Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ODU, Liberty in WNIT: Who wants to play?

It's not the tournament they wanted to be in, but the Women's National Invitational Tournament beginning today at various sites across the country provides teams one last chance to put a positive shine on seasons that ended in disappointment.

Since motivation can be an issue, we're not always sure what to expect in WNIT games. No coach is going to come out and say, "My team really doesn't want to do this," and players typically give reasonable effort once the game starts. But did they practice hard yesterday? Did they focus mentally on the game during the day? Deep down, do they really wish the season was over?

Because it's not clear where the players' heads are - and also due to the short preparation time teams have for opponents they often know little about - home teams have historically had an even greater-than-normal edge in WNIT games. Doesn't mean Liberty can't win at Charlotte tonight, and it doesn't guarantee Old Dominion will take down Loyola (Md.). But in the WNIT in particular, there really is no place like home.

Liberty (22-10) at Charlotte (23-9), 7 p.m.
We wish this game was anywhere except North Carolina, home to the Lady Flames' most painful defeats. Liberty opened the season a disappointing 0-2 in Raleigh. They suffered a shocking loss to N.C. Central (RPI: 325) in Durham. And on Sunday, of course, the Lady Flames fell 67-66 to Gardner-Webb in the Big South final at High Point (Since the Liberty-Gardner-Webb final was the last D-I game played Sunday, we're not sure why the Lady Flames have one of the quickest turnarounds on the road in the WNIT. But that's another story). We're not crazy about this matchup, either. Charlotte excels at pressure defense, and turnovers have plagued Liberty all season. And while the Lady Flames typically enjoy a significant rebounding edge, the 49ers can match Liberty board-for-board. With the possible exception of VCU, Liberty hasn't beaten anyone of this caliber all season. We're rooting for them, but it's going to take something close to the Lady Flames' best performance of the year to pull this one out. By the way, Charlotte is 3-1 against Virginia schools, having beaten VCU, Hampton and Virginia Tech. The lone loss was to Old Dominion in Tulane's post-Christmas tournament. Charlotte 70, Liberty 62

Loyola-Md. (20-12) at Old Dominion (20-10), 7 p.m.
Last year, with many of ODU's fans traveling to New Orleans to watch the men's basketball team in the NCAAs, only 790 turned out to see the Lady Monarchs top American in the WNIT first round. The Monarchs men have another NCAA date Thursday in Washington, so the Lady Monarchs may not have much support again. The Greyhounds finished second to nationally-ranked Marist in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference but went just 5-9 in non-conference play with losses to Towson, Howard and UMBC. What Loyola has going for it is that since this is the program's first postseason bid since 1995, the Greyhounds are likely thrilled to be still playing. The Lady Monarchs? We're not so sure. The question is whether Loyola's enthusiasm and want-to can offset ODU's home-court advantage and personnel superiority. It shouldn't. ODU 65, Loyola 52

Other WNIT games
Delaware at Toledo, 7 p.m.
Appalachian State at South Carolina, 7 p.m.
Butler at Wisconsin, 8 p.m.
Wichita State at Kansas, 8 p.m.
Pepperdine at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.
Portland State at Wyoming, 9 p.m.

Complete WNIT bracket

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