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.
By Mike Siroky
Three members of the mightiest league in America, the Southeastern Conference of women’s basketball, were awarded home games in the qualifier for the six-game NCAA elimination tournament.
One more will host as well, so a quarter of the Sweet 16 qualifiers are on SEC campuses.
There are nine league entrants overall.
The first conference with seven bids (1986), the first conference with eight (1999) , now has the new standard, three more than any other conference, matching the all-time high by the old Big East.
With so many bids, it factors out to two SEC teams in each Regional, three in the one led by the conference champ.
South Carolina got hosed. The Gamecocks had every right to expect the closest Region geographically from their home base.
Lexington, Ky., is 417 miles from Columbia, about a seven-hour drive. Sioux Falls, where the Gamecocks landed, is 1,358 driving miles, more than 20 hours.
There is no acceptable explanation.
Selection Committee chair Chris Dawson tried smoke and mirrors for an explanation.
She made up a protocol never before heard that 350 miles is the cutoff for expected fan driving distance.
She said, without swallowing her tongue, that South Carolinians were flying either way.
Notre Dame fans can still drive it. “That is why the teams were placed that way.”
No one is buying those magic beans.
SC coach Dawn Staley said she didn’t know what more her team could have done to earn the closer location.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, the alleged No.3 of the top seeds, was visibly surprised as well.
The Selection Committee avoided the controversy over Mississippi State being awarded a home site when the state still embraces the Confederate flag by making them a No 5 seed.
But, aha, they made Michigan State the No 4 in the Region knowing there was no arena available in East Lansing due to the state high school tournament, so the home game defaults to State as the next in line.
We can all wait until next season to see if it is an issue – and it should be – again,
Rankings reflect the final Associated Press poll.
*No. 2/3 South Carolina, seeded No. 1 in Lexington, awarded back-to-back Sweet 16 qualifying games.
As the No. 1 seed in Sioux Falls, they open with No. 16 Jacksonville, in their first NCAA tournament. Arizona State is the No. 2 seed.
Staley took the high road on the Regional placement.
“Nothing was promised to us,” she said. “Lexington was not promised to us. Nothing is promised to us about Jacksonville. We have to get ready to play.”
*No.12 Kentucky (23-7) also awarded back-to-back seasons of qualifying games, can theoretically not leave home before the Final Four, as is the case of No. 1 Connecticut, the overall top seed, in the Bridgeport Regional.
The third-seeded Kats open with 14th seed NC-Asheville. Maryland is the No. 2 seed.
“For our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a Top 16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington.
"We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting.”
*No. 15 Mississippi State (26-7) will be playing the East Lansing qualifying games on Friday in Starkville as the fifth seed of UConn’s Regional. No. 4 seed Michigan State is there too, of course, making the most challenging qualifier should each advance.
“A lot goes into a moment like this, but that’s all it is — a moment,” Schaefer said. “Now we’ve got to get 10,000 people here on a Friday afternoon. I want the world to see what we've built at Mississippi State. That's my challenge right now.”
*No. 19 Texas A&M (21-9) was awarded qualifying home games as the No. 4 seed in the Dallas Regional topped by Baylor. The Aggies open with 13th seed Missouri State on Saturday. Oregon State is the No. 2 seed in the Regional.
It is the fourth time in five seasons (they missed last season) the Aggies host Sweet 16 qualifying games.
*No. 25 Florida (22-8) is the fifth seed in Carolina’s Regional. They would not play Carolina until the Sweet 16, should each get that far, which is an NCAA protocol for conferences with multiple entries.
They open with 11th-seeded Albany at the Friday Syracuse qualifiers.
“We are excited,” said coach Amanda Butler. “We are excited to have earned the opportunity to be in this tournament. We are extremely grateful for another chance to play in this new season.
"Our team has worked really hard in the time off and we have a great opponent in Albany and we are totally focused on them now.
“I think this is where your gratitude level goes up that much more. You are able to appreciate it that much more when something gets taken away from you and you can be grateful and appreciate it that much. It is a feeling and a great reward for our players. It is the start of something special hopefully."
*Tennessee (19-13) starts its first NCAA unranked and without 20 wins. The Lady Vols are the only team to have been in all NCAA tournaments.
"They are seeded their lowest ever, No. 7. They open with Green Bay on Friday, also in the Carolina Regional, at the Arizona State qualifiers, ASU is the No. 2 seed. UT lost a first-round game once.
“Is it where we usually are? No, but it’s a great spot for us to go to work,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
*Missouri (21-9) was ranked six weeks of the season, is seeded No. 10 in the Texas qualifiers of UConn’s Regional on Saturday. They open with No. 7 seed BYU. It is their first NCAA appearance since 2006.
“It was so exciting just to see the looks on our girls’ faces,” said sixth-year coach Robin Pingeton. “I mean, they were so overjoyed and excited.”
*Georgia’s Dawgs (21-9) fulfilled the destiny of any SEC team with 20 wins and gets in as the No. 8 seed playing No. 9 Indiana at Notre Dame on Saturday.
The first time Georgia ever won a Regional was at Notre Dame and Notre Dame was not qualified.
But Indiana was there then too, with Ole Miss and Tennessee. Georgia never quite got ranked this season.
Georgia has a big strike against it. Its leading scorer and team leader Shacobia Barbee fractured an ankle in the last home game.
They lost the season finale and the only appearance in the conference tournament.
But they are in the program’s 32nd NCAA, led by a first-year coach. “We are absolutely thrilled to be back in the NCAA Tournament,” Joni Taylor said.
“Georgia basketball is a name that is synonymous with March Madness and I am proud of our team for working so hard to get to this point. We play a very tough team in Indiana, and I look forward to the challenge and opportunity for our team.”
*Auburn (19-12) is the gift team, never ranked all seasons and without 20 wins. Upsetting Missouri in the SEC tournament to make the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament elevated them just enough to get in the first NCAA tournament since 2009.
“We’ve been waiting for a very long time,” said coach Terri Williams-Flournoy. “Our girls have been so focused from Day 1 since the end of the season last year so it wasn’t really too hard to get them focused (in practice) even though we didn’t know . . . they are just so excited.”
They are the No. 9 seed playing No. 8 St. John’s at the Friday Baylor qualifiers. There would have to be upsets for them to play A&M in the Sweet 16.