Who to watch on day three of the WNIT

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 04: Carlie Wagner
COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 04: Carlie Wagner /

Lindsay Whalen makes her NIT debut.

Sixty-four teams started their WNIT journeys this week. Forty-eight of them already know their fates. Twenty-four of those had to say goodbye to seniors and return home after losing their final game of the season. Twenty-four are looking forward to the next challenge. Sixteen are still waiting to play.

Let’s take a look at three games to watch on the third day of the tournament.

North Carolina A&T (18-10, 16-0 MEAC) at James Madison (25-5, 17-1 CAA)

Imagine going undefeated in your conference’s regular season…and not going to the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina A&T knows the heartbreak.

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The Aggies stumbled in the semi-finals of the MEAC Conference Tournament, and their dreams of the Big Dance were over for the year.

James Madison’s disappointment is just as great. Despite their 25-5 record, including 17-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, a first-round loss in their conference tournament sent the Dukes to the WNIT. Even an RPI of 36 didn’t sway the committee.

Which team will be able to overcome and focus on the task at hand?

By the numbers, James Madison should easily overpower the visitors. Her Hoop Stats ratings have JMU No. 30 overall and No. 11 defensively. The strongest aspect of North Carolina A&T’s game is defense, which the service rates at No. 75.

Many teams have had difficulty getting past the snub of missing the NCAA Tournament after a great season. Here’s to the Aggies and Dukes enjoying what is instead of looking at what could have been.

Northern Iowa (20-12, 12-6 MVC) at Minnesota (20-10, 9-9 Big Ten)

The excitement in Minneapolis was strong in the early going. Minnesota had a new head coach in local hero and alumna Lindsay Whalen. They almost reached 2019 undefeated.

The Golden Gophers didn’t lose until their second Big Ten game on Dec. 31. Then, they lost seven of their next eight.

The Gophers were able to recover after opening the Big Ten season 2-7, flipping the script to go 7-2 in the second half. Being in the fifth-ranked conference and playing a relatively easy out-of-conference slate left them with an RPI of 108, though, well outside the NCAA conversation.

They may not have had the results to get the selection committee’s attention, but Minnesota is a tall challenge for UNI. The Gophers rank in the top 100 in points per game, opponents points per game and margin of victory while playing against the No. 87-ranked schedule in the country according to BennettRank.

On the other end of the court, the Panthers rank outside the top 100 in the same stats while playing a schedule ranked No. 117.

If UNI hopes to win, they must be particularly careful about fouling. Minnesota scores over 23 percent of their points from free throws, good for eleventh in the country.

They also need to crash the defensive boards. The Gophers have an offensive rebound rate of 39 percent and average 14.5 offensive boards per game. Their rate ranks them No. 16 in the country.

The Gopher’s rebounding success largely comes on the back of Taiye Bello. The junior forward averages 12.2 boards per game. Almost five of those come on the offensive end of the court.

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

The third game on our “must-see” list is a battle between Drexel’s top-20 defense and Harvard’s No. 55 offense.

The Dragons hold opponents to just 49.9 points per game, which is No. 1 in the nation. On the offensive end, though, they have just one player averaging double digits.

Junior forward Bailey Greenberg paces Drexel with 17.5 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field. The next highest average on the team is 8.8 ppg from Niki Metzel.

Greenberg and Metzel provide the one-two punch on the boards, too, with Greenberg corralling 7.2 rpg and Metzel pulling down 5.5.

Harvard relies on a more balanced offense, with four players averaging double figures this season. Junior Katie Benzan leads the team with 14.2 ppg. Her 35.4 percent shooting percentage from outside is almost as good as her 38.4 percent overall success rate.

As a team, the Crimson shoot about one-third of their shots from outside. Their top three shooters from outside the arc average 35.4, 34.6 and 31.8 percent from out there. The problem for Harvard is that Drexel is the best team in the country when it comes to limiting outside success. On average, they have held their opponents to 23.6 percent shooting from three.

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