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, February 29, 2012

Guru Report: Temple's Shey Peddy Wins Two Top Honors From Atlantic 10

(There is a college report blog below this. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click mel’s blog on the left side to get over to the full archive in blogspot. Will update reaction if the Guru receives any.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – Though you will hear that Temple senior star Shey Peddy is not about individual awards, which is quite truthful, talk throughout the Atlantic 10 had had her name high on the list of honors to be handed out by the conference.

As the Owls’ current 13-game win streak heated up, there had been much discussion in recent weeks that Peddy would be thrilled to be named defensive player of the year when the Atlantic 10.

Well, the conference coaches have granted her wish and added another award that says she plays on offense equally as well.

On the eve of the conference tournament, which begins play Friday morning (11:30) at St. Joseph’s Hagan Arena, Peddy was named both the Atlantic 10 player of the year and defensive player of the year.

Peddy has been on the bookends of Temple’s success this season finishing one game behind unbeaten St. Bonaventure in the regular season standings.

Her last-second assist of Kristen McCarthy's game-winner at Richmond to open conference play rescued Temple at a time the Owls were still staggering a bit from the strong nonconference slate that featured a slew of ranked teams.

And in recent weeks, Peddy has keyed Temple’s relentless pressure on the defensive side.

Peddy is the first Temple player to capture the Atlantic 10’s top honor on the court since Kamesha Hairston was named in 2007 after future WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree won it twice in 2005 and 2006.

Peddy is also the first player in the conference since Dupree to win both POY and DPOY honors.

Originally enrolled at Wright State, Peddy transferred to Temple with the desire to play for hometown heroine Tonya Cardoza, who like Peddy grew up in Roxbury, Mass., near Boston.

Cardoza was named the conference coach of the year last season and might have repeated but for the sensational overall season of St. Bonaventure that set all kinds of school records and is ranked for the first time ever in the Associated Press women’s poll, this week remaining at 19th.

“I don’t know anyone has ever requested me before when we’ve visited here,” Bonnies coach Jim Crowley quipped back in January when his group upset Temple in the Liacouras Center the second game on the conference schedule.

Crowley, a candidate for national coach of the year from several organizations, is the dean of the conference coaches and his two stars Jessica Jenkins, a three-point shooting ace, and Megan Van Tatenhove joined Peddy on the first team along with Richmond senior Abby Oliver and Dayton senior Justine Raterman.

Jenkins and Van Tatenhove also were named to the all-academic team.

The conference has the complete list of postseason honorees at its website.

Temple’s Kristen McCarthy was named to the second team as was St. Joseph’s Michelle Baker.

La Salle’s Brittany Wilson was named to the third team and Explorers newcomer Jada Payne made the all-rookie team.

Peddy was also, obviously, named to the all-defensive team.

Dayton’s Andrea Hoover took the conference’s rookie award, while Charlotte’s Epiphany Woodson was named the sixth player of the year, and Richmond’s Becca Wann was named most improved player.

-- Mel

Guru's College Report: Delaware and Drexel Look For Strong Finish

(Guru's note: After mid-morning passes, a post above this has the Atlantic 10 honorees, which will also be at the conference website.)

By Mel Greenberg

Phase Two for Delaware’s ambition season with junior sensation Elena Delle Donne concludes Wednesday night at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., as the regular season in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Meanwhile, Drexel (15-12, 11-16 CAA) will be trying to take a shot at moving up one more seed position when the Dragons host Virginia Commonwealth (16-12, 9-8) at the Daskalakis Athletic Center at 7 p.m.

By winning last Sunday Drexel clinched the fourth seed in next week’s conference tournament capturing the last available bye to skip the first round, which begins Thursday at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.

But if the Dragons win and Hofstra (19-9, 11-6) loses Wednesday to Northeastern (7-21, 5-12), the unlikely upset would create a switch in seedings with Drexel moving to a three and the Pride down to a No. 4.

That switch would then put Drexel on a path that if the Dragons advance they would most likely, baring an upset, meet No. 2 James Madison (22-6, 13-4). Coach Denise Dillon’s squad captured a first-ever regular-season win at JMU but lost to the Dukes at home in overtime.

Drexel, unless it were to win the CAA tournament and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, most likely can get another bid to the WNIT with a strong finish.

Delaware (17-0, 26-1), meanwhile is having a landmark season breaking team records while Delle Donne has continued to lead the nation in scoring.

Phase One was navigating an upgraded nonconference schedule in which the Blue Hens’ only loss was in the closing minutes at Maryland in December,

An upset of then-No. 11 Penn State, which has since become the Big Ten regular season champion, helped propel the Blue Hens into a first-ever appearance in the AP Women’s Poll and coach Tina Martin’s team has climbed all the way up to No. 8 in this week’s ranking.

Coming into conference play, Delaware astounded by having a No. 1 ranking in the RPI and also No. 1 in strength of schedule.

However, for those who earlier had mocked Delle Donne playing in the CAA , which is seventh just below the BCS group, the conference has shown some strength because Delaware has managed to dip to just numbers of six and seven in RPI strength while going against CAA opponents.

By contrast, Princeton, another outstanding Mid-Major team, has been dragged down to 32 by Ivy opponents and while the Tigers still have one of the best individual RPI rankings in Ivy history, if not the best, they were in the high teens before having to deal with the league.

As for Phase Two, a win Wednesday night enables Delaware to finish unbeaten in the CAA and also set a school mark for overall wins in a season.

Delaware, a Cinderella team advancing to the CAA title game last season before losing to two-time champion James Madison, is already assured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if the Blue Hens get tripped up in the conference tournament, a competition that can be called Phase Three on Delaware’s check list.

At the moment the Blue Hens are being projected as a potential No. 3 seed in the NCAA field.

AP Poll Trivia

Because the Guru was traveling and also working on coverage for Full Court (fullcourt.com) at the Notre Dame-UConn season finale for the Big East title in Hartford, the late night precluded offering some trivia notes out of this week’s AP women’s poll.

This week top-ranked Baylor and No. 5 Duke tied Long Beach for 14th in total Top 5 appearances with 60 each.

Baylor also tied Virginia for seventh with total No. 1 appearances at 24.

Duke tied Vanderbilt for all-time appearances as 11th with 343 appearances.

Maryland, which is eighth in Top 10 appearances, reached its 200th.

Tara VanDevereer at Stanford moved into third place ahead of retired Texas coach Jody Conradt with 377 poll appearances guiding the Cardinal in terms of earning a ranking at the same institution.

She also has numbers from coach Ohio State prior to taking the Stanford job.

Tigers’ Tale

Princeton just missed getting a ranking this week by one point after clinching a third Ivy title. However, if the coach Courtney Banghart’s team sweeps Brown and Yale on the road it is likely to become the first Ivy team to get ranked because several teams at the bottom of the Top 25 are not likely to make it through their respective conference tournaments.

Conference Tourneys: The First Wave

Speaking of Princeton, after getting first in line among 31 conference champions to get an automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament, the Tigers will be joined by several other conference winners by Tuesday.

The Ivy League is the only one which does not have a postseason playoff to win the automatic slot.

The conference action will be spoken to deeper here and daily beginning in a few days but here are the groups in play this weekend.

The Big East set a record with nine reps last year to the Big Dance. The number may be one less but in a group that has had as many as seven teams ranked this season, this event in Hartford will be a warmup to the NCAAs.

Furthermore there will be drama coming on the heels of Notre Dame winning a first-ever regular season crown Monday night by beating UConn, which has had a monopoly on trophies from the conference.

So it will be interesting to see if a third meeting develops as it did last year, Everyone is out to improve their seed position while West Virginia is trying to make a run to become an eighth contender for an NCAA slot.

Depending what happens in the offseason this could be the farewell appearance for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which are headed to the Atlantic Coast as fast as they can exit, while West Virginia already has its visa to emigrate to the Big 12.

If rumors become fact, Temple could be moving in from the Atlantic 10.

Villanova is the 10th seed and will open Friday playing Seton Hall.

The Atlantic Coast has top-seed Duke and second-seed Miami and third-seed Maryland all angling to win and take a potential shot at a No. 1 NCAA seed if UConn suffers an ugly fate in the Big East on one of its two home courts.

Georgia Tech, the fourth seed, is likely headed back to the NCAAs while Virginia and North Carolina, though projected to the Big Dance by some, will be trying to leave things out of the hands of the NCAA selection committee.

In the America East, Boston U is the top seed in a one-bid league and the Terriers must win to land in the field of 64.

In the Atlantic 10, being held at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, beginning Friday, St. Bonaventure, the regular season champ, is a lock – auto bid or not. Second-seeded Temple has been projected while third-seed Dayton is on the bubble and may need to get to the title game. The host Hawks are looking to become Cinderella while several others in Charlotte, Richmond and Duquesne could cause trouble.

In the Atlantic Sun, Florida Gulf Coast, the top seed, has a fantastic year but the schedule is weak so the first-time Division I competitors need to win in a one-bid league.

In the Big Ten, Penn State restored to its past glory won the top seed and is a lock to get to the NCAAs as is Ohio State, Purdue and Nebraska, the rookie school that moved from the Big 12. Several others such as Iowa and the Michigans could find their way to postseason glory though it is still hard to believe that the committee will make projectionists look good off their deep multiple bid forecasts.

The Metro Atlantic is a one-bid league and top-seeded Marist is not in the at-large discussion this year.

The Patriot League, whose top-seeded American is the favorite, gets under way this week but concludes next week at the site of the highest surviving seed.

The Ohio Valley is a one-bid league whose winner will check in with a Dance ticker Saturday afternoon.

The Southeastern has intrigue and multiple aspirants. Kentucky beat out Tennessee for the No. 1 seed, but both teams will land in the NCAA and are after high seeding in the Dance field. Georgia and South Carolina are also in lock mode for the NCAA while Arkansas and Florida could also factor.

The Southern Conference and Sun Belt are one-bid events though Middle Tennessee resides in the Sun Belt so keep an eye here for trouble for someone elsewhere if a wrong winner emerges.

The same goes in the West Coast, which has Gonzaga as the top seed. Though BYU had been in play, this now appears to be a one-bid event if the Zags repeat as champions.

OK, start your brackets and the Guru will be back in a few hours with the Atlantic 10 postseason individual winners and will be tweeting @womhoopsguru from the Drexel game Wednesday night.

-- Mel

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guru's College Report: Irish Eyes Smiling Over Big East Title

(Guru's note: You are supposed to be reading this at the all new-look fullcourt.com, which is impressive. But since there are new procedures to file, the Guru has no idea yet if this got to its destination so in the interest of public service you can take a sneak peek here).

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. – The clock struck midnight about an hour earlier than real time Monday night on the East Coast in lower New England for powerful Connecticut’s run of five regular season Big East titles when No. 3 Notre Dame topped the host No. 4 Huskies 72-59 in the XL Center, the site of next week’s conference tournament.

That is about the only thing left for the Irish (28-2, 15-1 Big East) to conquer in the long-running rivalry between the national powers after Notre Dame made it three straight wins over UConn (26-4, 13-3) beginning with last April’s 72-63 upset in the NCAA national semifinals in Indianapolis.

To hear Notre Dame All-American junior guard Skylar Diggins discuss the Irish emotions after the game ended here in front of a disappointed Huskies-leaning crowd of 15,132, the 74-67 overtime win back in January in South Bend, Ind., was enjoyable but not enough.

Diggins and her teammates still needed to come here in one of the Huskies’ two houses – including the Gampel Pavilion campus arena in Storrs – and walk away with the outright regular season championship the conference coaches predicted for the Irish back in October.

Furthermore there was the desire to win it for Irish coach Muffett McGraw, who like UConn’s Geno Auriemma comes from a Philadelphia-area background.

Though McGraw has had a distinguished career with the Irish, including the 2001 NCAA title and two other trips to the Women’s Final Four, since joining the Big East back in 1995-96 the Irish have come up short to the powerful Huskies numerous times in various phases of their wars in the Big East.

“I think it’s great,” Diggins said after scoring 20 points, one less than the 21 collected by teammate Natalie Novosel. “We came out here and played for ‘coach.’ She deserves it.

“This is something she can add to her repertoire. She is a Hall of Fame coach and this is something she hasn’t accomplished and we wanted to do it for her. At the same time, it’s a pride thing. We wanted to step out of the shadow of UConn,” Diggins continued.

“I don’t know the last time we won a game here. It was a great team effort in a hostile environment where teams can get down quickly. We stayed together. That was the one thing. I think the team did a great job of rallying together and staying focused on getting a big win on the road.”

Notre Dame has won almost everywhere to date in seeking to go further than last season’s NCAA finish when the Irish fell to Texas A&M in the national title game. The Irish lost at No. 1 and unbeaten Baylor in December and recently suffered a conference setback at home against West Virginia.

Kayla McBride shot a sizzling 6-for-9 in scoring 12 points to add to Notre Dame’s total while Deveraux Peters was just short of a double double grabbing 15 rebounds and scoring nine points.

UConn held its own in the first half, trailing 38-35 at the break on the play of Tiffany Hayes’ 18 points – she finished with 22 being held to four the rest of the way – and center Stefanie Dolson’s 12, which became 18 overall when she was just shut down by the Irish defense over the second half. Freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was limited to 10 points.

Connecticut held a slight 51-49 lead with 13:06 left in the game, when Notre Dame, propelled by Diggins, launched a 13-2 run and never was seriously threatened again to the point that Auriemma, uncharacteristically, yanked his starters with 3:16 left to play as Novosel’s three-pointer became the final score on both sides.

While the two teams could meet again in less than a week, the postmortem featured the Notre Dame contingent discussing what went right and Connecticut offering total gloom off of things that went wrong.

The Huskies, in fact in the Big East tournament, will be a three-seed in a tie-break with St. John’s, which shocked UConn back in Storrs on senior night a little over a week ago on a buzzer beater that became the first home loss in a 100 games.

Connecticut has now lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 1993, a dominance that when McGraw was asked to expound on Diggins’ remarks on the pride issue said, “I think everyone is in Connecticut’s shadow.”

But if this keeps up, the Irish will be the ones holding the umbrella in the Big East.

“I was really pleased with our defense,” especially in the second half,” McGraw said. “I thought we really got into the driving lanes a little bit more.”

Notre Dame forced UConn into 18 turnovers and had a lopsided 23-12 advantage in points off of turnovers. The Irish dominated the boards, 42-31, and outscored the Huskies 25-8 in second chance points.

“At halftime we tried to get off and help on the dribble from Hayes a little bit and had some ideas for pressuring the pass to eliminate the ball going into the post so easily,” McGraw said of adjustments made at the break.

“I thought we did that. They had some turnovers in the second half that led to some layups for us and that was a huge momentum shift.”

Novosel echoed McGraw’s remarks about the defense after the half.

“That was a point of emphasis, she said. “We wanted to stop them on defense, not out-score them. We came out with a little more attack mode offensively. One of our keys to the game was to outrebound them, so we tried to attack the offensive pass and outrebound them on every play.”

Meanwhile, Auriemma was in a rare retreat form of speech saying he didn’t care who won the Big East tournament, pointing out that the loss to St. John’s had already sealed Connecticut’s fate in terms of not getting the No. 1 seed, title share or not.

“When you get a team like Notre Dame where Diggins plays well, and Peters plays well and they get a great night from McBride, all of a sudden you just don’t have enough.”

Though Dolson and Auriemma both cited her improved play Monday night, she still said she had enough flaws to make the compliments from her coach a moot point.

“At the end of the day you look at the things you didn’t do,” the sophomore center said. “I didn’t finish at the end of the game with my layups. I didn’t rebound at the end of the game.

“If we are going to win a championship I have to do those things. As well as you think you did there is always things you look back on that you could have done better.”

Dolson was first at a loss to describe the Huskies’ difficulties in the second half but then offered, “They put great pressure on us and we did not fight back.”

Auriemma spoke to the same issue overall.

“We do a lot of things well, but fighting back is not one of them,” he said.

Dolson noted, “Things weren’t going right and we just took it one-on-one to the basket. You can’t be like that and when it happens we have to fight back as a team. The five people out there need to huddle up and know what’s going on and know what we’re running and execute.

“We didn’t do that and we didn’t play Connecticut basketball.”

Hayes spoke of the frustration over the Huskies’ failure to improve since the January loss at Notre Dame, something that hasn’t happened for more than a decade in terms of getting better when March Madness approaches.

“That’s supposed to be over in December, and it’s the end of February now,” Hayes said as the end of her collegiate career looms ahead. “If we want to be a Final Four team we can’t be doing that in February. It’s upsetting to see coming from everybody, myself included.”

Notre Dame and Connecticut as top four seeds in the Big East tournament, which begins Friday, have double byes, as does second-seeded St. John’s and fourth-seeded Georgetown.

The Irish on Sunday will play the survivor of two earlier rounds when ninth-seeded South Florida meets 16th-seeded Pittsburgh on Friday with the winner advancing on Saturday against eighth-seeded DePaul.

Connecticut on Sunday will meet either sixth-seeded Rutgers, which has a first-round bye, or No. 11 Cincinnati or No. 14 Marquette.

-- Mel