Forget Midnight Madness, exhibitions and pre-conference games. Forget Temple, Richmond and Dayton. In fact, forget the Atlantic 10 regular season all together. For me, the women’s basketball season starts in March. Think I’m crazy? Let’s take a walk through the earlier months. You’ll see.
November and December
Non-conference games matter for one reason – strength of schedule. It matters to those that dole NCAA bids that the Colonials play No. 2 Tennessee, BYU and Florida International. While wins would be nice and would boost GW in the rankings, they are not imperative.
Women’s basketball may be one of the most disparate sports in the NCAA. The top four teams in the rankings are not just good. They go 26-0. They have women that can dunk. Don’t get me wrong, the last 21 in the Top 25 rankings, including the Colonials, are very good, but they are still the best of the rest.
Do you remember what a big deal it was when NUMBER TWO (gasp in excitement here) Tennessee came to the Smith Center last November? You would have thought Pat Summit was the Pope. And go to ESPN.com right now. Look on the left tab. OK now go seven down. Good, now click on women’s college basketball. You would think Duke, Tennessee, LSU and Connecticut are the only women’s basketball teams on the planet. But they make the headlines. Not only does Duke have the No. 1 All-American player, junior Alana Beard, they have also claimed the top prep school prospect, Britteny Hunter. And which teams was she choosing between? Duke and UConn.
I’m not saying GW can’t beat these teams. On any given day, I love Ugo Oha’s chances of stuffing Tennessee’s Kara Lawson. But while it would be a nice plus if an at-large berth is in question at the end of the season, it won’t break the season if the Colonials lose to Tennessee in November after the team has only played one official game together. What matters has already been taken care of. Pat thinks Joe’s Colonials are worthy enough to hang with the big guns.
January and February
I hope I’m not walking too fast, because right about now things should be gelling. Shots should be falling. Defense should be tight. Just in time for (anti-climactic drumroll here, please) the Atlantic 10.
Last season the Colonials went 15-1 in conference play, undefeated until the last game of the regular season, a 53-62 loss to host UMass. With all five starters returning, a year of experience for Anna Montana and Liz Dancause, A-10 All-Rookie team member Tylon Harris and Michigan transfer Michaela Leary back in action, its safe to say they will have similar success. Let’s face it, the A-10 is not the Big East or the ACC.
Temple will loom in the back of the mind as always and should win the A-10 East, but the Owls lost seven players to graduation, including their two leading scorers. St. Joe’s and Richmond are the next biggest speed bumps, but neither can boast the Colonials’ depth. And GW should beat up on La Salle, Fordham, Rhode Island, Xavier and the rest.
GW should go undefeated in the conference. They should win first place in A-10 conference. They should have another 20-win season. These should be givens for McKeown;s squad. This is a credit to McKeown, his team and the success they have built over the last 13 years. But now the Colonials need to do something they have not been able to do in the past two years. Get it done in, you guessed it.
Last season the Colonials beat Xavier – usually a thorn in GW’s side – twice in the regular season. They walloped them on the road 81-59, then beat them at home later in the season 61-58. Facing them in the second round (GW got a bye in the first) of the 2002 A-10 Tournament seemed like a blessing in disguise until the Colonials lost 64-67, crushing their hopes of a conference championship and ultimately an NCAA bid.
Two years ago GW, did make the tournament with an at-large berth (they lost in the A-10 tournament championship to Xavier) only to suffer a 76-51 first-round loss to Stanford, a team three seeds below them in the tournament rankings. The Colonials shot only 18 percent from the floor in the last half, very un-clutch.
Anna Montana is now used to American play, is in better shape and has one year of experience to fill the role of Elena Vishniakova, who graduated in 2002. Add the experienced Liz Dancause, an improved Valerie Williams and a game-ready Michaela Leery and we don’t even have to get to a more mature Oha before we realize the team’s depth.
But the proof won’t come in November/December when the Colonials are working out the kinks against top-ranked teams. And it still won’t come in January/February when they are cruising by the Bonnies. We have to wait till March. See you then.