Speculation mounts as Selection Sunday nears
The fun is about to begin. Selection Sunday is just one week away.
Who's in? Who's out? Who's on the proverbial bubble? Sometimes the best part is the speculation over who'll finally make the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.
Only two schools have made the women's tournament every year since it started in 1982. No. 5 Tennessee is certain to get in for the 24th straight time to continue its streak. Louisiana Tech also has made it every year and should get in again, although the Lady Techsters' credentials aren't what they've been in recent seasons.
They were 18-7 after an 83-69 loss at Rice on Thursday and they've been out of the AP poll for the last 13 weeks -- the first time in 13 years they haven't been ranked.
And while La. Tech has an RPI in the mid-20s, which will measure up well when the selection committee goes to work, the team's most significant victory was over Mississippi in the season opener.
The Lady Techsters would get in automatically if they win the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Reno. But if they lost early in the tournament, the committee might be faced with a tough decision.
Another perennial NCAA entrant, Old Dominion, also is having a season that's not up to the program's usual standards. The Lady Monarchs have to beat Drexel on Sunday to gain a share of their 14th straight Colonial Athletic Association title. If ODU loses, Delaware wins the championship outright.
Old Dominion has played in 21 of the 23 NCAA Tournaments, including the last 13. The Lady Monarchs have an RPI in the mid-30s and have lost to Delaware twice this season. But they played a decent nonconference schedule and beat Rutgers in December.
Others who'll be looking to extend long NCAA Tournament streaks include Connecticut (16 straight), Texas Tech (15), Purdue (11), Duke (10) and Georgia (10). Purdue might require some discussion, however. The Boilermakers finished fifth in the Big Ten (9-7) and were only 15-11 overall against Division I opponents in the regular season.
By late afternoon on March 13, it will all be sorted out, though probably not to everyone's liking.
The players were bright and articulate and captured the nation's fancy by going unbeaten. Their coach was -- and still is - witty one moment, acerbic the next, but always quotable.
Ten years ago, Connecticut won its first NCAA championship and helped usher in a new era of respectability and national attention for women's basketball. The Big East Conference will honor that team Sunday during the quarterfinals of the conference tournament at the Hartford Civic Center.
All 13 players and the four coaches from that team are expected to attend the ceremony. The team included Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti and Kara Wolters, all of whom became All-Americans and earned The Associated Press national player of the year award in consecutive seasons -- Lobo in 1995, Rizzotti in 1996 and Wolters in 1997.
The team's coach, Geno Auriemma, is still at UConn and has guided the Huskies to four national titles since, including the last three.
UConn beat Tennessee 70-64 in Minneapolis to win the 1995 championship and finish 35-0, at the time the most victories for any Division I program, men's or women's.
Tennessee's Loree Moore is nothing if not tough.
In a span of little more than 12 months, the Lady Vols' point guard blew out a knee, had her tonsils out and suffered a broken nose. The knee injury cost her the last half of the 2003-04 season and she missed six games after her tonsillectomy in December.
But the broken nose? No problem. Moore underwent surgery to have it fixed and played the next day.
``If I had the surgery and I couldn't play, I'd rather just tape my nose, get a mask or something and play and then fix it after the season, because I didn't want to miss any more games,'' Moore said.
Two years after his surprising move from a successful program at Arkansas to a struggling team at Texas A&M, Gary Blair is making progress.
The folksy coach has a good group of freshmen and another strong class coming in next season. The Aggies tied for ninth in the Big 12 at 4-12 and are 14-13 overall after marks of 2-14 and 9-19 last season.
"It was hard,'' Blair said. "I sort of made the same move Jim Foster made from Vanderbilt to Ohio State. But the difference was, he went into an underachieving team that had all the talent and had a recruiting base where he could own the state of Ohio.
"I've got to share the state of Texas, where last year we had five teams finish in the top 20 -- (Texas) Tech, Texas, Baylor, TCU and Houston. Now that's tough.''
Blair said he wants to build with freshmen. He'll go the junior college route only if he can find an impact player.
"This my last gig. I'm not in a hurry,'' Blair said. "When they tell me it's time for somebody else, I've got an 8-handicap that I'll get down to a 2 in a hurry. So I'm going to do it the right way and I'm going to do it primarily with freshmen.''
Speaking of Foster, his Ohio State team shared the Big Ten title with Michigan State and has the league's player of the year in sophomore center Jessica Davenport.
How good is Davenport? Listen to Iowa coach Lisa Bluder on that subject.
"We're considering putting together a highlight film of her just to teach our posts,'' Bluder said. "You talk about old school and I love it. Jess uses the backboard all the time.
"Some kids want to look fancier. To me, let's just have the same old boring shot every time and get the job done and that's what Jess does. We think she's just fabulous."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press