Who to watch in the DII Women's Basketball Championship
The regular season is in the books. The conference tournaments are complete. That means one thing.
The NCAA released the bracket for the Division II Women's Basketball Championship on Sunday night. It's time to take a look at a few standouts in the field of 64.
You may have heard by now Ashland is undefeated. The Eagles haven't lost in two full regular seasons, entering the tournament winners of their last 68 games in a row. That includes last season's championship victory over Virginia Union. The defending champions are the unquestioned favorites to be playing in Sioux Falls. Laina Snyder and Andi Daugherty will leave the Ohio campus as two of the greatest Eagles to ever suit up. The emergence of sophomores Jodi Johnson, who leads DII with 3.8 steals per game, and Renee Stimpert, who set the Ashland single-season assists record, left this team with pretty much no holes. Add in Julie Worley, who has recorded 1,000 points in her Ashland career as the first one off the bench, and this team is deep.
Pop quiz. Who was the last team to beat Ashland? That would be the Drury Panthers. Drury and Ashland have a nice little postseason rivalry going. The Panthers defeated Ashland 86-60 in the Midwest Regional semifinals in 2016, and lost in the regional championship 74-62 last year. Head coach Molly Miller has over 100 wins and three Great Lakes Valley Conference titles in her four years at the helm. This is a deep team that can beat you in different ways. Hopefully, there's another Drury vs. Ashland showdown in the cards.
Lubbock Christian was the last team to win the national championship before Ashland's run began. They, too, ran the table, going 35-0 in a championship of historic proportions. The Lady Chaps were the first team in DII history to win the championship in their first year of eligibility. They lost a few pieces and missed the tournament last season, but are back with a vengeance, winners of 22 in a row and the Heartland Conference champs. The Lady Chaps' lone loss? A 79-66 loss to Ashland in the St. Mary's Thanksgiving Classic. If that was an Elite Eight preview, we're all in for a treat.
Carson-Newman is quite the intriguing team this postseason. The Eagles are a deep team that reeled off a South Atlantic Conference record 29-win season, claiming a sweep of the SAC titles, their first since 2005. They have wins over tournament-bound North Georgia, Lander, Columbus State, Anderson, and Wingate. This team is clearly battle tested, and knows how to score points, putting up 92.5 points per game, third-best in DII.
Speaking of high-scoring, Glenville State should be put on watch. The Mountain East Conference champions have won 29 straight games since a November 12 loss to West Chester. The Pioneers are also the second highest scoring team in DII, dropping 98.8 points per game. While Paris McCleod leads the charge with 20.8 points per game, Glenville State has six players -- Brhea Griffin, Courtney Davis, Emily Stoller, Kristin DesRocher, Julie Bishop, and Erika Toney -- scoring eight or more points per game. This team is deep, but play in a pretty stacked Atlantic Region.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Chelsey Shumpert, Union (TN) -- Shumpert can do it all, and her big 2018 helped earn Union a No. 1 seed in March. Shumpert is scoring 24 points per game with a team-best 6.2 rebounds per game. She can score in bunches, scoring 30 or more points in 11 games this season, with a season-high of 42.
Alisha Breen, Montana State Billings -- Breen is coming off an MVP performance in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship. She scored 77 points in the tournament, culminating in a 24/10 double-double in the title game. Breen is one of the GNAC's all-time greats, atop the leaderboards in several categories, and is on fire as of late. She's scored 20 or more points in 10 straight games.
Alexis Johnson, Virginia Union -- Virginia Union made it all the way to the finals last season. Johnson has led the Panthers back to a No. 1 seed, leading the team in points (17.4 per game), rebounds (9.4 per game) and blocks (94). Her big season didn't go unnoticed, winning Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Defensive Player and Player of the Year awards.
Logan and Presley O'Farrell, Augustana -- The Vikings' wonder twins continue to be huge contributors to the No. 1 seed in the Central Region. Logan picked up her third straight Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2018. Both are defensive wizards, but play a key role on offense as well. Logan leads the Vikings in scoring (13.9 points per game) while Presley is second (11.9 points per game).
Savanna Hanson, Azusa Pacific -- Hanson and Zoe March were two sophomores who played a huge role in getting Azusa Pacific to the top of the PacWest. It's tough to find a weakness in her game. She was third on the team in scoring, while leading the team in rebounds and chipping in 84 assists and 55 steals. Her presence will be needed if the Cougars want to go far.
Jessica Kelliher, Lewis -- The top scorer in DII from start to finish, playing in arguably the toughest region in March. If Lewis is going to break through Drury and Ashland, Kelliher is going to have a March to remember.