Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WNIT: There's no place like home

When filling out your NCAA bracket, the challenge is obviously picking which teams are going to win.

With the WNIT, the trick is identifying which (home) teams might lose.

History suggests it probably won't be very many.

Here are the records for home teams in WNIT first-round games over the past four years:

2011 - 25-7

2012 - 26-6

2013 - 26-6

2014 - 28-4

That's a 78 percent win rate for home teams, which merely quantifies something we already know - homecourt advantage is a big deal. That's why we were dismayed with the decision to revert to the top four seeds hosting first- and second-round NCAA tournament games. Makes us wonder if when the powers-that-be say they want parity in the women's game, what they really mean is simply they want someone to win the title other than UConn.

But we digress...

None of this means all road WNIT teams are doomed to one-and-done status. Everyone at this stage has had at least some road success to draw from. So in theory anyone is capable of being part of this year's 22 percent.

But as Michael Smith and Jemele Hill (used to) say, numbers never lie. So Radford Highlanders, Richmond Spiders, Hampton Lady Pirates and Virginia Cavaliers, embrace the fact you'll have each other in your games. Because it's not just the fans that won't be on your side.

History won't be, either.

A look at the WNIT first-round games involving Virginia schools:


Radford (17-13) at East Carolina (21-10), 7 p.m.
It's already been a breakout season for the young Highlanders, who won just seven games a year ago and nabbed the Big South's automatic bid to this tournament after being picked to finish ninth in their 11-team league. That said, succeeding tonight will be a huge challenge. ECU has an RPI of 68; Radford's best RPI win is over No. 149 High Point. And the Pirates are particularly tough at Minges Coliseum, where they've gone 38-5 over the past three seasons. The Pirates can be terrors on the offensive boards, and they rank sixth in Division I in steals. Given that, some Radford turnovers are inevitable. If the Highlanders add unforced errors to the mix, this one could get ugly. Only a fool would count out a Radford team that has come this far this quickly already. But this is going to be tough. A victory would be Radford's first in a national postseason tournament since the 1989 WNIT.

What's next: The winner faces either East Tennessee State or N.C. State in the second round.

Inside Radford


Hampton at Drexel, 7 p.m.
Coming off five straight trips to the NCAAs, this Hampton team fits the classic profile of a group that could struggle to find motivation for WNIT play. Then again, a host of Hampton players are newcomers and weren't part of the prior successes. In addition, so much of Hampton's game is based on balls-out effort (so to speak) it's hard to imagine these guys performing at anything less than full throttle. They'll need this approach to slay these Dragons, who in typical Drexel fashion minimize fouling or turning the ball over and make free throws at a Division I-leading 78 percent clip. In short, the Dragons don't beat themselves; Hampton is going to have to earn everything it gets - through efficient halfcourt execution on offense and by defending for virtually the entire shot clock on defense. The teams met in Philadelphia last year, and Hampton rallied from 14 down at halftime for a 50-47 victory. We're expecting another low-scoring, possession-for-possession affair. One more thing - while the historical home/road won/loss split in WNIT first rounders obviously is daunting for any visitors, Hampton may be better suited to deal with unfamiliar settings than most. Nineteen of Hampton's 30 games were road/neutral contests, giving the Lady Pirates among the five highest percentages of road games to total games in all of Division I. So while being at home may help the Dragons, being away probably won't phase the Lady Pirates. These guys are used it.

What's next: The winner faces either West Virginia or Buffalo in the second round.

Inside Hampton

Virginia (17-13) at Old Dominion (20-12), 7 p.m.
Two former powerhouses now battling to regain national relevancy square off in one of the most intriguing Constant Center showdowns in years. Boiling this game down to Virginia's backcourt vs. Old Dominion's frontcourt is way too simplistic, especially since the Lady Monarchs may actually have the best individual perimeter player (Jennie Simms) and the Cavaliers probably boast the top individual in the post (Sarah Imovbioh). But Old Dominion will be challenged to deal with Virginia's bevy of guards, particularly from the 3-point line where the Cavaliers shoot a robust 36.1 percent (21st in Division I). ODU 3-point defense matches up well on paper, but the Lady Monarchs haven't faced a team that can be this explosive from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, undersized Virginia will have to neutralize, or at least keep up with, what can be a voracious Old Dominion rebounding attack. The job the Lady Monarchs did on the glass at both ends in the second half of last weekend's near-miss against Western Kentucky in the Conference USA semifinals was nothing short of astounding. As was the case a year ago, Old Dominion hit top form near season's end, winning six of their last eight with the two losses close encounters with mighty Western Kentucky. And while Virginia laid an egg in its ACC tournament opener against Miami, the Cavaliers looked fabulous in their regular season-ending beatdown of Top-10 Louisville. In short, there's reason to believe both teams will be at or near their absolute best for this encounter. Can't wait to see what unfolds.

What's next: The winner faces either Villanova or Maine in the second round

Inside Virginia
Inside Old Dominion


Richmond (18-13) at Stetson (23-7), 7 p.m.
Given how Spiders coach Michael Shafer has taken every opportunity to express how much he loves coaching this team - and how much the players have appeared to truly enjoy leaning on and being around each other - we're happy these guys are in this tournament if for no other reason than they get to keep this thing together for as long as possible. As for their on-the-court prospects, well, Richmond might be preparing for that other tournament were it not for several painfully close losses to quality teams (overtime setbacks to three of the top four teams in the Atlantic 10, then a one-point loss to No. 4 Fordham in the league tournament). Given their RPI (54), it seems safe to count these Hatters as yet another quality foe.  So no one should be surprised if the Spiders find themselves in yet another could-go-either-way affair in the final minute. Can Richmond make the one or two late-game plays necessary to get over the hump this time?

What's next: The winner faces either Youngstown State or Duquesne in the second round.

Inside Richmond

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