Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Respect for Marist Women in NCAA's

The Marist women's basketball team has all of this:

- An active 26-game winning streak, the longest in the country.

- A 30-2 overall record, fifth-best nationally. Only 32-1 UConn, 31-2 Tennessee, 31-2 Baylor and 32-1 Green Bay have better winning percentages.

- The nation's best defense in terms of points allowed (48.6).

- The nation's best turnover total (11.1 turnovers per game).

- Marist has now been to the NCAA tournament for six straight years and seven times in the last eight seasons.

And, then, there's this: A No. 10 seeding position in a 16-team bracket.

Does anyone else think that the Red Foxes got the proverbial short end of the stick here?

Marist plays its first-round game Saturday at 11:15 a.m. against 22-11 No. 7 seed Iowa State (22-11) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Good News? The weather will be great. Iowa State is 6-5 in its last 11 games and 10-8 in its last 18. It appears to be a winnable game.

Bad News? If Marist wins, it gets a No. 2 seed in Duke in the second round, and Duke will be playing on its home court.

Can you say "No Respect?" for Marist.

Marist is rated No. 17 nationally in the most-recent USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll.

Let's be honest. The ranking is based on achievement and not necessarily a placement of where Marist belongs among the best in the sport, discounting won-loss records.

In other words, Marist isn't the 17th-best team in the country in terms of overall talent or how it could compete with, say, the top 30 teams nationally. Based merely being voted No. 17 nationally Marist would be a No. 5 seed in a 16-team bracket, and that's too high. Marist isn't quite that good. But, neither does it deserve so low as a No. 10 seed.

On the other hand, had Marist drawn a more-deserved, say, No. 7 seeding position, it would be in the same bracket and, with a first-round victory, facing a No. 2 seed in the second round. Same scenario as it currently faces.

Let's examine why Marist was not seeded higher: The MAAC is as weak as your blogging hoopscribe can ever remember in more than two decades covering the conference.

So, playing 18 league games against poorly rated conference opponents dragged Marist's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) down to No. 50 of 343 Division teams nationally. The NCAA selection committee, which seeds teams, relies heavily on the RPIs, obviously a lot moreso than it does on the national Top 25 polls. So, a 50 RPI equates to a No. 12 seed. Marist got a No. 10, a little higher than its RPI would indicate.

Why is Marist's RPI so low? Because it is the only MAAC team with an RPI above No. 137. Loyola is next at 137, followed by Manhattan (173), Siena at (213) and Fairfield (231). The other five conference teams rank from No. 241 down to 338.

As a conference the MAAC is No. 23 of 31 leagues nationally this season. Those numbers come from Jerry Palm's computer approximation of the NCAA's RPI, which is traditionally within a spot or two for teams as the real thing. And, for conference ratings, it is usually exact.

The MAAC has never before had as low an RPI as it has this season, at least not since the NCAA started making its RPI numbers available to the public in 1999-00. Since then, the MAAC has been the No. 22 league nationally once (2004-05) and No. 21 once (last season0, and never worst than 19th nationally any other time.

Marist certainly won't have an easy path to an NCAA second-round contest. Iowa State, a member of the Big Ten, has been playing against top-level opponents all season. And the Cyclones are huge, with a front line of 6-foot-7 sophomore Anna Prins (9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), 6-3 freshman Helle Christofferson and 6-2 sophomore Chelsea Poppens (7.3 rebounds) up front. Its top player is a 6-1 senior guard, Kelsey Boyle (16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds).
Without having any real first-hand knowledge about Iowa State, it would appear that Marist would hold athletic/quickness advantages it would need to use to its advantage.

Plus, Marist head coach Brian Giorgis is a master at devising a game plan that negates an opponent's best players.

It should make for a terrific first-round game for the Red Foxes, and the game can be viewed on ESPN2.

But, the NCAA committee did Marist no favors by making it a No. 10 seed and sending it to Durham, N.C., where it would face one of the best teams nationally on its home court in a potential second-round contest.

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