Women's basketball: Previewing the AUS championship

While the AUS men’s championship, previewed here yesterday, is fortunate enough to take place at the Halifax Metro Centre, the women’s tournament rotates around the conference every year, and finds itself in Antigonish this time. This season was exciting as any with many teams in the running to take home the championship. AUS should also be well represented in The CIS Blog's updated and soon-to-be-published player rankings, with four players from four different teams ranked among the top ten nationwide.

Here's a team-by-team look at the schools participating in the 2012 AUS Women's Basketball Championship.

Win-loss records below refer to conference play. RPI and SRS rankings can be found here, and are the basis for our tournament odds.

1. Acadia (17-3) (ranked 7th, 5th in RPI, +10.2 SRS)
Chances of winning: 45.5%
Play winner of Memorial-X quarterfinal

Acadia, led by fifth-year Emma Duinker (one of those top-10 players in CIS), had four of their starters in the top 15 in scoring for the conference — they shot more often than anyone else, and finished fourth nationwide in three-point percentage and third from the line. Duinker, along with Kristy Moore, Stefanie Chapman, and Abbey Duinker, all have somewhat of a three-point game to go along with their rebounds, and are all in the CIS top 30 in our player rankings as well. This makes them very hard to defend, and it's no surprise they were third in the country in scoring.

The Axewomen also boasted the best defence in the AUS, holding teams to 37% from the field. Coach Bev Greenlaw did a great job of getting reserves in and the team certainly does have a deep bench, but they have lost two in a row on the road which may be a cause for alarm. The Axewomen should be able to overcome this mini-road slump, though.

This squad has already shocked the conference once in securing the number one seed, a first for them, and now they just need to bring home that long-awaited championship — the first since 1951-52.

2. Cape Breton (15-5) (ranked 10th, 9th in RPI, +10.3 SRS)
Chances of winning: 34.6%
Play winner of SMU-Dal quarterfinal

I think the Capers might be the team to beat in this tournament despite being the No. 2 seed. They certainly timed their sprint at the right time, winning 12 straight to finish the regular season. They have the second-best offense in the country, trailing only top-ranked Regina, and the second-best defense in the conference.

They are paced by second-year guard Cassie Cooke, who led the country with 471 points despite playing fewer minutes than everyone else in the top 10. The Capers certainly have the star power and leadership with Cooke and five fifth-year players in the mix, including Jahlica Kirnon (12.0 ppg) and Stephanie Toxopeus (10.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Cooke, Kirnon, and Toxopeus all average double-digit points, and they have four players who average five or more rebounds per game, showing they have secondary options and aren't reliant on one standout.

CBU has the experience to make it deep in this tournament and potentially do some damage at nationals. With a first-round bye, Cape Breton is going to be a tough out in this tournament.

3. Saint Mary's (13-8) (14th in RPI, +1.4 SRS)
Chances of winning: 8.3%
Play Dal in quarterfinal

This team will go as far as Justine Colley takes them. Easily the most exciting and dominant player in AUS, Colley was in contention for conference MVP but lost to Cooke. She draws quadruple teams on offense, makes smart passes, and has the ability to create her own offence.

The Huskies ran into trouble this season when they faced deep teams who could play Colley tough. If the opposition shuts her down, they shut the team down. The Huskie offence ranked fourth in the conference with 72 points per game (Colley averaged 24.2 of those) and the third-best defense only allowing 70.5 — in other words, they play a lot of tight games. They struggle on the glass, where they were outrebounded by 4.2 per game. That (or the play of Colley) could be the difference between them getting a berth to nationals and being home early or having to fight through the East regional.

Three strong games in a row and they are flying to Calgary. Just two wins and they'll need to win two more in Ottawa. Anything less than that, they're likely out. This team is hard to predict.

4. Memorial (10-10) (20th in RPI, +0.6 SRS)
Chances of winning: 4.4%
Play St. F-X in quarterfinal

The Sea-Hawks were a strange team this season. Having watched them play, I felt they made substitutions like line changes in hockey, killing chemistry in the process, but who am I to judge Doug Partridge’s coaching philosophy? All I know is this was a .500 team that played hard, gritty basketball one night but struggled to hit open looks another. If Memorial wants to have a shot at winning the title, they have be able to beat press defense. This team has not cracked it all season going back to a game where they blew a 17-point half-time lead versus CBU. The Capers ran it exclusively in the second half, and scored 49 points to Memorial's 26, winning by six in the end. As well, this past weekend at Acadia they turned the ball over 44 times. That is something that does not inspire much confidence in me.

In any case, the film is out on Memorial, but if they can beat the press, Ally Forsey should be able to get plenty of open looks in the paint. If not, this team looks most likely to be upset in the first round, drawing the host X-Women.

5. St. F-X (10-10) (22nd in RPI, +0.3 SRS)
Chances of winning: 5.1%
Host Memorial in quarterfinal

The X- Women are the host team in the tournament and you never want to count out the home side. (They're ranked fifth, instead of fourth, due to Memorial's greater number of four-point wins.) The key players for the X-Women are their leading scorer Vanessa Pickard and top rebounder Donisha Young, a fifth-year forward who is a double-double machine, averaging 13.7 points and eight rebounds. The X-Women were 6-3 at home and should be a tough out for any team that has to face them, but with the star power in the top three, it does not look like they have the makings to be this year's Cinderella.

6. Dalhousie (8-12) (32nd in RPI, -1.6 SRS)
Chances of winning: 2.1%
Host Memorial in quarterfinal

The Tigers are one of the most experienced teams in AUS, with three fifth-years, third-year transfer Keisha Brown and third-year window cleaner Anna von Maltzahn, who led the conference in rebounding this season with 1.4 more rebounds per game than her next closest opponent.

Yet, this is a squad that underachieved due to injuries and inconsistent play. Their percentages from long range and from the line were worst and second-worst in the conference, respectively. Those are two huge areas that must change if this team wants put it together and string together a few wins. If their experience steps up, Dalhousie could impress, but at this point of the season, I do not see these Tigers changing their stripes (it's playoff time; I told you I'd break out the clichés!).
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