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Breaking down ACC competition for women’s basketball

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Breaking down ACC competition for women’s basketball

Redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg scored her season high points (23), field goals (9), and 3-point field goals (3) during Pitt’s Nov. 16 game versus Cincinatti.

Redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg scored her season high points (23), field goals (9), and 3-point field goals (3) during Pitt’s Nov. 16 game versus Cincinatti.

Bader Abdulmajeed | Staff Photographer

Redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg scored her season high points (23), field goals (9), and 3-point field goals (3) during Pitt’s Nov. 16 game versus Cincinatti.

Bader Abdulmajeed | Staff Photographer

Bader Abdulmajeed | Staff Photographer

Redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg scored her season high points (23), field goals (9), and 3-point field goals (3) during Pitt’s Nov. 16 game versus Cincinatti.

By Dominic Campbell, Staff Writer

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The Pitt women’s basketball team kicked off conference play in one of the worst ways imaginable — with an unfortunate matchup against the best team in the country, No. 1 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish trounced the Panthers, 100-44.

While Pitt obviously won’t lose every conference game by 56 points, the loss may have foreshadowed the team’s struggles as it heads into its ACC schedule. The Panthers went just 2-14 in the conference last year, and then lost leading scorer Yacine Diop in the offseason after she transferred to Louisville.

But aside from the loss of Diop, Pitt brought back a trio of senior talent in Aysia Bugg, Cassidy Walsh and Danielle Garven. So far, the group has led the Panthers to a 9-6 overall record. Heading into ACC play, they’ll look to improve upon last season’s conference record. In order to do so, they’ll need to take care of business against ACC bottom-feeders like Clemson and Virginia, and hopefully steal a game or two from the conference’s middling teams.

No. 2 Louisville — Away matchup Jan. 27, home matchup March 3.

After Notre Dame, the Cardinals are the best team in the nation and the ACC. Senior guard Asia Durr is the team’s best player, as she was named ACC player of the year and first-team All-American last season. ESPN ranked her at No. 2 on its Top 25 players list heading into this year.

Louisville returns four starters, including junior guard Jazmine Jones, senior forward Sam Fuehring and redshirt senior guard Arica Carter. While the Cardinals may not have the depth of the Fighting Irish, both are currently atop the rankings with Notre Dame at No. 1 and Louisville at No. 2. Their matchup this Thursday night will show how the teams stack up going forward throughout conference play and into March. But when the Cardinals take on the Panthers, there is no doubt as to who will win. Hopefully, Pitt can keep the score within a respectable margin.

No. 8 NC State — One away matchup Jan. 10.

The Wolfpack is coming off a trip to the Sweet 16 last season and has been great this year, at No. 8 in the polls with a 15-0 record. The backcourt, consisting of graduate student Kiara Leslie and junior guard Aislinn Konig, returns this season, but lost graduate Kaila Ealey to a season-ending knee injury in early October. NC State also lost its front court from last year, which included forward Chelsea Nelson and center Akela Maize. All these losses would usually hurt a team like the Wolfpack, but it seemingly hasn’t missed a beat, as it is still unbeaten into January. It’s still early, but it looks like NC State could make another deep tournament run in March. Luckily, Pitt only has to deal with them once.

No. 12 Syracuse — Home matchup Jan. 17, away matchup Feb. 21.

This Syracuse team returns all of its starters and almost all its offensive production from last year. The Orange is led by Australian junior guard Tiana Mangakahia, its only player who made the All-ACC preseason team and was also ranked No. 22 in ESPN’s preseason Top 25 players — not surprising, considering she set an ACC single-season record with 304 assists last year.

The Orange is ranked No. 12 in the latest poll and is off to a quality 2-0 start in ACC play. It wouldn’t be surprising to see it end up in third in the ACC when all is said and done.

No. 22 Florida State — One away matchup Feb. 17.

It seemed like the Seminoles would have an off year, after all five of their starters from last year graduated. But the team has continued to pick up the pace from last year, coming in at No. 22 in the recent AP poll with a 14-1 overall record. Redshirt junior forward Kiah Gillespie is the primary contributor, leading the team in points per game at 17.9, good for fourth best in the conference, and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Florida State also has a standout recruiting class, which is highlighted by first-year forward Valencia Myers, who leads the team in blocks with 25. While this team is still quite inexperienced compared to other ACC teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Seminoles do well and make it back to the NCAA tournament in March.

Miami — One home matchup Feb. 10.

The Hurricanes are led by one of the best front-court duos in the ACC, with senior forward Emese Hof and redshirt junior forward Beatrice Mompremier. Hof has had a promising start to the season, shooting 63.3 percent and blocking 2.1 shots per game — both first in the ACC.

Mompremier is a transfer from Baylor and sat out last season, but has been a force nonetheless. She leads the team with 16.2 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game, seventh and second in the ACC, respectively. Like rival Florida State, Miami isn’t as talented as Louisville or Notre Dame, but there’s no reason that a solid ACC record wouldn’t earn the Hurricanes a place in the NCAA tournament.

Virginia Tech — One home matchup Jan. 31.

The Hokies are led by one of the best players in the conference in senior guard Taylor Emery, whose 18.9 points per game are third best in the ACC. Her sidekick is redshirt senior forward Regan Magarity, who leads the country with 200 total rebounds.

While the Hokies started at an impressive 13-0, they lost each of their first two ACC games in close battles. If they want to be a top five team in the conference, they must win more of those games against tougher opponents.

Duke — One away matchup Feb. 3.

The Blue Devils have had a tough year so far, going 8-6 overall and 0-2 ACC, compared to last season when they went 24-9 and 11-5 in the ACC. They’re struggling from the loss of standout guards Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell to graduation, who averaged 19.4 and 13.9 points per game, respectively. This season has seen the return of junior guard Haley Gorecki, who injured her hip last year but now leads the team with 16.6 points and 2.9 steals per game, sixth and third best in the ACC.

Duke is struggling right now, but it can easily turn its season around, as its ACC losses were to Louisville and NC State. The biggest question is whether the Blue Devils will improve enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina — One home matchup Feb. 14.

UNC has two of the best players in the conference in sophomore center Janelle Bailey and redshirt senior guard Paris Kea. Both were named to the preseason All-ACC team and Bailey has been an absolute force this season, with her 17.1 points per game and 9.2 rebounds at fifth and sixth best in the ACC. Kea hasn’t had as good of a start to the season as Bailey, but is still producing 13.9 points per game and 27 steals so far this season. Redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts has been phenomenal and even better than Kea, as her 3.1 3-pointers per game place her second in the ACC. While the team is 0-2 in ACC play and 9-7 overall, Bailey and the prolific backcourt of Kea, Bennett and Watts could make this a tough team to play against continuing on into conference play.

Georgia Tech — One away matchup Feb. 7.

The Yellow Jackets only made the Women’s National Invitation Tournament last season, but they made some strides this season and could possibly make it to the NCAA tournament if they get more key wins in conference play. The team is led by junior guard Francesca Pan, who is second on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game and is also great at creating turnovers, as her 2.4 steals per game are fifth best in the ACC. She is also accompanied by first-year guard Elizabeth Balogun, who was picked in the preseason as a newcomer to watch in the ACC. She leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game and will definitely be a threat this year and future seasons.

While Georgia Tech may not be the greatest team this year, it’ll turn heads soon enough if its recruiting keeps up. Pitt will look to beat the Yellow Jackets for the second year in a row after winning last year’s matchup 68-62.

Wake Forest — One away matchup Feb. 28.

The Demon Deacons are led by one of the best forwards in the conference in Italian senior Elisa Penna. She was named to the All-ACC team and leads the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game, despite only playing 12 games so far.

The Demon Deacons have been average up until this point at 9-5 and 0-1 in the ACC and shouldn’t be expected to do much this season, let alone make a postseason tournament. Unless Penna can play exceptionally well and they get some key upsets, the Deacons should be at the bottom of the ACC — making them a key candidate for Pitt to beat.

Clemson — One home matchup Jan. 20.

After only winning one game in the ACC last season, the Tigers already equaled it this season after beating Virginia in the second game of conference play. A top player for Clemson is junior center Kobi Thornton, who leads the team with 15.9 points per game. Joining her is graduate guard Simone Westbrook, who sits just behind Thornton in scoring at 15.2 points per game.

Another big defensive player for the Tigers is sophomore center Tylar Bennett, who leads the team and is seventh in the conference with 1.5 blocks per game. Clemson looks better than it did last year, but it still isn’t good enough to compete with the best teams. It should finish at about the 10-12th region in the ACC.

Boston College — One home matchup Jan. 13.

The Eagles started this season well, going 11-2 in nonconference play before losing to Georgia Tech and NC State at home to bring them back to reality, which is usually the basement of the ACC. Junior forward Emma Guy has been great for the Eagles so far, with her 7.9 rebounds per game good for ninth best in the ACC and her 63 percent shooting at second. On the defensive side of the ball, first-year guard Marnelle Garraud is averaging 1.9 steals per game, 11th in the ACC, and junior forward Georgia Pineau is blocking 1.4 shots per game, eighth best in conference. This team looks to be a year away from possibly making a postseason run, but it will be rebuilding this year.

Virginia — One home matchup Jan. 24.

It’s unlikely that new head coach Tina Thompson came in thinking that this team, which returned four starters from a NCAA tournament team last year, would be 6-9 and 0-2 in the ACC. In the ACC, the Cavaliers are second worst on offense at 60 points per game and third worst on defense, allowing 64.6 points per game. Their highest scorer is junior guard/forward Jocelyn Willoughby at 12.9 points per game. The Cavaliers aren’t the same team they were last year, and early season losses to Radford and Clemson are evidence of that. This will be one of the rare games that Pitt could be favored to win

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Breaking down ACC competition for women’s basketball