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.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Guru Report: Mining For 33 NCAA At-Large Prospects

(Guru's note: If you are in melgreenberg.com, click Mel's blog and when you get to blogspot, the post under this has all the Friday games in an out of tournaments and a few posts down, the longer overall conference tournament tracker has a running list of results and advancement for each tournament which is either under way or has pairings announced. The others will be determined this weekend after their regular season ends.)

By Mel Greenberg

First, to take a short timeout, congratulations go out to to ESPN executive Carol Stiff, who was named by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) as this year’s Mel Greenberg Media Award.

Hey, that’s what the award is entitled and everyone else will refer to it that away except that there’s only one who refers to it actually, ahem, has the award named after him.

Carol is actually the third ESPN-affiliated individual to take home the honor joining Robin Roberts for her work back in the day and Debbie Antonelli, who won in a year she didn’t campaign for it.

There were a lot of impressive candidates, including Debbie’s sidekick, so the pool will be well populated with holdovers.

The WBCA website has all the details.

Ok, for Friday’s lesson, let’s what needs to be cheered for in terms of teams living on the edge.

Let’s begin with a count of the projected one-bid leagues but only those whose first-place teams have records that would allow them to be discussed much longer if they don’t win their tournaments and automatic bids.

If they do win, then end of story because its one less extra impediment to teams elsewhere in multi-bid contender situations.
So here we go:

Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Well if James Madison gets to the title game and loses, they might be the one rescued but the Dukes are not a lock and going out in an early round would make things dicey. No one else seems to have the numbers unless someone on the committee will vouch for the kind of basketball played in the conference.

Conference USA – Houston: Currently 24-4 with an RPI of 29. The next best team UCF in second place is 19-10 with an RPI of 76 and Tulane 20-8 is in third at 77. Both teams could be darkhorses with an upset but if not, probably end of story.

Horizon – Wisconsin-Green Bay has a ranking and some quality outside wins, so one needs to hope they make it through, though stranger things have happened to them in a past tournament.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Association (MAAC): Marist is the runaway leader at 25-4 and an RPI of 54 caused in part by the rest of the conference. They also have an AP ranking, which would make it interesting if they were to be upset. If they win – end of story here also, but if not, depends on else in this group is in a similar situation.

Mountain West: This used to be a multi-bid league but maybe not except that if first-place BYU at 22-7, RPI 60 or TCU, trailing by two in second with a 21-9 overall, are the teams playing for the title and they have to get to the title game, the loser will be on the discussion table. Actually, Wyoming in a virtual second place tie and with a 22-6 record and 70 RPI could get in the mix also, but it is a long shot. In the past all three might have made it.

In the Sun Belt, Middle Tennessee is the leader at 23-6 and an RPI of 40. If they win, then end of story. If not, it will be a tough discussion considering playing in the aftermath of their player who was stabbed to death on Wednesday night.

In the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), last year Louisiana Tech won as a spoiler. This year they’re the favorite at 216 and an RPI of 32, but a loss this week at Nevada shows there are no certainties.

Finally, in the West Coast there’s Gonzaga at 25-4 and an RPI of 40 and an AP ranking. So, as in the case of Marist, failure to win the conference title would make things interesting.

If disaster hits in only one of these eight places, perhaps there will be a rescue attempt, but anymore will create havoc.

Let’s assume they all win because we know the numbers count if upsets start happening as we once again look at locks and bubbles. Since conference tournaments are under way, the Guru will have a third group called deep bubble for teams really on the edge and also to be suddenly reviewed if the likely list of 33 at-large counting falls short.

In the ACC there are 5 strong at-large candidates assuming the sixth one among any of them becomes the conference champion. Put Boston College on the deep bubble chart just to have around because the loss Thursday to N.C. State probably sent the Eagles on the way to the WNIT.

There’s at least one strong candidate in the Atlantic 10 because the school would be Temple, the regular season runner-up or Xavier if the sixth-place Musketeers were upset. Duquesne is on the bubble list while Charlotte, Dayton and Richmond all go to the deep bubble list, not that any of them lack quality but that’s he reality of the current conversation. Now if one of these becomes Cinderella then there’s a definite two on the at-large list depending on what happens in the quarterfinals.

In the Big 12, there’s a lot of basketball left with the conference tourney not till the second week. But Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma and Iowa State is in for a three-count assuming one becomes the Big 12 winner. Then, knocking strongly on the door from the send-them-to-column-two-for-the-moment group are Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas. They should all plan to make a deep run to see how it all shakes out.

In the Big 10, Wisconsin knocked itself out with a loss on Thursday, but Purdue would probably be in if the Boilermakers beat Penn State again. Assume Michigan State the winner just for organizational sake here. The Iowa-Ohio State game could be key Friday, though both are probably in the NCAAs. Michigan is probably likewise.

In the Big East, let’s assume UConn the winner. Locks right now are DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Marquette, Louisville and Georgetown. But we’ll wait for our lock total to emerge before talking about St. John’s, West Virginia and Syracuse.

Ah, the Pac-10. Give the win to Stanford, and make UCLA and Arizona State a lock. Keep Southern Cal around for the count, though they need to go deep in the conference tourney to help their image.

Now, let’s go to the SEC and what a mess. Give Tennessee the prize and put Kentucky in. Georgia and Vanderbilt are there on numbers but also inconsistent so wait to see what South Carolina does or someone from below in Friday’s quarterfinals to get a better idea how many are coming to the dance out of the SEC.

Well, having just converted the talk to numbers -- feel free to correct the Guru n count considering the hour -- but in the hunt for 33 as a graphic we have 22 locks, 10 hold for discussion bubbles, which means they all could go IF none of those eight one-bid situations go the wrong way and four-more from the deep bubble group of which one could make it.

So right now unless form goes out the window, the bubble is not large in this particular year, though there's still the unknown factor on the potential for any of those 1-8 one-bid league victims to crowd the gateway.

But the Guru will stay at it the next several days around dealing with coverage of Atlantic 10 teams first by remote and then on the scene.

-- Mel

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