ACC gets respect with six bids in women's tourney Record number is 1 short of SEC total

N.C. gets league's 1st No. 1 in 5 years

March 10, 1997|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Aretha Franklin sang for it, but after years of screaming, women's basketball coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference think they've finally earned respect the hard way. For years, ACC coaches have complained that their conference has been short-changed come NCAA tournament time, failing to receive a number of bids commensuratewith the level of play in the league.

However, when the field of 64 teams to this year's women's tournament was announced last night, the ACC had received a record six bids, just one behind the Southeastern Conference, recognized as the leading women's basketball conference.

In addition to a record number of selections, the league got its first No. 1 seed in five years, as North Carolina, the regular-season and tournament champion, grabbed the top slot in the East. Virginia, the regular-season runner-up, got the No. 4 seed in the West, and Clemson, the ACC tournament second-place finisher, is the fifth seed in the Mideast. Duke and North Carolina State are the fifth and eighth seeds, respectively, in the Midwest.

"North Carolina got a No. 1 seed and that's the first one since Virginia's Final Four teams. That was a pretty good statement about the strength of our conference," said Clemson coach Jim Davis.

The Big 12 also received six bids, while the Big 10, Pac-10 and Conference USA each received five invitations. No other league received more than two bids.

The SEC failed to get a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1985, while defending champion Tennessee, which this week fell out of the Top 10 for the first time since 1985, also didn't get a No. 1, a first since 1987, when the Vols rode a No. 2 seed to the national championship.

Besides North Carolina, which likely locked up a No. 1 when Georgia was knocked out of the SEC tournament in the quarterfinals, the other top seeds went as expected.

Connecticut (30-0), the top seed in the Midwest, will attempt to duplicate its feat from two years ago, when it entered the tournament unbeaten and won the championship. Old Dominion (29-1), the No. 1 seed in the Mideast and a three-time national champion, swept through the Colonial Athletic Association to get its first top seed in 12 years. Stanford (30-1), which like Connecticut has reached the last two Final Fours, received its fifth top seed in the West in the last seven years.

"It's a very competitive field, the strongest we've ever had. Since we expanded the field to 64 teams, a lot of programs have improved their programs," said Jean Lenti-Ponsetto, the senior women's administrator at DePaul and chair of the selection committee. "There were a solid 25 or 30 more teams to talk about this year. We have always been done by Sunday morning, but this year we didn't get done until 3 p.m. We had a lot more deliberation and a lot more discussion than we ever had."

Nine teams are making their first appearance in the tournament. Seven teams with 20 wins, including Navy, the Patriot League regular-season winner, failed to receive invitations.

The most controversial omission was Arkansas, which was left out of the field despite going 18-10, 5-7 in the SEC after being ranked for 15 of 16 weeks and finishing with an RPI ranking of 43. However, Lenti-Ponsetto said the Razorbacks didn't do well enough in the league to compensate for a slight non-conference schedule.

The top four seeds in each region receive the chance to play host to a subregional, with first- and second- round games at a site. However, because Tulane, the fourth seed in the East, plays in a building that does not seat at least 4,000, the tournament committee awarded a home site to fifth seed George Washington.

North Carolina became the third school awarded a No. 1 seed after missing the previous year's tournament. That happened with Ohio State in 1993 and Purdue in 1994.

The brackets are arranged so there will be at least two new faces in the Final Four, which has had Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Georgia for two straight years.

A mild surprise was Colorado, not in the Top 25 but the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. The Buffaloes won their final six games and claimed the title in the first Big 12 tournament.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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