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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.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Temple Women In Big East: Some Minuses More Benefits

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA – A few hours after Temple women’s basketball coach Tonya Cardoza and her staff awoke on Wednesday morning ready to head in separate directions on the recruiting trail they were officially notified that they would no longer be evaluating talent in terms of landing Atlantic Ten Conference titles.

The next freshmen class who will arrive a year from this fall will be joining sophomores, juniors and seniors making the switch to compete in the Big East.

Late Wednesday afternoon at a press conference in New York at the Big East men’s basketball tournament officials made public that the Owls would be leaving the Mid-American Conference in football immediately to compete this fall in the Big East while the other Temple sports will make a farewell tour through the Atlantic Ten next season before switching over for 2013-14.

While all the reporting since the Big East announcement involved football and men’s basketball, here’s the women’s basketball discussion.

Cardoza, as noted, was out recruiting so has yet to catch up to give her reaction.

But back in October when an erroneous report at that time was in the air that an invitation from the Big East was imminent, Cardoza asked an outsider whether her team could still be allowed to compete in the Big Five.

In all likelihood that will still happen but instead of playing St. Joseph’s twice as an Atlantic 10 rivalry partner, Temple would meet the Hawks just once as a Big Five rival in a game that would now count as a nonconference matchup.

On the other hand, Villanova, an original member of the Big East, would now be a conference rival when the Wildcats and Owls do their Big Five battle.

It’s possible that within the Big East schedule Temple could face Villanova home-and-home and Rutgers the same considering the geographical proximity.

“Well, you can’t assume any of that because in the Big East they do the home-and-home matchups from a standpoint of equal competitiveness,” Wildcats coach Harry Perretta said.

That stated, some teams that would be candidates if the current method is used – though Villanova and Rutgers fit that profile also – are St. John’s and Georgetown. Another possibility is DePaul, where Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw was presiding over Blue Demons sports prior to returning to Philadelphia to join the Owls.

Asked about Temple now becoming a Big East partner in terms of the women’s competition, Perretta said, “You know me. I’m a Philly guy. They’re a Philly school. It’s a good program.”

On the other side, St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin views the Temple departure from the local Atlantic Ten trio of the Hawks and La Salle with mixed feelings.

“Yeah, we’ve had trouble beating them in recent years, but they have been good for the conference and a great representative for us in the NCAA tournament,” Griffin said. “And they’re a great opponent to go up against in terms of building your own profile.

“But, depending whether they get replaced by another school, the vacancy is an opportunity (in women’s basketball) for another school in the A-10 to step up,” she noted.

As mentioned here in past blog postings, Temple’s RPI would get a major boost considering the number of teams currently in the Top 50 in the Big East as opposed the lack thereof in the Atlantic Ten, which also has several teams ranked 200 or worst.

There are unknowns, however. When Temple gets to the Big East, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will have left for the Atlantic Coast Conference, while West Virginia is heading for the Big 12 this summer – a move that left a hole on the football side of things and got the Owls into a speedup into the present situation.

Schools joining the conference in all sports in 2013 besides the Owls are Central Florida, Houston and SMU.

And before that annual in-season reunion matchup between Cardoza and her former longtime boss Geno Auriemma at Connecticut occurs, there’s the threat that the Huskies and/or Notre Dame or even Rutgers could relocate either to the ACC or Big Ten or both.

And before that annual in-season reunion matchup between Cardoza and her longtime friend and former sister UConn staff member Jamelle Elliott might occur the Bearcats, too, along with Louisville could suddenly disappear in a football-driven move as was the one that brought Temple into the Big East.

With UConn and Notre Dame dominating the landscape, it will be more difficult to win a Big East championship for Temple than it is to win one in the Atlantic Ten, though Villanova and Rutgers and former member Boston College did get to cut down the conference nets in the last decade.

On the other hand, it will be easier to land an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament if the Owls are competitive in the Big East given the number of quality opponents at a level just under UConn and the Irish.

Before deciding who to retain from the Atlantic 10, if arrangements can be made, in the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Owls begin by dropping the four Mid-American teams forced on the list as a byproduct of the football deal that got Temple into the MAC on the gridiron.

Dayton, Duquesne, Charlotte, Fordham, Richmond, Xavier, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, St. Louis, George Washington, the second St. Joseph’s game and St. Bonaventure go out the door. That’s a total of 16 opponents subtracted in terms of the current schedule.

St. Joseph’s, Penn, and La Salle get retained as part of the Big Five. That’s three on but not an add nor subtract. The additions in coupling with the Big East are, for starters, Rutgers and Villanova, who also are regulars so it’s actually five in place. The newcomers would be Connecticut, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, SMU, Central Florida, Houston, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, South Florida, Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, and Seton Hall. That’s 19 plus, under the present system, one extra rivalry game.

So Big East-wise the schedule with Rutgers and Villanova, right now, locks in at 17. St. Joseph’s, Penn and La Salle as part of the Big Five make the overall count 20. So there’s still room for eight other nonconference opponents and, with the Big East in play, it is no longer necessary for most of the nonconference to be a Who’s Who from the AP Poll.

That’s most of the new road that will be traveled, as of now, in terms of getting an NCAA bid in the future.

Understanding the schedule, the next thing is finding the players to match the ones on those squads just listed.

At UConn, recruiting for the top dog all those years was certainly less arduous than recruiting for the underdog Temple will arrive as in terms of the very top of the conference.

Still, Cardoza’s experience recruiting to compete in the Big East and her extensive knowledge of the conference will do the Owls well.

And whatever happens right now the Big East brand in women’s basketball is the top brand in terms of TV exposure and media coverage. If the Owls do their part they won’t be begging to get noticed.

No question, Dawn Staley, Cardoza’s good friend, former Virginia teammate, and predecessor at Temple, had special cache as a WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.

But the program has not taken one step backwards since Cardoza arrived and there is now additional value with the Big East name to add to the marketing pitch on the recruiting trail.

But first, assuming that an NCAA invite is coming around again for the ninth straight year next Monday, there ‘s some unfinished business for next season for those who return to Temple’s roster – that is to make the exit tour conclude as Atlantic Ten champs.

-- Mel


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