Mar 10, 2011, 7:37 AM EST
No. 1 James Madison (23-7)
Last 10: 9-1
Noteworthy: Can you write an opening sentence about this team without the words “Dawn Evans?” The senior point guard, whose national honor list resembles a new mother’s to-do list,” is the cog that makes this machine go. The CAA’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 23.6 ppg, is a nightmare to guard given her offense extends beyond NBA 3-point range. For more than a year she has battled fatigue from a kidney disorder and coach Kenny Brooks had limited her practices. Three games in three days would be a test, but Evans is one of those kids who lifts her game when she needs to. Her supporting cast isn’t exactly shabby. Center Lauren Jimenez (14.4 ppg) scored 31 on senior night and is a menace in the post. Courtney Hamner’s perimeter prowess gives the Dukes another dimension, and if it’s all working, it’s hard to imagine an upset. Dukes come in having won 14 of their last 15 – the one hiccup is to Hofstra, which rallied from 23 down to win.
Victories to brag about: Virginia (82-80); VCU (69-59, 71-51); UNCW (79-77)
That one hurts: Hampton (69-64); Hofstra (75-73); Monmouth (69-66)
Tournament history: Best finish, champion 1986-89, 2010;
A few words with coach Kenny Brooks: “If you take away one half of basketball , we would have finished by winning our last 15. If we have confidence heading into every game, we’re tough to beat. … But this is a wide open year. Anything can happen.”
Just for fun fact: Nikki Newman’s family must own plenty of purple garb. Mother Robyn played on JMU championship lacrosse and field hockey teams; father Charlie played on the first scholarship football team; and brother Charlie was a four-year letterwinner on the track team.
JMU wins the tournament if …. Evans is Evans, and that terrific supporting case – Jimenez, Lauren Whitehurt, Hamner, Tarik Hislop and Jalissa Taylor on the boards – is key for those minutes when she’s on the bench. What they can’t afford is the kind of scoring lulls that Hofstra took advantage of. With an RPI of 38, the Dukes are the only CAA team that could receive an NCAA tournament at-large bid. But they’re not likely to need it.
No. 2 Old Dominion (20-9)
Last 10: 7-3
Noteworthy: The stalwarts of this tournament come in hungry for a title they haven’t owned since 2008. The Lady Monarchs are a veteran bunch with four senior starters who do not want to leave ODU with only one CAA ring. Tia Lewis (12 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and CAA steals leader Jasmine Parker (11.9 ppg) lead the way, but senior forward Alena Voronina might play the most pivotal role. They don’t award “most improved” honors in the CAA, but if so, Voronina would be the runaway favorite. She hadn’t started a game prior to this season and averaged 1.9 ppg as a junior. Shooting 55 percent and averaging 11.4 ppg, Voronina is versatile in the post and tidy with the ball, having given it away a mere 31 times this season.
Victories to brag about: Georgia Tech (65-63); Louisville (69-65; Charlotte (82-75); JMU (71-55)
That one hurts: Drexel (65-51); VCU (63-60, 74-53)
Tournament history: 17 consecutive CAA tournament titles (1992-2008); Semifinalist in 2009, Finalist 2010
A few words with coach Wendy Larry: “It’s a new season. You count on your seniors, and we have four of them, to show their best basketball. I’m hopeful our seniors will play with a great deal of passion.
Just for fun fact: Senior Shadasia Green aspires to be a boxer. Check out her one-two punch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hI9V7bkxbco
ODU wins tournament if …. Wendy Larry hasn’t won 606 games for nothing. If the Lady Monarch coach can inspire her team to bring out its best basketball and avoid the scoring and rebounding woes that led to losses against Drexel and VCU, there’s no reason ODU can’t reclaim its crown from three years back. Though swept by VCU during the season, they wouldn’t have to meet the Rams until the final. A semi against UNC Wilmington, a team ODU beat by eight during the regular season, wouldn’t be a cake walk, though. Despite playing the 16th most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation, ODU likely needs to win it all to go to the NCAA Tournament given the two losses to VCU and loss to Drexel last week.
No. 3 UNC Wilmington (22-7)
Last 10: 7-3
Noteworthy: While Seahawk fans must have been excited about the hiring of Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, even the most optimistic supporter has to be impressed by how the former WNBA MVP has elevated this team in her first season. They did not drop a conference game at Trask Coliseum this year, and nearly spoiled JMU’s senior night, falling by two. They boast the highest field-goal percentage in the conference (.465), lead the CAA in steals (12.4) and win behind two of the CAA’s top 10 scorers in Brittany Blackwell (16.1 ppg) and Martha White (13 ppg). White also leads the CAA in blocks. Don’t forget about point guard Alisha Andrews (5 apg), Rookie of the Week five times this season. Listed at 5-4, Cooper-Dyke says Andrews might be 4-11 – in heels. … The Seahawks struggle at the free-throw line, shooting 65 percent.
Victories to brag about: VCU (68-64 OT)
That one hurts: Georgia State (76-67); JMU (79-77)
Tournament history: Best finish, runner-up 2000, 2002; 4 QF losses in last five years
A few words with coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke: “I think we’re playing well going into the tournament. We finished tied for second and are seeded third, so I can’t complain. We’re going in with the mentality to win it. “
Just for fun fact: Olympic Gold medalist Cooper-Dyke, also a two-time MVP of the WNBA, had her No. 44 college jersey retired at USC on Sunday.
UNC Wilmington wins the tournament if … Defensive consistency is key and Cooper-Dyke will tell you she was not pleased with JMU scoring 51 points against her Seahawks in the last game of the regular season. Blackwell is the most consistent shooter in the league. If White and Treasure Johnson can come close to matching that consistency, watch out for the sleeper Seahawks.
No. 4 Virginia Commonwealth (18-10)
Last 10: 7-3
Noteworthy: As highly as JMU’s Evans is touted, let’s not forget Courtney Hurt (23.4 ppg), who leads the nation in double-doubles with 23. The 6-1 junior is as versatile a scorer as you’ll find and has scored 30 or more four times this season. She’s far from the only star on this team, though, with 5-10 junior Andrea Barbour averaging 15.5 and 5-11 Sonia Johnson averaging 9.9. Jennifer Lane is a veteran at point guard, but the Rams aren’t deep, and three games in three days places an enormous role in their starters. They did get a lift with the return of Ebony Patterson, who tore her Achilles in preseason but has returned to the lineup for the last five games.
Victories to brag about: ODU (63,60, 74-63)
That one hurts: Towson (65-58)
Tournament history: Best finish, runner-up 2008; Two SFs in last five years
A few words with coach Beth Cunningham: “At this point, all of our kids have to be ready. Ebony could be a critical piece. We’ve been thin at the post all year. … Chelsea (Snyder) has really improved this year, too and we need her to be an inside presence for us.”
Just for fun fact: Sonia Johnson, formerly of Delaware State, was MEAC Rookie of the Year in 2008.
VCU wins tournament if … Hurt and Barbour do their thing and get at least some help from the rest of the team. In the Rams’ 71-51 loss to JMU, the tandem scored 41 of VCU’s points. But this team knows how to rebound and could contend if the rest of the team finds its offense.
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