NCAA women's tournament off to a strong start with its own madness

  • DePaul players  after defeating Marquette to claim the Big East women's tournament title. If the Blue Demons can advance into the second round and then knock off likely opponent No. 3 Iowa State, they will be able to return home to Wintrust Arena in the South Loop for a Sweet 16 appearance at the Chicago Regional.

    DePaul players after defeating Marquette to claim the Big East women's tournament title. If the Blue Demons can advance into the second round and then knock off likely opponent No. 3 Iowa State, they will be able to return home to Wintrust Arena in the South Loop for a Sweet 16 appearance at the Chicago Regional. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/22/2019 6:36 PM

It's March Madness, and fans of the two most iconic programs in women's college basketball are probably kind of, well, mad.

Fuming, maybe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When Connecticut gets a No. 2 seed and Tennessee barely makes the 64-team field, it must feel like what's up is down, and what's down is up.

Connecticut is not a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006.

I know, I know. Cry the Huskies a river, right?

But if you're a UConn fan and you see that your team is 31-2 and has lost to only Baylor (a No. 1 seed) and Louisville (a No. 1 seed) and has beaten Notre Dame (a No. 1 seed), you wonder what happened in that NCAA selection committee room.

And then there's Tennessee, which almost screwed up a nearly four decade long streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

The Lady Vols have been on a steady decline from the upper, upper crust since the death of coaching legend Pat Summitt in 2016. At 19-12 and in eighth place in the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee was one of the final four teams placed into the tournament.

A streak of 37 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances was on the line but Tennessee got the nod and its 38th appearance in a row due to five wins over Top 50 RPI teams.

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Still, you've got to think that Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick, a longtime assistant to Summitt, is on a very hot, hot seat in Knoxville.

Meanwhile, with Connecticut, Mississippi State supposedly had a strong enough showing in the SEC conference tournament to steal away that fourth No. 1 seed.

Plus, 16 games in the weak American Athletic Conference did Connecticut no favors with strength of schedule. You've got to think it drives Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma (and in turn all of UConn nation) nuts being in that conference. I'm sure he longs for the days of competing in the Big East, which used to be the best women's league in the country before it broke up about five years ago.

I think No. 11 Tennessee will be an early exit today in the first round against No. 6 UCLA while Connecticut will bow out in the Elite Eight to No. 1 Louisville, a team that it lost to at the end of January, 78-69.

Dancing again: While Tennessee struggled to keep its NCAA tournament streak alive, DePaul was a slam dunk. Having won the Big East tournament championship, the Blue Demons got an automatic bid for their 17th straight NCAA berth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

DePaul is now just one of five teams to reach the last 17 NCAA tournaments, joining Connecticut, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Stanford.

No. 6 DePaul, the only team in the women's tournament representing the state of Illinois, opens at 2:30 p.m. today in a first round game in Ames, Iowa against No. 11 Missouri State (ESPN2).

If the Blue Demons can advance into the second round and then knock off likely opponent No. 3 Iowa State, they will be able to return home to Wintrust Arena in the South Loop for a Sweet 16 appearance at the Chicago Regional.

"We're always excited that we're in," DePaul coach Doug Bruno told me Monday at his team's Selection Monday party. "I think we're in a good place right now. But I still think we can get better and we are getting better.

"Because we've done this so often, there becomes a tendency to take it for granted. Players, coaches, everybody. But it has to be re-done every year. It has to be understood that just because you go last year doesn't mean you'll go this year and I think that's a lesson our players learned this year.

"We were teetering when we came out of the blocks (in Big East league play), starting 1-2 in the Big East. That's not a good way to start, but our players bought in and became more focused on the details and I'm just thrilled about that."

Chicago dreamin':

To really fire up Sweet 16 ticket sales for next weekend, the best possible scenario for the Chicago Regional would be if these four "local" teams advance to Wintrust Arena: No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 5 Marquette and, of course, hometown team No. 6 DePaul.

I think Notre Dame is a shoe-in and Marquette and DePaul have a great chance to get there as well. Those three teams will likely be joined by No. 2 Stanford. That's a pretty talented and intriguing regional field.

For Chicago regional tickets, visit: depaulbluedemons.com or call (773) 325-SLAM.

Tickets begin at $20 for a single game and $37 for an all-session pass.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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