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Friday, April 12, 2013

Duke, UNC women's hoops fly high; big changes leave Wolfpack a mystery

Posted by on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 2:25 PM

dukeuncx.jpg
So the college women’s basketball season is now behind us, and now that all the shouting was over Connecticut is once again the champion — taking out two future ACC members by impressive margins in the Final Four.

Don’t worry. It will end someday. I lived in ACC country for the entire Wooden era.

Blue Devils primed for a run
Duke may very well be preseason No. 2 heading into next season. No more Brittney Griner to worry about, no more Skylar Diggins.

Duke has that No. 1 recruiting class now rising seniors and a No. 2 class coming in as freshmen, and with not one but two national player-of-the-year candidates in rising junior center Elizabeth Williams and rising senior guard Chelsea Gray.

The Blue Devils (33-3 and ACC champions) would seem to have what it takes to go all the way if they can avoid being mesmerized by the UConn jerseys.

During Joanne P. McCallie’s six years at the helm the Blue Devils have finished their season in a very appropriate spot except once, that in her second season when they were a No. 1 seed and famously got sent to Michigan State where she had previously been head coach — and with team leader Abby Waner struggling through a leg injury were upset by the No. 9 seed Spartans in front of a nasty crowd.

(To her credit, McCallie never complained publicly about the assignment.)But let’s take a look at the three Triangle schools and assess the immediate past and future.

This time, with only steady senior reserve center Allison Vernerey departing, Duke looks good for a spot in the NCAA title game. If the Blue Devils can shake the UConn spell in the Huskies’ regular-season visit to Cameron, maybe the Gray/Tricia Liston/Haley Peters/Chloe Wells/Richa Jackson class can even lead them to their first national title.

The Tar Heels are back
Following a snake-bitten 2011-12 season in which UNC didn’t make post-season play, newly named Naismith Hall of Famer Sylvia Hatchell’s club had plenty to brag about this time.

The Tar Heels went 29-7, made the ACC Championship Game, and if they hadn’t been sent as a No. 3 seed to No. 6 Delaware in the NCAA Tournament they might have made the Elite Eight.

There will be significant graduation losses in point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt — who was finally healthy for a season and should have her best basketball ahead of her — still-developing 6-6 center Waltiea Rolle, and Krista Gross, who could play anywhere from shooting guard to center and provided a lot of the team’s internal glue.

But there’s a solid nucleus returning, particularly led by rising sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel. And if the No. 1 recruiting class led by national prep player of the year Diamond DeShields pans out quickly, the Tar Heels could make a long NCAA Tournament run.

Many questions in Raleigh
Well, no matter who does or doesn’t like it, Kellie Harper is no longer coach of the Wolfpack after her dismissal following a 17-17 season and seems poised to make a big splash at Missouri State.

If new Wolfpack mentor Wes Moore turns out to be a more effective head coach at the ACC level than Harper was, I for one am prepared to be very impressed.

The loss nobody could stop was that of wildly popular senior shooting guard and academic All-American Marissa Kastanek, who had been the heart and soul of the team throughout Harper’s four-year tenure.

There’s nothing in particular that the remaining players can’t collectively do that Kastanek did, but Moore’s biggest task is to create some outstanding chemistry very quickly. And although I certainly can’t claim any inside knowledge on this, playing for dad has got to be a lot different from playing for big sis.

Rising senior forward Kody Burke, the leading scorer and another academic All-American, now becomes the team leader and ostensibly Option One between the lines.

Barring a miracle or catastrophe State will be on the bubble for the fifth straight year, and with ACC expansion now has a new Notre Dame monster to deal with along with the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack and Maryland (which will of course leave after the upcoming season and be replaced by the Louisville team that ended Griner’s career.)

And State coaches, fairly or not, always get judged on how they do against the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. You read that part about how Duke will be favored to be in the NCAA title game and Carolina has the No. 1 recruiting class, right?

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