After a long but full season of CAA women’s basketball, the conference tournament tips off Thursday night from the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia. With plenty of contenders and star players strewn throughout the bracket, here’s a look at each team competing for an NCAA Tournament bid this weekend.
The top team in the CAA and last year’s reigning champion, the Dragons slipped on the final day of the season with a loss to Towson, but there’s no arguing that their skill on the defensive end is unmatched. The Dragons held opponents to just 57.4 PPG in conference play, nearly five whole points fewer than the next best defense (Towson). They also shot the best from the field in CAA play (43.9% as a team), so don’t think they’re just a defensive threat.
Senior guard Keishana Washington leads the Dragons in scoring (19.4 ppg, second in CAA) and has scored in double-figures in all 28 games this season. Fifth-year Tessa Brugler is a menace on the interior, constantly a threat for a double-double with 14 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. 2021 Defensive Player of the Year Hannah Nihill runs the point for the Dragons, utilizing her elite vision and playmaking ability to give her teammates chances to score. The fifth-year guard averages over five assists per game (fourth in CAA) to go with 14 points and 2.2 steals (fourth in CAA).
Drexel is the top-seed for a reason. The three-headed dragon of Washington, Brugler, and Nihill is tough to stop on offense and tough to beat on defense. Any team that draws them will have their hands full, and they enter as the favorite.
Results vs. first opponent (winner of Hofstra/UNCW): Hofstra: W, 72-53 (home), W, 63-57 (road); UNCW: W, 71-68 (OT) (road), W, 72-39 (home)
The Blue Hens have Jasmine Dickey, who on her own makes this team a real threat for the CAA crown. The now-two-time CAA Player of the Year led the league with 25 ppg and grabbed 9.7 rebounds per game (third in CAA). The senior’s most impressive performance came on Feb. 4, when she poured in 52 points and logged 18 rebounds against Charleston. It was her second game with 48+ points this year (scored 48 against Eastern Michigan).
Dickey isn’t on her own, though. Senior forward Ty Battle has 20 double-doubles this season and leads the CAA with 11.4 rebounds per game. Battle’s shooting a clean 50% from the field this year, third in the CAA. But the stats don’t even do Battle justice — her presence demands so much attention from opposing defenses, frequently drawing double teams on box outs down low to try and limit her impact on the glass. That extra attention allows her teammates — namely Dickey and fifth-year Lizzie O’Leary — to crash in and grab rebounds. Because of this, the Blue Hens are tops in the CAA in rebounding (45.1 per game in CAA play).
Another key piece is Tyi Skinner, the electric sophomore who pushes the pace for all 40 minutes. Skinner races up and down the floor, seemingly never tiring, and this allows Delaware to punish opposing teams in transition. The Blue Hens can grab a rebound, find Skinner or a teammate to push the ball up the floor, and capitalize in transition like clockwork. It’s a simple plan, but quite unstoppable. The Blue Hens led the CAA with 74.4 points per game, including a 103-point performance in the aforementioned Charleston game. They’re one of the biggest threats to win the CAA, and they could certainly pull off a few upsets in the NCAA Tournament should they get that far.
Results vs. first opponent (William & Mary): W, 70-56 (road), W, 67-45 (home)
After a 3-2 start to CAA play, the Tigers roared through the rest of the conference slate, going 11-2 over their last 13 games (with the only losses coming against Delaware). The Tigers play at a ferocious pace — junior Aleah Nelson pushes the ball every chance she gets — and it tends to cause problems for opponents. They scored the second-most points per game (74.2) and held opponents to the second-fewest (62.2) in league play.
Nelson is an All-CAA First Teamer who can run past any defender in the conference. She is a fierce competitor, elite passer, and a great slasher with the ball in her hands. She plays seven and a half minutes more per game than Towson’s next highest total, which is a testament to her importance to this team’s success. Per game, she scores nearly 17 points (fourth in CAA) and adds five assists and 4.6 rebounds.
But like the rest of these top teams, it’s not just Nelson that the Tigers count on. Allie Kubek, the 6’1” sophomore, can beat teams from the paint or from deep, where she shoots 32.9% (this creates a matchup problem for some of the other bigs in the CAA). In fact, every member of the Tigers’ rotation can sling it from downtown. Sophomore Tarriyonna Gary is a sniper, Junior Anissa Rivera is another big that can shoot from deep, and even junior Ryann Evans and senior guard Skye Williams can hit threes (though that isn’t their preferred game). Towson finished the regular season with a win over Drexel, and they can play with and beat any team in this tournament.
Results vs. first opponent (Northeastern): W, 86-81 (home), W, 57-56 (road)
Jenna Annechiarico is the best NCAA basketball player you’ve never heard of. The dynamic junior, who transferred from Eastern Michigan, slices through defenses like a hot knife through butter. And after being arguably robbed of a spot on the All-CAA First Team, she’ll likely be playing with an even bigger chip on her shoulder. She averages just under 17 ppg, and leads the CAA with 6.3 assists per game. Honestly, those stats don’t even come close to doing her justice. Even if she was the only offensive weapon, the Cougars would be a threat to some of the CAA’s best. But what makes them even more dangerous is the presence of one of the best rebounders in the CAA: senior forward Arynn Eady, the walking double-double who also averages over two blocks AND steals per game. That two-headed dragon (or cougar, if you will) is enough to worry even the mightiest of foes.
Charleston beat both Drexel and Towson this year — they’re the only CAA team to do that. They also played Delaware close twice, but couldn’t pull off another statement win. It’s clear that the Cougars, with their short bench that keeps the stars on the floor, can compete with anyone. Senior Latrice Perkins and sophomore Anika McGarity each score over 11 ppg, and senior Tyler Collins stepped up in the season finale with 22 points to help Charleston beat Northeastern and secure the fourth seed.
To find some success, the Cougars need to get Grace Abercrombie in a groove. The dynamic freshman scored in double figures in each of the Cougars’ first four games in CAA play, but picked up an injury and missed three games. Since coming back, she hasn’t looked like her usual self. If head coach Robin Harmony and her staff can find ways to boost Abercrombie’s confidence and get her some more touches off the bench, there are very few teams that can keep up with the pace and efficiency Charleston will play with.
Results vs. first opponent (Elon): L, 60-65 (road), L, 66-71 (OT) (home)
The Phoenix looked left for dead after four straight double-digit home losses as the calendar turned to February. But much like their namesake, they rose from the ashes to rattle off seven wins in their final nine games to salter into the fifth seed. That’s thanks in large part to Elon’s catalyst, senior Brie Perpignan. She scored in double-digits in every single CAA game and receives plenty of opportunities to show off her playmaking as the centerpiece of Elon’s offense. One of Perpignan’s most underrated traits is that she gets to the line at an elite level, attempting 166 free throws this year and hitting over 80% of them.
Elon runs with a guard-heavy lineup, and those guards can hurt opposing teams in a lot of ways — senior Kayla Liles is an elite three-and-D guard with size at 5’10”, fifth-year Ariana Nance scores nearly 10 a game despite missing over a month in the middle of the year, and though she doesn’t score a lot, junior Vanessa Taylor provides impact minutes through her defense and rebounding.
For Elon to make a run, they need to establish consistency inside. Evonna McGill is one of the best offensive bigs in the conference, averaging 11.3 ppg in just 18.8 minutes per game — a ridiculous total given the injuries she’s battled all year. The senior has struggled to stay on the floor but when she can go, she provides a huge scoring spark. Her secondary scoring limits the pressure on Perpignan and is necessary for Elon to break through in the tourney.
Results vs. first opponent (Charleston): W, 65-60 (home), W, 71-66 (OT) (road)
The Huskies, in head coach Bridgette Mitchell’s first season, significantly outperformed outside expectations (which had them 10th in the preseason poll). Led by All-CAA First Teamer Kendall Currence (16 ppg) and Rookie of the Year Claudia Soriano (11.7 ppg, 3.1 steals per game), the Huskies have some of the best guard play in the conference. They move the ball strongly on the offensive end and swarm opposing shooters on defense. Northeastern holds opponents to the third-lowest shooting percentage in the CAA (37.9%) and the Huskies shoot the second-most efficiently in the conference (40.8%).
For a team without a ton of size, they rebound well — 35.8 per game compared to 33.1 for their opponents, the lowest mark in the CAA. Donna Ntambue, Emily Calabrese, and Katie May all average over five rebounds a game and because of their deep bench and Mitchell’s willingness to use a large rotation, their stars can stay rested better than some CAA rivals.
The question mark for the Huskies is whether they can take care of the ball. Northeastern’s -2.56 turnover margin is second-worst in the CAA. When the Huskies limit their turnovers, they can pick up big wins (as they did in an 11-point win over Charleston Jan. 26) and compete neck-and-neck with the top teams, even without their leading scorer (example: their one-point loss to Towson Feb. 27). When they’re careless with the ball, they struggle to score and can slip to the level of teams at the bottom of the conference (a 13-point loss at Hofstra Feb. 6 with 25 turnovers).
There’s no doubting the skill on the Northeastern roster and the energy the Huskies play with, but they can create problems for themselves by not protecting the ball.
Results vs. first opponent (Towson): L, 81-86 (road), L, 56-57 (home)
William & Mary
The Tribe might have the wildest swing from floor to ceiling in the tournament. At their best, they can hit their shots and push top-seeded Drexel to double-OT. At their worst, they can score just 39 points against James Madison and get blown out. The two players that make this team go are Sydney Wagner and Riley Casey. Both fifth-years can sling it from deep (Casey in particular, since she shoots 38.1% from downtown) and both average over 14 points per game. Wagner is more of the prototypical point guard who can create for herself while Casey is the sharpshooting wing.
That’s not to say they’re alone. Junior Bre Bellamy is a solid forward who can score down low. Dani McTeer is an All-Rookie teamer who recently recorded her first career double-double against Elon. Kate Sramac is a strong three-and-D guard who leads the team in rebounding. There are other options on the floor for William & Mary outside their top duo.
However the Tribe rely heavily on Casey and Wagner to score. The duo combine for 50.1% of the Tribe’s points — that’s the highest mark for any two players on one team in the conference. If they’re hitting their open looks? W&M can run up the score. If they’re off? The Tribe struggle to stay in games. The tournament will likely follow the same format. W&M can play with any team in the league, and they can be a serious upset threat, but only if Casey and Wagner are making shots.
Results vs. first opponent (Delaware): L, 56-70 (home), L, 45-67 (road)
Even though they’re the eighth-seed, the Pride have one of the better defenses in the conference. They hold opponents to just 63.9 points per game, and they force 15.5 turnovers per game as well. Losing JaKayla Brown early in the season was a tough blow, and in her stead Jaylen Hines has been forced to shoulder more of the load than she should. The redshirt senior averages just under 14 points and eight rebounds per game, and she really needs to be on if the Pride are going to play spoiler.
The supporting cast around Hines leaves a bit to be desired. At 6’3”, fifth-year Jaala Henry is a formidable rebounder, but isn’t consistent enough offensively to cause real concern. Selma Markisic has shown flashes as a slasher in her first full season, but shoots just 30.9% from the field. Jahsyni Knight is a decent secondary option, but the senior also shoots poorly from the field (only 29.7%).
The Pride really need to shut opponents down on the defensive end if they are planning to make a run. Four of the five starters are seniors, so there’s plenty of experience in this unit. How they use that will be the question the Pride need to answer.
Results vs. first opponent (UNCW): W, 56-40 (home), W, 67-52 (road)
Nothing about this season has gone the way the Seahawks hoped. They went 0-18 in CAA play and won just three games all season. To make matters worse, they relieved head coach Karen Barefoot of her duties on Valentine’s Day, appointing assistant Tina Martin as interim head coach. It didn’t improve the results.
It’s been a lost season, but there is one bright spot. Sierra DaCosta has been a diamond in the rough, shouldering most of the load and averaging 13.4 points per game. While the senior is talented individually, opponents recognize this and key in on her defensively, limiting her impact. So the Seahawks need to frequently go to other options. Carrie Gross scores just under 10 a game, Micah Hoggatt leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game, and Allie Best is an experienced guard who shoots over 35% from three. Those three seniors are the Seahawks’ next best options on the floor.
DaCosta is going to score. The key to getting a first CAA win for UNCW is if someone else can step up beside her. Gross and Hoggatt can add some scoring inside the arc, but they need Best to find some rhythm on the outside. If she can hit her shots, it allows UNCW to spread defenses out, giving DaCosta more room to operate on the offensive end. It’ll be tough for UNCW to pull off even one win, but stranger things have happened.
Results vs. first opponent (Hofstra): L, 40-56 (road), L, 52-67 (home)