Feb. 24, 2004
It's nearly time again for the NCAA women's basketball selection committee to divvy out their tournament bids for 2004. Usually, at this time of year, Pac-10 coaches are up in arms about the lack of respect that the conference is getting from the Eastern-based media. Fans of West Coast teams, at this time of year, begin to cry foul because of low seeds and seemingly few bids to teams located west of the Mississippi. However, this season, the Pac-10 will be able to blame no one but itself when only three teams are accepted to the big dance and here is why...
First, let's make this fact very plain -- there is no doubt that an Eastern bias does exist when rankings and NCAA Tournament bids are involved. For example, Arizona is currently 20-7 overall and 12-4 in a conference that is currently ranked third in the reliable Summerville RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). Are the Cats ranked? No! In fact Arizona received only 15 votes in this week's Associated Press poll, three less than Montana! So, the Pac-10 has an uphill road to climb, but the conference must improve its non-conference scheduling, and win those games.
USC played the toughest non-conference schedule of all, including games with Minnesota, Colorado and Connecticut. The problem is that the Trojans lost all of those games. Stanford played Tennessee at home and lost, and Arizona State lost at UConn. Meanwhile, the conference bottom-feeders were playing patsies like Utah Valley State and Idaho. While Stanford, Arizona, USC and ASU are trying hard to improve their schedules, the other schools need to follow suit.
In conference play, some teams that had a real opportunity to play themselves into NCAA Tournament bids and provide the Pac-10 with more than its normal tournament invitations, instead are playing themselves out of consideration. The perplexing Trojans were on the verge of playing for a conference title before suffering a sweep at Stanford and California. Oregon State was touting itself as a post-season contender but was swept in Arizona, and UCLA had a chance to make some noise but lost at Stanford. So, if the Pac-10 was going to finally get four-to-six teams into the Big Dance, some teams simply did not step up to the plate.
As we near the conference tournament, and considering the fact that the winner of that tournament gets an automatic bid, it appears that only two or three Pac-10 teams will be invited to March Madness. According to ESPN.com and Kansas City Star basketball writer Mechelle Voepel, who appeared as a guest on Monday's Joan Bonvicini Coach's Show, Stanford (20-5) and Arizona (20-7) appear to be locks while ASU (17-9) must win at least two more games to get itself on the bubble. No one else has more than 15 wins, while third-place Southern California has only 14. Thus, the prospect is bleak to get more than three teams in again this year.
The Pac-10 can cry foul all it wants to on Selection Sunday, but truth be told, coaches at the mid-level schools like USC, UCLA and Oregon State have only themselves to blame!
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