Finally. This bizarre sports year of 2020 is almost behind us. Let's not dwell on DII college basketball past and look forward to what we may see in 2021, in particular the DII women's Elite Eight.
DII MEN'S BASKETBALL: An early look at the DII Men's Elite Eight
Hopefully, everyone enjoyed their holidays as DII sports in large part had the week off for much needed rest and refocus. Without anything to look back on this past week, DII women's basketball has our full attention in this week's DII Report.
Crystal ball: The DII women's Elite Eight
January is right around the corner and the last of the tournament-eligible teams will tip off their seasons. As we all know, 2020 was a year of uncertainty even in the world of college sports. Predicting anything three months down the road is laden with the same uncertainty, so take this with a grain of salt.
Everything could change tomorrow.
TOURNEY PREP 101: How the DII women's basketball championship works
Let's remember, the tournament this year will be smaller, with just 48 teams earning a bid to the bracket. We know the Atlantic, South and West will essentially be a one-conference race with the PSAC, CIAA, SSC, SIAC, CCAA and GNAC either completely or mostly opted out of the season. These picks were based on the conferences or schools we know are playing schedules that meet the requirements to make the tournament as of this writing (Dec. 27).
Atlantic — Glenville State: Let's face it: head coach Kim Stephens has made the Lady Pioneers quite the force in this region. They scored a DII-best 106.8 points per game last year (the second-straight season they finished averaging above the century mark) and five of the top seven scorers from that squad return. This should be another fun team to watch.
Contenders: Charleston (WV); Mercyhurst; Notre Dame (OH)
PLAYER WATCH: Preseason players of the year watchlist
Central — Central Missouri: This isn't a walk in the park for the Jennies, but they certainly have a nice start under their belt. Central Missouri has 12 MIAA conference titles and are well on their way to No. 13. There is some stiff competition here, but the Jennies get the nod for now.
Contenders: Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Kearney, Sioux Falls, Southeastern State
East — Jefferson: With the NE10 and USciences opting out of the season, this region is wide open. The Rams have been a top-25 and tournament stalwart over the past few seasons and return plenty of experience, including six of their top eight scorers from a year ago. Jefferson has averaged 25 wins a season the past three years and should do well once again in '21.
Contenders: Daemen, St. Thomas Aquinas
Midwest — Drury: Per usual, this should be a race between Ashland and the Panthers, with Walsh doing everything in its ability to play spoiler. Both teams were undefeated when play halted last year and Drury hasn't skipped a beat in the first half of this season, now a perfect 6-0. Drury gets the slight edge because of that hot start: they are gelling and have the player of the year so far (in my opinion at least) in Paige Robinson. Ashland has some new pieces and may take some time to adjust, but if they get hot at the right time, anything can happen.
Contenders: Ashland, Walsh, Grand Valley State
South — Valdosta State: Another region that will have an odd look with no Sunshine State Conference or Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams eligible. But there is plenty in the Gulf South to make this an interesting race. We knew Kayla Bonilla was good, but this year she is off to a red-hot start averaging more than 20 points per game on 56 percent shooting. USC Aiken transfer Kwajelin Farrar could be the X-factor, however, averaging a double-double thus far and giving the Blazers and nice inside-out combo.
Contenders: Lee, Union, Delta State, West Alabama
South Central — West Texas A&M: This region is stacked and maybe the hardest to project (you'll see the lengthy list of contenders below). I'm going with the Lady Buffs because of Lexy Hightower. She's one of the best players in the Division and after missing last year to injury, she has a chip on her shoulder. But this region is going to be tough, especially out in the RMAC. Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa, Western AND Black Hills State all look like they are on a mission to get to the Elite Eight playing solid basketball early this season.
Contenders: Texas A&M-Commerce, Lubbock Christian, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa, Western Colorado, Black Hills State
Southeast — Tusculum: Let's get a little crazy. This is another stacked region, but the Pioneers are off to a 6-0 start and are winning games rather easily. They have four players scoring in double figures and Maddie Sutton has been a machine both scoring and on the boards. I really like the North Georgia squad, especially with freshman Caroline Martin looking like a seasoned veteran already, but for now, we're picking Tusculum.
Contenders: North Georgia, Lander, Belmont Abbey
West — Hawaii Pacific: This was already the Sharks region to lose, and now that teams like Cal State San Marcos and Alaska Anchorage are not participating, Hawaii Pacific should be able to go far into March. The Sharks already defeated Division I Hawaii, a first for the program, and are coming in hot off a 29-1 season. Expect to hear Amy Baum's name in player of the year conversations.
Contenders: Azusa Pacific, Anyone who plays enough games to qualify