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Atlantic 10 Offseason Reset: VCU, Davidson, Dayton headline much improved conference

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Atlantic 10

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

THE LEAGUE WILL BE MUCH, MUCH BETTER THIS SEASON: The Atlantic 10 got lucky last season. There was one team in the league worthy of an at-large bid – VCU – and that team lost in the conference tournament. That’s the only reason they ended up as a two-bid league instead of a one-bid league.

This year should be different. VCU and Davidson are both sitting in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. Dayton isn’t all that far behind them. Rhode Island and Richmond both bring back essentially all of the pieces that mattered last season. The top of the league is as strong as it has been in a while, and I think there’s a real chance that we’re talking about the conference getting three or four bids to the NCAA tournament this season.

That, of course, all depends on what happens during non-conference play. Last year it was hideous for the league, and that left them in a position where the computer numbers were ugly and there was no way to add quality wins for the teams that needed quality wins. The bottom of the conference should be just as bad this season, but with three teams at the top worthy of top 25 consideration combined with a much stronger middle, there’s reason to be hopeful.

VCU AND DAVIDSON FIGHTING FOR FIRST PLACE: I think you can go either way when it comes to who is the favorite to win the league, but I don’t think you can pick anyone other than VCU or Davidson. They finished 1-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season and, combined, they lost three players from their rotations. VCU graduated a third-string center and lost a guy who lost his spot in the rotation to a freshman while, hopefully, getting Marcus Evans back to the peak of his powers; more on him later. Davidson brings back their top six, including one of the best backcourts in all of college basketball in Kellan Grady and Jon-Axel Gudmundsson. It will be a fun race between the two programs that couldn’t play more contrasting styles.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

WILL DAYTON’S TALENT COME TOGETHER?: On paper, Dayton is right there with Davidson and VCU. They lose Josh Cunningham, but with the rest of their rotation – including a bonafide pro in Obi Toppin – returning and four sit-out transfers entering the fold, there is more than enough talent, depth and experience on the roster. The reason I have them a notch below the favorites is because I want to see how all the pieces come together. They can certainly win the league, but managing minutes and egos is going to be the toughest part of Anthony Grant’s job this season.

THE BATTLE FOR FOURTH: Best I can tell, there are going to be at least three – if not more – teams fighting for that spot. Rhode Island seems to make the most sense, given just how much they bring back, while Richmond is the sleeper that all the coaches in the conference are talking about. I also think it is worth noting that St. Bonaventure will be better than some believe given that they managed to find a way to keep Mark Schmidt in Olean for another season.

But I also think that it’s possible that a team like La Salle, or George Mason, or Saint Louis can pop up and surprise some people. There’s depth in the conference that wasn’t necessarily there a year ago.

CAN CHRIS MOONEY GO FROM ALMOST-FIRED TO NCAA TOURNAMENT?: Richmond is going to be the most interesting team in the league. There are big-money boosters that have spent the last year or two trying to get Chris Mooney fired. Someone even put up a #FireMooney billboard on I-95 in the city. The irony here is that Mooney may have his best team since the 2011 team that reached the Sweet 16. Grant Golden is arguably the best big man in the league while Jacob Gilyard was a second-team all-Atlantic 10 player last year. Nathan Cayo is back and, perhaps most importantly, Richmond’s best wing scorer Nick Sherod should be healthy again. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and there are a lot of pieces on this roster.

We’ll see if Mooney can make it all fit together, but this team is certainly good enough, on paper, to win 12 conference games.

WHO’S GONE

  • PHIL MARTELLI, St. Joseph’s: An Atlantic 10 and Philadelphia institution is gone. After 34 years at the school and 24 seasons as the head coach of the Hawks, Phil Martelli was fired this spring. He landed on his feet – as an assistant coach on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan – but St. Joe’s is going to have to completely rebuild. As of right now, there are seven scholarship players on the roster.
  • JAVON BESS, Saint Louis: Bess was the best defender in the Atlantic 10 last season, the anchor for what was the best defense in the league. He also doubled as the best scorer and shooter on the roster of a Billiken team that struggled to score. This is a big, big loss for a team coming off an NCAA tournament trip.
  • JOSH CUNNINGHAM, Dayton: The Flyers will have more than enough talent to replace Cunningham, but losing an all-league senior that was capable of going for 20-10 on any given night is never ideal.
  • COURTNEY STOCKARD, St. Bonaventure: Stockard took a step forward as a senior, helping the Bonnies to remain top four in the league despite losing Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. He was a deserving first-team all-league player last season.
  • OTIS LIVINGSTON, George Mason: The Patriots are going to have to change the way they play this season with Livingston gone. He was one of the best lead guards in the league for the last four years and the guy that allowed Dave Paulsen to run offense without worrying about what happens at the end of a shot clock.
  • ERIC WILLIAMS, Duquesne: The Dukes bring everyone else back, and Keith Dambrot has the respect of every coach in the league, but Williams was their best player. Losing him is a hard way to make up ground in a league where the top five teams all bring everyone back.
Obi Toppin (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK

  • EVERYONE, VCU: Well, that’s technically not true. Michael Gilmore, a backup center, graduated and Sean Mobley, who started to lose minutes by the end of the year, transferred. So there are some changes. But all of the truly important pieces – star guard Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Issac Vann, Vince Williams, etc. – are back, and they’re joined by a really good recruiting class. They’re old, they’re experienced, they’re deep, they’re talented and they were a No. 8 seed last season. This is a preseason top 25 team.
  • EVERYONE, Davidson: Last season, Kellan Grady was the guy we all thought would be the best player in the Atlantic 10 after a sterling freshman season got him on the radar of the NBA. Despite being banged up, Grady averaged 17.3 points as a sophomore … and his teammate, Jon-Axel Gudmundsson, won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Both of them are back, along with the rest of Bob McKillop’s top six from a team that went 24-10 last season.
  • EVERYONE, Rhode Island: The Rams bring back their top four scorers, including Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin, and the only player they lose from their rotation averaged just 5.7 points. There is a lot of reason to like this group.
  • OBI TOPPIN, Dayton: One coach told me that Toppin is not only clearly the most talented player in the league, he is the only guy in the conference that is a surefire pro. A late-bloomer, he hasn’t stopped improving throughout his career and should be in line for a major breakout season.
  • NICK SHEROD, Richmond: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo are the bigger names and they all return, but Sherod is the guy that coaches in the league believe is the difference-maker. He’s a big-time shooter and scorer on the wing that they were missing after he went down with a knee injury.
  • KYLE LOFTON and OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure: Losing Stockard is going to hurt, but sophomores Lofton and Osunniyi are going to be very, very good for a long time in this league. One coach told me he thought Lofton was “the best freshman I’ve seen in the Atlantic 1 in a while, you would never have guessed he was a freshman” based on the way he played and his poised.
  • JORDAN GOODWIN and HASAHN FRENCH, Saint Louis: Goodwin is a do-it-all wing and French might be the best, and certainly is the most powerful, big man in the conference.

WHO’S COMING

  • DAYTON’S TRANSFERS: The Flyers had four players sitting out as transfers last season — Ibi Watson (Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga) and Chase Johnson (Florida). With Jalen Crutcher and Toppin both returning, the Flyers have as much talent on paper as anyone.
  • SCOTT SPENCER, La Salle: A transfer from Clemson, Spencer should fit perfectly in Ashley Howard’s system and give the Explorers a bit of a scoring pop to help offset the loss of Pookie Powell.
  • BLAKE FRANCIS, Richmond: The transfer from Wagner averaged 17 points before sitting out this past season.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ATLANTIC 10 TEAM

MARCUS EVANS, VCU (Preseason Player of the Year)
KELLAN GRADY, Davidson
JON-AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
OBI TOPPIN, Dayton
GRANT GOLDEN, Richmond

(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. VCU: We’ve talked plenty about the Rams at this point, but I think their ceiling is still going to be determined by what they get out of Marcus Evans. Their star point guard has suffered an injury to each of his achilles since transferring to VCU from Rice. He rehabbed his entire sit-out season, and then spent last summer rehabbing the second injury. Somehow, he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness and still managed to average 13.6 points and 3.2 assists last year. I spoke with him back in February, and Evans told me he was excited about this offseason because it was the first time he would have a chance to spend the summer getting better instead of getting healthy. He’s my pick to be the 2020 Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10.

2. DAVIDSON: This Davidson team has a chance to be the best group Bob McKillop has coached since the Stephen Curry days. A healthy Kellan Grady combined with Jon Axel Gudmundsson will give the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. They’re going to be experienced, and Luka Brajkovic and Luke Frampton should both take a significant step forward as sophomores. Brajkovic was one of the best bigs in the league as a freshman. As always, their ceiling will be determined by just how good their defense will be, but on paper this group looks like a tournament team.

3. DAYTON: It’s easier to bet on VCU and Davidson as league champs because we know what they are, but keep in mind that the Flyers return the majority of their rotation from a team that went 21-12 overall and 13-5 in the league last season, and that among the players they return is future draft pick Obi Toppin. Oh, and they also add four sit-out transfers, three of whom came from high-major schools. It’s going to be a fun three-team race.

4. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams certainly have the talent to be relevant in the Atlantic 10 race, but with essentially the same team, they went .500 in the league last season and finished four games behind third-place Dayton. How are they making up all that ground when the teams above them return everyone?

5. RICHMOND: Every coach I’ve spoken to believes that the Spiders are the x-factor in the league race this year. For starters, bringing back Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard gives them one of the best 1-2 combinations in the league. Bringing back Nick Sherod’s size and scoring on the wing will be important, and Nathan Cayo was underrated league-wide. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and this should be the most improved team in the conference.

6. ST. BONAVENTURE: Mark Schmidt lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley before last season and still managed to churn out an 18-win season and a fourth-place finish in the A-10, so we shouldn’t be all that worried about them after losing four of their top six, including Courtney Stockard. They have one of the best homecourt advantages in the league, Schmidt will find a way to get the best out of his roster and sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are ready for bigger roles.

7. LA SALLE: I love this La Salle group. They should have more talent and depth this year, and you know they are always going to play hard. They’ve had a year under Ashley Howard, and what we saw as the season progressed was that this team played together much better than La Salle did under John Giannini. Keep an eye on sophomore Jack Clark.

8. GEORGE MASON: They’re going to have to play differently without Otis Livingston running the show, but Justin Kier is a going to have a chance to become a star in the league. Throw in sophomore Jordan Miller and a healthy Goanar Mar, and there are some pieces for Dave Paulsen here.

9. SAINT LOUIS: The Billikens were built on their defense last season and couldn’t score. They lost their best defender and best scorer in Javon Bess. I like Jordan Goodwin, I love Hasahn French and I think Fred Thatch is in line for a big sophomore season, but I need to see it from this group.

10. DUQUESNE: Coaches in the league have faith that Keith Dambrot will be able to find a way to make it work this year, and there are some pieces returning – notably Sincere Carey – but losing Eric Williams is big. He was their best player.

11. UMASS: The Minutemen have some talent and they bring in a good recruiting class, but I am going to need to see Matt McCall win there before I buy in. Keep an eye on freshman Tre Mitchell.

12. GEORGE WASHINGTON: Jamion Christian should be able to get the most out of this roster, and they’ll play a fun style that will see them bombing away from three, but it will take him a few years to get the kind of talent in the program he needs to make a run at the top of the league.

13. FORDHAM: Fordham won three Atlantic 10 games last season and lose their best player, Nick Honor.

14. ST. JOSEPH’S: Best I can tell, St. Joe’s currently has seven scholarship players on the roster, one of whom is a former walk-on. The post-Martelli era is going to have a rough start.

Thursday’s Things To Know: The Pac-12 gets wild and the greatest comeback of the year

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It was a wild night out west, as the WCC and the Pac-12 got a little rowdy.

Here’s everything you need to know.

1. THERE IS STILL A THREE-WAY TIE ATOP THE PAC-12

We did not get much more clarity in the Pac-12 regular season title race on Thursday night. All four teams that were sitting in a tie for first-place in the league were in action, and the only one that lost — No. 14 Oregon — is the one that was playing on the road against another league leader.

The Ducks fell at Arizona State on Thursday night, losing 77-72 as the Sun Devils picked up their sixth straight win. They are now sitting at 9-4 in the league and have more or less played their way into a spot where missing out of the NCAA tournament would be something of an upset.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, No. 18 Colorado erased an early double-digit deficit at home against USC as the Buffaloes moved to 10-4 in the Pac-12. Technically speaking, Colorado is sitting all alone in first place in the league, one game up in the win column on both of the Arizona schools.

Speaking of Arizona, the No. 24 Wildcats blew out Oregon State at home on Thursday night, winning by 26 as their three freshman combined for 43 points. The Ducks will visit the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at the same time that Arizona State is hosting Oregon State. UCLA, who is sitting just a game out of first place in the Pac-12, will pay a visit to Colorado.

Put another way, we’re one wacky Saturday away from having a five-way tie atop the Pac-12.

I’m here for that insanity.

2. SAN FRANCISCO MADE THINGS INTERESTING ENOUGH TO KEEP ME UP LATE

The Dons gave No. 2 Gonzaga their toughest fight of the WCC season in San Francisco last month, and at halftime of their visit up to Spokane on Thursday night, it looked like we were in store for another battle.

USF was up 31-22 at the half. By the time they woke in the second half, they were down 46-33. That’s a 24-2 run for those of you scoring at home.

The Zags would go on to win 71-54.

3. EASTERN ILLINOIS ERASES 27-POINT LEAD WITH 40-10 RUN

Eastern Illinois trailed Murray State, who entered the night tied for the lead in the Ohio Valley, 50-23 with just over 11 minutes left in the game. They trailed by 21 points with just over six minutes left. They were down by 15 points at the four minute mark.

Then, over the course of the last 3:34, the Panthers hit nine straight shots, went on a 23-5 run and won when this shot went in at the buzzer:

Arizona State lands sixth straight win over No. 14 Oregon

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 26 points, Rob Edwards added 24 and Arizona State beat No. 14 Oregon 77-72 on Thursday night for its sixth straight victory.

The Sun Devils (18-8, 9-4 Pac-12) continued their unexpected charge up the conference standings following a mediocre January. Every team in the Pac-12 has lost at least four league games.

Oregon (20-7, 9-5) bumbled its way through a big chunk of the game, clanking errant 3-pointers and giving up turnovers. But the Ducks used an 11-0 run to it at 54 with 7:17 left.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch

Arizona State responded with the next six points, which included a 3-pointer from Edwards, and never trailed again.

Payton Pritchard had 18 points for Oregon but fouled out with about two minutes left, badly hurting the Ducks’ chances of a last-minute rally. Will Richardson also had 18 points and Chris Duarte added 10.

Oregon struggled for most of the first half, especially in the first few minutes, and missed 11 of its first 12 shots. Arizona State started slowly too, but closed the first half on a 12-4 run. Remy Martin hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Sun Devils a 34-23 halftime lead.

Martin – the team’s leading scorer at about 20 points per game – took an inadvertent elbow to the face midway through the first half and had to go to the locker room. He missed a few minutes before returning and banking a 3-pointer into the basket on the next possession.

The Ducks shot just 37% in the first half and had 11 turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks made a run in the second half to make things interesting but couldn’t totally overcome their rough offensive game. Oregon’s now lost three straight road games.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils continued their mid-season surge with a gritty performance that relied on defense and hustle. The program’s trying to make its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since the 1960s.

UP NEXT

Oregon has another road game against No. 24 Arizona on Saturday.

Arizona State hosts Oregon State on Saturday.

Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Luka Garza’s big night carries No. 20 Iowa past No. 25 Ohio State

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Luka Garza scored 24 points, and No. 20 Iowa got strong contributions from its bench in a 85-76 win over No. 25 Ohio State.

It was Garza’s 12th consecutive game of 20 points or more in Big Ten play, the longest streak for an Iowa player in 49 seasons and the most by any conference player in the last 20 years.

Bakari Evelyn came off the bench to score 15 points for the Hawkeyes. Joe Wieskamp had 13 points, and Ryan Kriener added 12.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch

The Hawkeyes (19-8, 10-6 Big Ten) opened the game with a 27-8 run in the first 10 minutes. Ohio State (17-9, 7-8) closed to within 43-35 with 41 seconds left in the first half, and was within nine points on three occasions early in the second half before Iowa went on an 18-8 run to lead 69-50 with 6:43 to play.

Freshman E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with a season-high 17 points. Duane Washington Jr., had 15 points. C.J. Walker had 11. Kaleb Wesson had 10 points before fouling out.

FREDRICK OUT

Iowa redshirt freshman guard CJ Fredrick missed his second consecutive game because of a right ankle injury.

Fredrick, who has 22 starts this season, is averaging 10.7 points per game and is second on the team with 42 3-pointers. He missed two games earlier this season with a stress reaction in his left foot.

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: The Buckeyes, who had won five of their last six games, lost a little momentum heading into Sunday’s game with Big Ten leader Maryland.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes extended their home winning streak to 12 games and stayed among the top teams in the league standings.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Ohio State: The Buckeyes moved into the poll this week after a four-week absence. This loss could drop them out of the rankings.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes are off until next week, so they should maintain their position, if not improve a spot or two.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: The Buckeyes play at home against Maryland on Sunday.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes play at Michigan State next Tuesday.

Meet The Mabreys: Three sisters making a splash in women’s hoops

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A college athlete, a WNBA player, and an assistant coach.

Dara, Marina and Michaela Mabrey all have a fierce passion for basketball and an unbreakable bond with each other. Despite being almost constant competitors—whether that be in their driveway growing up or as foes in the ACC—the sisters have found a way to remain close and act as one another’s role models and confidants.

Their two brothers, Roy and Ryan, also share a love for the game, and finish out the Mabrey family starting five.

The Mabrey sisters have made quite the impact on women’s college basketball. The youngest sister, Dara, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, while Marina and Michaela both played for Notre Dame—even overlapping for one year. On Thursday night, Dara’s Hokies will face off with Michaela’s Fighting Irish.

“I’m just super proud of both of them and where they’re at in their careers,” Michaela said. “I’m really happy to watch them every day and see how much they’ve grown, as basketball players and as women.”

The bonds of sisterhood

“As much as we can, we’re always there for each other.”

Despite the current distance between them, they find a way to talk every single day, Michaela added.

It’s been difficult for the sisters since the WNBA season ended. Marina is currently playing basketball overseas in Latvia, and her sisters haven’t seen her since September. Michaela is at Notre Dame and Dara resides in Blacksburg, Virginia, but the two face a rigorous ACC schedule that keeps them apart for most of the season. 

“We’re all super super close,” Dara said. “Even when things happen and we’re upset, we’re always the first people we call. Especially when we really need it, it does suck being away from your sister.”

Even while Marina was still in college, it could be hard to see each other with the busy schedules that college athletes undertake. But, this never stopped the Mabrey sisters from being there for one another when it really counted. 

When Marina was in her freshman year, Michaela spent time with her sister, walking her through all the challenges and obstacles of being a student athlete. And when Dara was dealing with the typical plight of being a first-year college athlete, Michaela went down to Virginia to be with her. 

Marina, learning from her big sister, did the same for Dara. 

“Marina drove through the night one night, my first summer there when I was kind of homesick,” Dara added. “She drove through the night for 11 hours from Notre Dame to Virginia Tech.”

When Michaela graduated and went into the working force, she was still able to find time for both of her sisters. 

“Last year, when I was working at LSU, we had a bye week and I was able to see Dara and watch her play against North Carolina,” Michaela said. “And I followed Marina throughout her entire tournament last year. I was at every game.”

While it could be easy to let life get in the way, that’s not how the Mabrey sisters operate.

“Those are my best friends,” Michaela beamed, seeming to smile through the phone. 

Growing up

“Obviously when you’re growing up, you do the same things your older siblings do,” Dara explained.

That’s how it all started for the Mabrey sisters. Michaela, the oldest, watched her brother Roy play basketball, and Marina and Dara followed in her footsteps from there. 

“We were all eager to play when we were younger… watching it and being around it so much made us want to do it,” Dara said. 

Each only two and a half years apart, the New Jersey natives didn’t have to wait long to be able to play against one another in their childhood driveway — where some of their most intense and competitive battles took place.

“Someone would come in crying or someone would be in trouble for pushing too hard,” Dara laughed. “There were plenty of times where someone would think it was a foul, someone thought it wasn’t a foul… Then someone would end up walking away. You’d give them 5 minutes to calm down and then eventually ours start playing one on one again.”

“I would try to play against Roy and Michaela and cry if I lost,” Marina added. “My mom would make them play with only their left hands and try to make it somewhat fair…but I stomped and cried every time I lost.”

Michaela has one story that comes to mind out of all of the pickup games the siblings played growing up.

“Last Christmas, when everybody was home, we went to the gym on Christmas morning. And it was Marina, Dara and Ryan — my little brother who’s 16.

“Marina always wins, she’s won almost every single year we’ve played. She always wins. And Ryan beat her this last Christmas. Me and my dad were on the side just laughing… They’re yelling at each other and they’re fouling each other. And my little brother Ryan ended up winning and Marina had a giant fit and it was so fun to just watch.”

While each sister had to deal with the pressure of being compared to an older sibling, Marina and Dara had to fight to escape Michaela’s shadow. Marina was apprehensive about choosing Notre Dame, as she wanted to make sure it was the right place for her. Dara, on the other hand, felt she had to differentiate herself from both older sisters.

“I was never compared to people in my class that I was playing against,” Dara admitted. “I was always compared to Marina and Michaela, which kind of stunk.

“Definitely, there was that added pressure my entire life. But I think people knew I was for real when I chose Virginia Tech, and they were like, ‘Oh she’s doing her own thing.’ That’s when they actually started taking it seriously.”

(William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Playing the game they love

“I just knew. When I came back from Virginia Tech I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I want to go there,’” Dara gushed. 

Instead of following in her sister’s footsteps to Notre Dame, Dara chose to go to another ACC school. In her freshman year, the 5-foot-7 guard averaged 11.2 points per game and was shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. This year, Dara is averaging 12.7 ppg and is shooting 38.4 percent from three.

“I’m undersized, obviously, so I have to make up for it by playing as hard as I can,” Dara explained. “You can erase any mistakes when you do that. I’ve always been a believer in that, but what some people don’t know is that there’s a lot more where that comes from.”

“I’m just super proud of her and how she’s progressed the last year,” Michaela said of her sister. “I’m super excited for her and her career taking off a little bit more this year, and how their team is playing. They’ve got a really great team and Dara is a huge part of it.”

Michaela is no stranger to great teams, either, as part of the winningest class in Notre Dame women’s basketball history from 2012-2016. Marina was at Notre Dame from 2015-2019, overlapping with her sister for one year and being a part of the 2018 national championship team. 

“Winning the ACC championship together and everything like that, it was so unique,” Michaela said. “That year still to this day is one of the best years of my life, and to be able to share that with Marina.”

The oldest Mabrey sister thought about going overseas to play professionally after she graduated, but changed her mind “kind of last minute.” She had been told by different people that she’d make a great coach, so she tried it. 

“I love it, I love being back at Notre Dame and helping these girls just have the best experience on and off the court,” Michaela gushed. 

Marina went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks as the 19th pick in the second round, and averaged four points and 1.2 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game in her rookie campaign. 

“For Marina, this has been her dream since I can’t remember how old… she is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever been around,” Michaela said, getting audibly choked up. “If she has a dream, she’s going to go get it. This has been something she’s talked about forever, being a WNBA player.”

The middle Mabrey sister is currently playing for TTT Riga in Latvia, where she is averaging 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 9 games. 

“I’m learning a lot about what it takes to be a pro here,” Marina explained. “I feel like I’m becoming a much better point guard because I’m working very hard every game to get my teammates involved and also understand when it’s time for me to contribute.”

Beyond her basketball skill, Marina is known for creating the “This Is My Kitchen” campaign.

“This is my kitchen campaign came about because people on Twitter would put down women’s basketball,” Marina explained. “They would make it hard for people to support us because of their disrespectful comments stereotyping where women belong, such as in the kitchen, cleaning or cooking. I got tired of reading it and of no one standing up for women’s basketball so I decided to.”

Her shirts gained the support of a wide variety of people, from NBA stars—such as Kyle Kuzma and Bradley Beal—to her teammates. Even the late legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi showed their support for the campaign.

“A lot of NBA players were in support of the movement and tweeted their support,” Marina said. “They reached out to me to have girls they know wear the shirt, so I’m happy that the world will spread that women’s sports deserve respect.”

Looking ahead

For the second year in a row, Dara will be up against one of her best friends. 

Marina was a senior at Notre Dame when Dara was a freshman, and the two faced off once, with the Fighting Irish handling the Hokies easily in an 80-51 win. Their parents sat in the stands wearing shirts that had the Irish on one side and Hokies on the other—Marina’s creation.

This year, Dara will face Notre Dame with Michaela on board as an assistant coach. 

”It’s definitely a unique situation,” Michaela admitted. “And, obviously, I’ve been watching Virginia Tech since Dara went there so I think I have a little advantage… But, I do my scouts the same every single time, whether we’re playing Dara or anyone else in the ACC. I think it’s just going to be an exciting moment for Dara and I.”

“Michaela’s a really good coach and it turns out, of course, that she’s scouting Virginia Tech. So she’s probably going to tell her players every single one of my weaknesses and how to defend it,” Dara laughed. 

Just as Dara didn’t follow her sisters to Notre Dame, she may not follow their career paths either.

“I’d like to do either [coach or play professionally], but if I can get a really good broadcasting job, I also might do that because I know that basketball definitely doesn’t last forever,” she said.

Marina is excited to get back to the Sparks in May and utilize what she’s learned overseas in her second year with the team. She’s excited to “earn more playing time, get better individually and become a better teammate.”

Michaela is focusing on how she can impact the women at Notre Dame both on and off the court, and is excited about the future of women’s collegiate and professional basketball.

“I think there’s a lot of attention that has stirred around women’s basketball the last few years,” Michaela said excitedly. “Even with the new rules that the WNBA put in and how much respect we get from NBA players, from men’s college basketball players. I think it’s just going to keep going up and up.”

“For women sports to reach the respect level of men sports, we’ll just have to keep pushing and give it time,” Marina added. “The WNBA is young compared to the NBA in years and we’re on track to be popular and start to strive towards much more popularity and attention.”

Bubble Banter: NC State, Indiana land massive wins

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There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 60, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack are easily the biggest bubble winners of the week, as they blew out Duke (6) at home on Wednesday. It’s the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’re also beaten Wisconsin (30) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with an 8-6 record against the top two Quads. The biggest problem here is that they have three Quad 3 losses, two of which came at home. As of today, I would have N.C. State on the right side of the cutline and in a play-in game.

INDIANA (NET: 63, NBC: 10): Indiana picked up their fifth Quad 1 win of the season on Wednesday, going into Minnesota (44) and knocking off the Golden Gophers. This one was particularly important because of the fact that the Hoosiers only had a single road win entering the night — at Nebraska (175). They are 7-9 against the top two Quads, and their worst loss is at home to Arkansas. The Hoosiers are in a better spot than people realize.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): After beating South Carolina (62) at home on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs have now won two straight games and five of their last seven games. Those two Quad 3 losses are not going away, but with a pair of Quad 1 road wins and a 6-7 mark against the top two Quads, Mississippi State has themselves in a spot where they cannot afford to slip-up given that they have just a single Quad 1 opportunity left on their schedule.

VIRGINIA (NET: 54, NBC: 11): The Wahoos have now won three in a row and six of their last seven after picking off Boston College (151) at home. They have three Quad 1 wins and an 8-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (10). They’re in a good spot right now.

UTAH STATE (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): After beating Wyoming, the Aggies have won five in a row and eight of their last nine games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as four weeks ago. Wins over LSU (31) and Florida (35) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-90 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

MEMPHIS (NET: 59, NBC: Next four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, but they are still alive after knocking off a bad East Carolina (208) team at home. Memphis has just one Quad 1 win and they don’t have a win over a team inside the top 50; their best win is Cincinnati (50) at home. Throw in a pair of quad 3 losses, and the Tigers have plenty of work to do. The good news? They still get two games against Houston (27), a trip to SMU (67) and a home date with Wichita State (43).

RICHMOND (NET: 46, NBC: Play-in game): The Spiders are still in a good spot for an at-large bid after beating up on George Mason (167) at home. They’re sitting at 20-6 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins — Wisconsin (30) on a neutral and at Rhode Island (32) — as well as two Quad 2 wins. The trouble with their resume is a a pair of Quad 3 losses, but in a year where so many bubble teams look destined to amass 11 or 12 losses, Richmond will be in the mix. They cannot truly improve their resume until the A-10 tournament.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 42, NBC: 11): After beating Furman (71) on Wednesday night, the Buccaneers have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (55) and a win at LSU (31). With a 21-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lost to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (NET: 87, NBC: 12): Stephen F. Austin is 23-3 on the season and 20-3 against Division I competition. Their losses came at Rutgers (28), at Alabama (38) and at home to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (316) by a single point. That’s the worst loss that anyone on the bubble is going to take this season. But they also own a road win at Duke (6), which will go down as one of the very best wins that anyone gets this season. I’m not sure what else they can do.

… AND LOSERS

CINCINNATI (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125) in the fourth straight overtime game that they have played and their sixth one possession game in a row. Cincinnati have just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses. They’re in a bad spot.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): The Hoyas fell to 15-11 on the season with a home loss to Providence (58). It snapped a two-game losing streak and put the Hoyas in a very difficult spot. With road trips to DePaul (70), Marquette (23) and Creighton (11) and home dates with Xavier (39) and Villanova (15), Georgetown has a tough, tough schedule remaining. They do have five Quad 1 wins and a 9-11 mark against the top two Quads, so they are in a good spot.

MINNESOTA (NET: 44, NBC: Off the bubble): The Gophers are below .500 after losing to Indiana (63) at home. This is the last time they’ll be in this space until they start winning a few games.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Wednesday, but they lost a close game at Mississippi State (53). At 16-10 overall with a Quad 3 and a Quad 4 loss, the Gamecocks have plenty of work left to do and not all that many great chances left for wins.

ALABAMA (NET: 36, NBC: First four out): Alabama fell to 14-12 overall with a loss to a bad Texas A&M (134) on Wednesday. They now have just one Quad 1 win compared to a pair of Quad 3 losses. Throw in their overall record and the fact that they don’t have a road win over a team ranked in the top 95, and they are in serious trouble.