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, February 26, 2018

The Guru Report, Part 2: Can Rutgers in Big Ten Tourney Transform Doom Into Boom and Whither Penn State?

Guru note: Because there was a lot of ground to cover from Sunday, the report is split in two parts, this being the second.

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

What seemed like a piece of cake to occur instead has finished its crumble down the stretch and plans to celebrate Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer’s 1000th victory, including her previous time at Cheyney in suburban Philadelphia, and at Iowa, may be headed for cold storage and near the inside of the start of next season.

The Scarlet Knights completed regular season play in the Big Ten with another upset loss, falling to Northwestern 63-50 on Sunday afternoon at Beardsley Gym in Evanston, Ill.

The defeat follows Wednesday’s horrific home loss to Iowa where a nine-point lead with three minutes left in regulation disappeared in a Hawkeyes run that concluded with a three-point shot that sent the game into overtime.

From that moment over the next five minutes Iowa dominated.

Sunday’s setback by Rutgers (19-11, 7-9 Big Ten) to a Wildcats group who struggled to an 11-19 overall mark and 4-12 in the conference makes future wins this season  hard to come by, let alone entry into the NCAA tournament, because the Scarlet Knights’ path in the conference tourney, beginning second-round play Thursday, is loaded with doom but if conquered can become boom.

Stringer, whose team has slowed the countdown to a crawl, remains still in need of four wins to become the fourth coach and third in Division I to attain the milestone this season.

Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell gained their 1000th on the same day Dec. 19 followed a month later by Barbara Stevens of Division II power Bentley in Massachusetts.

Previously, the late Tennessee Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt and current Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer are the two other women’s coaches prior to this season who have each won at least a 1,000 games.

Stringer is now at 996-401 for her 47-year career.

From the standpoint of the Stringer countdown, Rutgers would benefit with a first-round game to pick up a triumph but in light of what happened since a gaudy 11-game win streak it’s hard to label any game a sure thing.

In Thursday’s second round contest, Rutgers as the ninth seed will play an eighth-seeded Purdue team they met twice, slipping by the first time at home near the end of the 11-game streak and then shut down soon thereafter when the Scarlet Knights visited the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind.

Should Rutgers hurdle that obstacle, next up is regular season champion Ohio State, the top seed, which crushed the Scarlet Knights when they met in Columbus, Ohio.

But should Rutgers still be standing with Stringer then needing just two more wins, perhaps the rejuvenation can carry against the other side of the bracket in the semifinals and final, though Maryland, which routed Rutgers twice, is on that side.

It is an interesting storyline with the math now that win number 1,000 would also contain the Big Ten title and automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.

That might have become a necessity because a quick dead end may cause the drought from the last NCAA appearance to continue.

On the face of it, an RPI of 31 prior to Sunday and several key wins should be enough until it comes to comparing with hot teams down the stretch.

When the season began, Stringer was 23 victories away and expectations after last year’s miserable six-win performance were modest — win enough to get close and then chip shot into the record books early next time around.

But Rutgers came out like gangbusters, delivering satisfying paybacks to all who took advantage of a talent-poor roster limited by injury and rules of eligibility last season.

The surge carried the Scarlet Knights into the rankings for the first time in several seasons and Rutgers even made the charts when the NCAA tournament committee trotted out its first reveal in January of the projected top 16 if the bracket was made known at that moment.

If that held up, it meant Rutgers could be at home the first two rounds.

Then the roof fell in and when the Knights hit the heart of the conference schedule, they already had been upset twice and then got handled easily twice by Maryland and the game already mentioned by Ohio State.

They did temporarily stop the bleeding, beating Michigan, though that has devalued since the Wolverines have dropped out of the polls.

In the NCAA world barring some return to early form, Rutgers could get one win in the conference tourney this week and then maybe one more or two in NCAA action.

The other option that offers better promise in terms of Stringer is a win over Purdue, rejection by the committee, and then an at-large pick to the other tournament that Rutgers people don’t like mentioned but one that the brass could pay the price for three home games that all could be winnable.

As for how it went against Northwestern in the boxscore, the other countdown that has been unstoppable is the scoring of redshirt senior Tyler Scaife, who missed last season with a detected heart defect.

The third of three players in the history of the program who have amassed a minimum of 2,000 career points, Scaife needs just 17 to pass WNBA All-Star Cappie Pondexter into second place behind another retired WNBA star in former New York Liberty great Sue Wicks.

The other player who scored in double figures against Northwestern was Stasha Carey with 10 points.

Lindsay Pulliam had a game-high 23 points for Northwestern while Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had 12 points and 20 rebounds, which set a Wildcats program season record of 355. The previous mark was 344 from Nia Coffey two seasons ago.

Bryana Hopkins also scored in double figures against Rutgers, collecting 12 points.

Northwestern is 5-3 against the Scarlet Knights and now on a three-game win streak in the series.

Whither Penn State?

In writing this post covering Rutgers and Penn State ending their seasons and heading to the Big Ten tourney it is almost hard to believe that what is being chronicled is a tale of two teams at the bottom of the league that back in their previous lives in the Atlantic 10 and Rutgers also in the old Big East the talk this time of year would be of two rival state schools out of Pennsylvania and New Jersey who were area rivals, conference championship rivals, and national rivals who were both usually in the Top 15 of the weekly rankings if not even a more exclusive number.

Having already discussed Rutgers, which has its own issues, a bigger question might be what has happened to Penn State, which had a long, gaudy, Big Ten history prior to the recent additions of Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska.

The Lady Lions have continued to draw quality recruits but has been missing in positive notoriety ever since the graduation of three-point shooting ace Maggie Lucas out of Philadelphia‘s Germantown Academy.

As low as Rutgers is on the Big Ten bracket, Penn State is even lower, starting in the first round Wednesday in an event the Lady Lions regularly were at worst a seed no lower than fourth.

They finished the regular season Sunday at home in the Bryce Jordan Center, getting thumped 89-64 by Ohio State, which claimed the regular season conference title outright for the first time since 2010.

Teniya Page had 19 points for Penn State (15-14, 6-10 Big Ten) while Jaida Travascio-Green scored 17.

Kelsey Mitchell had 22 points for Ohio State (23-6, 12-3), while Stephanie Mavunga scored 21 and grabbed 14 rebounds, while Linnae Harper scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Mitchell now has 3,286 points, passing former Baylor star and current WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Britteny Griner by three points for third place in NCAA history.

Thus Penn State will open in the first round as the 11th seed facing 14th-seeded Illinois, the winner moving on Thursday in the second round to play sixth-seeded Michigan.

Maryland is seeded second.

And that’s this report.