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Mike Neill, who won at Level 1. Mike won a $50 gift certificate to Kroger, just for playing the Kroger "Pro Challenge" football game on our web site.
The $1,000 grand prize winner will be drawn and announced next week. Thank you to all who played!
Ten games into the season, the Virginia Tech women's basketball team is off to their third best start ever, with a perfect 10-0 mark. That's encouraging, but a few games from now, the ladies will head into conference play, and it's hard to figure out what's going to happen then.
The Hokies beat Texas Tech 69-62 in the Caribbean Classic Tuesday to hit double-digit wins without a loss. Texas Tech was a pedestrian 4-5 coming into the game, but it's a big win, nonetheless. TT was ranked #12 when the Hokies beat them in overtime last year, and it was the second-seeded Lady Raiders who spanked VT 73-52 in the second round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
The 10-0 start is impressive and is bested only by two other teams in Tech history. Bonnie Henrickson's last club, the 2003-2004 squad, started out 12-0. That team dropped six of the next 11 to fall to 17-6, then finished strong and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to #1 seed Penn State in Blacksburg, 61-48. The '03-04 Hokies finished 23-8, the second-most wins posted by a Tech team under Henrickson.
The only team to win more games under Henrickson was, of course, the legendary 1998-99 team that started out 18-0, advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, and finished 28-3. That team got as high as #11 in the rankings and lost to #2 Tennessee in Greensboro in the Sweet 16.
The '98-99 team was unquestionably Henrickson's best, with a mix of veterans, good young players, outside shooters, and tough competitors like Lisa Witherspoon, Amy Wetzel, and Michelle Houseright. They also benefited from playing in a weak conference, the Atlantic 10, which offered up very little competition. The exception to that rule was Xavier, which was Kryptonite to Henrickson's SuperHokies. It was Xavier that tagged those Hokies with two of their three losses.
This year's Hokies will face a much tougher conference when they kick off ACC play against NC State on January 2nd. Before then, the Hokies have two more out of conference games that they should win, against Longwood and Marshall or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Lady Luck Classic in Blacksburg on December 28th and 29th.
Expect the Hokies to run their record to 12-0, matching the 2003-04 team, before they tip off against NC State. Ironically, the Wolfpack and Hokies are tied at #26 in this week's AP Poll, just outside the rankings.
With their early-season run, the Hokies have positioned themselves well for their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in head coach Beth Dunkenberger's second year. VT stands at #9 in the RPI ratings as we write this, and while we're not big fans of the RPI around the TSL office, particularly in the early part of the season, it's to Tech's advantage to have that high of an RPI. When you consider that the Hokies are in the RPI top ten and will soon enter conference play in the RPI's top-rated conference, it's clear that all Tech has to do is win some games and the RPI will take care of itself, and the Hokies will be in good shape for a tourney bid.
Tech's early season strength of schedule is the weakest by far of the top ten teams in the RPI. With an SOS of 174, the Hokies are far behind the second worst SOS in the top ten, which is posted by Duke with an SOS of 77. VT has beaten the highest-rated teams they have played handily, beating JMU (#34 in the RPI) by the score of 86-71, and Liberty (#64) by the score of 70-60.
Lastly, the Hokies start a good group of four seniors (Carrie Mason, Dawn Chriss, Kerri Gardin, and Megan Finnerty) and one junior (Kirby Copeland). Mason, Chriss, and Gardin were all major players on Henrickson's '03-'04 team.
The unblemished record, RPI rating, conference strength, and on-court experience are all things to like. What's not to like?
For starters, a look at the ACC statistics shows that the Hokies as a team are in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category, including the big four: scoring offense (8th at 70.4 ppg), scoring defense (6th at 58.6), rebounding margin (7th at +6.8 rpg), and turnover margin (8th at +1.3 tpg). Tech is the worst free throw shooting team in the conference at 58.4%, the worst in 3-point field goals per game (2.7), and next to last in three-point shooting percentage (30.7%).
The highest ranking the Hokies have in any statistical category is 4th in the obscure category of three-point field goal percentage defense, where opponents are shooting 26.2%.
In terms of individual statistics, only two Hokies register in the ACC. Senior forward Kerri Gardin, a highly-recruited player in high school, is a scoring and rebounding force inside, currently 11th in the ACC in scoring at 13.4 ppg and first in the ACC in rebounding at 10.6 rpg (a full 1.3 rebounds ahead of BC's Brooke Queenan and almost two rebounds ahead of #3 Crystal Langhorne of Maryland). Gardin is 15th in the league in field goal percentage at 54.8%.
Carrie Mason is 16th in scoring at 11.9 ppg, 13th in free throw percentage (79.5%), 9th in steals (2.4 spg), and 6th in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.00).
Copeland is the only other Hokie to show up in the ACC stats, coming in 13th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.50).
The Hokies only have two legitimate three point shooting threats: Mason, who shoots 35.9% (14 of 39), and sixth "man" Brittany Cook, who hits at 35.7% (10 of 28). Only one other Hokie has taken more than five three pointers, and the one who has, Kirby Copeland, has only hit one of nine from beyond the arc. Much like in Henrickson's later Tech coaching days, the Hokies don’t have many options from outside, which explains how they're so far down the league standings in perimeter shooting.
After Gardin, the rebounding dropoff is severe. Guard Dawn Chriss is second on the team in rebounding at 5.8, and center Megan Finnerty rebounds at a 4.0 clip.
Gardin is well-rounded and Mason is a capable, experienced point guard, but the rest of the team gets things done by committee. The good news is that the committee is large, with nine players currently averaging over 12 minutes a game. Only one Hokie averages more than 30 minutes a game (Carrie Mason, 32.2 mpg – contrast that with the men's team, where four players average over 30 minutes a game). So they should be fresh once conference play starts.
With a record that will likely be 12-0 after the Lady Luck Classic, and with another OOC game against High Point on January 4th, the Hokies should be a perfect 13-0 outside of the ACC. Unlike the men, the women only play 14 conference games, and a 7-7 record in conference will get the Hokies to 20-7 on the year heading into the ACC Tournament, with an RPI that should be healthy. Last year, Tech only went 6-8 in the ACC, so 7-7 would be an improvement.
Things look encouraging from a record and RPI standpoint, and there's no question that the Hokies will be leaning on Gardin and Mason to be their workhorses in ACC play. It's going to take some step-up efforts from the rest of the team to have success in the ACC. More performances like the ones put in by Chriss (20 points) and Copeland (19) against Texas Tech would be welcome. Contributions like that will get the Hokies back to the 20-win level they enjoyed for seven straight seasons (from 1997-98 to 2003-04), and back to the NCAA Tournament.
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