Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is your team going to the NCAA tournament?

We've always had at least one; we've had as many as five.

But in 2016, will we have any?

Since the NCAA tournament began in 1982, the state of Virginia has been represented by at least one team, and in 2003 and 2005, the Commonwealth sent five.

A year ago, James Madison and Liberty were the lone two teams from Virginia to advance to the NCAA tournament. In 2010, the Dukes, Liberty, Hampton and Virginia -- the last program to receive an at-large berth from the state were tourney bound.

In theory, each of the state's 13 teams could qualify for the NCAAs by winning their conference tournaments. Barring that, we feel that only four Virginia schools have even an outside chance of nabbing an at-large bid. Virginia schools have gone five years without receiving an at-large bid. Based on what our teams have done so far, that streak is likely to continue in 2016.

Here's our thinking on what's going to happen as we approach postseason:

James Madison: As gaudy as that No. 35 RPI is, as impressed as we are with Kenny Brooks' crew racking up wins minus the injured Precious Hall and for much of the season, Ashley Perez, the Dukes know this drill. The selection committee heavily favors Power 5 teams at the expense of everybody else. A year ago, a JMU team with a resume more impressive than this one would not have gone dancing had it fallen in the CAA tournament. We feel safe in saying a stumble at The Show Place Arena would punch the Dukes' ticket to the WNIT.

VCU: With a 19-8 record, three Top-50 RPI wins (Arizona State, St. Bonaventure, George Washington) and a fourth victory over RPI Top 60 Dayton, the Rams would appear to have a sneaky-strong case for an at-large bid. Four losses to teams outside the Top 100 will hurt, though. Also, the Rams' RPI of 81 is just the sixth-highest in the Atlantic 10. So despite their resume, it looks like the Rams will need to win the A-10 tournament to reach the NCAAs. The good news is this team has proven it's capable of doing just that.

Virginia Tech: Yes, the Hokies won at Tennessee. But with the Lady Vols not at their usual standard, that victory doesn't mean as much as it normally would And frankly, that's pretty much all Tech has done, at least in terms of NCAA tournament viability. Twelve of the Hokies' 15 victories are against teams outside the RPI Top 125. The Hokies had a memorable ACC tournament run last season; they'll need an even better one this time to even draw the selection committee's attention.

Virginia: The Cavaliers (15-13) were building a solid NCAA case until star guard Faith Randolph went down with a thumb injury. Virginia went 1-6 in her absence and now finds itself scrambling to even be WNIT-eligible (.500 record or better). A victory in either of the Cavaliers' last two games should take care of that, and with Randolph now back, Virginia could give itself a puncher's chance of an NCAA at-large bid with a spectacular showing at the ACC tourney. But as is the case with Virginia Tech, it'll need to be really spectacular.

Hampton: The Lady Pirates were stunned a year ago in the first round of the MEAC tournament, but won the conference for five straight seasons prior. With three losses in the conference this season, we don't feel Hampton is a shoo-in for the conference title anymore, but they are likely to nab the No. 1 seed given their remaining schedule (which would give them an automatic bid to the WNIT if they were upset in the MEAC tourney). The losses to Coppin and Howard, in particular, make them vulnerable, but it's no doubt they're a legitimate contender.
Liberty: Hard to count out a program that owns the Big South tournament, winning it 16 of the last 19 seasons. The regular-season title is a long shot; the Lady Flames are two games behind UNC Asheville with four games to play. But on tournament pedigree alone, few would be surprised if they go on another championship run.

Everybody else: Like always under Karen Barefoot, Old Dominion's best ball is coming at the right time. But we like their chances better if they can nab one of the four first-round byes to the Conference USA tournament. . . . What once was a promising season for William & Mary came to a halt when the Tribe lost starter Abby Rendle, one day after she recorded the program's first triple-double. . . . Despite the toll of the injury bug, Radford (14-12) could make some noise in the Big South tournament. . . . Richmond (12-15), George Mason (11-16), Longwood (6-20) and Norfolk State (2-21) would need something extra special to be alive after their conference tournaments end.

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