March 18, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
There is nowhere MaChelle Joseph would rather be today than coaching her team in the NCAA Tournament, which she’s doing for a school-record fifth straight year.
There is room to be picky, however, and earlier this week Joseph had a bone to pick with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. It was a big bone.
Location matters, and the proximity of opponents is a big deal as well.
Having grown up in Columbus, Ohio, I’d love to be there today for several reasons. Joseph would rather be playing at any other tournament site, and for solid reasons. The Yellow Jackets, seeded higher than ever in program history at No. 5, today will play No. 12 Bowling Green (my alma mater).
That’s not fair to Tech.
Before you counter with the argument that the Falcons (28-4) are merely champions of the Mid American Conference, it is essential to note that BGSU is exactly two hours from Columbus and in Ohio. This will be somewhat like a home game for a team that already has a distinct edge – five seniors.
That’s no reward for Tech (23-10), which played a stiff schedule, fared well in the nation’s most competitive conference, and then beat 13th-ranked Maryland in the ACC Tournament before falling to eventual champion Duke in the semifinals.
I get the committee’s attempt to send some teams to locations that might boost attendance, but who can explain the notion of doing that at the expense of teams whose reward for their body of work should be greater?
Should the Jackets prevail today, and they’ll likely have to work harder than you might predict to do that, there is a strong possibility that they’ll face Ohio State – host of Tech’s sub-regional – in the second round.
Don’t be fooled by Ohio State’s 22-9 record.
The Buckeyes began the season as a top 10 team and their entire starting lineup was back. But when they were pummeled by UConn, they went into a tremendous and lazy funk.
A team that had won six straight Big 10 regular season titles at one point was 13-9 before players met and threw down a gauntlet – to themselves.
The Buckeyes have rolled everybody since, including two wins over Big 10 regular season champ Michigan State. Jantel Lavender is one of the best post players in America, and senior point guard Samantha Prahalis is top shelf as well.
How did this happen?
“I think that’s a question for the committee,” Joseph said. “I have no idea how you can play the No. 16 strength of schedule and have a No. 18 RPI and the reward you get is to go to Ohio and play a team that has won 28 games and is two hours away. “And by the way, if you win you get to play Ohio State on their home floor.” There are other examples of this.
Oklahoma is a No. 6 seed, and the Sooners get to play James Madison, a Virginia school and No. 11 seed, in Charlottesville, Va. Does that make sense?
On the flip side, North Carolina is — like Tech — a No. 5 seed, but the Tar Heels – whom Tech beat twice this season – are playing at a truly neutral site. They’re in Albuquerque, N.M., where they’ll play Fresno State. If UNC wins, the Heels will play the winner of a game between Kentucky and Hampton (Va.).
In seasons past, “we had some bad losses, and our strength of schedule was not what it needed to be, but we corrected these things. We have no bad losses. We beat four top 20 teams,” Joseph said. “[The Falcons] have one win against a top 25; we have four, and three were in February.”
Obviously, after a day or so early this week it became counter-productive for Joseph to continue spending time fretting about all of this. So she stopped. She went recruiting, and she coached.
She feels good about today’s prospects, and is of the belief that even if the committee did not sufficiently reward her team for its schedule and body of work, her squad can reward itself.
“We’re way different than first time in tournament. We have seven kids that have played [in NCAA tournaments],” the coach said. “One other thing that comes into play is . . . `Who have you played, what have you overcome?’ [Players] have been great. They’re all on the same page with this.
“We’ve been trying to earn respect for our program all year. We feel like we’ve been dealt a bad hand, but all season we’ve worked with the idea it’s not what hand you’re dealt but how you deal with it.”