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.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Siroky's SEC Report: Nine Looking Fine for NCAA Bids

By Mike Siroky

Nine is fine for NCAAs.

All projections heading into Selection Monday have the mightiest conference in women’s college basketball – the Southeastern Conference – reaffirming its national dominance with eight at-large bids, nine overall.

This fun guessing game starts with the reveals and conference calls from the NCAA Selection Committee and applications of common sense, history and the Associated Press national rankings.

There is no doubt No. 2/3 South Carolina is a top seed, likely only second to eventual National Champion UConn. So they will be, as we reported in January, the top seed in Lexington Ky.

No. 19 Texas A&M has earned a home seed in the Sweet 16 qualifiers as well.

The other qualifiers surpass the national ranking.

Then, it’s all marbles in a bag. Maybe No. 12 Kentucky will get one. They got one last year and lost at home when the center was benched. 

No. 15 Mississippi State is likely to be skipped again.

We have overwritten the idea the NCAA does not do business in states which officially display the Confederate flag. Mississippi is the last one. But the university itself has banned it.

The Selection Committee has discussed this issue.

They have decided the integrity of the seeds is paramount. Of course, if State is a high No. 5 – seeded 17 or lower – this is all avoided.

The easiest way to understand the Top 16 seedings is to do what the committee eventually does.

First pay attention.

Pick the best four. Then rank those four in order. That’s your start.

The women’s game is always trying to gin up attendance. So they place the No. 1 seed closest to home.

UConn can stay in state before the Final Four. Their Regional is Bridgeport.

South Carolina, as No 2, gets the conference connection and goes to Lexington.

You put Baylor in the Bears' state as well, Dallas.

After starting at home of course: Notre Dame as the third of No. 1s, stays in the Midwest at Sioux Falls, Iowa.

With the SEC getting so many bids, basic math says two in each Regional and three to one.

The Seeding Committee has always followed the principle of not having conference foes projected to meet until the Regional finals, when possible, and semifinals if not.

The move to semifinals started last year with integrity of the tournament in mind.

Until last season, when they followed the simple seeding methodology of ranking all the No. 2s, then the No. 3s full to the end.

That means then top No. 2 goes to the last of the No 1s which means to Baylor.

Placement can be done by computer once values are added.

You can format in trying to avoid early meetings with teams that have already played conference of otherwise.

Mississippi State has the dual problem of great wins in a great conference with an attractive scorer who can bump attendance against a terrible non-conference (all wins).

Missouri on a slightly lower level, has the same problem, as does Georgia. But Georgia has lost its senior leader and scorer. All this figures in.

Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer has addressed the building of a national program from scratch.

 “Well, it took players,” he said.

“I mean, we had to go recruit that first recruiting class before anybody saw us play. That first year wasn’t good. We were 13-17. We knew we had to sign some kids early before they ever saw us play.

“Again, before I could even take the job, I had to know I could hire the staff. I got an unbelievable staff. I got the best staff in the country, in my opinion. I had to be able to get the staff and my AD, Scott Stricklin, gave me the means to do that.

“Look, I knew what it looked like. I built them before. I knew what 13-17 looked like. We didn’t panic. Then that next class had Victoria (Vivians) in it. That’s a difference player.

"That’s a kid that can go make plays. We had to have her. She’s one hour 15 minutes from the house.

“We had to close the fences around the state and make sure we didn’t let anybody like her get out.

“When we first got there, not many people in the stands. We averaged 6,100, 6,200 this year for SEC games, over 5,000 of the regular season. I couldn’t be prouder of that.

“The key to that is my players, my team, how they play the game, how they honor the game with how they play it.

“We don’t stand around in 2-3 zones and hope they miss defense. You can tell. We’re guarding.

“Dominique (Dillingham) has taken almost 50 charges, Morgan (William) has taken 40-something. We’re an exciting team to watch. People talk to me all the time about the marketing.

“We have a marketing group, they do a good job. But to me the best marketing plan I got is the players.

"I call them the peoples’ teams. We go up in the stands, hug mamas, kiss babies. Shake hands, take pictures.

“It’s the same people that want to get the same autograph, same picture taken. My kids are just so good in that role. They’re accessible. I really think it’s built a culture.

“It’s the thing to do now, to go watch a women’s basketball game. I think that’s a big part of it, how we play the game.”

In a bid to show support, Mississippi State will have a reveal night pep rally at their place.

They can be one of those crowds cheering on ESPN when placed.

All schools have team unity gatherings on campus for this moment, when everyone who is in is basically happy and no one has lost a game as a tournament entrant though half of them get eliminated in the first round knockdown to a tournament of 32.

Texas A&M has presold Sweet 16 qualifying game tickets, on an alleged first-come basis, to be refunded minus a five buck charge if the Aggies start on the road. They were not at home for this last season. They are likely to remain in state for the Dallas Regional.

Kentucky is not.

All teams have tried to keep their historical opponents, the teams that played you before you were famous. Those traditions dilute the strength of schedule.

Tennessee, like UConn, has played anyone, anywhere for decades so their strengths of schedules carry them in an off-year, such as this season for Tennessee.

The Vols have the toughest schedule in America and that counts for an unranked 19-win team.

If they are indeed a No. 6 or less that is still their all-time lowest seed.

In our opinion, once you have the Top 16, it is all marbles in a bag, all the way down to No. 25 Florida among ranked teams. Reach in and drop them onto the board.

The game has forever been defined as a superior team, one or two waiting for the stumble and then everyone else, including the rest of the Sweet 16 and To 25.

Once the games begin, there is another opponent and you are inside a gym that could be Anytown, USA.

Maybe the gym colors reflect either team in play. Maybe three of the teams have traveled far to get there. Maybe you have never been in this town or even this state before and certainly the hotel and other venues are new.

But the adrenaline of the teenage players will carry the moment until tipoff.

We almost have the road map drawn.
As various lesser-known All-America teams are revealed, there are some major watch lists still being issued.

The Wade Trophy was once the top individual award in the AIAW days, before the NCAA recognized there was money and publicity to be gained by taking the women in and the women realized the traditional conference alignments meant something to the casual fan and attendance.

The Wade Trophy is still awarded to the to best Division 1 player. It is meaningful to hardcore women’s basketball fans. They start about now with 30 nominees.

It will be the 39th awarding. The Wade Trophy is named in honor of the late, Delta State University coach, Lily Margaret Wade. 

Before Pat Head Summitt or Billie Moore or Tara Vanderveer or Geno Auriemma, before the AP poll was started, during only six seasons as coach, Wade won three consecutive national championships with the Statesmen. They still play, by the way, having won 39 conference championships and now in Division II.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association administers the trophy.

The criteria: Game and season statistics, leadership, character, effect on their team and overall playing ability.

The SEC has about a quarter of the field, 23 percent to be precise.

The league nominees:

South Carolina: A’Ja Wilson (of seven sophomores);  Alaina Coates (of eight juniors) and Tiffany Mitchell (senior); Texas A&M: Courtney Walker (senior); Kentucky: Makayla Epps (sophomore); Mississippi State Victoria Vivians (sophomore); Tennessee Diamond DeShields (sophomore).

It will be won, of course, by Breanna Stewart of UConn.


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