Were you anxious for the beginning of college basketball season, amped to see if the men’s basketball team could avenge last year’s March Madness snub with a season of destiny?
If so, you’re probably quite disappointed at this point. But pout not, for the cream of the Colonial Athletic Association crop this winter can still be found at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. In case you have yet to notice, the women’s basketball team is racking up quite the season.
Last year’s women’s team went to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, finished third in the conference and reached the CAA Finals, which is why it’s so amazing that, despite losing two of their three top scorers from last season, this year’s Dragons are even better.
And yet last year’s squad didn’t get its eighth win of the season until Jan. 15 and was 8-7 at that point. This year’s squad notched its eighth win of the season Jan. 6, giving the Dragons a record of 9-4.
The team is led by senior guard Hollie Mershon, who is currently averaging 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, more than double any other player on the team and good enough to be one of the 60 highest scorers in the country.
But there’s much more to the team than Mershon; it also features solid depth, with five players averaging at least five points per game.
Taylor Wootton and Nicki Jones have provided solid scoring support for the Dragons, averaging 8.8 and 8.0 points per game, respectively. Jones has also added 1.7 blocks per game, putting her in the top 75 in the country, while Wootton’s 52.1 percent field goal percentage is tied for 35th in the country.
The Dragons looked great during the out-of-conference portion of their schedule, racking up two tournament wins and displaying absolutely stifling defense. As Mershon said in a Triangle Senior Spotlight earlier this season, the pride of the team is its defense, and it shows. Over the first 12 games of the season, the Dragons have scored nearly 10 more points per game than their opponents, with seven of their eight wins coming by double digits.
Looking back, the single-digit victory over La Salle University isn’t encouraging, seeing as the Explorers sit at a lowly 4-11 so far this season. However, the fact of the matter is that they won the game, and they’ve been doing it all season long.
Two games into conference play, the Dragons are tied with Northeastern University for the third-best overall record in the conference at 9-4. Old Dominion University is currently atop the conference at 11-3, with two of its three losses coming against ranked teams and the third coming against a 9-5 University of Pittsburgh team that is definitely a quality opponent. The University of Delaware also sits ahead of the third-place teams at 10-3, led by All-American senior Elena Delle Donne, who led the country in scoring last year.
It’s safe to say that the Dragons have their work cut out for them as the season progresses. The team won’t have any throwaway games that they can tune out; every win will count in the conference race.
Their in-conference schedule started by easing them into the competition with their victory over Towson University Jan. 6, a dramatic two-point win at James Madison University Jan. 10 and a matchup against the 2-11 University of North Carolina Wilmington Jan. 13.
The true defining period of the Dragons’ season will come in a four-game stretch from Jan. 24 through Feb. 3. In those four games the Dragons will play, in succession, the other four teams in the top five of the conference. This stretch, leaving just nine games in the season afterward, will decide whether or not the team participates in the stretch run toward the regular-season title and a high seeding in the CAA Tournament.
If Mershon continues to perform at the level that she’s displayed thus far this season, the Dragons have the potential to go places.
The biggest thing that she has to try and improve is her efficiency. While she’s knocking down foul shots with 86.2 percent ease, her field-goal percentage is a little low for a leading scorer. That’s not to say 41.2 percent is horrible, but if she can lift it as the season goes on, especially during the decisive four-game stretch at the end of January, it would help the Dragons’ chances immensely.
That would be great because before the season started, this campus wanted a conference championship. And now, with this team, they have a chance to get one.