by Rob Clough
A few quick facts on the non-conference opponents (a full analysis will
Most everyone is familiar with Athletes in Action, a team that features
a number of former college players. This year's team doesn't have much
in terms of size and is fairly young, with most of the players graduating
in 98 or 99. Familiar face Tamara Gracey is on the team, a former FSU
Uralmash is a tough Russian club team that has played the US Olympic
team. This will be a great way to start the season.
UCLA finished 18-11 last year, with a first-round loss to George
Washington. Three key seniors have graduated: scoring and shotblocking
leader Maylana Martin, rebounding leader and third-leading scorer Janae
Hubbard, & assists leader Erica Gomez. They are boosted by the return of
superfrosh Nicole Kaczmarski, the only returning double-digit scorer.
New Mexico also sported an 18-11 record, albeit in a much less
challenging conference. They lost their third-leading scorer to
graduation, but are actually in pretty good shape otherwise. This rising
power will be bolstered by their raucous home crowd.
LSU defeated Duke in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last year, finishing with an
outstanding 25-7 record in the brutal SEC. They lose their leading
scorer and playmaker Marie Ferdinand as well as another double-digit
scorer in April Brown. Duke killers DeTrina White and Katrina Hibbert
will return, setting up a potential thriller in the finals if both teams
make it that far.
William & Mary was an awful 6-21 last year. What's worse, they
graduated the team's two top rebounds and three of the top four scorers.
The team's leading scorer and playmaker, Jen Sobota, will be back, however.
Penn State went to the Final Four last year, but was whipped by Duke in
Durham. A perennial power, they lost brilliant point guard and
double-digit scorer Helen Darling to the WNBA. Leading scorer and
rebounder Andrea Garner also graduated, but double-digit scorers Lisa
Shepherd and Maren Walseth return. This will be a huge challenge for
Duke, especially on the road. Penn State recently went on a European
tour, an event that usually toughens up teams and enhances chemistry for
the upcoming year.
Boston College finished 26-9 in 2000 and beat Duke in Cameron. This
tough team only lost top scorer Cal Bouchard to graduation. Becky
Gottstein, Brianne Stephenson and Jamie Cournoyer all return to lead the
Duquesne finished only 8-20 but only lost one player of consequence to
graduation. They should pose a mild threat but probably won't challenge
Duke too much in Cameron.
Radford was 11-17 competing in the less-than-fearsome Big South
conference in 2000 (Duke crushed their champ, Campbell, in the first
round of the NCAA's). The Highlanders graduated their leading rebounder
and second leading scorer Jennifer Grant, but do return their leading
scorer, Catrice Horton.
It's possible that Duke's upset of Penn State in the Duke Classic last
year has scared off quality opponents, because the last invitee to the
group is Toledo. While they do play in the solid MAC, the Rockets only
finished 14-15 overall, and lost their leading scorer and rebounder,
Jennifer Markwood. With only six returning players, Toledo will depend
on frosh and JuCo players in 2001.
UNC-Charlotte sported an uninspiring 10-20 record in 2000, and loses
leading scorer Jameka Jones. All of the other team leaders will return for
the 49'ers. Again, this is not a marquee matchup.
Duke whipped George Mason by 40 points last year in Cameron, and given
their 10-19 overall record, there is little to indicate a different
outcome in 2001. When you consider that three of the team's leading
scorers, its leading playmaker and its top two rebounders are now all
gone, the score might be even more lopsided.
Oral Roberts is the host team in the Fun In The Sun Shootout (yes, an
even lamer name than last year's SunSplash Shootout), but their only
player of note is sharpshooting guard Krista Ragan. ORU only finished
12-16 in 2000.
Florida Atlantic was a mediocre 15-14 in 2000. What's worse, they
graduated their leading scorer and rebounder, Sheridan Andrews. They also lost
their third and fourth leading scorers as well, giving them a tough road
in 2001. This is not a challenging matchup for Duke, should it come to
Arkansas State finished a respectable 18-11 and played in the Women's
postseason NIT, where they lost in the first round. The Indians did lose
their leading scorer in Julie Hagood and leading rebounder in Tanisha
Johnson, but do return double-digit scorer and leading playmaker Keeshia
Evans. This would be a solid mid-major opponent for Duke.
Iowa State is no joke. They finished 27-6 and made it the NCAA's second
round. They lost second-leading scorer and leading playmaker Stacy Frese,
as well as third-leading scorer Desir'e Francis. The Cyclones won the Big
12 tournament and tied for first place in the regular season.
Virginia and NC State are Duke's top opponents in the ACC in 2001. A
UNC squad without Nikki Teasley (and possibly Jackie Higgins?) will still
be able to compete, but not at that level. The conference will be strong
all the way down, with the always gritty Clemson Tigers and improving
young squads like Georgia Tech, Florida State and Maryland all being
strong threats. The only truly bad team in the league will (once again)
be Wake Forest.
UCLA, New Mexico/LSU, Penn State, Boston College and Iowa State, along
with whomever Duke faces in the second round of the Duke Classic make for
an extremely challenging schedule. Duke has the veteran leadership to
handle it and the depth to dictate tempo, even against these great
teams. I predict that Penn State, Iowa State, Boston College and LSU
will be ranked in the preseason top 25, along with NC State and
Virginia. And I expect Duke to be ranked in the preseason top ten.