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In fact, it is. But the list of teams ready to enter that threshold just isn't deep. The likelihood that more than one or two will sneak in without winning its conference tournament isn't high. Here's a list of those teams categorized by probability of earning an at-large bid.
That should also be the case come March even if the Jackrabbits stumble in the conference tournament. The job done by ninth-year coach Aaron Johnston is among the top stories in the women's game over the past few years. Of course, that alone doesn't get anyone a bid. What does is a gaudy record and big wins. The Jackrabbits are already at 18 victories and counting. More important are some of those nonconference victims. Wisconsin, Utah, Montana, Minnesota and Gonzaga could all be competing with South Dakota State for at-large bids -- and the Jackrabbits beat each of them. This side of a meteor falling in Sioux Falls, Jennifer Warkenthien & Co. will be in the NCAA tournament for the first time win or lose at the Summit League tournament.
With three wins in the past two NCAA tournaments, and the national recognition that came with it, that kind of scheduling is disappointing. Fortunately, the Red Foxes have been so dominant in league play that the MAAC tournament hasn't been much to worry about. With a regular season that should produce 27 to 29 wins, it is hard to imagine Marist not getting a bid -- but remember, it takes only one slipup at the wrong time. Then that schedule which will likely have an SOS rating north of 200 will be in the committee's hands.
VCU: The Rams hung tough at North Carolina in a Preseason WNIT matchup and also beat Georgetown. Not great. Not bad. Where VCU can build the résumé and make its case is by going 17-1 or 16-2 in the Colonial. That means zero or one losses the rest of the way. Given that Old Dominion has won the past 17 CAA tournament titles, VCU needing an at-large bid is likely. The good news is that two seasons ago when James Madison and Delaware won 16 leagues games and 27 and 26 overall, respectively, they each earned a bid. Unfortunately, it will take that kind of near perfection.
However, a deeper look makes the answer easy. The Falcons need to win the MAC tournament, no questions asked. The schedule is just so bad (Hartford was the top opponent and best win), and it's hard to argue with history. The MAC is a one-bid league. Always has been. It would take someone like Bowling Green really scheduling up and getting more than one upset to change that. Last year tells the story. A 25-7 mark and regular-season championship wasn't enough. Even a 26-win regular season in 2009 won't be, either.
Montana: The Lady Griz are victims of the overall weakness of the Big Sky. The majority of the league's teams will carry RPIs above 200, and that is all Montana has left to play. Coach Ron Selvig, he of nearly 700 career wins, did schedule up a bit, but his team ultimately didn't capture any of the big games. The Lady Griz went winless against Maryland, South Dakota State and Gonzaga. Winning at Oregon tops the list. The bottom line is that Montana's entire season comes down to three days in March at the Big Sky tournament.
Gonzaga: The Zags know the drill. In 2005, they won 27 games and went unbeaten in the WCC until the conference finals. Santa Clara won that game and Gonzaga did not go dancing. It's 2009 now, but some things don't change, and this is one of them.Of course, none of this happens in a bubble. One team's fate always impacts a bunch more -- a domino effect that moves in numerous directions, so to speak. With that understood, the Mountain West might benefit the most among non-BCS conferences from the SEC's lack of its usual depth or the possible dominance in the Big 12 of the top four or five schools. Three teams made the field this week, and San Diego State is in the mix for a possible fourth. That's a league race everyone should be watching.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.