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Women's College Basketball

What to watch for in the local women’s college basketball season

BC's Taylor Soule was the ACC’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore.
BC's Taylor Soule was the ACC’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore.Stew Milne/Associated Press

Scoring is something Boston-area women’s college basketball teams should not struggle with this season, given their veteran rosters featuring some of Division 1’s most intriguing juniors.

However, teams will see their depth tested as most leagues adapt to a regional or pod schedule.

Boston College has been sorted into a regional division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and will play division opponents home and away. BC also will play 10 games (five home and five away) with those outside that division. The Eagles got the toughest region, and will see much of their conference action against Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina State.

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“We definitely have a challenging season,” said BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee.

The Patriot League, which is home to Boston University and Holy Cross, has adopted a similar format, with three regional mini-conferences in which teams will play each other four times.

Northeastern’s Colonial Athletic Association schedule has been structured to prioritize same-opponent, same-venue pairings on consecutive days, with limited home-and-home opportunities. This format is also one Merrimack College will have in Northeastern Conference play.

“My initial thoughts on the schedule was that we’re just really happy to see one,” said Northeastern coach Kelly Cole.

Here are other story lines to watch this season:

Is BC not getting the respect it deserves?

The Eagles reached new heights in the ACC last season, going 11-7 in the conference and 20-12 overall. They led the league in scoring with 73.7 points per game. Given that, you would think they would have earned some respect. And then the ACC preseason poll came out, and BC found itself ranked ninth.

While polls are far from the most important things, last year’s ACC Coach of the Year, Bernabei-McNamee, felt that ranking might be exactly what her team needs as it prepares for an extremely difficult conference slate.

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”I can talk to our players and say, ‘Hey, are you guys satisfied with that?’ They say, ‘No, we believe we’re better,’ ” said Bernabei-McNamee. “I think it was a respectable place to be put, where it’s not [as low as] we were put the past couple of years. I think it shows that we have improved, but it keeps the chip on our shoulders to show that we can do a lot more.”

BC's Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was last year's ACC Coach of the Year.
BC's Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was last year's ACC Coach of the Year.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Veteran players will power Northeastern

With the Huskies returning seven of their top eight scorers, they are well-prepared for the twists and turns this season could bring.

“I think the nice thing for us this year is that we do have a real veteran group,” said Cole. “It almost sounds strange to say. Last year, the talk was that we had 75 percent of our minutes going to underclassmen, but the way they’ve come back, the readiness, the maturity … there’s a great feel to it so far.”

Among those veterans is junior forward Alexis Hill, who averaged 13.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The CAA Preseason All-Honors Team member scored at least 20 points in five games and also contributed 73 steals.

Also named to the preseason team was senior guard Stella Clark, who played at an 11 points-per-game pace last winter. The Huskies are projected to finish fourth in the CAA preseason poll, right where they finished last year.

How will BC replace Emma Guy?

If BC is going to improve, it will need to quickly replace the standout performance of Guy, who was a first-team All-ACC selection last season and had 1,164 points over her college career.

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The Eagles think they have the players to make up for her absence, including Taylor Soule, who was the ACC’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore. She averaged 14.5 points per game, and had one of the conference’s best single-game performances, a 29-point effort against North Carolina.

Bernabei-McNamee also has high expectations for junior center Clara Ford, who spent much of the last two seasons soaking up all the knowledge she could from Guy.

”Every player has stepped up, and we’re going to see some good surprises in players like Clara Ford, who had to learn under Emma Guy,” said Bernabei-McNamee. “She saw her minutes restricted the last few years because she was behind such a great player, but I believe this will be her time to shine.”

What will the full-season impact of Sam Breen be for UMass?

A Penn State transfer, Breen was not able to play for the Minutewomen until the fall semester concluded. In her 20 games of work, she was impressive, averaging 32.7 minutes and 16.9 points per game. Breen was the first UMass player in recent history to score 20 or more points in her first five starts.

UMass was picked seventh in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, but the entire conference is eager to see what a complete season of Breen’s contributions will bring.

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Will Boston University’s Maggie Pina repeat her fantastic freshman season?

Pina led a strong backcourt for a Terrier team that recorded its best finish yet in Patriot League play at 12-6. Her 11.5-point average led league rookies, and outings like her 26-point game against Lafayette earned her Rookie of the Year honors.

Pina finished second behind senior guard Katie Nelson (a Bishop Feehan product) in scoring average, and if BU wants to better last year’s standing, that combination will need to be on point.

The Terriers also return their other two Patriot League All-Rookie Team selections, Maren Durant, a steadfast defender, and Sydney Johnson, an assist machine.

Growing programs with growing expectations

Both UMass Lowell and Merrimack are considered new to the Division 1 ranks, but their teams impressed last season.

The River Hawks were 16-15 and are projected to finish third in America East this season. Guard Kharis Idom will begin her junior season with 547 points and 209 rebounds in her career.

Merrimack finished its first Northeast Conference season in third with a 13-5 record (20-9 overall), with now-junior guard Kate Mager leading the league in 3-pointers with 76 and scoring 11.6 points per game.

With only five juniors and seniors, new Warriors head coach Kelly Morrone has a rebuilding year ahead.