By Charles Hallman
Even before the bids were announced Sunday afternoon, nonstop talk about this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament began and continues on both television and radio. However, barely an hour, plus a second on another channel, was devoted to the 2011 NCAA women’s team selections on Monday, nearly 24 hours after the men’s bids became public.
NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Selection Committee Chair Marilyn McNeil was asked about this “overt neglect” by the mainstream media during a nearly one-hour post-bracket teleconference held immediately after the 64 women’s team field was announced Monday night. The MSR was among the handful of reporters who participated in the call.
“We need our advocates, and need them on every avenue” to better promote the women’s tourney, admitted McNeil. “The more people talk about us, the better… We don’t have to apologize for our tournament… Our game is at a great place. I’m hoping that the game will find its rightful place… Maybe we can get the women’s tournament number one in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.”
Five Big Ten teams made this year’s field — regular season champ Michigan State, tourney champ Ohio State, and tourney runners-up Penn State, Iowa and Purdue — along with two HBCUs, Prairie View and Hampton, and Middle Tennessee State (where recently one of its players was allegedly killed by her college roommate).
“Middle [Tennessee] State was considered like any other team in the field,” McNeil pointed out. “We look at their body of work, studied it, and we all considered what they had done on the floor over the entire season. At the end, they were selected as one of the  best at-large teams in the country.”
Along with strength of schedule, a team’s on-court play in their last 12 games is among the “weighing” factors the committee considers, explained McNeil. “Out-of-conference schedule is important, but is it the most important thing? It may be for some but not for all of the committee. That is why it is good to have 10 people on the committee and why we go to a committee vote.”
Selecting this year’s field wasn’t easy, said the committee chair. “There was one decision [on a particular team]… We actually took seven votes just to make sure that all the arguments were heard,” McNeil disclosed. “It was a long, arduous process, but all those teams deserve to be there.”
Furthermore, unlike the men, the 10-person women’s selection committee’s main “principle” is to place teams as close to their on-campus locations as possible. “One of the reasons why that principle really does exist is…to have our student-athletes play in front of great audiences,” claimed McNeil. “They themselves have said that they want to play in front of packed arenas and in front of enthusiastic fans.”
As a result, Connecticut plays their first-round match at home, as does Maryland, Tennessee, Duke, Penn State and Stanford, among others this weekend. “So, when we put teams into the brackets, we do put them into their closest geographical region in order to have that happen,” said the committee chair.
This year’s NCAA men’s tourney expanded to 68 teams; the MSR asked if there will be any plans to do the same for the women. “Right now we are excited about our 64-team tournament,” said McNeil. “Bracket expansion is something that the committee has talked about a lot.”
And as with the men, some women’s teams that thought they were in didn’t make the field. “Too many of them were very close, a matter of maybe one or two more wins, or one or two different scheduling decisions. It’s a goal worth striving for to get there next year. I don’t think anybody should be down on themselves for being close [to getting a bid],” suggested McNeil.
After selecting the field Monday, she concluded of the selection process, “We had a long four days, but I think we have a terrific bracket. We actually started our work last November and spent our time watching over 1,500 games since then. I think we are as excited as the 64 coaches, teams, and over 1,000 student-athletes at the schools they represent. We think we’ve found the best 64 teams for this tournament.
“It’s going to be exciting — let the games begin.”
When asked last week how diverse the women’s selection committee was, McNeil said, “We do have diverse representation.” However, during Monday’s ESPN selection show, only one Black was shown during a brief video of the 10-person group.
At the Gophers’ women basketball team banquet Sunday, junior Kiera Buford was named most valuable player and coaches’ award winner, and senior China Antoine was named the team’s best defensive player.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.