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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | November 30, 2020

The DII Report: Women's basketball players to watch; Queens (NC) impresses at Paradise Jam

Washburn sinks Fort Hays State at the buzzer on DII college basketball opening night

Last week, we took a look at 11 DII men's basketball players to watch. Let's turn our attention this week to DII women's basketball and some of the names that may be in the conversation for player of the year come March.

POY WATCHLIST: 11 DII college basketball players to watch 

Elsewhere, the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conferences kicked off their basketball seasons while the Queens (NC) men's basketball team traveled to the nation's capital and held court in a three-day battle against Division I competition.

It's you favorite day of the week, DII sports fans. The DII Report is here.

DII women's basketball players to watch

The MIAA, SAC, RMAC and GLVC seasons are underway. That means its time to get some top-notch student-athletes on your radar.

As I said when I did the men's players to watch, things are quickly evolving during this odd year of 2020. Several GNAC teams have opted out of the 2020-21 season, while the PSAC has officially canceled its season. Some of these players won't get started until January, which of course, could also change. As of this writing (November 28), these are only players that are scheduled to play this season, or in the MIAA, GLVC, RMAC and SAC's case, already have. 

So, in no particular order, let's get to it.

Lexy Hightower, West Texas A&M: She's always on my list and this year is no different. Hightower missed last season to injury, so didn't get a chance to repeat as the Lone Star Conference player of the year. Dangerous from 3 and inside the arc, Hightower is set to be one of the best scorers in the nation and lead the Buffs in a tricky conference.

Ay'Anna Bey, Benedict: Bey is one of the best in the land and she alone makes the Tigers a real sleeper this year. With four of the top scorers back, they should be on your radar. And so should Bey: she's a double-double waiting to happen, averaging more than 17 points and nine rebounds per game a year ago. 

Paige Robinson, Drury: There are a lot of new faces this season at Drury, but Robinson is back to lead the charge. The Lady Panthers opened with an 84-67 victory over UMSL and Robinson led the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The junior already has a nice little trophy case building after earning GLVC freshman of the year honors in 2019 and First-Team GLVC honors last year. There's no reason to think more awards aren't on the way.

Allie Schulte, Lubbock Christian: The Lady Chaps senior guard has gotten better every year of her career, and if LCU wants to excel once again in 2021, she'll have to have her best season yet as the team's new leader. It shouldn't be a problem as Schulte is a strong scorer, rebounder and ball handler for one of the best programs in the entire nation. 

Kelsey Johnson, Central Oklahoma: Johnson had a big debut season for the Bronchos last year and has come out firing on all cylinders this season. She's opened the season with a pair of double-doubles and is averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds through two games. The MIAA is tough, and Johnson seems to have the toughness to excel. 

Sha Carter, Walsh: Carter is a returning All-American for a Walsh team that went 29-2 last season. She also led the G-MAC in scoring (18.8 points per game) and field goal percentage at nearly 58 percent. The G-MAC player of the year also averaged over seven rebounds per game. Walsh should very much be a team to watch, and Carter will be the reason why.

Tre'Zure Jobe, Emporia State: Staying in the MIAA, Jobe runs the floor for the preseason favorite Hornets. She was the freshman of the year in her debut last year averaging 17.3 points and 2.5 steals per game. If the Hornets are going to take the MIAA it will be on the heels of a huge season from Jobe. 

Amy Baum, Hawaii Pacific: The Sharks were 29-1 when play halted last season and Baum was a large reason why. As a sophomore, she scored 12.3 points per game while leading the team with 8.2 rebounds per game. She is one of the key returners for the Sharks, who always seem to be in the mix in the West.

Denali Pinto, Colorado School of Mines: There is a lot of talent in the RMAC this season, but the reigning player of the year certainly stands out. She led the conference — and was amongst the nation's leaders — with 19.9 points per game while chipping in 5.3 rebounds per game as well. The junior could take another step forward for the Orediggers in 2021.

Lilly Ritz, Wheeling: Ritz is quite the athlete. In 2019 she was named the MEC's freshman of the year... in track and field. Last year, she led all of DII in rebounding with 16 per game. She also paced the Cardinals with 21 points per game on 59 percent shooting. There is a lot of scoring in the MEC, and Wheeling is a bit under the radar. Ritz better be on yours. 

Jamiyah Johnson, Davis and Elkins: Johnson was a regular on last year's All-Stats teams. She was a double-double machine, tied for the Division lead with 26 with per-game averages of 18.8 points and 15.4 rebounds. It's rare that a student-athlete will get player of the year recognition on a 7-win team (as Davis and Elkins was last year), but if anyone can make the case, it's Johnson. 

Shanika Peterkin, Barton: Simply put, Peterkin is a beast who can do it all. She averaged 18.5 points per game on 56 percent shooting last year to go along with 12.3 rebounds per game and 101 total blocks. She alone makes Barton a real sleeper, so make sure to pay attention.

Riley Fitzwater, Concord: If you have followed my DII women's basketball coverage for the past few seasons, you know the name Riley Fitzwater. But perhaps you recognize it as Fitz-SWATTER which I coined after she was consistently one of the best shot blockers in DII. As a freshman, Fitzwater turned heads after averaging a triple-double over a week's span to earn National Player of the Week honors. As a sophomore in 2019 she led DII in blocks and last year as a junior, she led the Division in field goal percentage. Fitzwater is looking to cap a brilliant collegiate career with a big 2021.

Kings of the Queen City: Royals hang tough in the DC Paradise Jam 

Due to a late withdrawal by Northeastern in the 2020 DC Paradise Jam, the Queens (NC) men's basketball team got to fill the role. The Royals left with a 1-2 record but were impressive in both losses as well as their blowout victory.

Queens actually held the lead into the final minute of Game 1 against George Mason until a late turnover gave the Patriots the lead and a 66-65 win. The next night, the Royals blew out Howard 85-71 before succumbing to Belmont 73-61 in their tournament finale. Even then, they led the Bruins — a 26-7 team and OVC champions a year ago — 43-41 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.

The biggest takeaway was my now obvious snub of the Royals' point guard Kenny Dye in my player of the year conversation. He was very impressive in all three games averaging 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and three steals per game in earning All-Tournament team honors. He has an explosive first step and is fearless going to the rim. It's clear the Royals are in good shape with him leading the charge.

How the Preseason Power 10 fared

The surprise of the week came out of the MIAA where Lincoln (MO) downed No. 21-ranked Missouri Southern. Lincoln had just 11 wins last season and is off to a 2-0 start with the unexpected victory over the Lions. Missouri Southern did improve to 3-1 on the season with a win earlier this week. Cam Martin is in full beast mode, averaging 21 points and eight rebounds through four games. The Lions open up the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center against Northeastern State and Rogers State this week. 

The No. 1 team in the land for two years running — the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats — had off on Thanksgiving week. They will be back in action this week with two games against Central Missouri and Lincoln (MO). 

RANKINGS: The DII preseason Power 10

The Lone Star Conference announced its 2020-21 schedule and No. 3 West Texas A&M will open its season with back-to-back games against St Edward's on December 11 and 12. The perennial top-25 Hilltoppers will be a big early test for Joel Murray, Qua Grant and the squad.

Lincoln Memorial moved to 2-0 on the young season and Cameron Henry had another monster performance. He fell one rebound short of the first triple-double of the new season, scoring 13 points with 10 assists and nine rebounds. The Railsplitters are on hold for 14 days after a positive COVID test.

What you may have missed in DII college basketball:

The Colorado School of Mines women's basketball team opened its season on Saturday with 75-49 win over MSU Denver. Ashley Steffeck recorded a double-double with 15 points and a school single-game record 10 steals. It was the first double-double of the sophomore's collegiate career. 

The Amy Eagan era is off to a good start with Drury. The Lady Panthers' opening victory extended their current win streak to 33 games after ending last season 32-0.

Tusculum's Maddie Sutton remains perfect on the season. She's played three games and has three double-doubles. Sutton is averaging 14 points and 12.7 rebounds per game to help the Pioneers get out to a 3-0 start.

Trenton Gibson of Tusculum and Cameron Whiteside of UVA-Wise put on a show earlier this week. Gibson dropped 31 points while going 19-for-21 from the charity stripe while Whiteside went 18-for-19 from the free-throw line in putting up 42 points as the Pioneers won the shootout 109-96.

Rockhurst stunned preseason No. 25 Southern Indiana in its GLVC opener. Though the Hawks had no answer for the Eagles Jelani Simmons — who went 6-for-12 from 3 in scoring 26 points — they led a balanced attack in the 81-70 victory. Rockhurst will try to improve to 2-0 against McKendree on Sunday while Southern Indiana has to quickly regroup and try to pick up a win over William Jewell, which stunned UIndy on Friday.

Emporia State men's basketball is off to a 3-0 start, the first time the Hornets have gone 3-0 to start MIAA play since the 2010-11 season. Not trying to say we told you so, but NCAA.com's own Zach Pekale called them a team to watch earlier this preseason. Austin Downing and Jumah'Ri Turner are pacing the attack. 

The Southern Wesleyan men's basketball team took down Division I USC-Upstate earlier in the week. Five players scored in double figures led by Demarcus Addie who led all scorers with 21 points. 

UPDATE: Let's give a shoutout to the Dustdevils. The Texas A&M International women's basketball team took down Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Weber State in a five-day span. 

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