The NJAC playoffs are here: What can Rowan women’s basketball expect?

176
Rowan women's basketball lines up for the pregame national anthem. Rowan will be looking to defend their NJAC title during the NJAC playoffs. - Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. - Photo via Lee Kotzen

Editor’s Note: Records, stats, and rankings are reflective of before Wednesday, Feb. 14, games.

With the women’s basketball regular season coming to an end, the Profs find themselves in a much different position compared to last season. This time last year, the Profs were the third seed and looking forward to a first-round home game in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) playoffs. They’re back in the playoffs this season, but this time locked into the sixth, and lowest, seed.

They still have one game left before the season ends against Montclair State, which is ultimately meaningless in terms of standings, but not meaningless for the team’s attitude and confidence.

“We just talked about wanting to end the season strong,” Head Coach Kate Pearson said. “This game does not technically mean anything for the standings. But you always want to put your best selves out there on the court.”

The season has been up and down for the Profs, as evidenced by their 9-8 record within the NJAC this season. The biggest struggle for the team this season has been their turnovers. They are currently the worst team out of any NJAC team when it comes to turnover margin at -0.96, which means they average one more turnover than the team they play. The rest of the NJAC playoff teams are in the positive for turnover margin.

It is a brand new season for the Profs after the game against Montclair State. The team has to do what it did last year to win the NJAC championship for the second year in a row: win three playoff games. The only difference this time is they will have to win one extra game on the road.

“Right now we are taking it one day at a time,” Pearson said. “We are talking about being 1-0 each game. Take the underdog mentality. We are going to have to work through any opportunity we get.”

With the Profs’ playoff journey starting this Saturday in the conference quarterfinals, let’s break down their potential conference opponents.

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

Perhaps the most balanced team in the NJAC this season, TCNJ is currently tied with NJCU for the first seed in the conference and has a 13-4 record in NJAC play. They control their own destiny for the NJAC regular season crown with a win against Rutgers-Newark.

The Lions’ biggest strength is their three-point shooting ability. They have the best three-point make percentage, knocking down 33.2 percent of the threes they take. Not only do they have the highest efficiency, but they also have the highest volume of threes taken. They have taken 79 more threes and have made 56 more threes than any other team in the conference.

TCNJ is led by two of the most efficient players in the conference in graduate student guard starting guard and team captain Julia Setaro and Junior guard Nina Branchizio. Setaro leads the whole NJAC in shooting percentage, shooting 49.2 percent from the field while averaging 14.3 points. She also averaged 42% from three-point range on 110 attempts this season. Branchizo is the team’s second-leading scorer behind Setaro, averaging 10.8 points per game.

Rowan was able to split with TCNJ this season. The difference between the wins and losses was in the first game, which Rowan won. TCNJ shot 23 percent from three, while in the second game in which Rowan lost, they doubled their percentage, shooting 46 percent from three-point range. To knock the team leading the NJAC in point differential, Rowan is going to have to prioritize a certain aspect of the game.

“The biggest thing against them is to get back in transition,” Pearson said. “When we lost in their place, a couple of their open threes happened in transition. We just have to find their shooters and keep our hands up. Make them earn it a different way.”

New Jersey City University (NJCU)

NJCU currently sits in first place this season with a 13-4 record in the conference and is looking to be crowned back-to-back NJAC regular season champions. They would need TCNJ to lose to Rutgers-Newark to obtain the one seed. Despite winning the regular season championship last year, they fell to Rowan in a 79-70 defeat in the NJAC Championship in Jersey City. The team will certainly look for redemption this season.

The Gothic Knights arguably have one of the best Division III basketball players in the country in starting guard Demaris Rodriguez. Even though she is 5-foot-2, she can finish at the rim like no other, is one of the best foul drawers in the conference, and can hit a three when needed.

Although she has taken a step back compared to last season, averaging fewer points, assists, and rebounds, she is still probably the best the NJAC has to offer when it comes to a player. She is leading the NJAC in scoring once again and is 10th in field goal percentage. She has also taken 70 more shots than the next closest person to her in the NJAC.

Rodriguez will get her points, but the key for the Profs and any team in the conference is to keep her inefficient from the field. In the four conference games, NJCU has lost this season, they have shot 28.7 percent from the field and 15 percent from the field.

The Profs were swept by the Gothic Knights, but in their second game, they felt good about their performance against NJCU on the defensive end, especially on Rodriguez. The main problem for Rowan throughout that game was their rebounding.

“You know she is going to make plays during the game,” Pearson said. “You have to make sure it is tough for her. Get a hand up and contest her shots. Both times we played, there was a point where she took over and took the momentum.”

Kean University

With the two first-round byes all but locked up by NJCU and TCNJ, the Kean Cougar, who are 12-5 in conference play, will be battling for the third seed tonight.

The Cougars this season have been known for one thing and one thing only: offense. They are averaging 73.4 points per game. TCNJ trails them, scoring four fewer points per game on offense. On top of scoring the most points in the conference, they also have the best field goal percentage in the conference by 2.8 percent. They also have the largest win of the season against Rutgers-Camden, a 120-49 victory at home in Union, New Jersey.

Leading the way for the Cougars on the offensive end of the floor is freshman guard Gigi Gamble. Gamble is currently third in the NJAC in scoring with 18.2 points per game and is second in field goal percentage and first in three-point percentage. Not only do they have Gamble, but they also have senior guard Brittany Graff, who is sixth in the NJAC in scoring with 15.1 points a game.

While teams like NJCU and TCNJ are well-balanced on the offensive and defensive end, Kean is not. The Cougars have the worst defense out of any team in the NJAC playoffs this season, giving up 64.2 points per game.

Rowan split the season series with Kean and was able to slow them down offensively in their second game. That is going to be the key to beating this Cougar team.

“We went into a special defense to shut down their guards,” Pearson said. “That defense really helped. It will be interesting to see if their coach adjusts against that defense. We also struggled shooting the ball in Kean, which led to easy opportunities for them on offense. Every time you score on the offensive end, it makes it easier on the defensive side of the ball, so we are going to need to do a variety of things if we face them.”

Stockton

The Stockton Ospreys are the team that the Kean Cougars will battle for the third seed. While Kean has a high-powered offense, Stockton has a great defense; they are opposites. It will truly be an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

Stockton’s defense has been the best in the conference throughout the season. They are giving up a conference-low 54.4 points per game. One of the team’s biggest strengths is their transition defense. Besides their overtime game against William Paterson, in the team’s conference wins, they have held their opponent under 58 points a game.

While the defense is great, the offense is still a work in progress. On the other hand, the team has lost every game in which their team has scored above that 58-point benchmark. The Ospreys have not had the ability to win a shootout throughout the regular season, which they were in with the Cougars earlier in the season in which they lost 73-58.

For Rowan, Stockton is one of the three teams, along with NJCU and Ramapo, to sweep the Profs this season. The team was held below 50 points in both games. Rowan needs to find a way to score against the stout Osprey defense.

“Making shots is the key,” Pearson said. “We watched the film. We give credit to them because they have done well against other teams as well. We had open opportunities that we missed. We just need better confidence against them.”

Ramapo

Just like Rowan, the 11-6 Ramapo Roadrunners have no seeding implications in this game. They will have the opportunity to beat the best team in the conference who is not going to make the playoffs in William Paterson. William Paterson currently has a five-game winning streak.

Similarly to Stockton, Ramapo is known for its defense. The team gives up an average of 54.8 points per game; just 0.4 points behind Stockton in allowed points per game. Senior guard Jackie Ventricelli leads the NJAC in steals per game, averaging 3.4 a game. They also have the NJAC leader in blocks in Shannon Burns with 1.9 blocks per game.

While Ramapo’s defense is slightly worse than Stockton’s, the Roadrunners have the offensive edge with two of the best players in the entire conference Ventricelli and Jada Thompson. Ventricelli is the seventh leading scorer in the NJAC, averaging 14.6 points a game while Thompson is the NJAC’s 9th leading scorer, averaging fourteen points a game. Not only has Thompson been a great scorer, but she is also a great rebounder. She is averaging ten boards a game, good enough for the second-most rebounds. She is the only player to average a double-double.

The Profs, as mentioned above, were swept by the Roadrunners. The good news for the Profs is the only way they will face Ramapo in the championship game. The way the Profs want to win the game is to try to stop Thompson from taking over the game. It is a very similar game plan to how they approach Rodriguez on NJCU when it comes to Thompson.

“It is difficult to guard someone like her,” Nicole Mallard said on Jan. 27. “She is quick, so you have to give her a step, but not too much of a step because she can hit a mid-range jumper. Staying low and keeping your hands up is the key. She is gonna score, but we need to make it as difficult as possible.”

For comments/questions about this story DM us on Instagram @TheWhitSports or email @the.whit.sport@gmail.com

Comment