Women's tourney: Not all titans

Some conference winners won't be going; some upset victims will be at-large.

All season long, the focus in women's basketball has been on perennial powers such as defending champion Maryland, North Carolina, top-ranked Duke, Connecticut, and Tennessee.

In the last few weeks, however, a bunch of folks in lesser places have been having their own fun.

After the 30 conference tournaments, only 15teams have taken advantage of their No. 1 seeds to claim NCAA automatic bids.

That group includes Old Dominion, which beat James Madison, 78-70, yesterday in Newark, Del., to claim its 16th straight Colonial Athletic Association crown.

The Monarchs have won the CAA every year since becoming conference members.

Meanwhile, many of the other top conference seeds that were victims of upsets (George Washington in the Atlantic Ten, top-ranked Duke in the Atlantic Coast, and Connecticut in the Big East) will get over their disappointment by receiving at-large bids to the field of 64.

However, others that dominated their leagues such as Montana in the Big Sky, Coppin State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley are likely to be relegated to the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

The NCAA committee's tournament draw will be announced tonight at 8 on ESPN.

"In the past, we've taken care of business and not left it in the hands of the committee, so this will be different for us," Temple coach Dawn Staley said after eventual A-10 champion Xavier ended the Owls' run of three straight conference crowns.

Delaware, which lost at home Saturday in a Colonial Athletic Association semifinal, is hoping to receive an at-large bid.

"This team deserves to go to the NCAA tournament," Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said.

Some teams will gather for the selection show, basking in newly found status.

Rutgers, for example, has been a frequentl NCAA participant, but this is the first time the Scarlet Knights will watch the brackets unfold as Big East champions. Coach C. Vivian Stringer's team upset UConn last week in Hartford, Conn.

Several teams have earned their first NCAA appearances by winning conference titles. Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Prairie View A&M is coached by former Houston Comets star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.

Among the other newcomers are West Coast champion Gonzaga, Atlantic Sun winner Belmont, MEAC champion Delaware State, Northeast Conference winner Robert Morris, and the Big South's UNC Asheville.

However, Louisiana Tech will be missing for the first time in NCAA history after an early elimination in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Holy Cross, a past participant but a surprise Patriot League winner, has the dubious distinction of bringing in a losing record at 15-17.

Drake (14-18) also earned a bid with a losing record yesterday after edging Creighton, 65-64, in overtime for the Missouri Valley title.

Connecticut, North Carolina, Duke, and Tennessee are prohibitive favorites to earn No. 1 bids atop the regionals in Dayton, Ohio; Greensboro, N.C.; Dallas; and Fresno, Calif.

Seconds seeds are likely to go to Southeastern Conference champion Vanderbilt, Maryland, perhaps Big Twelve champion Oklahoma, Big Ten winner Purdue, or maybe LSU, whose coach, Pokey Chatman, resigned last week.

Rutgers is contending for a No. 3 seed, as is Pac-10 winner Stanford and Big Ten regular-season champion Ohio State.


Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.