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.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Guru's College Report: Drexel and Villanova Gain Strong Conference Finishes

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

The end of the regular season came Sunday for many of the Guru’s 10-team local D-1 PhilahoopsW and it will arrive for the rest in a few days.

The next phase begins later this week with the start of conference play to grab the 32 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament and it will spill over till the following weekend when the Colonial Athletic Association’s playoff are held with Drexel and Delaware involved.

When darkness fell Sunday night, the seeding fates of Saint Joseph’s and La Salle (Atlantic 10), Villanova (Big East), Rutgers and Penn State (Big Ten) were known. Temple’s in the American Athletic Conference will be known Monday night (tonight) when the Owls finish up at Houston and the rest of the UConn and the dwarves contingent complete their games.

Drexel determined its fate and like Villanova beyond the hunt for NCAA bids, both were assured of at least WNIT participation off their games.

Penn also clinched a WNIT automatic bid on Saturday night but the Quakers still have a mathematical shot at unbeaten Princeton in the Ivy Leasgue, which has no postseason tourney and not likely to have a defacto playoff on the final day at the Palestra unlike a year ago when the Quakers and Tigers were tied for first going into the showdown at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym.

Nationally, there were a few surprises with others determining their fates and some finishes which were not quite what was predicted back in the fall.

No. 2 South Carolina took a hit at Kentucky but while the Gamecocks must now share the regular season Southeastern Conference crown with Tennessee, Dawn Staley’s group will head into that Power 5 member’s free-for-all as the No. 1 seed off its win over the Lady Vols and still very much headed for one of the four NCAA No. 1 seeds.

Locally, in what may be a first, within the Philly Six (Big 5 plus Drexel) lineup, no one is NCAA bound, lock, bubble or otherwise.

But Villanova after finally getting healthy and then going 15-5 has a shot to grab the Big East while Drexel has a 50-50 shot in the CAA.

When it comes to the others Rutgers is assured of an NCAA bid but not quite the way the Scarlet Knights would have liked unless they create some fireworks in the Big Ten tourney.

Princeton would seemingly get the first Ivy at-large slot if they were to suddenly collapse. But right now the Tigers should move up a few more notches from their 14th slot in the Associated Press women’s poll, which does not factor into the NCAA committee’s deliberations.

All that said, let’s recap Sunday and set up what is known about the locals.
CAA: Drexel Clinches Second While Delaware Just Misses Shocking James Madison

The Guru had intended to start the day at Villanova but with the weather conditions what they were he headed straight to Drexel, which has a nice garage across the street from the Daskalakis Athletic Center to keep the car out of harm’s way.

Senior Day saw the Dragons honor Jamila Thompson and Jackie Schluth prior to the tip against Towson though Schulth, who was sidelined with injuries early in her collegiate career, might return pending a medical hardship appeal by Drexel to the NCAA.

Before the tip because of the 3 p.m . start for TV purposes, word came from Long Island that Hofstra was in serious trouble with Elon and ultimately lost despite making the outcome a little closer.

So Drexel started with the ability to control its own fate with a win and for the most part had a comfortable lead on the Tigers until Towson rallied down the stretch before the Dragons put a stop and grabbed a 50-45 victory.

That locked up second place in next week’s CAA tourney, again returning to the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Washington, for the Dragons (19-9, 13-4).

If form holds James Madison is expected to live up to its number one seed and would be the only CAA team in the Big Dance. But since returning to the national rankings two weeks ago for a short-lived appearance, the Dukes fell to Hofstra at home and nearly lost Sunday at Delaware.

But with the way the Dragons have been blowing comfortable leads it is not for certain they could be the dark horse, though they earned the label with one game left Wednesday at Northeastern.

Since every conference is guaranteed one team in the WNIT, the highest finisher not in the NCAA field gets a berth as an automatic qualifier. Then at-large picks are made to fill that 64-team field.

The at-large teams, however, must be .500 or better while a team could have a losing record earning the AQ bid. Temple finally got to .500 Saturday with an upset of East Carolina, but the Owls need a win at Houston to guarantee a .500 finish.

If they get to the third seed – a long shot – in the AAC tourney, with the likelihood that USF will join UConn in the NCAA, the Owls would become the WNIT AQ out of their conference. But they do have a life right now to get to the WNIT.

Drexel, which won the WNIT two years ago, has the CAA automatic unless it finds its way to the NCAA field.

In Sunday’s game, Rachel Pearson scored 15 points for Drexel, which has won five straight, while Schluth delivered 10 points.

The second place finish is Drexel’s highest behind the year the Dragons won the CAA in 2009.

LaTorri Hines-Allen had 19 points for Towson (10-19, 6-11) and Ciara Web scored 11.

“I’m extremely pleased with the finish, though we want to go into the tournament with a win,” coach Denise Dillon said.

“You look back in December and you lose a key player to your program (point guard Meghan Creighton) and for the team to step up and fill her shoes and really opening their minds and hearts to learning what we’re about, speaks a lot to their character.”

Ironically, it was about then that Drexel got off the roller coaster route the Dragons had endured.

“We threw Carrie Alexander and Alexis Smith into the fire and they embraced it. And they have tagged team the position. ‘Lexi has grown the most this year and sometimes when it is forced on you, it is for the best.

“Having experience goes a long way. Rachel Pearson never shies away from what her role is and maybe in the past she would stop shooting if she missed a couple but now she knows she has to continue after it.

“And I can’t say enough about Jackie Schluth and Jamila Thompson with the growth they had in their senior year.”

As to what’s ahead, Dillon said, “You want to see crazy things happen in the conference and some parity with the chance for anyone to win the conference.

“I still feel certainly JMU has the upper hand and players at every position and had proven themselves throughout the year. Maybe games are just a little bit tighter as minutes go by, but it’s going to take a lot of work.

“But any opportunity to continue to play is a great one. We put together a tough out of conference schedule to give ourselves a chance for an at-large but you have to win those games. If we’re not, we’re in the same boat having to win the conference tournament.

“But knowing if you don’t win that Sunday and you still have an opprtunity to play, there’s nothing better.”

Meanwhile, to the South, Delaware, coming out of a tough overtime loss at UNCW, caused a stir most of the afternoon in the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center in Newark before falling at the finish to James Madison 74-71.

Precious Hall had 24 points for the Dukes (25-3, 16-1 CAA) and Jazmon Gwathmey scored 21 points.

Delaware (13-15, 8-9) lost its fourth straight despite another career high for Joy Caraccciolo, this time with 29 points. The Blue Hens will finish up Wednesday at Elon and need to put together a string of victories and go deep in the CAA tourney to have a shot at a WNIT bid.

Villanova Rallies Over Creighton to Third in Big East

The Wildcats quickly fell behind the Blue Jays until working their way back to a 61-53 victory at home in the Pavilion. A little while later word came that Xavier upset St. John’s and that enabled Villanova (18-12, 12-6 Big East) to break out of a gridlock and take the third seed for this week’s tournament at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., in suburban Chicago.

Revitalized Seton Hall and preseason favorite DePaul finished tied for first with the upstart Pirates getting the top seed and DePaul the second.

After Villanova got healthy the Wildcats made noise in the conference and beat everyone at least once except two very narrow setbacks to the Pirates of South Orange, N.J., who have gained their first-ever top seed for the tourney.

Of course, the new Big East is two years old while the previous one had more heavyweights, whose names don’t need to be kept repeating.

If Seton Hall and DePaul get to the title game, both are expected to land in the NCAA in whatever fashion, but Villanova is certainly capable of making someone else’s life miserable in another part of the country by winning the conference and forcing a three-team representation.

So Villanova is sitting right now with the potential AQ to the WNIT but would go anyway as an at-large entry.

Against Creighton (17-12, 10-8), senior Emily Leer had 18 points, Katherine Coyer scored 13, her twin sister Caroline scored 12, and freshman Alex Louin scored 10.

Marissa Janning, the Big East preseason player of the year, scored 13 points for the Blue Jays. Despite that accolade, there’s a strong chance Philadelphia’s Brittany Hrynko at DePaul is likely to be the season pick.

The Wildcats will open Sunday night in the quarterfinals playing Butler, with whom they split, at 9:30 p.m. in the quarterfinal round.

Right now Villanova’s RPI may not be good enough to land an NCAA bid but if the Wildcats get to the title game, given the 15-5 finish, which would be 17-6 and given the narrow losses when key players were missing, there would have to be some long discussion by the NCAA committee to see if coach Harry Perretta’s squad has an argument for inclusion.

Saint Joseph’s Finishes Sweep of La Salle

After previously topping the Explorers at home in Hagan Arena to become part of a three-way tie for the Big Five title, the Hawks on Sunday were in La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena to wrap up the season in an Atlantic 10-only game.

The Hawks (12-16, 8-8) could be the most dangerous seventh seed in America when they open in the A-10 tourney against 10th-seeded George Mason and then potentially play No. 2 Dayton, the preseason favorite.

George Washington won the regular season crown for the first time since 2008, the last year under coach Joe McKeown, who has Northwestern on an NCAA track in the Big 10.

Saint Joseph’s was picked third but injuries and youth conspired to drag the squad down.

However, now they have won four straight, including a win over Duquesne, one of the upper seeds in the field for the tourney at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia.

The two teams Sunday were locked in a 24-24 tie at the half before Saint Joseph’s launched a 21-1 run against La Salle (14-15, 5-10) during which the Explorers were 0-for-11 from the field.

Ciara Andrews had 21 points for the winners while graduate student Ashley Robinson scored 20 and senior Natasha Cloud scored 13.

La Salle (14-15, 5-10), which will be the 11th seed against No. 14 Davidson, got 11 points from Khristin Lee.

Big Ten: Rutgers Takes Senior Day Win Over Indiana While Penn State Falls Again

The Scarlet Knights finished their first Big Ten season on an upbeat note, beating Indiana 71-60, to finish in a tie for fourth. Maryland, the other newcomer, became the third team in Big Ten history to make a perfect run through the league.

Rutgers, the defending WNIT champs, winning it last season, will open against Northwestern, which defeated the Scarlet Knights (26-8, 12-6 Big Ten) this past week at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.
The bad news is if coach C. Vivian Stringer’s group gets past the Wildcats, Rutgers would likely see Maryland in the semifinals. So while the two-year NCAA drought is about to end, most likely with an at-large invite, Rutgers won’t be in the group of Top 16 NCAA seeds who will get to host the first two rounds.

On Sunday against Indiana (14-15, 4-14), Betnijah Laney played her last game in the RAC and had another double with 18 points and 13 rebounds behind Kahleah Copper’s 24 points.Tyler Scaife added 16 points.

Amela Cahill scored 11 for the Hoosiers.

Meanwhile Penn State lost at home in Tori Waldner’s last game in the Bryce Jordan Center where she scored 12 points in the 62-56 loss to Wisconsin (9-19, 5-13).

Sierra Moore had 17 points and 14 rebounds for coach Coquese Washington’s squad (6-23, 3-15), who will be the 13th of 14 seeds ahead of Purdue when Penn State opens in the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill. against 12th seeded Indiana.

And that takes care of everything for now.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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