After the Nebraska women’s basketball team blitzed Penn State 94-74 Monday night, coach Connie Yori finally conceded she thought the Huskers were safely in the the NCAA tournament. I suspect NU crossed that threshold weeks ago with the big road win at Iowa, but Yori admitted she’s usually the last person on the planet to think Nebraska’s earned an invite to the Big Dance.
Now at 21-5 overall, Nebraska’s put itself in position for its highest seed in the NCAA tournament since the No. 1 seed in 2010. That’s not going to happen this year, but should the Huskers extend their eight-game winning streak two more games — which would include a win at Purdue — a No. 4 or No. 5 seed is likely. Extend it to 13 games — which would mean winning the Big Ten tournament, and No. 3/No. 2 seeds come into view.
Regardless of seed, the goal is to win two games at a subregional and get back to Lincoln for the Sweet 16. If Nebraska does that, the resulting home crowd advantage at Pinnacle Bank Arena would likely flatten out any seed advantage an opponent has. If NU can get to Lincoln, well, anything could happen. We’ll look at NU’s NCAA seed position this week and the next two weeks before Selection Sunday.
NCAA women’s basketball tournaments tend to be dominated by the No. 1 seeds — since 2006, 59 percent of the Final Four participants have been No. 1 seeds — so here’s a look at the likely top seeds for the 2014 tournament. It’s a very (very) good bet one of them makes it to Lincoln whether Nebraska does or not.
Connecticut (28-0) — Has beaten every team on its schedule by at least 11 points. Won at Maryland, Duke, Penn State and Baylor. Connecticut’s probably going to win the national title. (But people said the same about Baylor last year).
Notre Dame (27-0) — All the things UConn’s done, ND has done in the tougher ACC. The Irish and Huskies, long rivals in the old Big East, will be placed on opposite sides of the brackets. South Bend is one of the four regional sites, so ND will stay at home. You won’t see the Irish in Lincoln.
Stanford (26-2) — Pac-12 champs. The Cardinal lost at UConn and Washington. Stanford hosts a regional, so the Cardinal won’t be playing in Lincoln.
The remaining No. 1 seed could go to several teams:
South Carolina (25-2) — Prospective SEC champion that still has to play at Tennessee to end the season. The Gamecocks’ strength of schedule is much softer than the Lady Vols.
Tennessee (22-5) — A fierce strength of schedule would offset the loss column, especially if UT beats South Carolina and wins the SEC Tournament.
Duke (24-4) — The Blue Devils have a good enough resume — many good wins, plus losses to Notre Dame and UConn — but the team’s two top guards (Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones) are out for the year with knee injuries. Duke’s a No. 2 seed, and a beatable one at that.
Baylor (24-3) — The Big 12 champ. The Bears lost their only two tough non-conference games (133-130 to Kentucky and by 11 points to UConn) and the Big 12, while decent, isn’t the SEC or the ACC. It’s roughly as strong as the Big Ten, which may not produce anything better than a No. 3 seed.
Louisville (27-2) — Losses at Kentucky and UConn. The Cardinals host Connecticut in their regular-season finale. Louisville is also one of four regional sites, which presents the NCAA Tournament committee an interesting dilemma should South Carolina or Tennessee get the remaining No. 1 seed. Does the committee send UConn to a regional where it may play a team in the Elite Eight that it’s already faced two times (and perhaps three?) Or does it ship UConn to Lincoln?
If this were a men’s tournament, well, there isn’t any way the committee would pair two teams like UConn and Louisville together — especially if the No. 1 seed had whipped the No. 2 seed all year. If Louisville grabs the fourth No. 1 seed, it’s nearly a lock that UConn is sent to Lincoln; there’s nowhere else for the Huskies to go, unless Stanford somehow slides to the two line. If Louisville is a No. 2, wouldn’t it make more sense to send Tennessee/South Carolina to Louisville and UConn to Lincoln? I think it would.
So now that we’ve established the whole circus could come to town, where might Nebraska land in a subregional?
We can cross the following regions off the list: Iowa City (Iowa), West Lafayette (Purdue) and University Park (Penn State). Nebraska’s not headed to Big Ten sites.
Also unlikely: Storrs (UConn), Toledo (Notre Dame), Chapel Hill (North Carolina), Los Angeles (Stanford). Nebraska’s advanced past the No. 8/No. 9 line, in my opinion, and I don’t see the Huskers heading back to UNC for a second time this year.
Ames (Iowa State) — The Cyclones are in the tournament for now and look to remain there. The seeding is another question. ISU could be anywhere from a No. 6 to a No. 12 depending on how it finishes its season. Nebraska and Iowa State had many epic Big 12 battles.
Baton Rouge (LSU) — The Tigers are middle of the pack in the SEC and fading fast with four straight losses.
College Park (Maryland) — This subregion looks like a possible spot. The Terrapins are one of the top four teams in the ACC, and look solid for a 3/4 seed.
College Station (Texas A&M) — The Aggies are tied for second in the SEC. Nebraska won at A&M in the NCAA tournament last year.
Durham (Duke) — The Blue Devils are an interesting case. Because of injuries, Duke could drop to a No. 3 despite having a No. 1 seed caliber resume. If Nebraska were a No. 6 — or perhaps even a No. 5 — this could be a fit.
Knoxville (Tennessee) — The Lady Vols will be a 1/2 seed. So Nebraska would have to drop a bit to a 7.
Lexington (Kentucky) — The Wildcats are 4/5 seed caliber. I could see Nebraska fitting here as a 4/5 seed.
Seattle (Washington) — The Huskies are not in the NCAA tournament as of now and short of pulling upsets at Stanford and Cal, they won’t be unless they win the Pac-12 tournament. So this looks like one of those “open” subregionals where any team could play. California could play there.
Waco (Baylor) — The Bears are a No. 2 seed at least, and, for now, Nebraska’s above that No. 7 line.
So, out of that bunch, I think College Park, College Station, Lexington, Seattle and maybe Ames are the most likely subregions. For now. Because things can change.
But after beating Penn State, anything can happen, too.