1. Will the Owls advance further in the NCAA Tournament – say, into the Sweet 16?
POINT: This team is better than last year’s. The experience gained from last season’s NCAA Tournament run will help the Owls’ three returning starters come tournament time. Their non-conference schedule will provide the Owls’ new starters opportunities to grab some experience in meaningful and highly competitive games.
COUNTERPOINT: Not a chance. The Owls will be tested with three regular season games against ranked opponents, but will come up short. The reason? Time. The Owls have not been in the national spotlight long enough to garner any significant hauls in recruiting. In time, they will be among the nation’s top teams. Right now, they’re only good enough for a six seed in the NCAA Tournament, and no higher.
2. Will the graduation of scrappy forward Ari Moore and on-court leader Cynthia Jordan impair the Owls?
POINT: Without a doubt. Moore was the kind of player who, in a close game, knew how to draw a foul. She scoured the hardwood in search of loose balls, and she banged around in the paint. Jordan’s touch from the outside and her sniper-like precision passing will be tough to replace, especially with an inexperienced player like sophomore Ashley Morris.
COUNTERPOINT: Moore and Jordan’s replacements – senior Khadija Bowens and Morris, respectively – each saw a fair amount of playing time off of the bench last season. Bowens was honored with the team’s sixth woman award and Morris’ key three-pointer against George Washington in the A-10 tournament showed her ability to perform in the clutch.
3. Can forward Kamesha Hairston (12.5 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) possibly improve on a stellar sophomore campaign?
POINT: Hairston has more upside this year than last. Coach Dawn Staley said at A-10 Media Day that Hairston has developed a consistent jump shot and has added an ability to drive to the hole. Staley added that Hairston will post up a lot this season, giving her game an extra edge.
COUNTERPOINT: Not quite. Hairston turned in a good enough season to earn herself the A-10 Most Improved Player award, but an eight-point turnaround, like that from her freshman to sophomore season, is a lot to ask. Expect a solid season from the junior forward, but nothing quite like her special season of last year.
4. Can the Owls run the table again in Atlantic Ten Conference play?
POINT: Temple can be 16-0 again. The crème de la crème of the A-10 crop has its deficiencies, and that will only help Temple’s quest for a perfect conference record. George Washington and Richmond lost their top scorers, and the Spiders have a new coach. Xavier’s top scorer, senior center Tara Boothe, is coming off knee surgery, and the Musketeers don’t have a strong counterpart in the starting rotation to help her out.
COUNTERPOINT: New changes to scheduling will make a perfect season impossible. The Owls will play an additional game against both George Washington and Richmond this year. Both teams made the NCAA Tournament last season. The only meeting between the Owls and WNIT semifinalist Xavier will be on the road this season. Xavier returns four starters from a team that led the conference in scoring.