It’s that time of year again, when just about everybody is glued to a television.
In the words of Dick Vitale: “It’s March Madness, baby.”
With the NCAA expanding the field of teams from 65 to 68, there was sure to be controversy over which teams were picked to dance.
For the USC men’s basketball team, a tough non-conference schedule included wins over then-No. 9 Texas at home, then-No. 19 Tennessee on the road, and quality wins during the Pac-10 season over UCLA and then-No. 16 Arizona at home, and Washington on the road.
If there is ever such a thing as a good loss, the Trojans even took then-No. 3 Kansas to the wire, losing in the closing seconds at Allen Fieldhouse 70-68.
But, like most people figured, USC was not assured of an at-large bid.
Selection Sunday, however, certainly created a lot of buzz when it came around.
USC was chosen as one of the teams lucky enough to receive another shot at making the field of 64. Its opponent: the Virginia Commonwealth Rams.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas chastised the NCAA selection committee for choosing VCU for a play-in game, but the Rams defeated the Trojans and have now danced their way to the Sweet 16, upsetting No. 6 seed Georgetown and No. 3 seed Purdue.
Although the Trojans lost the play-in game, at least they had one last chance to prove they were worthy of playing among the best teams in the nation.
On the flip side, the USC women’s basketball team ended the regular season with a similar résumé.
The Women of Troy’s tough non-conference schedule included wins over then-No. 22 Gonzaga, then-No. 17 Georgia Tech and Fresno State. All three teams received bids to the tournament.
USC went to the wire with then-No. 4 Xavier on the road, losing by three points, (Xavier also made the NCAA tournament) and played Princeton, then-No. 9 UCLA, then-No. 1 Stanford and Arizona State tough at home. All four schools made the Big Dance, as well.
But it got me thinking: What if the NCAA expanded the field of teams for the women’s game as well?
What if the USC women’s basketball team had one more opportunity to prove themselves?
After all, it’s only fair the women get the same chance as their male counterparts.
I’m thinking if the Women of Troy received a similar invitation to compete in the play-in game, they could have certainly made some noise in the tournament.
Their non-conference schedule showed they can hang with just about any team in the nation if they play to their abilities.
Their strength of schedule ranked 25th in the nation, according to CollegeRPI.com.
And you can certainly make the argument they were deserving of a bid compared to other teams who received tickets to the Big Dance (Arizona State, Vanderbilt, Dayton).
After covering the women’s basketball team last year and for part of this year, I know the team is more than capable of competing with the best teams.
Even though they did not receive an at-large bid, the Women of Troy accepted an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
Now, they are certainly showing why they deserved a ticket to the Big Dance this season.
A narrow win over UC Santa Barbara at the Galen Center, a convincing victory over Nevada in Reno and a 62-50 win over BYU in Provo has catapulted the team into the Elite Eight of the WNIT for the first time in the program’s history.
Although the WNIT might not be recognized as much as the NCAA tournament, USC is still playing for a championship.
But more than playing for a championship, they are playing each game with something to prove.
“Coming that close to making the NCAA tournament is a bummer,” said sophomore forward Christina Marinacci. “But my mindset is … [to try] and win the whole thing, and show the committee that we deserved to play in the NCAAs.”
With the Women of Troy three wins away from a WNIT title, imagine if they had gotten just one more shot to prove themselves.
Their play in the regular season proved it, their play in the WNIT has proved it thus far and expanding the women’s field from 64 teams to 68 teams would have given them another shot to prove they belong with the best teams in the nation.
It’s March Madness, when ordinary players become heroes and when teams become Cinderella stories.
Give the Women of Troy one more chance and their dreams might come true.
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