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, March 18, 2014

Mike Siroky's NCAAW for SEC/Big 10: Now the Fun Begins With Elimination Games

By Mike Siroky

As the national elimination countdown begins, six wins to an NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball title, the Southeastern Conference has eight entrants in the Field of 64 and the Big Ten five.

But the SEC is the only conference with two No. 1, reinforcing our season-long claim that this is the toughest league in America and putting all doubters back in their hidey holes.

Against non-conference teams, the top four SEC entrants are 51-8 and the Big Ten’s ranked entrants are 61-17.

The SEC has always dominated the number of entries, with only Tennessee ever winning the big trophy, doing so a record eight times. The Big Ten has also had multiple Final Four teams and one champion, one year, Purdue.

The national perspective first: UConn is the No. 1 of all No. 1s, a no-brainer all season. The other undefeated team left, Notre Dame, is the champion of its newest conference, the Atlantic Coast and also a No. 1, with a Regional at home.

No. 6 Stanford is usually the best to represent the West; like UConn it also has national titles under the same coach and is also is at home for a Regional, so the traditional West assignment.

But the Selection Committee went off the rails and awarded South Carolina a No. 1 seed at Stanford, where the Cardinal are indeed No. 2.

And, as we have been reporting for weeks, Tennessee’s eventual championship of the SEC, winning the post-season tournament for a record 18th time, gave them a No. 1 seed as well, at Louisville. That could still be fun as Louisville is No. 3 there.

Carolayne Henry, committee chair for the NCAA, said, “What distinguishes the No. 1 seeds is the wins against Top 50 teams. None of them have a loss to a team below the Top 50. Stanford had a loss at No. 89.”

As for placement, “We try to protect the No. 1 seeds,” she said. “South Carolina is in Seattle (with no home team) while Stanford and West Virginia have to play on other team’s home courts.”

Not putting UConn at Louisville saved a potential fourth matchup between the Huskies and the host team, with UConn having three wins this season already.

The other SEC representatives are the other seven quarterfinal teams from the league tournament. The Big Ten representatives are the league tournament champ Nebraska, the conference regular-season champ Penn State and the other three ranked teams.

Here’s the breakdown, with seedings, records and against whom, where and when they start.

Henry also revealed the NCAA solicits first-round sites (after institutions bid) and they are constantly working for a geographic balance. Next year, they will revert to not allowing institutions to host Regionals to avoid home court advantages in the Sweet 16.

SOUTHEASTERN

•Tennessee: No. 1 at Louisville, has as many wins as any conference sorority sister. They are ranked No. 3 nationally. In a sense, they have the toughest draw.

Once they escape their first-round home games, they go to a site where the home team likely lurks. UT as No. 1 here instead of Lincoln was done only to avoid UConn and No. 4 Louisville, conference mates, from meeting in a Regional final by design.

Tennessee has won seven in a row. They have the most overall wins, 27-5, 13-3 in conference. They are 13-3 at home and 5-0 in neutral sites.

At Knoxville, their opponents will be Southland Conference champs Northwestern State (21-12) on Saturday. It is State’s first appearance since 2004.

These will be the 77th and 78th games in Knoxville, more than a dozen ahead of any other site. As Louisville is No. 3, they wouldn’t have to worry about that knockout punch until the Elite Eight.

Cierra Burdick is one of the team leaders.

“It was awesome to see that (seed) because we battle so hard and we’ll continue to battle,” she said. “Others saw how hard we worked. We’re catching the stride wanted to catch at this time of the season.

Her coach, Holly Warlick, agrees.

“It’s an indication of how we finished our season. We worked so hard, the kids are ready and the coaches are ready,” Warlick said.

•South Carolina: No. 1 for the first time in the tournament, even if as the final No. 1, is yet another accolade in a season of superlatives. Georgia knocked out Stanford in this Regional a year ago.

They tie Tennessee with overall wins at 27-4, 14-2 in the league. They are but 1-2 at neutral sites. They are No. 8 nationally, four spots below Louisville. The Gamecocks benefited the most from playing in the toughest conference.

Despite losing two of the most-recent three games, they earned a top seed.

They open with No. 15 Cal-State Northridge (18-14) of the Big West, in the Seattle sub-Regional. As Henry said, they get a neutral sub-Regional.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to have someone new (as a No. 1),” said SC coach Dawn Staley.

“The fact is, we play in the toughest league in the nation. Maybe we can continue to be mentioned in the same conversation as UConn and Tennessee. We have to not play not to lose. We have to play the game we can play.”

•Texas A&M: No. 3 at the Lincoln Regional, are 24-8, 10-6 in the league and 13-2 at home, where they start with a sub-Regional. They are ranked No. 15 in the nation.

They automatically elevated the competition at Lincoln. The Aggies’ sub-Regional opener is North Dakota (22-9) on Sunday.

Sophomore guard Jordan Jones said it’s all a matter “of standards and expectations we have here. Coming into the tournament, we know not to take anyone for granted. Learned that last year.”

Coach Gary Blair, who likes to kid about his longevity said, “I have been in it long enough to have played everybody but . . . North Dakota. So I am excited to play somebody I have never seen before. I get up more for the coaches that I play more than for the name of the team. I get up for the tendencies, what do they like to do, what have they don in the last five years.”

If the seeds play out, Duke is No 2 and will await in the Sweet 16.

•Kentucky: The Wildcats are home for their sub-Regional, seeded No. 3 in the Notre Dame Regional. They start play against Wright State (26-8) champs of the Horizon League tournament.

Their march to the conference tournament final earned them the right to get away from the Louisville (whom they beat earlier) Regional. They are 12-4 at home, 24-8 overall, 10-6 in the league, No. 10 in the nation.

This is a program record fifth straight NCAA appearance.

“It’s great to be back in the tournament and I am really proud of our team for earning a bid,” UK coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It’s hard to do.

“We obviously overcame some adversity throughout the season which has prepared us for this.”

He knows St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin. Mitchell had used that bond when sending her a congratulatory message for winning the Atlantic 10.

Their potential Sweet 16 opponent, if the seedings play out, is Baylor.

•Georgia The Lady Bulldogs complete the 20-game or more winners from the league, at 20-11, the last one coming in the league tournament. They are 2-1 at neutral sites.

The good news, they are in as a No.8 seed, about what they earned in a 7-9 league run which knocked them out of the national rankings.

They start with St. Joseph’s (22-9).

But then.

The next game is UConn at Storrs, their homecourt. Yikes.

“We're excited,” coach Andy Landers said. “It seems like this is the second or third time in the past couple of years that our name has shown up early on the bracket. I guess that’s better than waiting. This is the time of year that every coach and player dreams of. We've been working hard to get to this point, and we're pleased that we will again have the opportunity to compete for a national championship.”

Andy Landers becomes the active SEC coach with the most tournament appearances, tying Pat Summitt overall, having only missed two

•LSU: The Tigers start at home and are unranked after losing eight of their past 10 games, four at home. They are 19-12, 7-9 in the league.

They open with the ACC’s Georgia Tech (20-11) on Sunday as a No. 9 vs. a No. 8. They can easily lose right away. But, should they win one at home, West Virginia, the top No, 2 seed looms next in this Louisville Regional

“I’m very proud of our team for doing what they had to do so it counted in March,” coach Nikki Caldwell said. “With Georgia Tech playing in the ACC, they’re a very seasoned team. I know they’re going to be competitive. They are a defensive-minded team with a balanced attack, and so are we. It’s just going to be about who is going to come out and capitalize on their game plan.”

•Vanderbilt: The Commodores (18-12) will be making their 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and their 15th consecutive appearance overall.

They are a No. 8 seed at Toledo. They open up with No. 9 Arizona St. (22-9) on Saturday. If Vandy wins two games, they will have shocked the world with the upset of the season because Notre Dame is likely next.

“The big thing is just getting in,” said coach Melanie Balcomb. “This is the third season and that’s what we wanted, to get to the third season and the opportunity to win again.

“I was really impressed with how much the SEC got and how many teams. The power really helped us.

“We didn’t want to leave it up to anyone else, to a committee. We wanted to win and be in. I have never seen one of my teams so excited to get in because we didn’t know until our name was called in that last bracket, that we were in.”

•Florida: Like Vanderbilt, the Gators (19-12) are an add-in necessitated by the strength of the conference. They will open play as a No. 11 seed against No. 6 Dayton (23-7) on Sunday afternoon, in the Penn State sub-Regional

Coach Amanda Butler said, “It’s an accomplishment to get to this point, but the thing about this team is they are really, really hungry and know they are not done.”

She said she and the Flyers’ coach, Jim Jabir, know each other from when both coached in the Atlantic 10.

BIG TEN

•Nebraska:
The conference representative as the tournament champion is ranked No. 13 nationally at 25-6, 12-4 in the Cornhuskers' league.

They are seeded No. 4 at Los Angeles’ sub-Regional (another neutral site) with a chance to go home for the Lincoln, Neb., Regional where UConn would await in the Sweet 16.

This is a team of joyous souls and they enjoyed the nomination into the tournament against No. 13 Fresno State (22-10).

Conference MVP Jordan Hooper, a senior, spoke for the team when she said, “I think it’s good we’re going someplace warm, warmer than here, climate change.” She declined to accept the idea she could now be known as “Hollywood Hooper.”

“Now that you see who you can play (UConn) is a big opportunity, but first you definitely have to take care of business from the first game,” she said. “People (here) have kinda grasped women’s basketball. I think it has been really cool to have been here. It wasn’t for nothing.”

•Penn State: The regular-season league champ for the third straight year, is No., 14 nationally, 22-7 overall, 13-3 in conference. They are a No. 3 seed at home and open with Wichita State (22-6), feeding into the Stanford Regional.

Despite winning the regular-season title, they played themselves into a three seed by not even making the Big Ten quarterfinals, dispatched by Ohio State.

Stanford is the two seed, so the path to even the Elite Eight is rugged.
The West may have the best 1-4 seeds in terms of teams with something to prove.

“I watched the men’s selection show yesterday and one of the things they talked about through was the body of work and looking at what happened over the course of the season,” coach Coquese Washington said. “Our three seed represents what we did over the course of the entire season, so I’m really happy for our players that we were rewarded with a three seed.”

“We’re very happy with it,” senior Maggie Lucas said of the seeding. “But, you know you have to take what you can get. In the NCAAs, everyone is good.”

•Purdue: The Boilermakers have a sub-Regional feeding into Notre Dame, so they could make the Final Four without leaving the state. They drew Mid-American Conference champs Akron (23-9).

The Boilermakers are the No. 17 in the nation are a seed but didn’t win two years ago when they were also at home for a sub-Regional, losing to a rising South Carolina team. They have lost senior point guard and soul of the team, K.K. Houser to a knee blowout. They were 21-8 overall, 11-5 in conference.

This is their 24th NCAA invitation.

Sharon Versyp, a Purdue All-American as a player from in-state Mishawaka, said, “Sometimes, that’s the exciting thing, not knowing a lot about who you play. In this day and age there is plenty of videotape out there so we’ll get some overnight.

“It’s just exciting to be the No. 4 seed. We’re ready to get back at it. For the players, now there’s a purpose.”

•Iowa The Hawkeyes also have a home sub-Regional feeding into Louisville.
Iowa is the No. 19 ranked team in the nation and are a No. 6 seed, drawing Marist (27-6). They have the most wins of conference teams at 26-8, 11-5 in conference.

This is the Hawkeyes’ seventh straight NCAA invite. Marist is in for the ninth straight season and ride a nine-game winning streak. They are the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champs.

That’s the good news from selection day. The bad news is also at Iowa City is Louisville, playing to get back home as the No. 3 seed and the expected second-round foe.

“We felt very good this whole week that we were in the tournament, it lets you relax and work on things with your team that you need to work on to get better instead of nervousness about bring in the tournament,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “That’s the big thing -- we went into the week relaxed and focused on ourselves rather than worrying if we were in the tournament.”

•Michigan State: The Spartans elevated themselves by earning a spot in the conference finals after sharing the regular-season title. They are the No. 5 seed in the North Carolina sub-Regional feeding into Stanford.

State is No. 20 in the nation at 22-9, 13-3 in conference. They play Hampton (20-8), the champions of the MEAC for a record fifth straight season on Sunday in Chapel Hill.

Spartan coach Suzy Merchant has led MSU to the tournament in all six of her seasons. They have been a No. 5 seed three of the past five seasons.

“I do not know a lot about Hampton, yet,” Favor said. “But, in that league they are very consistent and play very hard and I know that.”

--------------------

Minnesota vwas is the only other Big Ten team with 20 wins, at 20-12, but 8-8 in conference. The NCAA’s Henry said they had too many losses against teams above that magic 50 line and several below it. The B1G conference does not resonate as much as does the SEC or the ACC, so the Gophers are off to the women’s NIT with conference teams Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan. The SEC placed three teams in the NWIT, Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri.


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