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PURDUE WOMENS BASKETBALL:
Big 10 / ACC Challenge, Part 3
© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
Installment #3 – Penn St. vs. Georgia Tech, Illinois vs. Wake Forest, Northwestern vs. Clemson and Michigan vs. Virginia Tech
Penn St Lady Lions vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
On paper, this may be another mismatch in the ACC’s favor. Although Georgia Tech has been picked to finish 7th in the 2009-10 ACC Women's Basketball Preseason Media Poll, other national preseason predictions have them ranked higher. Athlon, for example, ranks the Yellow Jackets right up there with Duke and North Carolina. With similar Strength of Schedule (SOS) ratings last year, the Lady Lions ended the season 11-18 and an RPI rating of 121, while Georgia Tech was 21-9 with a 35 RPI rating. While Penn St has their top tier player back in Sr G Tyra Grant, an All Big 10 first team selection in 2008-09, averaged almost 20 ppg last year, the Yellow Jackets will be playing without 6’-1” G/F Alex Montgomery, who led the team in scoring and rebounds last season. Montgomery is recovering from ACL surgery. "We got to work on a lot of things and play a lot of our younger players," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said after their season opening win against Winthrop. Georgia Tech is looking to continue their streak of three consecutive 20 win seasons, built primarily on Coach Joseph’s high energy defense, as last year they held their opponents to an average of 57.3 ppg, while they scored 67.2 ppg, a + 9.9 scoring differential. At 64.0 ppg, the Lady Lions had only a +0.7 advantage. However, that was last year. In the second round of the Preseason WNIT, Georgia Tech could not stop Oklahoma St.’s Andrea Riley, as she led the Cowgirls with 24 points and seven assists and the 19th ranked Yellow Jackets fell to Oklahoma State, 70-64. Just so you know, Tyra Grant can inflict just as much damage.
Prediction: Georgia Tech travels to State College, PA expecting a win, but comes away empty handed as Penn St pulls off the upset. The turnaround in Happy Valley has begun.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Greensboro, N.C. will get its fill of the Big 10 / ACC Challenge as a second ACC hosted game will be one of the more interesting series match ups, pitting Wake Forest’s talented backcourt against an experienced Illini frontcourt at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The meeting will be the first for Illinois and Wake Forest in women's basketball. WF Head Coach Mike Pederson, in his 5th season, has been able to improve his team’s performance and create depth on his bench. Last year, WF had eight players start more than 10 games. In their backcourt, So PG Brooke Thomas and Jr G Camille Collier and Sr G Courteney Morris along with wings Brittany Waters and Secily Ray will see court time. In addition, PG Tiffany Roulhac will return after a Dec. 2008 ACL injury and redshirt Fr G Patrice Johnson will debut, probably at the two guard. It’s the frontcourt where WF has issues. Losing C Corinne Groves and G/F Alex Tchangoue, their leading scorer and rebounder, leaves a void that Sr Jessie Cain and Jessica Bryant may not be able to fill. Indeed, Coach Pederson opened the season with a four guard line-up and 6’-3” Fr C Sandra Garcia (177) starting in the post, while Bryant went scoreless in 5 minutes of action off the bench (Jessie Cain was not listed in the box score). Taking advantage of her opportunity, Garcia promptly posted a game-high 22 points and added 10 rebounds in 33 minutes against Jacksonville as she was named the ACC Rookie of the Week. For Illinois, Sr C Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson will clearly be the Illini strong suit. Illinois will be counting on its freshmen to provide an immediate impact to fuel their anticipated improvement this year. Ranked No. 15 nationwide by All-Star Girls Reports, their comment reads, “this athletic group should send the Illini to the top half of the Big 10 quickly. (6’-3” F Destiny) Williams is a tremendous talent who will be heard from as a freshman.” After two games, it looks like 6’-2” Fr F Charisma Penn and Fr G Adrienne Godbold have worked their way into the starting line-up, while Fr F Destiny Williams appears to be on the bench, if she is in the building. There seem to be issues that need to be worked through. 5’-11” Fr G Amber Moore, who was making more of an impact than last year’s starters Macie Blinn and Fabiola Josil, has already been lost for the year to an ACL injury.
Prediction: So which way to go? Leaning toward Wake Forest in a close game because of depth and that oft cited home court advantage.
Northwestern Wildcats vs. Clemson Tigers
This is the only rematch from the 2008-09 Challenge. Just like a home and home series. Throw in the fact that the first game went into overtime at Littlejohn Coliseum before Clemson secured the win in front of 490 fans. This year they will be playing up in Evanston, where last year the Wildcats drew 490 fans for their marquee non-conference match-up with Kansas St. Are these teams meant for each other or what? Clemson’s Head Coach Cristy McKinney's squad is again led by 5’-9” G/F Lele Hardy, a third-team All-ACC selection, and an All-ACC defensive selection in 2008-09. It was Hardy who made a desperation 3 pointer to send last year’s game into overtime. It was Hardy who led the Tigers in scoring with 16.2 ppg, double the average for G Stefany Thomas, their second leading scorer. Thomas was able to score 8.1 ppg in only 18.0 minutes per game, coming off the bench (she only started three games) last year. In fact, the Tigers return more than 80.0% of their scoring from a season ago, as well as 85% of their rebounding, and 90% of three-pointers made. But it was their lone freshman G Keyrra Gillespie (154) who led Clemson with 13 points in a loss to College of Charleston on Nov. 16. Gillespie had a team high 10 assists in her debut against Furman. Sophomores 6’-3” C Shaniqua Pauldo and 6’-4” C Lindsay Mason will need to handle the post this year, even though they saw limited court time last season. Pauldo registered 23 points in the ACC tournament win against Georgia Tech last year. As for Northwestern, on Media Day, Head Coach Joe McKeown stated “I'm not good at making predictions but I feel that we are going to be a much better basketball program going into this year.” Freshmen Dannielle Diamante (36), a 6’-3” C/F, adds height to their starting line-up and G Kendal Hackney (48) saw 30 minutes coming off the bench, scoring 13 points in the Wildcat’s win over Toledo to open the season. With a year in Evanston under his belt, with almost the entire roster returning, with a decent incoming freshman class, and with that all-important home court advantage, the Wildcats get the nod.
Prediction: Northwestern wins, without overtime.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
Just before the 2008-09 season began, Virginia Tech lost Brittany Cook, their 5th yr. Sr co-captain to a career ending ACL injury and So Andrea Barbour for unspecified reasons. Barbour averaged 15.0 ppg as a freshman and was named to the ACC All-Freshman team. Cook, an All-ACC Second Team selection, led the ACC in scoring average (17.9). 6’-1” F Utahya Drye and G Lindsay Biggs picked up the scoring slack, but by season’s end, the Hokies had settled to the bottom of the ACC standings. Fortunately, things have somewhat normalized this year. The Hokies have already lost to a Top 50 opponent, VCU (32), 72-58, with a game against James Madison (57) and possible match ups with Charlotte (39) and St John’s (68) still to come. So the Hokies have opportunities to build some real confidence before their competitive ACC schedule begins. But even if they win those games, there are no guarantees in the competitive ACC. Just ask the Michigan Wolverines how their Big 10 season went last year (3-15 in case you were wondering). The remainder of the Hokies non-conference schedule features ten teams with 2008-09 RPI ratings over 200. Predicting who might come out on top of this one is a bit like taking a shot in the dark. But I will go with the Wolverines, based on their early 2009-10 success. Virginia Tech did not possess great depth to begin with, and taking those two big jolts to their roster last year, did not help matters. To make things worse, a couple of years ago, the Hokies lost one of their top recruits when Vionca Murray transferred to Syracuse after her freshman season. I know that you play with the cards you are dealt, but it may take Virginia Tech a while longer to draw a winning hand. Like last year, Michigan has started strong, with wins against Ball St. Marquette, and Southern Mississippi. Against the No. 19 Kansas Jayhawks, Michigan's disruptive defense and timely three-point shooting kept it within striking distance for most the game. But Kansas outrebounded the Wolverines 41-34 and scored 38 points in the paint on their way to a 77-66 victory.
Prediction: Michigan escapes Cassell Coliseum with a win.
Overall, prediction-wise, it looks like things are tightening up this year in the Big 10 / ACC Challenge. The Big 10 has the opportunity to improve their W/L ratio by winning five contests: Ohio St (vs. Duke), Penn St (vs. Georgia Tech), Minnesota (vs. Maryland), Northwestern (vs. Clemson) and Michigan (vs. Virginia Tech) while losing six: Virginia (vs. Purdue), Boston College (vs. Iowa), Florida St (vs. Indiana), North Carolina (vs. Michigan St), NC State (vs. Wisconsin) and Wake Forest (vs. Illinois). Probably the most surprising prediction, Penn St. takes down a higher ranked Georgia Tech team. The least surprising prediction turnaround would see the Fighting Illini get the better of Wake Forest, thus putting the Big 10 on the winning side of the ledger for the first time.