By Mel Greenberg
If Delaware freshman Elena Delle Donne entered her first collegiate season in a somewhat low profile she is back to getting national attention for playing basketball and not for foregoing a scholarship to play for powerhouse Connecticut.
On a day when Baylor freshman Brittney Griner was drawing negative coverage for throwing a punch in the Texas Tech game Wednesday night, Delle Donne was the beneficiary of a national weekend feature story from the Associated Press.
All of this comes at a time when postseason honors are being deliberated including the several that go to the nation's top freshman.
When the season got under way, Griner was a clear frontrunner for her shot-blocking and dunking ability and for playing on a highly competitive schedule that includes the wars in the powerhouse Big 12 conference.
But then several weeks ago Delle Donne drew coverage for the 54 points she scored in the loss at James Madison.
She has gone ahead to lead the NCAA in scoring, something never achieved by a freshman.
And she leads the Colonial Athletic Association in most statistical categories.
Prior to Wednesday night's knockdown, votes had already been cast for some of the major fresbmen awards. But some organizations also have sportsmanship as a requirement for getting listed on ballots and receiving trophies.
And voting is still open in a lot of other places such as the United States Basketball Writers Association. Between the statistical categories -- Griner overwhelms in blocked shots -- and now the punch incident it suddenly becomes interesting to see which name of the two surfaces when it comes to annoucing winners.
Penn State Breakthrough
The Nittany Lions won a Big 10 tournament game for the first time in three seasons and now senior Tyra Grant needs just 11 points to become the fourth player to reach 2,000 points for a career at Penn State.
She'll get a chance to reach the milestone Friday afternoon when the sixth-seeded Lions meet No. 3 Iowa in Indianapolis. A win suddenly puts Penn State on the bubble, which is actually progress for a longtime storied program that hasn't seen much of the postseason in recent years.
Staley's Gamecocks Fall A Point Short
The storied career of Dawn Staley as a player and later as a coach has been filled with success.
But there have been many times when narrow losses have brought about heartache city.
That was the situation in Duluth, Ga., Thursday where Staley's eighth-seeded South Carolina squad was inched out by No. 9 Mississippi, 64-63, in a Southeastern Conference tournament first-round game.
The Rebels move on to meet top-seeded Tennessee, a team South Carolina nearly upset several weeks ago.
The Gamecocks finished Staley's second season since leaving Temple at 14-15 and had gotten off to a 10-0 lead at the outset against Ole Miss.
Speaking of the season in the postgame press conference, Staley said, "It's disappointing in my eyes. Although, we're not where we're used to being, we're not where we want to be, (but) there is progress inch by inch.
"But certainly not for the players we have, not for the talent we have. We're a better team than 14-15. We got our work cut out for us in the off-season," she continued.
"We got to become winners. We have to have a sense of urgency. I don't think our team had that every time we took the floor. Whether it's youth. whatever it is. At this point, you know, when you're playing in this league, if you can't get up to play every team in the league, then obviously you're competitive juices aren't flowing in the right places."
Meanwhile Staley's friend and successor Tonya Cardoza at Temple is actually ahead of the point guard legend's first two seasons in terms of wins with the Owls and potentially in terms of NCAA tournament appearances.
"Hey, here team won (Atlantic 10) championships, so right now there is no comparison to make," Cardoza said.
Some Chewing On Tobacco Road
One of the most intruging places in early action among the power conferences is down in Greensboro, N.C., where the Atlantic Coast Conference got under way.
On day one, in the oddly low-seed matchup betweens that have been known as Final Four material, No. 9 Maryland ousted No. 8 North Carolina, 83-77.
The Terrapins move on to play top-seeded Duke on Friday.
Both schools involved in Thursday's action are campaigning for NCAA slots and pointing to the history of ACC teams being taken in terms of statistical data such as the RPI.
The problem is, as the NCAA has told us in the media, one year does not translate into another even though a pattern might form. With a bubble more like a dome this season, nationally, the key will be what happens elsewhere.
One team that is suddenly getting its toes wet in the NCAA mix is sixth-seeded N.C. State which beat Clemson, 59-54. The Wolfpack meets No. 3 Virginia Friday night and an upset of the Cavaliers would most definitely put the team in the NCAA field.
If Maryland loses and the Wolfpack wins, here's another traditional statement the committee has used when not everyone gets chosen for an at-large bid that feels that they deserve to be -- "Hey, those guys advanced further in their conference tournament than you did."
We'll back later but will tweet the news as it comes down the pike.