A-10 WBB Midseason Awards and Power Rankings

Pittsburgh, PA — It is hard to believe that in less than a month, first round Atlantic 10 Championship games will take place at campus sites across the conference, but with that being said it is the half-way point of conference play and there is plenty to take away from action thus far.

Coaches get the opportunity to vote for players for a variety of votes. Media members do not get a chance to submit such a ballot, so consider this my mid-season ballot.

The only thing that will not be in this piece is the all-defensive team since it was introduced at Atlantic 10 Media Day this year.

Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Natalie Butler George Mason– This was an easy one as Butler has imposed her will on just about every opponent she has 21 consecutive double-doubles which ranks first in all of NCAA D-I coming into Wednesday’s road contest at St. Bonaventure. She also ranks first in the NCAA with 15.8 rebounds per game. Butler is a tough match for any opposing post player and transferring from UConn she is healthy, happy and close to home, with her hometown 20 minutes away from EagleBank Arena. Some players may crumble on that pressure, but Butler thrives as has George Mason, which has easily been the most improved team in the conference this season. Coaches placed Butler on the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Third Team out of respect. This season, Butler has been the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week a season-high five times. Butler is as humble of a person that you will meet but on the court, she establishes a post presence that is unmatched. There were certainly others worth considering for this nod, but only for a few seconds, that is how dominant Butler has been.

Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Nicole Cardaño-Hillary George Mason– A very close fight between Cardaño-Hillary and Fordham’s Bre Cavanaugh but the edge went to the guard originally from Madrid, Spain. Cardaño-Hillary leads the Atlantic 10 with 18.2 points per game and is tied for the conference lead with 2.6 steals per game. Cardaño-Hillary has to carry a heavy load as a freshman and has to put up more shots than perhaps she wants to, but it creates for her option. This season, Cardaño-Hillary has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week a season-high five times. Cardaño-Hillary keeps her team in every game as George Mason is determined to become a top team in this conference.

Sixth man of the Year Kelli Prange George Washington– Prange was having her best season in a GW uniform before a concussion sidelined her for a handful of games. Now she is back and thus far has been the first one off the bench, which qualifies her for this awards. In her team’s most recent game against Rhode Island, Prange recorded at Atlantic 10 high (this season) 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, both of which also set career-highs and this combined with a 15 point performance against Saint Louis allowed her to be named Atlantic 10 Player of the Week. Prange appears to be playing close to, if not at 100% though her minutes are being kept down a touch in order to remain most effective, a smart move by Coach Jennifer Rizzotti. This is Prange’s senior year with GW and she is playing with a sense of urgency, that is very clear.

Most Improved Player Danielle Migliore St. Bonaventure– This was a tough decision, but I believe the right one. St. Bonaventure coach Jesse Fleming admitted that he nearly had to shut down Migliore over the summer because of how many shots she put up, but she has been a bright spot for Bona this season. Migliore played in 20 games last season, her freshman year, and she averaged 1.7 points. This season, she has started all 22 of her team’s games and has 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and averages 32.2 minutes per game. Migliore has taken what she felt was rightfully hers and that is certainly proven.

Coach of the Year Nyla Milleson George Mason– This was a really close one as Milleson just edged out Stephanie Gaitley who with three returning players has brought Fordham toe-to-toe with the top of the conference but Milleson’s confidence and love for her job just could not be denied. Getting Natalie Butler to transfer certainly played a role in George Mason being good this season, but there are so many more moving pieces. George Mason truly is a family that enjoys being around each other and that is something you cannot coach. This has been a progress for George Mason who three years ago had few complete practices. Now George Mason has a state-of-the-art practice facility and fans are excited because this Patriots team is doing historic things. It is not just Butler or Nicole Cardaño-Hillary. It is Jacy Bolton. It is Sarah Kaminski. It is Tayler Dodson. It is Marika Korpinen. It is Camden Musgrave. It is Jewel Triggs. It is Camarie Gatling. Okay, you get the idea but this is what Milleson and her staff have created. Too often in college sports coaching awards go to the coach whose team finishes at the top of the conference. That should not be the case here.

Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team (no particular order)

Jenna Burdette Dayton– Burdette in a way has quietly found a way to improve upon her already impressive numbers. At 16.1 points per game, she is 12 points away from her career high in a single game. Additionally, she is shooting with more confidence at 47.9% from the field and 46.8% on her 3-point shots, both of which also are personal highs. She also is an even 80% from the free throw line. Burdette makes this Dayton team go.

Natalie Butler George Mason– Butler’s accomplishments were mentioned above, but just to further express  her dominance, it is fairly common to see her flirting with or reaching double-doubles in the first half of games this season. Butler has a nose for the ball that makes opponents extremely nervous.

G’mrice Davis Fordham– Not to be outdone, Davis has 19 double-doubles on the season, continuing her pace from last season. It would not be a surprise in any way of someone from the WNBA snatches her up in the draft. At 16.7 points and 13.3 rebounds, teams have to try to contain her which opens up the rest of her team. You have to pick your poison with Fordham and Davis is a big reason as to why. You cannot question her commitment, she is all in.

Jackie Kemph Saint Louis– It does not get more steady in this conference than Jackie Kemph, just do not tell Jon Rothstein this or it will become his next copy/paste tweet. Saint Louis is going to miss Kemph when she departs the team following this season. She is a gamer in every sense. Kemph has 14.5 points per game, shooting at a 40.2% from the field and 80.8% from the foul line. Saint Louis is never out of any game with Kemph on the court. She just makes things happen and already at 160 assists, truly gets her team involved. You cannot ask for more.

Mariah Ruff St. Bonaventure– Ruff has scored 15.7 points per game for St. Bonaventure but due to injuries and necessity, that total has been upped to 19.8 points in Atlantic 10 play. Ruff came onto the team playing with Katie Healy and in her sophomore year got a taste of the NCAA Tournament. She is playing with desperation and has 101 assists, meaning she is getting her teammates involved.

Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team (no particular order)

JaVonna Layfield Dayton– Layfield is another senior who is having a career year with 11.7 points per game and 12.8 rebounds per game. Layfield just missed first team honors but she has started every game for the last two seasons. Dayton has had an injury or two, but Layfield has been a constant, as has Dayton’s winning, two things that definitely can be linked together. She means a lot to this Dayton team.

Chassidy Omogrosso Duquesne– Omogrosso does not have as much pressure to perform this season, and it shows with increases in points per game (16.8 this year), shooting percentage (43.3%) and three-point shooting percentage (40.1%). This is due to teammates finding her more open looks, more opportunities for others to find open shots, Omogrosso getting open more frequently and an increased focus on defense which has translated. Omogrosso has forced teams to scout her and continues to improve.

Nicole Cardaño-Hillary George Mason– This is where the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year is placed and rightfully so. George Mason is not successful without her. She can change the game in a variety of ways. While individuals try to box out Butler, Cardaño-Hillary is at the ready trying to snag a steal.

Maddison Gits Saint Louis– This is another candidate for most improved player and for good reason. Gits has averaged 10.6 ppg/9.2 rpg compared to last year’s marks of 5.5 ppg/4.3 rph. Gits has started in each game and has done a good job in the post which was a question mark for SLU upon Sadie Stipanovich’s graduation.

Chelsea Woods Saint Joseph’s– Woods has scored 14.3 points and grabbed 8.3 rebounds per game on a Saint Joseph’s team that established itself as one of the top teams in the conference. It almost feels as though Woods is quietly putting up these numbers but it may not stay that way.

Atlantic 10 All-Conference Third Team (no particular order)

Jayla Scaife Dayton– Another potentially most improved player, Scaife has raised her points per game number from last year’s 6.1 to 15.1 ppg in this year and has increased her rebounding numbers from 3.1 to 5.3 per game. The junior has scored in double figures in each of the last eight games, including a career-high 35 against Rhode Island.

Kadri-Ann Lass Duquesne– These teams often focus on just offense and that is not the only factor to consider. While others will grab more rebounds, or are taller, no one has been a bigger defensive nightmare in the conference. Lass’s defense quieted Natalie Butler in the second half and in the fourth quarter, she scored just two points which came on free throws. Not to mention Lass already has Duquesne’s blocks record as a junor. She gets the third team nod over her teammate Julijana Vojinovic.

Brianna Cummings George Washington– Another fantastic defender who has found her confidence scoring the basketball. Cummings has been a fixture in GW postgame press conferences simply because she has been the team’s most consistent two-way player. When your coach lists you as the first player who is grasping the new look offense and tenacious defense, then you know you are doing well.

Bre Cavanaugh Fordham– Freshmen who play well deserve to make this list and Cavanaugh has been exceptional this season. Her scoring ability as a redshirt freshman has taken pressure off G’mrice Davis and even Lauren Holden. Cavanaugh was a key reason for wins against Pitt and St. John’s and scores 16 points per game. Cavanaugh shoots 84.3% from the foul line. If more shots fall for Cavanaugh, then she will be a dangerous, player who could be one of the best to wear a Fordham uniform.

Maggie Mulligan UMass– Perhaps overshadowed by other posts who have bigger numbers, Mulligan’s performance, especially battling for rebounds deserves a place on this list. Her 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game make her a threat that other teams have closely scouted to try and stop. Duquesne is still scratching its head after allowing Mulligan to grab 22 rebounds in a conference game earlier this season.

Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team

Nicole Cardaño-Hillary George Mason– Honestly at this point, see both of the previous entries above.

Bre Cavanaugh Fordham– Entry on the third team just about covers it.

Bre Hampton-Bey UMass– At media day, UMass coach Tory Verdi was extremely high on Hampton-Bey and it seemed pretty clear that she would start. This season, Hampton-Bey has scored 12 points per game, has 90 assists and her steals total is tied with Cardaño-Hillary for the conference lead. She has certainly met expectations and will only get better.

Tera Reed VCU- VCU has had a season where its mostly young roster is building experience but Reed’s 13.8 points per game while shooting 43.5% from the field is certainly worth highlighting. Reed recently shared Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors. VCU is in good hands with Reed leading this Rams team.

Katie Turner Davidson– A big question for Davidson was who would step up beyond Mackenzie Latt and Justin Lyon. This, along with Sarah Donovan, also a freshman, are two leading answers. Turner has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week twice this season including this past week. She averages 10.4 points per game and is an 84.6% free throw shooter. Turner got the edge over Donovan and Richmond’s Alex Parson.

Atlantic 10 Midseason Power Rankings

1. Dayton– Defending conference champions have yet to be defeated in Atlantic 10 play, but face a big test Wednesday against Duquesne. This spot could easily be flipped but a tougher nonconference schedule and the RPI rating of 48 give it the top line.

2. Duquesne– Duquesne is on an impressive streak of 16 wins in the last 17 games. UConn was the loss, but everyone loses to them. Duquesne has a good mix of talent and improvements both defensively and on the bench. A win Wednesday would be big for its NCAA Tournament hopes, though it would have to hold serve after.

3. Fordham– A very talented team which may have given Dayton it’s toughest test to date. Fordham had its most challenging nonconference schedule under Stephanie Gaitley. Though three players returned, this team is in such sync and have total confidence in each other. This plus the defensive principles this team has held dear for years makes it an extremely tough out.

4. Saint Louis– This is a case of so what, now what? The Billikens lost two road games against Fordham and Dayton close to the top of conference play but have won three of its last four games heading into a home rematch with Fordham. Coach Lisa Stone has her team playing with a sense of urgency.

5. George Mason– A toss up with Saint Louis does not go Mason’s way here. SLU is more experienced and also has won three of four whereas Mason has lost two of three. Even though Mason won the head-to-head between the two, it falls just short in the power rankings, though it takes nothing away from what has been a 16-win season and counting.

6. Saint Joseph’s– Still a very dangerous team, it was another tough go of things in games played against Philadelphia programs as the Hawks lost seven consecutive games in Atlantic 10 play after opening the season 5-0. Saint Joseph’s returned just about everyone and after the injury bug bit, it appears the Hawks are back on the right side of health, which should concern opponents.

7. George Washington– With Kelli Prange back this team is dangerous. GW defends extremely well and Mei-Lyn Bautista, Brianna Cummings and Kelsi Mahoney have all seen noticeable improvements. GW has enough depth and enough firepower from its freshmen where it definitely should not be underestimated.

8. Richmond– There have been some uneven results, but an emotional road win against VCU could be just what this Richmond team needs to get going. There appeared to be some growing pains to the faster offense but time certainly will tell.

9. Davidson– Davidson is 4-5 in conference play tying its conference win total from last season, while its nine wins already eclipse the 2016-17 campaign. The “share, shoot and stifle” model is working. Things have not been perfect, but in year one under Gayle Coats Fulks, there is noticeable improvements and in time, it will claw its way towards the top of the conference.

10. UMass– When UMass is on, it can provide a good test against any team in the conference. Though it still has some road issues, the three wins are two more than last season. UMass is still working towards consistently playing a complete game, but the pieces certainly are in place with some encouraging results this season.

11. La Salle– Coach Jeff Williams has made it a goal for his team to host a first round Atlantic 10 Championship game and for good reason. Each host team held serve in first round play last season and La Salle is 3-8 on the road this year. The Explorers have been outscored by nine points per game and by 64 points this season in the first quarter alone. La Salle has a ways to go with five of its last eight games coming on the road.

12. St. Bonaventure– Mckenna Maycock’s return from injury will help this team but the lack of bodies and size has been hurting this Bona team which currently fields seven players. Its rebounding margins are at the bottom of the conference, but this team battles and still have Rhode Island, Richmond and VCU on the schedule and Duquesne at home, a team it has had success against at the Reilly Center.

13. VCU– This year has been a learning one for VCU which has developed its talent. It has a tough stretch coming up with both Dayton and Duquesne on the road three days apart.

14. Rhode Island– Charise Wilson has been out since Nov. 17 and the team has had a tough time filling those points, amassing 56.3 per game.

Zachary Weiss has had a 10 year journalism career, with the past three mainly focusing on Duquesne Athletics and the Atlantic 10.