Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guru Report: Mining RPIs Part I

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA --
It is a tradition in the Guru’s inner sanctum that this is the week he takes the first look at an RPI Report – The acronym stands for Ratings Percentage Index – to get some kind of picture of what lies ahead in terms of the NCAA long-range outlook and who needs to step it up in conference play, what are the surprises and what are the disappointments.

Understand, the RPI alone is the not end-all for the committee’s deliberations but it certainly does provide a snapshot of what has been going on and while one year doesn’t replicate into the next when it comes to designing the 64-team draw, one can mix the index with the so-called principles and procedures and begin to get an idea of who overall is in play for at-large bids if a berth doesn’t come via the automatic route out of winning the conference tournament.

Also, much will shuffle once conference play begins but the reason to look at the number now is that in many cases it will continue to stand as the nonconference RPI with some improvements or reductions per team the rest of the way.

And why is that important? Because if a team’s conference is creating a drag, it’s saving grace may be what it did try to do in terms of scheduling outside competition. And of course there’s the reverse in terms of what it didn’t do.

So first with a quick scan in terms of the teams near the Guru’s local coverage area three things immediately jumped out at him using, by the way, the Jerry Palm CollegeRPI.com/women website.

Tigers Are A Tankful

How about those Princeton Tigers? The Guru doesn’t ever remember seeing an Ivy team nearing the end of nonconference play with a 28. In fact, compared to the rest of the crowd, coach Courtney Banghart has built a machine similar to the WNBA champion Seattle Storm playing out of the Western Conference last summer.

That great Harvard team that upset Stanford didn’t have a 28. The Guru has already made several personal on-site observations and will see the Tigers several more times.

They have good losses and good wins. Now let’s say a race develops in the Ivies and Princeton was to get edged out at the finish – the league is the only one without a postseason tournament.

If the committee will back its philosophy that it looks at teams and not leagues – wink, wink – then by all means right now Princeton should be the first Ivy team to become quality at-large material, though the Tigers are again a threat to run the table and make the point moot.

Drexel Engineers New RPI Threshold

Next up in the Guru’s backyard, and there is no particular order to this, is Drexel. The Dragons team was perceived to be headed for major reconstruction after Gabriela Marginean, the all-time career scorer in local women’s collegiate history without regard to classification, graduated.

Oh, they’ve reconstructed, to be sure. Off a great win at Penn State last week and a 4-0 sweep of the Philadelphia Big 5 minus Temple along with some other achievements Drexel is holding a 30 going into another opponent with juice Tuesday when coach Denise Dillon’s bunch meets No. 7 Texas A&M in San Diego State’s tournament in Southern California.

In Dickie V language, playing Texas A&M is like getting points just for filling your name on the top of an SAT college entrance exam. And should Drexel win?

Pencil the sixth-place pick of the Colonial Athletic Association as the top performer now, though once conference play begins it will be a taffy pull despite disappointing records from James Madison and Old Dominion. Delaware’s record is a mixed bag due to the absence of Elena Delle Donne for several games due to a viral infection that has left her tired.

Hofstra has a quality team right now as does Virginia Commonwealth but the numbers are off for both. However, that is why league play was invented to show one’s self with Pride. What’s that, you say? Nickname? Their nickname? Hofstra Pride? Got it.

Hawks Are Marching In December

Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s heads into its own tournament prior to conference play with an RPI of 24 that’s screaming at-large bid for its best shot at this stage of the season to get to the Big Dance since Cindy Griffin returned in the spring of 2001 to guide her alma mater.

There was a year or two along the way that the Hawks, two wins shy of 700 in program history, were victimized by other events. Helpful and surprising right now is St. Joseph’s conference – the Atlantic 10, which has a No. 7 conference RPI right behind the BCS gang of six.

But there are surprises inside the conference in all directions. Steady at the top has been fourth-ranked Xavier, the conference favorite, losing a tough one at No. 3 Duke last week but heading into a rematch at Palo Alto, Calif., Tuesday night against No. 9 Stanford, whom the Musketeers narrowly lost to in the NCAA Elite Eight last season.

Incidentally, if the Guru had seen this report from Palm prior to writing the last post, he would still make UConn a virtual lock for Philadelphia in the Sweet 16 but he would certainly switch a lot of other premises around that were made.

But it’s early. Besides St. Joseph’s from the A-10, Charlotte, and Suzie McConnell Serio-coached Duquesne are off to great starts while Dayton, picked for second in the A-10, has been a disappointment as has been Temple, which was picked for third.

The Owls need to show themselves but that may not be enough at Duke Thursday night.

By the way, on the local slate Tuesday along with Drexel out West and St. Joseph’s hosting a field that has Quinnpiac coached by Trish Sacca against her former coach Dianne Nolan in her first year at Lafayette – Trish played at Fairfield; Penn State, which has NCAA tournament-type numbers, for now, will host a singleton against Bucknell; La Salle is meeting host No. 18 Maryland in the Terrapins’ tournament, which also has No. 17 St. John’s and Liberty, while Villanova will meet Siena in Fordham’s tournament.

Out West, Connecticut goes for an extended streak record of 90 straight wins by playing at Pacific. Then it’s on to Stanford Thursday for the reunion from last season’s NCAA title game.

What A Big Feast

Once these games are all played later in the week the Guru will return to an in-depth look at all the conferences but cannot wait that long to talk about the Big East.

What once was the UConn conference in terms of domination – it still might be that way – is now the U Can conference. The AP voting board is not being overly generous with seven teams submitted to the rankings the last several weeks.

Yes, the Big East is third but that’s because the bottom of the conference has the effect of a being a block of cement used to bring bodies to the bottom of the sea.

But take a look at this – the Big Feast has nine, count ‘em, nine teams in the top 36 – no other conference is that close in terms of RPI ranking. Now to be sure, Rutgers is among those teams but seriously something needs to be done at Tennessee Thursday afternoon to turn things around because while the strength of schedule is great – it always is – the RPI is great because of it is great – the record, not so good.

So the Guru will return to this discussion after the update off of games heading into the New Year.

Guru vs. Snow Becomes A Wash

Incidentally, the Guru’s great plan in being able to park the car at the end of his street to facilitate a post-snowstorm exit into a main artery worked out like this: Ability to walk down the sidewalks to get to the vehicle: No problem. Snow melted off the car:
Clean as a bristle. Ability to step over the snow bank to open the door: Simple. Ignition and blast off: Battery dead. To be continued Tuesday with the next episode on this topic.

If it’s only the battery the Guru in a short amount of time will go from jumper cable to Jack Jumper, the women’s basketball media contact for the St. Joseph’s Hawks. Not to worry: The Guru bought a transpass to get around, just in case.

While the battery was unknowingly draining away all day Sunday, the Guru hunkered down and used the time to read an advance copy of Bird at the Buzzer, due out in very early March, by former UConn women’s beat writer Jeff Goldberg, formerly of the Hartford Courant.

Understand though the title stems from the famous Big East title game in 2001 and not Sue Bird’s buzzer-beating antics for the WNBA-champion Seattle Storm, this is a dual history book chronicling both the Notre Dame and UConn programs from the mid-1990s.

The Guru will officially review the book prior to the second of the Irish-Huskies Big East clashes for this year, which is set for Storrs on February 19.

But if you lived most of it with either or both teams, it is an illuminating revisit that screams movie material with all the characters giving you what their mindsets were along the way – and that includes Geno and Muffet really taking the reader inside through Jeff into the building and execution of their programs.

AP Trivia

OK, it’s Tuesday, the post-Christmas rankings are out as of Monday – Something old: UConn still No. 1. Something sort of new: Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer jumped over former Texas coach Jody Conradt to third place all time in the coaches appearance category at 396 behind Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, who’s at 588, Georgia’s Andy Landers at 455; and ahead of Jody 395, Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer at 388 and UConn’s Geno Auriemma at 356.

So while we are discussing coaches, here are two different charts off the Guru’s AP database showing all-time coaching appearances in the Top 10 and Top 5 rankings with a minimum cutoff in each category.

Ranking Of Coaches In AP Total Top 10 and Top 5 Appearances
(Multiple Schools listed but not broken down) – Minimum 40

Appearances In Top 5

1. Pat Summitt – Tennessee 432
2. Geno Auriemma – Connecticut 264
3. Andy Landers – Georgia 258
4. %-Leon Barmore – Louisiana Tech 178
5. Tara VanDerveer – Stanford 165
6. Jody Conradt – Texas 157
7. Gail Goestenkors – Duke 114
8. Sylvia Hatchell – North Carolina 109
9. *-Marianne Stanley – Old Dominion 96
10. C. Vivian Stringer – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers 95
11. Marsha Sharp – Texas Tech 94
12. Jim Foster – Vanderbilt, Ohio State 77
13. Joe Ciampi – Auburn 66
14. %-Sonja Hogg – Louisiana Tech 62
15. Joan Bonvicini – Long Beach State 60
16. Debbie Ryan – Virginia 57
17. Sue Gunter – Stephen F. Austin, LSU 55
18. Rene Portland – St. Joseph’s, Penn State 44
19. Brenda Frese – Maryland 43
19. Muffet McGraw – Notre Dame 43
19. Chris Weller – Maryland 43
22. Sherri Coale – Oaklahoma 42
*-Also had10 as Co-head coach Stanford 1995-96
%-Sonja Hogg and Leon Barmore shared 39 Top 5s


Appearances in Top 10 – Minimum 100 appearances

1. Pat Summitt – Tennessee 531
2. Geno Auriemma – Connecticut 308
3. Tara Vanderveer – Ohio State, Stanford 298
4. C. Vivian Stringer – Cheyney, Iowa, Rutgers 243
5. %-Leon Barmore – Louisiana Tech 238
6. Marsha Sharp – Texas Tech 230
7. Jody Conradt – Texas 217
8. Sylvia Hatchell – North Carolina 191
9. Jim Foster – Vanderbilt, Ohio State 183
10. Joan Bonvicini – Long Beach State, Arizona 179
11. Rene Portland – St. Joseph’s, Penn State 158
12. Debbie Ryan – Virginia 154
13. Gail Goestenkors – Duke, Texas 151
14. *-Marianne Stanley – Old Dominion, Southern Cal 130
15. Joe Ciampi – Auburn 1119
15. Theresa Grentz -- Rutgers, Illinois 119
15. Chris Weller – Maryland 119
18. Van Chancellor – Mississippi, LSU 118
19. Sue Gunter – Stephen F. Austin, LSU 111
20. Kim Mulkey – Baylor 103
%-Sonja Hogg and Leon Barmore shared 51 Top 10s
*-Also had 17 as co-head coach of Stanford 1995-96

Ok this is a wrap and the Guru will be back at the end of Tuesday night with all there is to roundup.

-- Mel

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