How much will two late-season blowout losses cost the Penn State women’s basketball team?
The Lady Lions and their fans will find out between 7 and 8 p.m. Monday when the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced on ESPN.
Throughout the regular-season, Penn State (22-7) had been rated as a solid No. 3 seed and a borderline No. 2 selection.
And while the Lady Lions did secure their third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title, sharing the crown with Michigan State, they sputtered down the stretch and that could affect their seeding.
First came a 94-74 loss at Nebraska in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The Cornhuskers blitzed the Lady Lions’ zone, nailing 16 of 22 3-point attempts.
Following a 77-62 win over Michigan, the Lady Lions faced an Ohio State team, which had averaged 48 points in two regular-season losses to Penn State, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes scored 58 in the first half, sinking 10 of 14 3-pointers, and set a conference tournament scoring record in a 99-82 romp.
While the Nebraska loss hurt, the defeat against Ohio State, a team the Lady Lions had blown out by 20 or more in the two regular-season meetings, was more damaging.
Following that loss, the Lady Lions dropped to a No. 4 seed on ESPN analyst Charlie Creme’s NCAA bracket predictions. They would face a No. 13 seed in the opening round if that holds.
Penn State dropped to No. 15 in RealTimeRPI.com’s rankings and down two spots to 12th in the NCAA’s RPI rankings.
While those numbers hurt, the Lady Lions do have a couple of numbers in their favor. Their strength of schedule is rated eighth-best in the country by RealTimeRPI.com. They also were competitive against No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Notre Dame, which hasn’t happened often with the only two unbeaten teams in the country.
How will it all shake out for the NCAA Selection Committee?
In years past, the committee seemed to place emphasis on the late season results, especially the conference tournaments.
Last season, the Lady Lions (24-4 during the regular season) appeared in line for a No. 2 seed but fell in the Big Ten semifinals and got a No. 3. Where the opening round games were to be played also had some influence on the seeding process, too.
While you wouldn’t think being a No. 3 or a No. 4 is that big a deal, it is in women’s basketball.
If the brackets go to form, the No. 3 will get a shot at the No. 2 seed in the Sweet 16 and usually those teams are pretty compatible. The No. 4 seed gets a No. 1 in the Sweet 16.
Usually there’s a big separation between the top seeds and the rest of the field. Certainly, there’s a huge chasm between defending champion UConn and Notre Dame from the rest of the competition and both of those teams are guaranteed No. 1 seeds.
The good news for the Lady Lions is that wherever they’re seeded they know they have the opportunity to play their first two NCAA games at home. The Bryce Jordan Center serves as the host site for the two opening rounds, with games Sunday at 12:30 and 3 p.m. and a second-round game on March 25 at 7 p.m.
The past two seasons, the Lady Lions traveled to Baton Rouge, La., with mixed results. They beat LSU on its home floor in 2012, but were upset last season.
Following the Big Ten loss to the Buckeyes, Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington downplayed the importance of seeding.
“Whatever our NCAA seeding is, we’ll take it,” she said. “Once you get past the first round, anything can happen. You’ve got to play good teams. It doesn’t matter what your seed is.”