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Local women's outlook

St. John's University's Da'Shena Stevens and Nadirah McKenith

St. John's University's Da'Shena Stevens and Nadirah McKenith at St. John's Women's basketball team media day. (Nov. 4, 2011) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Hofstra and No.25 St. John's both have what it takes to make an NCAA Tournament run. Stony Brook is rebuilding, but has an experienced backcourt, while LIU returns its best player and two other starters.

The Pride has every reason to think it can compete for the CAA title and an NCAA bid, and we’re not just talking about the automatic conference tournament championship bid. Hofstra goes two deep at nearly every position. AP All-American mention honoree Shante Evans returns. She’s backed up by the stellar perimeter combo in Candice Bellocchio, Nicole Capurso and Kate Loper. And it gets even better because senior center Marie Malone (torn ACL), who missed all but four games last seasons, is back and should form a potent one-two punch with Evans. That talent will be put to the test early and often by a challenging non-conference schedule that includes games against Gonzaga, No.25 St. John’s, Kansas State, Princeton, Hartford and a possible matchup with Auburn or Marist. All of those teams (except Auburn) made the NCAA Tournament last year.

Prognosis: The CAA has always been a tough conference. Delaware, with star forward Elena Delle Donne, was picked to win the conference by the coaches, while VCU and James Madison were second and third. An NCAA bid is in the cards if the Pride can master its non-conference schedule. If not that, a WNIT berth should be certainty with this crew.

Picked to finish third in the NEC, LIU can expect another fine season, especially with Ashley Palmer in the fold. The senior forward was selected to the preseason All-NEC team. Palmer returns to the starting lineup with senior Kiara Evans and junior Krystal Wells. The Blackbirds, who enjoyed a 19-11 season last year, will be challenged in the non-conference this season as potential games with Mississippi State and Oklahoma State loom. There are also local battles with Stony Brook and Columbia and tilts with Albany and William & Mary.

Prognosis: LIU, picked to finish third in the NEC, has the firepower down low with Palmer. The question is can the Blackbirds shoot well enough to take some of the pressure of Palmer. If so, the Blackbirds will be knocking on the 20-win door with a great chance to challenge for the NEC regular season title.

The Red Storm could struggle a bit early with senior forward Da’Shena Stevens (knee), who’s expected to miss at least the next month. But coach Kim Barnes Arico can take comfort in the fact that she has two experienced and talented juniors in Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith. North Babylon graduate Eugeneia McPherson, who played a vital role off the bench last season, is expected to do even more this season. The biggest reason Barnes Arico can smile is that Delaware transfer Tesia Harris, the older sister of Tobias, is eligible. The 6-foot senior has three-point range and has a scorer’s mentality, something the Red Storm will need until Stevens returns. Freshman forward Amber Thompson has raised some eyebrows early on and could have an impact early. She’ll be needed because the Red Storm has Hofstra, Iowa, a possible matchup with Temple or defending national champ Texas A&M, Hartford and preseason No.1 Baylor. Ouch!

Prognosis: The Red Storm’s brutal non-conference schedule notwithstanding, they still have enough to make an NCAA Tournament run. Not having Stevens will hurt, but Smith, McKenith and McPherson have ample enough experience to keep St. John’s in the mix. The addition of Harris should help fill the void created by Stevens’ absence.

The Seawolves are in a rebuilding mode. The word “rebuilding” usually implies that the season is a wash. Stony Brook will struggle, but there is experience returning in its senior guard trio of Sam Landers, Misha Horsey and Tamiel Murray. Beth O’Boyle’s crew doesn’t have much depth in the paint, but senior forward Destiny Jacobs is poised to have a solid season in scoring and rebounding. Freshman forward Kellie Krueger will be expected to have an early impact in the paint. The non-conference schedule is a manageable one with Ohio State the only ranked team on it. The Seawolves begin their season with road games against Fairfield and Iona and opens up at home on November 21 against George Mason.

Prognosis: The lack of depth and a new coach with a new system will make this season an uphill battle for the Seawolves. But the experience in the backcourt and Jacobs’ touch around the basket will keep Stony Brook in most of its games.

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