By Christian Heimall, Staff Writer
For the first time in almost two decades, a team other then Old Dominion will be defending the title in this weekend's CAA Women's Basketball Tournament starting March 11.
#1 Old Dominion
Why they can win: Last year, injuries devastated Old Dominion's hopes of an eighteenth straight conference title, but this year the Monarchs are healthy. Their experienced players, like junior guards Jasmine Parker and Shadasia Green make them a very formidable opponent. Also, guard/forward Jackie Cook is one of the top freshmen in the league and presents a physically demanding task for any post player. Head Coach Wendy Larry knows how to win and get the best out of her players. The thought of going two years without an automatic bid to the NCAA that will push the Monarchs through the tournament.
Why they cannot win: This season has been one of the craziest seasons the CAA has ever seen. The Monarchs lost 100-94 in triple overtime to Northeastern in Boston early in the season. Old Dominion turned the ball over 40 times against Huskies. Also, the Monarchs needed a buzzer-beater to defeat Georgia State and fell to Towson in overtime. The level of parity will make it tough for any favorite to win easily.
#2 James Madison
Why they can win: The Dukes have the benefit of being the host school and not having to worry about travel or adjusted practice schedules. Senior guard Dawn Evans is one of the top scorers in the nation and is a gritty player. She has been fighting through a kidney disorder and other injuries all year. The Dukes are a talented scoring team, leading the CAA in points per game and scoring margin. Finishing out the regular season on a five game winning streak, including an overtime victory over Delaware, the Dukes are the hottest squad going into the tournament.
Why they cannot win: Dukes Head Coach Kenny Brooks has said that while he loves playing the tournament at the JMU Convocation Center, he feels his players face too much pressure to win from the hometown fans. While junior guard Courtney Hamner and junior center Lauren Jiminez are talented players, JMU does not have the post presence to play through the weekend without relying solely on Evans.
#3 Virginia Commonwealth
Why they can win: The Rams are fast on defense. One of the leaders in the conference, VCU averages almost 11 steals per game. They led the league by causing just over 22 turnovers per contest. The Rams average more than 14 assists per game on offense and their ability to cut into the lane and score is intimidating. Senior forward D'andra Moss and senior guard Kita Waller are a very good combination on the floor. Being coached by one of the all-time greats, Beth Cunningham, does not hurt their chances either.
Why they cannot win: The graduation of center Quanitra Hollingsworth hurts VCU's presence in the paint. Injuries over the season, including a season-ending injury to senior guard La'tavia Rorie, limit the Rams' depth.
Why they can win: The Drexel Dragons are the defending tournament champions and are led by the leading scorer in Drexel, CAA, and Philadelphia Women's Basketball history, senior guard Gabriella Marginean. The Dragons' ability to shoot three-pointers consistently presents a tough task for opposing defenses. The guard play of junior Jasmina Roseel and sophomore Marissa Crane has been some of the best in the CAA this year.
Why they cannot win: Drexel is young and of the three seniors on the team, the only one who sees a significant amount of time is Marginean. Head Coach Denise Dillon has said the inexperience and youth of the team is what has been the biggest struggle all year. Drexel is also going into Harrisonburg on a four game losing streak.
Why they can win: The Blue Hens have Elena Delle Donne, who is most likely the best player in the conference. The six-foot, five-inch freshman guard/forward leads the nation in scoring and is at the top of the CAA in rebounding, free throw shooting and three-point field goal percentage. Kenny Brooks of James Madison jokingly called her Dirk Nowitzki because of her size and guard skills. Delaware has the perfect compliment in junior guard Tesia Harris. Harris has shown promise in her ability to command a game and direct an offense on the court.
Why they cannot win: Youth again comes into play for Delaware. The Hens only have two seniors and run their entire offense through Delle Donne. While she is a big part of their success, they need to have a balanced attack in the tournament. Also, the bracket is not kind to Delaware. While their first game is against lowly George Mason, advancing brings Drexel as the next matchup. The Hens have already lost twice to Drexel, both in overtime (once in double OT), and are also on the same side of the bracket as no. one seed Old Dominion.
Why they can win: Hofstra has beaten every team in the conference this year except two: Old Dominion and Delaware. The Pride have one of the best freshmen in the CAA, Shante Evans, who leads the league in rebounding and is among the leaders in points as well. Evans also shares the CAA lead with Delle Donne for most double-doubles (13). Joining her in the frontcourt is one of the more dominant post players Hofstra, and the CAA, may ever see, Jess Fuller. In only two years, she has changed the way teams game plan for Hofstra. Between losses to Northeastern and Delaware, Hofstra went on a four game winning streak, the same streak needed to win the title.
Why they cannot win: It is incredibly difficult for any team to lose a game like Hofstra did at Delaware and not suffer from a hangover effect. In that loss, Hofstra shot 16 of 63 from the field and was unable to convert easy opportunities. If that carries over, it could be another early exit for a Hofstra team in the conference tournament.
Why they cannot win: The Tigers lack size. They only have three players over six-feet tall. While Towson's speedy style of play handcuffs a lot of teams, especially when they are making shots, the "controlled chaos" can sometimes create more bad than good for the Tigers.
Why they cannot win: Daynia La-Force Mann is a wonderful coach, but the youth and lack of talent on the bench leaves her with little to work with. They did defeat Old Dominion at home in triple-overtime, but the Monarchs will never turn the ball over that many times (40) in one game again. The overall inexperience of the team will cause too much trouble for senior forward Kim Carr and sophomore guard Brittany Wilson to make up for.
#9 Georgia State
Why they cannot win: The Panthers have one of the best defensive teams in the conference and are led by talented senior forward Danyiell McKeller,but the small size of Lea Henry's squad is their detriment. With only one player over six-feet tall seeing significant time, battling with the likes of Delle Donne, Marginean and Fuller will be a tough task for GSU.
Why they cannot win: The Seahawks have a lot of talent in junior guard/forward Brittany Blackwell and junior center Martha White. However, Head Coach Anne Hancock still has a lot of work to do before UNCW can challenge for a title. The Seahawks are one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference and have an inability to guard on the perimeter, allowing opponents to shoot almost 35 percent from beyond the arc.
#11 William & Mary
Why they cannot win: The Tribe has not had a good season, but defeating Drexel on the last day of the regular season was a big boost for them going into the tournament. The play of reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year, senior forward Tiffany Benson, has dropped off this season and sophomore guard Taysha Pye is no longer surprising teams on the offensive side like she did last season. One of lower teams in almost every statistical category, the Tribe will have a tough time competing.
#12 George Mason
Why they cannot win: Jeri Porter is only in her second year as head coach in Fairfax and still is trying to implement her system. Junior guard Brittany Poindexter is a talented player, but she alone is nowhere near enough for the Patriots to make noise in Harrisonburg.