For local college basketball fans lamenting the lack of Washington area men’s programs in the NCAA tournament, women’s teams from across the region will offer plenty to root for. Maryland, Virginia, George Washington and American will all be waiting Monday evening to see where they land in this year’s bracket.
The area’s heavyweight, Maryland (25-7), is projected to receive a No. 4 or No. 5 seed after absorbing four Big Ten regular season losses — one more than its total over the previous three seasons since joining the league. The strength of Maryland’s schedule is undeniable. The Terrapins played defending national champion South Carolina at home and Connecticut, winner of the previous four titles, on the road in the nonconference slate, two losses that nonetheless helped place Maryland at 17th in the Rating Percentage Index entering the weekend.
But so good were the Big 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences that Maryland would have likely needed to win the Big Ten tournament title to have a chance at sneaking into one of the top three seeds.
The Terps lost the tournament championship game to Ohio State, which is projected as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed by most analysts.
It is likely to be the first time since Maryland earned a No. 4 seed in 2014 that Coach Brenda Frese’s program won’t occupy one of the top three seeds.
That’s not entirely an unexpected outcome for the Terps, who knew this would be a bit of a transition year after three players transferred at the end of last season. On top of that, second-leading scorer Blair Watson tore her anterior cruciate ligament in January. And a No. 4 or a No. 5 seed isn’t exactly a bad position.
But Frese, who will make her eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this month, holds her team to a high standard.
“It’s a healthy perspective to have as a coach,” Frese said, when asked if she cuts her team any slack for winning 25 games with essentially a seven-woman rotation. “But we’re going to continue to push them to standards that we know, that we want to push them to, that they’re going to be . . . the perspective, for them, comes after the season and everything that they accomplished.”
Maryland’s players, for their part, are hoping to head into March a more seasoned team. A pair of starters, freshman point guard Channise Lewis and junior forward Eleanna Christinaki, a transfer, had their first postseason experience with Maryland at the Big Ten tournament.
“We grew up overnight, and just taking that into March, we know we have that in us,” said Kristen Confroy, one of just two seniors on the roster. “We should have that confidence moving forward against whoever we play.”
In the District, American (26-6) earned an automatic bid by defeating visiting Navy, 58-49, in the Patriot League tournament final on Sunday. The Eagles boast a program record for victories in a season and are in the NCAA tournament for the second time in team history — but the second time in four years.
George Washington joins the crosstown Eagles in the bracket after it earned an automatic bid with its third Atlantic 10 tournament title in the past four seasons. George Washington (19-13) beat George Mason and upset top-seeded Dayton on its way to the tournament championship game, a 65-49 win over Saint Joseph’s.
A couple of hours south of Maryland, Virginia is expected to earn an at-large berth for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010 under seventh-year Coach Joanne Boyle. The Cavaliers (18-13) enter the tournament on the strength of a 10-6 record in ACC play, the team’s first season of at least 10 conference wins since 1999-2000, when Virginia captured the regular season title under Debbie Ryan.
The Cavaliers have some regrouping to do after a thorny end to the regular season and a challenging ACC tournament. Virginia lost six of its last nine games, but five of those losses — including a defeat at the hands of No. 5 Notre Dame in the ACC tournament quarterfinals for the second year in a row — came against ranked teams. The upside of Virginia’s tough schedule is that the team ended 31st in RPI.
More college basketball:
Tonight, 7 p.m., ESPN