Dishin & Swishin 11/20/14 Podcast: With early upset victories, Albany & James Madison make their mark on the hoops season

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Stanford defeating Connecticut was an upset this week; one that rocked the women’s basketball pollsters’ thought process!

However, two games last week should have opened some eyes; two solid mid-major programs knocked off two highly regarded power conference opponents.

  • On November 14, James Madison University defeated then No. 23 UCLA, 91-87
  • On November 16, University of Albany defeated Penn State, 54-53 in the preseason WNIT

While victories in early season matchups may not get the same results in March, the continued success of Albany and James Madison in particular, should give people reason to believe these victories were no fluke; that these two programs need to be watched. In fact, in College Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25 this week, James Madison is number one, and Albany is number three.

We start this week’s podcast is chilly upstate New York, where the the Great Danes of Albany are making headlines not just in basketball, but in other sports as well. The field hockey team is in the Final Four, the only unranked team to make it that far.

Our first guest this week, is Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who is in her fifth season with the Danes. Coach Abe as she is known, is already a three-time America East coach of the year, and has won the last three conference titles. Her team is veteran laden, with eight letterwinners returning, including three starters.

Among those returning starters is a gem. Junior forward Shereesha Richards is a special player, the kind that you may not find in many mid-majors. The 2013-14 America East player of the year, Richards averaged 20 points and just under nine rebounds per game last year.  ESPN’s Graham Hays named Richards one of the top mid-major players to watch this year, and she has opened the season in style, pouring in 27 points, hauling down 14 rebounds, and playing all 40 minutes versus Penn State.

Richards does not do it alone though; sophomore Imani Tate, coming off the bench, is averaging a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds. The interchangeable point guards, seniors Sarah Royals and Margarita Rosario both start, and finished one-two in the America East last season in assists.

Albany continues WNIT play tonight with a game against a very strong Western Kentucky team. The schedule includes games with Marist, and then a big end of year clash with North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Will the Danes be able to take down the Tar Heels, and make a run to the NCAA tournament? Last year, they played West Virginia tough in the tourney, coming from 22 down at one point. Nothing Albany does should surprise anyone.

It is a little bit warmer in Virgina, where coach Kenny Brooks, our second guest this week, has James Madison University off to their fast start.

Like Abrahamson-Henderson, Brooks has returning experienced talent, and a history of conference success. Brooks, however, has been doing this longer. This season he should pick up his 300th win of the season. The Dukes are coming off a tremendous 2013-14 year, one that saw Brooks named CAA coach of the year, a conference championship, and a first round NCAA victory over Gonzaga, before they fell to Texas A&M.

The team is led by junior Precious Hall, a sweet-shooting guard, that can score in a myriad of ways (22 points per game), as well as two seniors, forward Toia Giggetts, who has scored in double figures for 28 straight games (14 points per game), and center Lauren Okafor, who has transformed her physique, and is off to a dominant start in the paint (12 points and 15 rebounds per game).

Brooks is known as one of the best coaches out there, and his dedication to James Madison and decisions not to leave for a “bigger program” show how strong it actually is. His teams consistently excel in conference, and he has had multiple conference players of the year play for him, notably WNBA guard Tamera Young.

This season James Madison will have Maryland and Vanderbilt on their schedule in addition to the already vanquished UCLA, but Brooks discusses on the podcast the difficulty his program has scheduling major conference opponents. The dilemma is that for those programs, if they beat the Dukes, they won a game they are expected to win, and if they lose, they are upset victims and it hurts their rankings come tournament time. It is an interesting discussion, and Brooks has some compelling ideas.

James Madison is in action tonight against American University, followed by games against Pittsburgh and Maryland in Puerto Rico. Time will tell how Brooks’ team will handle their schedule, and whether or not they have another NCAA tournament victory in them.

To summarize, two of the coaches of two of top mid-major programs are on this week’s podcast. Both have upset victories to their credit already this year with a lot more great basketball to come.

Enjoy the podcaast!


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