NCAA DANCE TICKETS GO UP FOR GRABS
Now, on with our first look at conference week.
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA _ Premium NCAA dance tickets are up for grabs, beginning this week, and the first order of business is to either grab one the selection committee issues automatically to a conference champion or try to present a best effort so the committee won’t lose sight when it’s time to issue one of 33 at-large bids.
For today’s exercise, let’s look at what’s at stake in each of the conference tournaments whose brackets have been established. There will also be some comment on a few other conferences, as necessary.
Note, when we speak in terms of numbers out of a conference to the NCAAs, we are not talking in terms of what the conferences deserve, but rather what those teams within the conference has shown compared to likes, elsewhere.
Much of the populace believes a bunch of time and money could be saved by making this event the NCAA tournament this weekend, based on what happened last year when three ACC teams advanced to the Women’s Final Four won by Maryland.
Those three have been at or near the top of the pile all season, though the defending NCAA champion Terrapins’ sole major flaw was a loss to Georgia Tech.
Top-ranked, No. 1 seed, and unbeaten Duke appears to have locked up the overall No. 1 seed in the field of 64. Even if the Blue Devils were to get shocked early, the body of work is too overwhelming to drop them to the second line.
Second-seeded North Carolina is probably also holding an NCAA No. 1 seed going into the ACC confab. Third-seeded Maryland, which might see Georgia Tech again, Friday, might fight its way back to a No. 1 NCAA seed by upsetting the Tar Heels and then also beating Duke for the automatic bid. Otherwise, Maryland will be a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs, assuming the ACC-title elimination is done by either North Carolina or Duke.
A key game, Friday, is Florida State vs. North Carolina State, which probably already has enough of a resume to get picked. (They have to come from somewhere, folks). Florida State can be thought of as a bubble team, but a high bubble team. The squad could help itself by lasting a few rounds. If it loses to Wake Forest, Thursday, then it drops to the general bubble category.
Top-seed George Washington, which made an unbeaten run through the league after outlasting runnerup Temple, Sunday, is in the NCAA tournament as a lock. The Colonials can’t relax, however, because a Top 16 NCAA seed is possible, even top 12, if GWU wins the Atlantic Ten in Cincinnati.
Temple might have played its way in as a probable lock after taking George Washington to the wire. A key game for the Owls, assuming they win their quarterfinal, Saturday, against either Massachusetts or St. Bonaventure, will be a potential semifinal matchup against third-seeded Xavier in the Musketeers’ arena., assuming Xavier beats either Richmond or Saint Louis in the quarterfinals. The Owls edged Xavier by a point earlier this season in Philadelphia.
Xavier might have enough to be taken by the NCAA committee, even if we only call them high bubble for now. Charlotte needs to make a deep run.
Incidentally, forgot to mention it in my print story off the GWU-Temple game, but the Colonials and coach Joe McKeown, a native of Philadelphia, deserve a virtual Big Five trophy for beating Temple, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, and Villanova. GWU didn’t play Penn, although back in the day, Quakers coach Pat Knapp and McKeown hooked up in D.C. when Knapp was coaching Georgetown.
We’ll be back here after the bracket is set following Monday night’s final regular season games. All eyes will be on Pisctaway, N.J., where Connecticut will try to complete a two-game sweep of Rutgers and finish the conference season unbeaten. The Scarlet Knights are now a lock for an NCAA bid, so they just need to gain wins for a decent seed. A No. 4 or even No. 3 is not out of the question, depending on what they accomplish.
Other teams in the Big East that seem NCAA bound are Marquette, Louisville, and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has an RPI that says “take me,” but the Panthers don’t have a solid lock, yet. West Virginia, Seton Hall, and South Florida remain discussion points. DePaul needs a deep run.
If teams from mid-majors get at-large bids, they owe their thanks to the Big Ten, which is a three-team conference. Favored Ohio State is looking at a No. 2 NCAA seed if it wins the conference tournament in Indianapolis, but maybe No. 3 if the Buckeyes get shocked. Yes, I know the RPI is great, but the drill-down exercise has OSU failing by comparison for all the good stuff. Purdue has a shot at a No. 2 NCAA seed with a conference title, but is probably no worse than a No. 4. Michigan State is playing for as high a seed as it can get, but it won’t be a premium one unless the Spartans get to the title game.
Illinois has a faint pulse if the committee will still be needing teams to complete the field.
There will be a Philly flavor to the Illini opener Friday against Penn Staste. Illinois coach Theresa Grentz and Penn State coach Rene Portland were teammates at Immaculata College on the national champions in the early 1970s.
The tournament is not until next week, but Texas A&M can win the regular season title this week with a win over Texas or if Oklahoma loses. Both Texas A&M and Oklahoma are locks for the NCAAs as is Baylor, with Nebraks and/or Iowa State as other possibilities. Texas may need to win the conference tournament to go, while the same goes for Texas Tech at this hour. Again, I say at this hour.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
The Tournament is not until next week, but James Madison, Delaware, and Old Dominion are all in the hunt for at-large seeds if any of them doesn’t win the conference tournament next week at Delaware. Hofstra remains in the picture but could use an upset or two.
Tulane is the regular season champion, but this will be a one-team conference representative so it needs to win the tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
No tournament is held, but Harvard, with a three-game lead in the loss column, has clinched a tie.
Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., will be the scene for this weekend’s conference tournament in which No. 1 seed Marist needs to win or it will go to the NWIT, which guarantees a berth for all regular season conference champions not advancing by the NCAA.
Long Island, with two Fijians - freshman Valerie Nainima (Suva, Fiji) and junior Mikaelar Whippy (Suva, Fiji) – has landed the No. 1 seed under coach Stephanie Gaitley. The rest of the field will be determined this week.
Southeast Missouri State is the top seed, but this is a one-team conference so the regular season champion needs to emerge this weekend in Nashville, Tenn.
Top-seeded Stanford needs to find its way out of San Jose to land a No. 2 seed, maybe, from the NCAA committee. At worst, the Cardinal would get a No. 4.
Arizona State, the No. 2 seed, also is a lock but is fighting for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed from the NCAA committee. California is probably also an NCAA lock with a third place finish, but needs wins to enhance its seed. Washington is on the bubble, but could gain strength with a quarterfinal-round win over Southern Cal, which could become a factor, though not likely, with a few upsets.
Defending champion Army, whose former coach Maggie Dixon died suddenly several weeks after the Knights earned their first NCAA bid, finished second in the regular season.
They still have a shot. The first two rounds will be this weekend at Navy. If Army prevails on its side of the bracket, beating Lehigh, and then either American or Navy, it could still host the title game next Wednesday if Holy Cross, Lafayette, or Colgate upsets top-seed Bucknell. Otherwise, the title game will be at Lewisburg, Pa.
The SEC will produce multiples and Tennessee, the regular season champion, already has a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, perhaps even the second No. 1, no matter what happens this weekend in Duluth, Ga. Vanderbilt, Georgia, and LSU are locks and all fighting for either No. 2 or No. 3 NCAA seeds. Mississippi is on the bubble and everyone else needs to cause a stir.
A one-team affair in North Charleston, S.C. Chattanooga won the regular season, but it needs to win again to get a ticket to the Big Dance.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
Middle Tennessee, the No. 1 seed, has an NCAA bid locked up, most likely, but winning out in Lafayette, La., would help its future seeding. Western Kentucky needs to do well to stay on the bubble.
Gonzaga was the regular season champion, but the Zags need to repeat in the tournament in Portland, Ore., this weekend. This will be another one-team conference.