Thursday, July 29, 2010

Preview of the 2010 Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament

From True/Slant on March 16, 2010:

Women’s NCAA Tournament Cheat Sheet

The NCAA women’s tournament brackets have been announced, which means we’re only a few weeks from the coronation of the UConn Huskies. Again.

Still, there are some great players to watch, so here are ten players I have my eye on this March. These are not necessarily the best players. I’ve left some notables — Tina Charles, Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Danielle Robinson, to name a few — off this list. Rather, this is a list of players whose style I enjoy, or who will be central to the drama if they advance. In no particular order:

1. Courtney Vandersloot, Guard, Gonzaga. Vandersloot put on a show in the early rounds of last year’s tourney and this year, all she did was lead the nation in assists. (She also had 108 steals, good for sixth nationally.) Vandersloot has an uncanny ability to anticipate passes a split second before they are airborn, get a hand in a lane and take off the other way with the ball. The Zags will likely get Texas A & M in the second round, which is too bad because they’ll have to face:

2. Danielle Adams, Forward/Center, Texas A & M. Adams has size and strength but her soft hand are what make her really special. She owned the the boards in the Big 12 tourney. She got better as the season wore on, taking possession after possession away from opponents and showed a remarkably light touch shooting from the outside. Gary Blair’s Aggies are a very well rounded team, but if they are going to make noise, they will need Adams to be the lead noisemaker.

3. Jacinta Monroe, Forward, Florida State. Monroe has hops. She is long and lean and really elevates up to clear air space before she lets it rip. She led her team in scoring, rebounds and blocks. She’s got a great pull up jumper, moves and quickness. She is a complete player, who can slash, fake, shoot and play defense. Florida State will probably get St. John’s in the second round, which means, the Seminoles will have to take on:

4. Nadirah McKenith, Guard, St. John’s. Though only a freshman, Nadirah McKenith is not afraid of any situation. Maybe she benefits from her youth. She seemed unafraid to travel on the road to play Rutgers and UConn this year, the bullies of the Big East. I’ve been to the RAC. I was scared. It’s crowded and steamy and loud. That is one intimidating venue. To say nothing of the crowds at Storrs. And yet, McKenith was showed guts and equanimity in those road games, leap-frogging for rebounds, stealing passes, and leading the Red Storm in scoring. She put up a double-doubles in both of those games. St. John’s gets Princeton in the first round and Princeton doesn’t let anybody score, so they will need McKenith to be her fearless self.

5. Monica Wright, Guard, Virginia. The ACC player of the year dropped 700 points on opponents this season and can score from anywhere on the floor. She also plays complete shut down defense. Wright takes away the opposition’s best threat and dares coaches to game plan around her. No small wonder, then, that she was also named the ACC defensive player of the year. The popular cliche is that guard play determines the outcome at tourney time and if any guard can power her team to a serious run, Wright is the one. Still, the Cavs got a tough match up right off the bat, drawing Wisconsin-Green Bay, no gimme game. If Wright and Virginia make it through there, UConn looms as a potential Sweet 16 opponent.

6. Liz Repella, Guard, West Virginia. Like Wright, Liz Repella is another guard who is the focal point of WVU’s scheme. She leads her team in shooting, but her most important asset is that she’s one of the best two way players around. WVU’s scoring defense ranked fourth nationally and held opponents under 52 points per game. Repella is a big reason why. She never quits on a play and I’ve seen her close on a defender on a fastbreak to disrupt the shot. Still, given that WVU’s half of the Memphis region gives them potential games against Texas and then LSU or Duke, they’ll need Repella to defend and also have a hot shooting hand.

7. Kelley Cain, Center, Tennessee. The 6′ 6″ sophomore center has come on strong as the season has gone on. She’s a shot blocking machine and has half – half! – of her teams total blocks. She’s shooting 60% from the field. Tennessee is in a monster region (until I die, I will never understand the selection committee) and the Vols will likely have to face Baylor in the Sweet 16. The Grand Dame Summitt will really need Cain in that game. She’ll have to manage a balance between physicality and control to handle Baylor’s freshman phenom, Britney Griner. I think Cain has it in her to neutralize Griner, but that’s going to be a monster match-up.

8. Kalana Greene, Guard, Connecticut. Greene’s teammate, Tina Charles, is the player of the year for my money, but Huskies fans know how important Kalana Greene is. The players themselves know that when Greene is humming along, they will win. Um, not that they ever don’t win, actually … but still, five minutes into the second half of the Big East championship game, those pesky Mountaineers were only five points down. UConn has won every game this year by an average of about 35 points, so seeing WVU within striking distance with 14 minutes left was shocking. Something had to give and it was Kalana Greene. As the UConn defense kicked into high gear, Greene scored six points and had four rebounds in a six minute span staking her team to a 17 point lead. At that point, the beast of the east just cruised to another conference championship. Kalana Greene just happens sometimes.

9. Amanda Thompson, Forward, Oklahoma. I think the Sooners have a good shot to return to the Final Four, which says something about their depth considering they lost the Paris girls to graduation last year, and then lost Whitney Hand to an injury. Amanda Thompson is a big reason why they have a legit shot. On the downside, she can be a streaky shooter. On the upside, she seems to hit one of those streaks when her team needs a lift. Beyond which, she is a demon on the boards. She pulled down 18 rebounds against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tourney. 18!

10. Jayne Appel, Center, Stanford. It’s been an off year by Jayne Appel standards, mostly due to injury. Even hobbled, she is the best passing center in the game. More importantly, she’s quick up and down the floor when she’s 100% physically. Appel is the only post player who I think can match up against the magnificent Tina Charles. If Stanford makes it to the final, that is. Charles often outsmarts opponents, but Appel is a wiley senior, too, as quick mentally as Charles is. She also has the strength and toughness to withstand Charles’ physical game. Still, I don’t think Tina Charles will be denied this year, but if anybody can battle her, it’s a healthy Jayne Appel.

Just missed the cut, but still looking for, Jantel Lavender, Center, Ohio State; Markel Walker, Guard, UCLA; Britney Hodges, Guard, St. Francis of Pa. (I had to give a nod to one of the small schools); Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers, Guard, Georgetown; Amber Harris, Forward, Xavier; Kelsey Griffin, Forward, Nebraska; and Andrea Riley, Guard, Oklahoma State (who actually made my list, but I had to cut as she is serving a one game suspension and will miss the opening round game. Too bad, because she can drop a dime from the outside, but can also slice through the lane when she sees a crack.)

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