strong candidate in Natasha Thames, while Penn’s performance in the Big 5 this season could be helpful to Alyssa Baron.

Drexel has not had a clear-cut standout with different players shinning at different moments to date but Delaware’s Kelsey Buchanan is likely to make the CAA all-conference squad as the Blue Hens’ new go-to player now that Elena Della Donne is consigned to the history books.

Rutgers Copper and Laney are headed for various honors while Scaife will be under consideration for rookie honors nationally and in The American depending how the rest of the regular season goes.

At Penn, depending on how the Ivy race goes, but even in the Big 5, Kara Bonenberger and Katy Allen become factors for awards, and the same goes for Ilze Gotfrida and Sarah Fairbanks at Saint Joseph’s, while Phildelphia home grown and suburban products Maggie Lucas (all-American) and Talia East (Big 10) along with Ariel Edwards seem in shape to receive some hardware.

Ivy-wise Blake Dietrick, Michelle Miller, and Kristen Helmstetter are leading standouts at Princeton.

Small Colleges

The Southern Division battle continues in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) with Holy Family (11-5, 9-0) and Philadelphia University (12-5, 8-0) still unbeaten and University of the Sciences of Philadelphia (USP) holding third place.

On Saturday, USP hosts Caldwell at 1 p.m., while Holy Family hosts Post at the same time, and Philadelphia U hosts Northern Division leader Bloomfield at 2 p.m.

Holy Family visits Philadelphia U. Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
West Chester has a one-game lead over Bloomsburg in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East and hosts East Stroudsburg at 1 p.m. Saturday.

In Division III action in the Colonial States Athletic Conference, Immaculata is unbeaten in league play with a one-game lead over Cabrini. The Mighty Macs visit Baptist Bible at 1 p.m. while Cabrini is at Centenary College.

Haverford, holding second place 1.5 games behind Johns Hopkins in the Centennial Conference in Division III visits Immaculata Sunday in a non-conference game.

And that’s the story for now bui will be back in the next 24 with the Saturday roundup. The Guru will blog live at Temple and Penn on @womhoopsguru.

-- Mel


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