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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | January 8, 2019

5 first half takeaways to ponder as the NCAA tournament nears in DII women’s basketball

Ashland is back in the top 10 of DII women's basketball, ready to make a run to the NCAA tournament.

The 2019 slate of the Division II women’s basketball season is off and running. The NCAA tournament is looming in March and every conference game matters.

Let’s take a look at a few teams who built a solid DII women’s basketball tournament resume in the first half and a peek at a few that may make some noise in the second half.

MORE: Track the remaining undefeated teams

It’s time to believe the Jefferson Rams are real contenders

The Rams aren’t just winning games, they are winning meaningful ones. Jefferson has wins against Bloomsburg (leaders of the PSAC North Division), NYIT (tops in the East Coast Conference), and opened the new year by ending USciences undefeated start. The Rams are very much for real. Now 14-0, the Rams senior-laden starting five each present matchup problems. Jessica Kaminski, Caitlyn Cunningham, Alynna Williams, and Beverly Kum are all scoring at least 14.0 points per game, leaving it tough to hone in and take out any one player. You won’t find the Rams atop the DII statistical leaderboards in any category, but their balance is a huge factor in why they haven’t lost yet this season.

Ashland is doing Ashland things once again

With all the changes that went on in the offseason at the Ohio campus, you would think something may be different in Ashland this season. The Eagles do have a regular season loss, their first since Feb. 4, 2016, so I suppose it’s a down year by Ashland standards.

Jodi Johnson continues to be one of the best players DII women’s basketball has to offer. The reigning national player of the year contributes across the board with 16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 3.5 steals per game. Sara Loomis, a key contributor off the bench for the bulk of her first two years at Ashland, has flourished as a starter, scoring 15.5 points per game and leading the team with 9.3 rebounds per game.

The Eagles are looking like they are tournament-bound once again and a rematch against Grand Valley State on Feb. 2 will give them the opportunity to atone their lone loss of the season.

MORE: We picked a starting five based on the statistical leaders from the season's first half

What’s up in the Northeast-10?

The leading rebounder in Division II women’s basketball hails from the Northeast-10. So does the division’s leader in assists. The DII leader in blocked shots? If you guessed they dwell in the Northeast-10, you are correct. Most points by a conference? Well, no, the NE10 is second to the PSAC but still impressive. Simply put, the Northeast-10 is a stat sheet-filling factory so far in 2018.

Southern Connecticut State’s Kiana Steinauer leads the division in rebounding with 15.9 per night and Karlee Alves of Merrimack is second to none with 8.8 assists per game. While Denia Davis-Stewart of Merrimack is second in blocks per game (4.23) her 55 total blocks are tied for No. 1. As a conference, the NE10 has scored 12,589, second to the PSAC’s 14,175. American International’s Dana Watts leads the conference in scoring at 20.5 points per game, which just so happens to be the highest average amongst DII centers. All these numbers and only Bentley is in the top 25. It just seems like things are set to get exciting in the northeast in the second half.

Two conference battles to watch

The MIAA and GLVC look like two conferences that may come right down to the wire. The MIAA has had as many as four teams in the top 25 this season, and that doesn’t even include 10-1 Lindenwood that is still perfect at 4-0 in conference play with a big out-of-conference win against No. 24 Truman State. No. 5 Fort Hays State is making an early statement as the best team in DII women’s basketball, and there is simply no way you can sleep on the defending national champion Central Missouri Jennies because of a few early season losses.

Drury is also staking its claim as the best team in the division, off to a perfect start and No. 4 ranking. Unfortunately, the top four in its conference are loaded with talent and the Panthers have to still play all three foes. Lewis, Southern Indiana, and Truman State all have double-digit wins early in January, leaving this conference with plenty left to decide as March nears. With Drury’s experience and resume the past few seasons, you can consider them the favorite, but there is too much basketball yet to be played to hand it to them.

That said, don't sleep on the PSAC West Division. Undefeated Indiana (Pa.), California (Pa.), and Edinboro have a combined three losses and matchups remain against each other. What may be even more exciting is that the battle for DII's top scorer may come down to the PSAC as well. Keep tabs on Shippensburg's sophomore sensation Ariel Jones and IUP's senior Seairra Barrett , who are both in the top 5 in scoring average, separated by a mere 0.04 points. 

MORE: 9 huge January matchups with possible tournament implications 

Teams to watch

A few teams familiar to the tournament stumbled early on this season but should be set to make a run back to the bracket in the second half.

Lubbock Christian: The Lady Chaps dropped two games in early December including a heartbreaking two-point loss to a tournament-ready Southwestern Oklahoma State team on Dec. 3. They’ve bounced back, winning three in a row, including the Viking Holiday Hoops Classic, as they prepare to enter Heartland Conference play.

Southwestern Oklahoma State: Speaking of the Bulldogs, an opening night loss to Emporia State bumped them from the top 25, but that is the only blemish on their record. Winners of 11 in a row, SWOSU has a big opportunity to open up a big lead in the GAC by mid-January with matchups against second-place Henderson State and Southeastern Oklahoma on the immediate horizon.

Anderson (SC): The Trojans also got off to a slow start, sitting at 2-2 on Nov. 17. They have been perfect since, winning 10 in a row ahead of their Jan. 9 matchup with Carson-Newman, the first of two against their high-scoring conference foes. Anderson has made the tournament in five of the past six seasons, and you can be sure it has its eyes set on the bracket once again.

Glenville State: Between West Liberty and the Pioneers, there is some high-scoring juices flowing in the West Virginia waters. Despite losing a bevy of its top scorers from last season, Glenville State is still piling up 106.7 points per game. The Pioneers already have as many losses as they had all of last season, but if they keep putting up points like this, expect to hear their name called in March.

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