Seattle U Thanksgiving Tournament Preview: Two Top Mid-Major Programs Square Off In Seattle

Seattle University coach Joan Bonvicini will try to get the first win of her second year this weekend. Photo via jlindstr.smugmug.com.

Regardless of whether you follow Seattle University closely, their early season tournaments are probably worth Seattle-area women's basketball fans checking out.

Of Seattle's two preseason tournaments this year, the biggest matchup is probably Gonzaga vs. Notre Dame playing in the State Farm Classic at KeyArena on December 29.

However, this weekend's Seattle U Thanksgiving Tournament beginning today at 6 p.m. PST at the Connolly Center features two of the nation's top ten "mid-major" programs in 2010 NCAA tournament participants Bowling Green and University of Arkansas - Little Rock.  While they are probably not household names even for some diehard women's basketball fans, they definitely bring some early women's basketball intrigue to a gradually defrosting Seattle this weekend.

After making their first NCAA tournament appearance last season and pulling off an upset against Georgia Tech, UALR is currently ranked one spot ahead of Gonzaga at #3 in the CollegeInsider mid-major rankings. Bowling Green is looking for their 11th MAC title this season and is currently ranked #9 among mid-majors after challenging Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. And in addition to host Seattle U, Big Sky member Montana State comes to the tournament on a two game win streak after making a run to the Big Sky tournament championship last season and losing by four to Portland State.

While perhaps not the biggest games of the day, the games may give fans an opportunity to get an early look at 2011 NCAA tournament participants. A more in-depth overview of each team's key players and statistical strengths and weaknesses after the jump.

6 p.m. PST: Bowling Green vs. UALR

Bowling Green

Key player: Lauren Prochaska, G-F, 5'11, Sr. (29% of the team's overall statistical production)

Statistical strength: shooting efficiency (BGSU eFg: 49.17% vs. opponents 40.96%)

Statistical weakness: none as of yet

After a one point loss to Evansville in their first game of the season, BGSU has been on a roll coming to Seattle a four game winning streak that includes a win over mid-major #18 Creighton. And right now, there's little doubt that Prochaska is the biggest reason for that - at the moment, it's difficult to identify things Prochaska isn't doing well as the team's leader in points, assists, and rebounds as well as having the highest usage rate of any rotation player on the team yet also using them rather efficiently with a true shooting percentage of 61.47%.

However of all the things Prochaska does well, it's probably her ability to get to the free throw line at such a high rate that helps the team the most - despite playing quite well in the early going, their free throw rate differential is probably their "weakest" area and Prochaska contributes a significant portion of the team's free throw production. But obviously, the team's strength is their shooting efficiency and while Prochaska's 36.7% three point shooting is a large part of that, they're getting it from all over the roster.

Second leading scorer guard Tracy Pontius is shooting 41.2% from the three point line and multiple others are capable of scoring from deep. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have forward Maggie Hennegan shooting 57.9% from the field. There's a lot going right for this team and they will be a strong test for UALR.

 

UALR

Key player: Chastity Reed, F, 6'1", Sr. (37.9% of team's overall statistical production)

Statistical strength: shooting efficiency (UALR eFg: 44.79% vs opponents: 42.86%)

Statistical weakness: offensive rebounding (UALR offensive rebounding percentage: 29.63% vs. opponents: 38.60%)

A bad loss to Texas A&M this season is skewing UALR's early season numbers, but one thing that appears to be apparent right now is that seniors Chastity Reed and point guard Asriel Rolfe are carrying a team that has six freshmen and one sophomore on its roster this season.

Reed has taken about 17 shots a game in the early going and has a high usage rate of 36.75%, but is hardly an inefficient volume shooting with a true shooting percentage of 58.43%. Her shooting definitely contributes to the team's relatively narrow statistical strength of shooting efficiency. However, offensive rebounding may be an area of concern for them. 

Reed has yet to record an offensive rebound this season and their most impressive offensive rebounder by percentage is junior "center" Marian Kursh, who has a team-high offensive rebounding percentage of 16.36% but only plays 13.67 minutes per game. It should come as no surprise then that Texas A&M - last seen in Seattle in a tough loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament at Hec Ed - dominated UALR on the boards 47-23. Between rebounding and their turnover percentage of 22.02%, they could have a tough time against BGSU who is playing very good all-around basketball right now.

 

8 p.m. PST: Seattle University vs. Montana State

Montana State

Key player: Lyndi Seidensticker, G, 6'0", Sr. (24.3% of the team's overall statistical production)

Statistical strength: synergy (Montana State: .94 vs. opponents .93)

Statistical weakness: offensive rebounding (Montana State: 26.99% vs. opponents: 36.81%)

Although Montana State will be looking for a three game win streak today against winless Seattle University, they haven't exactly played outstanding basketball through their first four games. However, they're a little bit more balanced than some of the other teams in this tournament and that might work in their favor.

Leading the team is Spokane, WA native Lyndi Seidensticker along with Seattle native Sarah Balian. Seidenticker gets the nod as statistical key player right now as the team's most efficient scorer with a true shooting percentage of 58.92% and among its most trustworthy ball handlers with a turnover percentage of 10.29%. While the Spokane native is not an outstanding rebounder, her 4.14% offensive rebounding percentage is also significant on this particular team.

Normally an offensive rebounding percentage of about 10% is considered average. Currently, not one Montana State player has reached that mark - 6'4" freshman center Chelsea Banis has a team-high 8.1% offensive rebounding percentage currently. And given that Seattle U is not a particularly tall team, Banis could play a significant role in today's game.

 

Seattle University

Key player: Salena Dickerson, F, 5'11", Sr. (24.4% of the team's overall statistical production)

Statistical strength: free throw shooting (Seattle U free throw rate: 43.16% vs. opponents: 24.89%)

Statistical weakness: shooting efficiency (Seattle U eFg%: 34.83% vs. opponents: 54.67%)

Despite what last season's 6-24 record in Joan Bonvicini's first season might suggest, this was a team that did compete well (perhaps surprisingly so) for a transitioning Division I team. Statistically, they've made significant improvements this season and one reason for that is the play of Washington State transfer Salena Dickerson.

A major weakness last season was offensive rebounding and Dickerson's team-high 14.3% offensive rebounding percentage is helping the team to a plus in offensive rebound differential thus far this season. And although they commit a lot of turnovers, they're forcing more thus far this season as well with opponents committing turnovers on 24.73% of their possessions. Those things are definite positives.

But right now, they remain winless simply because they have not been shooting the ball well at all. Dickerson is shooting a team-high 50.22% true shooting percentage right now and the team's ability to get to the free throw line as often as they do and get free points helps, but they have really struggled to create high percentage scoring opportunities. In addition, while 6'2" freshman forward Kacie Sowell gives them some size inside, last season one of their biggest problems was beating teams that had anybody taller than 6'3" at their disposal. That's why MSU's Banis poses a significant threat.

However, if Seattle U can find a way to score efficiently, their game today against MSU is certainly winnable.

For more on the tournament, visit the release on the Seattle University website.

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