Last year at this time, I was writing for another web site, the Dishin & Swishin radio show hadn't even been created, and twitter was nothing I was interested in.
What a difference a year makes, and I thank Swish Appeal and WSTRRadio.com for making things so much easier for me to reach you all, and I hope you're enjoying the ride. Unfortunately for me, that also brings more accountability in making my picks! Still, for those that didn't see my stuff last year, I will be the first to tell you that I did have UConn and Stanford as 1-2, and I did have Xavier at #7.
As they say, the past is the past, so let's look to the present and future and the 2010/11 NCAA women's basketball season. It must be noted that my predictions aren't "pre-season" predictions; honestly, how can you not put UConn #1 right now, until they lose? My predictions are for April. This is how I see the final poll shaking out, after March Madness has us all panting, trying to catch up with our real jobs and getting ready for the WNBA draft.
So without further delay, I give you the Dishin & Swishin Top 10 for 2010/11.
It's time. Coach Tara VanDerveer ‘s team is loaded with talent once again. The frontcourt may have two of the top 10 players in the country with senior Kayla Pedersen, and junior Nneka Ogwumike. They lost Jayne Appel, but they have size in the post to combat her loss defensively, and when you add in little sister Chiney Ogwumike to Nneka, the forwards are going to score and rebound in a big way. For years they've heard about backcourt weakness, but Jeannette Pohlen is a senior who has grown each year. If anyone questioned her speed, heart or big play ability that was dispelled with end to end dash to beat Xavier in the tournament last year. She can get the job done. And this will be the year the Cardinal get it done.
Up until earlier this week, I wasn't sure I would have Connecticut this high. Then I saw them play vs an obviously overmatched Indiana, PA team, and listened to Coach Geno Auriemma talk about beginning to get excited by this team. What I saw that changed my mind was a "new" Maya Moore. The Maya I saw before was a scorer, a person that could carry a team, and do so many things so well. What I saw this week was a player who got her teammates involved, looked to do whatever was needed, and still dominated. Add Tiffany Hayes, ready for prime time at shooting guard and you still have the "two pronged superstar" combo I think you need to win this year. The freshmen will have to come up big, but Bria Hartley and Samarie Walker should be up to the task of support. Yes, they'll lose, maybe even to Baylor on Tuesday night, but come April, they'll be right there again.
Yes, they are a mid-major. Yes, the conference they play in isn't top to bottom as strong as that of a Connecticut or Stanford. The important thing is Coach Kevin McGuff knows this. So he went out and created a non-conference schedule that includes teams from the bigger conferences, including two you'll see on my Top 10 list, Stanford and Duke. Last year's Elite Eight run showed them they could do it. The Musketeers return the best post combo in the country, with Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phllips. They also have solid players that know their roles in Special Jennings and Katie Rutan. Advantage X! They'll go further this year than that Elite Eight run of last year.
So what's more important to a team, the dominant center or the senior point guard? I'm not sure Kim Mulkey really was hoping to find out, but she will. Brittney Griner is an amazing talent, that is still improving every time she steps on the court. Kelli Griffin's sudden departure from the team though, adds to other questions that will have to be resolved over the course of the season. How ready to take over is Odyssey Sims, the touted freshman coming off knee problems? Can Melissa Jones stay healthy? Are the transfers, Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope, ready to step in and be more than just role players? There are just too many questions for me to put Baylor higher than this, but I won't be surprised if they are cutting down the nets in April for that matter.
Jasmine Thomas is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the country. She can do so much with the ball...and she may have to at times this season. Joanne P. McCallie has the #1 freshman class in the country, but they are freshmen, with that will be inconsistency. Still, the Blue Devils will start three seniors, including Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas, and that experience, over a brutal schedule that includes out of conference games with Connecticut, Xavier, Kentucky and Texas A&M will have this team ready for March Madness. I love what they've got going on in Durham, but there's too much inexperience for me to put them higher than 5th.
Loaded with talent from top to bottom and having one of the best coaches of all-time, the Lady Vols will be in the hunt for yet another championship. Shekinna Stricklen is a phenomenal talent, and as a junior now, she is able to handle the responsibilities of PG better than ever before. With Vickie Baugh returning, to join Kelley Cain and eventually Alyssia Brewer, the Vols have the size to actually stay with Stanford in the paint. Angie Bjorklund is still crucial as a shooter, as there is not an abundance of pure shooting. Bottom line for me is this, they still haven't seemed to find those one or two players that can carry the team when the game is on the line (ala Moore, Ogwumike, Pedersen, Thomas, Harris, and Griner). Should that develop, and another PG evolve to allow Stricklen to move to the off guard slot, Tennessee can absolutely win another title.
7. Texas A&M
Every year Gary Blair puts a team on the court that people say who? Then they go out and whip people and find themselves in the mix for conference championships and high seeds in the NCAA tournament. This year, they won't be saying who when they see Danielle Adams. The senior post has exceptional skills with the ball, and if in fact she is in better condition to stay on the court longer, A&M will be even tougher. They return three starters, and guard Tyra White will need to lead a more consistent performance from the backcourt, but A&M will continue to run people at you and play aggressive defense. In this wide open season, after a regular schedule including Duke, Cal, Purdue and of course the Big 12 conference games, they will be ready to take on the tournament field.
If you think it's easy building a powerhouse in the SEC, you try recruiting against Pat Summitt, Andy Landers, etc. and see how it goes! Matthew Mitchell is doing it, and getting the job done. Victoria Dunlap is an undersized post with extreme athleticism that allows her to control the boards against the bigger players. Dunlap has been working on her face up game, and if she can add that foul line jumper ala Tina Charles, she will be amazing to see. A'dia Mathies will need to duplicate and build on last year's success, and a big question is can and will Amber Smith return from knee surgery to be the glue that holds the team together again. They've landed a strong group of freshmen to add to the rotation, and Mitchell has them playing a difficult schedule again. They made it to the Elite Eight last year, I won't be surprised to see them back again.
9. Ohio State
They say timing is everything and Jantel Lavender has not had good timing, if it were publicity she was seeking. First there was Tina Charles, now Brittney Griner; leaving Lavender overshadowed for the majority of her career. Still, 21 points and 10 rebounds later, she will have Ohio State in the top 10 again. Samantha Prahalis is loaded with game and attitude, and needs to improve the former and cut back a tad on the latter. A PG needs to be calm and cool under pressure. Prahalis needs to show that side for Ohio State to crack the Elite Eight. There is a strong third piece to the Buckeyes' puzzle, in Brittany Johnson. Johnson needs to improve on her 9 ppg this season to open things up for Lavender.
10. St. John's
Let the yelling of East Coast bias begin! Yes, I live in Connecticut. However, with DirecTV and the internet, I feel I'm a pretty good judge of teams throughout the country. And I like what Kim Barnes-Arico is doing at St. John's. The Red Storm is tapping into the NYC scene, and getting talent to stay home. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have yieled St. John's senior Sky Lindsay, sophomore point guard Nadirah McKenith (a finalist for the Lieberman award as a freshman!), and of course the two cornerstones, Shenneika Smith and Da'Shena Stevens. As I said earlier, to win this year, I feel you need more than one star. You need someone to complement and take the pressure off that player and the St. John's duo certainly fits the bill. Smith and Stevens may be the best inside/outside combination people don't talk about, and they are only in their sophomore and junior year respectively. The Big East will be as tough as ever, and St. John's may lose a couple of conference games; but come tournament time look out!
Dishin & Swishin All-American Team
As always, positions? We don't need no stinkin' positions! We'll even take 12 to fill a whole roster! In no particular order:
Maya Moore, Connecticut (Player of the Year)
Brittney Griner, Baylor
Jasmine Thomas, Duke
Danielle Robinson, Oklahoma
Jantel Lavender, Ohio State
Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford
Kayla Pedersen, Stanford
Elena Delle Donne, Delaware
Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky
Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame
Danielle Adams, Texas A&M
Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut
So that's the Dishin & Swishin Top 10 and All-Americans for the 2010/11 season.
I will add one caveat to my predictions. Unlike the last few years, I will really not be surprised to see any of the Top 10 teams listed above win it all. It's a season unlike others; a lot of questions surround even the best teams. It's going to be fun and it's going to be exciting. And it all starts this weekend!