The Penn State women’s basketball team has known pretty much from the start of the season that it would be taking at least one trip this March.
The big question has been the destination.
That query finally will be answered Monday night when the Selection Committee reveals the brackets and the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Like so many other players around the country, the Lady Lions will crowd around a rather large TV set at 7 p.m. to watch as ESPN announces the brackets.
While the Lady Lions (25-5) tumbled to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament a little more than a week ago, they figure to be one of the top seeded teams in the Big Dance.
Most prognosticators agree that the top four seeds are set. Defending national champion Baylor (32-1), Notre Dame (31-1), Connecticut (29-4) and Stanford (32-2) are consensus No. 1 seeds, with Duke (30-2) heading the list of No. 2 seeds.
So where does Penn State fit in?
“When you look across the board, I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting NCAA Tournament,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said prior to the Big Ten Tournament. “Once you get past the top three or four teams, it’s pretty competitive. Where we stand in that mix, it’s up for the committee to decide. “
While there were a few hiccups (losses at Wisconsin and Minnesota and the tournament loss to the Spartans), Penn State has built a solid résumé worthy of a No. 2 seed.
In addition to winning their second consecutive Big Ten regular-season crown, the Lady Lions went 6-1 against ranked teams, with the only loss being at Connecticut. According to RealTime RPI, Penn State played the nation’s ninth-toughest schedule. The Big Ten was rated the No. 2 league in RPI.
Penn State, ranked among the Top 10 all season, is No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. The Lady Lions are even better in RPI, ranked sixth.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good year,” Washington said. “Our RPI numbers and win-loss numbers are good. We’ve played quality competition and have been successful. Hopefully, they will be positive factors when they start discussing seeding.”
Most prognosticators have Penn State as a No. 2 and it’s hard to see the Lady Lions dropping past a No. 3.
Knowing that makes it a little easier to project where Penn State will see its name Monday night.
Unlike the NCAA Men’s Tournament, in which all games are played at neutral sites and attended well, the women’s tourney opens at home sites, usually in places where the teams are good and the attendance is solid.
The tricky part for the Selection Committee is seeding because many of the 16 first- and second-round sites will be hosted by high seeds.
That narrows Penn State’s options and here’s one man’s guess as to where the journey leads.
If they are a No. 2 or 3 seed, the Lady Lions definitely won’t play at Baylor, Connecticut, Stanford, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Duke and Maryland. Those teams will be seeded too high to match up with Penn State in the opening rounds. Delaware, Colorado and Louisville also are likely off the board.
That leaves just six sites — LSU, Gonzaga, Ohio State, St. John’s, Texas Tech and Iowa — as possible places for the Lady Lions to land.
We can even weed a couple of those six out. Since Notre Dame will be a No. 1 seed and is not hosting, the fairest thing is to put the Fighting Irish closer to home. Of those sites, Columbus, Ohio, is the only one remotely close to South Bend, Ind. That site is wide open since the Buckeyes, who finished ninth in the Big Ten, likely won’t make the NCAA field.
While it will be touch-and-go if Iowa makes the field, if the Hawkeyes do the NCAA will not send Penn State to play a Big Ten opponent on its home floor in the opening rounds.
That leaves us with LSU, St. John’s, Texas Tech and Gonzaga.
While it is possible, it’s hard seeing the Selection Committee sending Penn State back to Baton Rouge, La., two straight seasons. As a No. 4 seed last year, the Lady Lions defeated No. 13 UTEP and then No. 5 LSU at the Maravich Center.
It’s also difficult to see sending Penn State to Spokane, Wash., over teams that are much closer geographically.
That would leave two possible spots for Penn State. Truly if the NCAA wants to reward Penn State for its season, then the Lady Lions would be reserving a bus for St. John’s. The Red Flash (18-12) will be seeded around No. 10, which matches well with Penn State’s seeding.
If Queens is the destination, that gives the Lady Lions and their fans about a four-hour trip from home, depending on the New York traffic.
While all of this may seem feasible, you never know until the brackets are announced. Remember last season, all of the prognosticators had Penn State pencilled in as a No. 3 seed, but the Selection Committee dropped the Lady Lions to a No. 4 and sent them to Cajun Country.
While the numbers will be poured over before and after Monday’s broadcast, Washington is sure about a couple of things.
“What I do know is we’re not going to play at home,” she said. “We’re going to play somebody on the road and on their home court. We’re going to have to play some good teams in the NCAA Tournament.
“To me it doesn’t really matter what our seed is. We’ve got to be a team that’s ready to take that challenge of going on the road, going to hostile environments, going to play against good teams when the stakes are high and showing up and competing.”