Who to watch on day two of the WNIT

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) dribbles the ball during the a college women's basketball game between Loyola Marymount Lions and Arizona Wildcats on November 13, 2018, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) dribbles the ball during the a college women's basketball game between Loyola Marymount Lions and Arizona Wildcats on November 13, 2018, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Big scorers, streaking programs, lots of fun ahead.

The first round of the WNIT tipped off on Wednesday with three games. Thursday, the tournament gets started in earnest with 21 games around the country. With so much action, what should the neutral fan focus on?

Let’s look at the story lines of three games.

Houston (15-15, 9-7 AAC) at Arkansas (20-14, 6-10 SEC)

A quick perusal of Twitter on Monday evening revealed that a number of Razorback fans were extremely disappointed to be left out of the NCAA Tournament. After the run their team put together in the SEC Tournament, it’s understandable.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the run to the conference tournament finals wasn’t enough to overcome a 6-10 regular season finish in the league. An RPI of 67 put them firmly in the company of other WNIT teams.

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The Houston Cougars are one of only three teams in the field to finish up their season with a .500 record. They have battled a few NCAA Tournament teams, including Connecticut and California, but have struggled to win against the big names.

They also dealt with off-the-court issues this season that hampered their on-the-court performance. On Jan. 6, leading scorer Jasmyne Harris was removed from Houston’s game against Connecticut in the second half.

Harris was suspended after that, and hasn’t taken the court again despite being one of only two players averaging double digits. That leaves Dorian Branch with 10.6 ppg as the Cougars’ leading scorer.

With all the turmoil, it’s a testament to the team that they are in the postseason at all. They will face an uphill climb to stay there, but Houston has shown that they are capable of pulling off the upset.

Based on RPI, the best win for the Cougars this season was against No. 59 Georgia Tech. That compares favorably to Arkansas at No. 67.

Based on Her Hoops Stats’ ratings, Houston’s best win was against No. 71 South Florida. At No. 64, Arkansas is a step up in quality of opponent, but not a huge one.

Will the Razorbacks harness their disappointment and stay on a roll?  Can they keep fighting as they have all season? Whoever comes out on top will face the winner of the Troy-UAB game.

Idaho State (20-10, 15-5 Big Sky) at Arizona (18-13, 7-11 Pac-12)

Although the WNIT states in its guidelines that rematches will be avoided whenever possible, this game was an exception. The Wildcats opened the regular season with a 71-46 win over the Bengals back on Nov. 9.

So, considering that it’s been played once this season and it wasn’t a close contest, what makes this a game to watch? The No. 3 scorer in the nation is a good place to start. With Megan Gustafson and Cierra Dillard’s teams playing in the NCAA Tournament, Aari McDonald will be the most prolific scorer in the 2019 WNIT.

Arizona’s star guard has rewritten the Arizona record books this year on her way to becoming just the second Pac-12 player to ever score at least 750 points while dishing out over 130 assists. The other one? McDonald’s former teammate, Kelsey Plum. Any chance to see the Washington transfer do her thing should be taken.

If the Bengals can pull off the upset, it would mark a historic occasion for them. It would be the first time in five tries that they advanced out of the first round of the WNIT.

A win for the visiting team would also be sweet for Arizona native Saylair Grandon. The junior from Phoenix was the only Idaho State player to score in double digits when the teams first met back in November.

The winner will play either Pacific or Fresno State in the second round.

Harvard (16-12, 9-5 Ivy) at Drexel (24-8, 14-4 CAA)

In the Northeast, the Dragons will host the Crimson in a match-up of strength against strength. Drexel comes in at No. 19 in defense according to Her Hoop Stats. They hold opponents to just 49.9 ppg–good for No. 1 in Division I. Harvard finished the regular season just outside the top 50 in offensive ratings.

Early in the season, it looked like Harvard might make a run at an NCAA Tournament appearance. They knocked off then-No. 13 California Golden Bears in late December, and made people take notice.

It was the Crimson’s last chance for a marquee win, though, and they weren’t able to win the Ivy League for the automatic bid. With Princeton taking the title, both Harvard and Penn were off to the WNIT.

Now, they need to rise to the challenge presented by Drexel. Once conference play started, Harvard faced only two teams in the top 100 of the RPI: Princeton (No. 44) and Penn (No. 57). Drexel is No. 65.

Princeton and Penn are also fairly equal to Drexel in Her Hoop Stats’ offensive and defensive ratings, making them fair comparisons to predict this match-up. In five games against those two teams, the Crimson went 1-4.

Can the Ivy Leaguers prove the old saying “that’s why they play the games” by overcoming Drexel? They’ve certainly shown they can pull off the upset in a hostile environment. They will need to do it again if they want to face the winner of the Georgetown-Sacred Heart game.

Come back tomorrow for our take on day three of the WNIT.

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