Selection Monday has come and gone -- a huge day for a variety of women's basketball programs around the nation. Now nearly halfway through March Madness, we've seen some exciting wins and heart-breaking defeats.
The number of teams that still get to play the game we love at this point in the season has significantly dwindled, and thankfully, the University of South Dakota will be playing in the postseason. I'm fortunate enough to be a member of that team.
Yes, I realize it's South Dakota, and we may sound irrelevant from the start (some people out there still don't know there are actually two "Dakotas"). So if you're uninterested in hearing about what you think is "just another mid-major school," carry on with your day.
However, if you appreciate great basketball, please continue reading.
At USD, we had quite the year. We're 26-6 at the moment, we went 15-1 in Summit League conference play, won the regular season conference championship for the second straight year. Our team is led by combo-guard, Nicole Seekamp, who is projected to be selected in this year's WNBA Draft by some mock drafts.
We're ranked 11th in the nation in scoring (78.7 ppg), tied for 7th in total assists (570), tied for 8th in assists per game (17.8), ranked 10th in rebounding margin (11.0) and ranked 11th in 3-point field goal percentage (37.4).
Additionally, we rank in the top 25 for assist to turnover ratio, field goal percentage, total rebounds, scoring margin, 3-point field goals made, and 3-point field goals per game (Source: NCAA.com).
These statistics, along with the fact that 12 players on our roster averaged, at least, nine minutes per game during the course of the season, affirms that we play an exciting brand of team basketball -- something that fans love and that parents hope their young daughters can play one day. This can be attributed to the high-quality level of coaching.
If you haven't paid much attention to South Dakota, perhaps it's time to check out the basketball in this state. Not only us, but our rivals to the north -- South Dakota State University. Every time the USD Coyotes and the SDSU Jackrabbits face each other, it's a heated battle. These are two outstanding programs that contend for the Summit League title year in and year out.
This season, we swept the Jacks in the regular season for the first time in 26 years. As you can imagine, this set up for an exciting Summit League Tournament.
So exciting, in fact, that 8,627 people attended that championship game between the two schools this past Tuesday. That broke last year's record (another championship game played between USD and SDSU) by over 1,700 (last year's championship game attendance was 6,926).
Just to put that in perspective, here are the championship game attendance numbers for the Power Five conferences from this year:
Big Ten (Maryland vs. Michigan State): 5,109
Big 12 (Baylor vs. Texas): 3,859
ACC (Notre Dame vs. Syracuse): 5,017
SEC (South Carolina vs. Mississippi State): 6,549
Pac-12 (Oregon State vs. UCLA): 6,543
This isn't a fluke year for USD, and it's not a fluke year for SDSU, either. USD has been making a huge splash in the Summit League for five years now, and unfortunately, we don't have a ton to show for it.
In 2014, we were able to make a run after coming in as the 4th seed in the Summit League Tournament, winning the championship game and going dancing for the first time in school history. With that said, I've been on both sides of the "upset" when it comes to going to the NCAA tournament.
Back to this year -- we finished the regular season ranked third in ESPN's Mid-Major poll (FGCU at #1, Green Bay at #2, SDSU at #7) and 13th in the College Insider Mid-Major poll (SDSU at #12). After the pairings yesterday, SDSU earned a 12-seed and will face 5-seed, Miami (FL), in the Lexington Regional.
The ‘Yotes, however, weren't even in the conversation for the Big Dance.
You're telling me that after all the facts and numbers stated earlier; we can sweep this very talented SDSU team during a 16-game win streak; win our regular season conference championship; lose by a handful of points to the Jacks in the last few minutes of the Summit League Tournament championship after a 32-game season; and suddenly the Coyotes, a projected 13-seed in the NCAA tourney prior to the conference tournament, weren't even on the bubble?
I'm not saying that SDSU doesn't deserve to be in the tournament -- they do. Take a look at their résumé. They're currently 26-6 overall. They went 13-3 in regular season Summit League play.
In non-conference play, the Jacks had key wins over DePaul and Arkansas, and they led Maryland with five minutes to go in the game at a neutral site. They've earned their spot in the NCAA tournament.
What I am saying is that just because the Summit League isn't the largest conference, doesn't mean that only one school should be considered for the Big Dance. I know that goes for other mid-major conferences, as well.
What it really comes down to is, shouldn't three months of regular season play carry more weight than a three- or four-day tournament?
It seems like an simple question to answer, but the selection process still can get tricky. It would be easy to say, "Well, of course, the regular season champion should get the automatic bid!" However, where does the thrill of upsets in the conference tournaments come into play? What about the March Madness?
I think Jay Bilas has the best answer. A summary of his new system, as he explained on ESPN radio, is as follows:
- The tournament selection committee would meet prior to the conference tournaments and rank the top 68 at-large teams.
- Teams that win conference tournaments receive automatic bids. If that team is not one of the 68 teams, the lowest-ranked team in the field of 68 is knocked out.
Source: Business Insider
Bilas' proposal is elaborated here: http://www.businessinsider.com/jay-bilas-plan-to-fix-ncaa-tournament-2016-3. The article is worth the read, and it answers just about any question one could have regarding the proposed selection process.
Now, back to the present. As much as they are our rivals and as much as it stings to lose to a team in the tournament championship, I am happy for SDSU.
I sincerely hope they do well in the NCAA tournament. We are all basketball players playing the game we love, and these are exciting times we get to spend with our second family -- our teammates and coaches.
Perhaps SDSU's success will pave the way for change when similar situations to USD's arrive in the future. And of course, seeing a Summit League school do well on the national stage is always exciting.
March Madness is called March Madness for a reason -- some teams that shouldn't get in make it, some teams that should get in don't make it. It gives teams and fans some great memories and unforgettable stories, and like I said, I've been on both sides of it.
Though this wasn't our year to go dancing, one thing is for sure; I still get to wear that South Dakota jersey with my teammates, at least, one more time, and for that, I am thankful.