By Mel Greenberg
For St. Joseph's, Drexel, Delaware, and Penn State, the broadcast of the NCAA tournament pairings Monday night was just a little entertainment event to kill a few hours before each faced the real suspense of the night: Might the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) give them the opportunity to play another night or more in the month of March?
Thanks to the an expansion to a 64-team format, each was given answer in the affirmative. Furthermore, the quartet all landed home games to get the action started in the next several days.
Drexel (17-13) gets to put aside for the moment the painful stretch drive that resulted in a five-game losing streak and a tough loss to Delaware in the Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinals in the third overtime encounter between the two area rivals.
The Dragons, who won the CAA a year ago and broke up Old Dominion's 17-year rule of the conference tournament, will play Friday night against East Carolina (22-10) from Conference USA.
The winner will advance against either Maryland (19-12), yes that Maryland, or Iona (18-13) in the next round.
A home game allows at least one more encore performance for Drexel by senior Gabriela Marginean, who will keep the calculator going for another 40 minutes towards establishing the official total for those who come after her will need to surpass to become the next all-time women's scorer in Philadelphia.
"Definitely, excited to have a home game and we couldn't be happier to extend the season," Drexel coach Denise Dillon said in the wee hours of Monday night. "It's a light at the end of the tunnel -- a little positive after what happened the last few weeks."
Drexel already played Maryland, losing to the Terrapins on the road in College Park, in December.
ECU's record has Dillon impressed over the Pirates' visit to the Daslakalis Athletic Center.
"They've had their fare share of success against CAA teams -- they beat Virginia Commonwealth by three," Dillon said.
Down at Delaware (21-11), Blue Hens coach had all her wishes fulfilled in Thursday night's game in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark against Richmond (19-12) out of the Atlantic Ten Conference.
The winner meet either Syracuse (22-10) or Harvard (20-8) in the next round.
Delaware's invitation keeps alive the national scoring race between Blue Hens freshman sensation Elena Delle Donne and Middle Tennessee's Alysha Clark, who inched into first place with a torrid performance in the Sun Belt Conference playoffs to give her team the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"Richmond has athleticisim inside," Delaware coach Tina Martin said. "Brittany Shells, their leading scorer is from Delaware and they have (Crystal) Goring and another big kid inside.
"As you get fortunate enough to continue, the path set up just like an NCAA tournament. This is really like an East vs. West kind of thing looking at the bracket, which will knew would happen. The West teams are on one side and all the Eastern teams are over here."
Martin would love to have a good showing to provide impetus going into next season.
"James Madison, which is playing Temple in the NCAAs and has everyone back, will probably be the CAA favorite and maybe even get nationally ranked at the outset," Martin said. "But if we can have a good finish and with our young team back, this could help us get some early attention next season."
Delaware's schedule is beefing up out of conference and the Blue Hens could become mythical Big Five champions.
Besides the ongoing relationship with La Salle, the Blue Hens will also host Villanova _ the school that once was a final consideration choice of Delle Donne -- and St. Joseph's, and play Penn State. They will also play in Virginia Tech's tournament.
"There's some great first round matchups in the WNIT," Martin said.
Delaware, with a season attendance record, could continuely to stay home.
"We're hopeful, but the bottom line is we're going to have to play hard because in the post season every game is a tossup," Martin explained.
"It's interesting because the CAA and Atlantic 10 are compared to each other a lot," she said of the non-league battle on Thursday. "There's a lot of competition and always seems to be a battle against their conference and ours.
"We're very happy with the home game. It's a great opportunity because we are such a young team.
"There are teams in the tournament who are older and it's a great opportunity for the seniors going out. But in our case, we're so young this is only going to help us and we hope we can put our best foot forward."
St. Joseph's (17-14), which got its act together in the stretch drive, will host Virginia Commonwealth (20-12), the third place team in the CAA, at Hagan Arena Thursday night.
The winner will meet next meet Penn State (17-13), which will host Hofstra (19-13), another CAA team, on Thursday night.
The Nittany Lions are in the postseason for the first time since 2005.
There is a strong representation in the field from power conferences. The Big Ten, for example, besides Penn State, is sending Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, and Michigan _ a team all the women's bracketlogists were predicting for the NCAA matchups.
The Big East is offering Syracuse, as mentioned, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Providence, and Marquette.
Wake Forest and Miami join Maryland from the Atlantic Coast, while Florida and Mississippi represent the Southeastern Conference.
The Pac-10 is offering Oregon, California and Arizona State.
The Atlantic 10 has a a slew of teams with St. Joseph's and Richmond joined by Charlotte, Duquesne and St. Bonvaventure. There are teams in the field who were regular season conference champions, several of which got ousted in playoffs by narrow margins. UC Davis out of the Big West, Gardner Webb out of the Big South, and Illinois State out the Missouri Valley Conference fit that profile.
"It turns out it was a great year to expand," said Renee Carlson, the WNIT''s spokeswoman.
Some teams in the field are just under .500 but Carlson offered a reason for their inclusion.
"We have spots reserved for the highest team in each conference who did not land in the NCAAs," she said.
"Several conferences had ties and, using the seeding procedure of their tournament, what we call the automatic qualifier was the highest seed from that league," she said.
"That was true of Purdue in the Big 10 and Florida in the Southeastern Conference off the way they broke ties and ranked teams for their tournaments."
Back later with more.