The first thing Joe McKeown did after his team’s 67-64 upset loss to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament last week was campaign for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. McKeown recited a laundry list of reasons why his Colonial women are worthy of an invite: a 20-win season, 15-2 conference record, national schedule and a nine-year tradition of NCAA Tournament appearances. This, he said, should outweigh one unexpected loss.
On Sunday, a selection committee on ESPN will announce 33 remaining invitations to the NCAA Tournament. Thirty-one teams enter the tournament with automatic bids from winning their respective conference tournaments. With hopes for an automatic berth out the window, the Colonials must rely on strangers to get to the tournament.
“When you have a 16-game season and you’re the champion of that, to me that should weigh more than winning a three-day tournament,” McKeown said in Saturday post-game press conference. Should it?
Look at the University of Tennessee. They were upset by an unranked team in the Southern Conference Tournament with an 81-80 loss to Louisiana State University the same day the Colonials lost it in Philly, and the Lady Vols certainly won’t be left dateless come prom night.
But, McKeown’s plea is flawed in one important respect. He claims the consistency of the season should outweigh a single performance, but that’s just what the NCAA is: single national teams, single elimination, high tension, clutch playing. The tournament loss, against a team GW pounded by 22 points earlier in the season, proved that this year the Colonials don’t fit.
GW (20-8) became the first No. 1 seed in 10 years to lose its opening round game in the A-10 Tournament. While the Colonials tore up their mediocre conference, they suffered against ranked teams, losing to Tennessee and North Carolina State. They had a dismal pre-conference season, losing four of their first six including heartbreakers to Georgetown and George Mason. Because of unfortunate injuries, they faltered at the end. The Colonials only real hope was to use its last chance, the A-10 Tournament, to prove they could step it up and win in clutch situations.
True, in a lot of cases – Tennessee, University of North Carolina, Boston Colege – a “fluke” in a three-day tournament should not determine a good team’s success. But for bubble teams like GW, clutch wins are their only chance to the Big Dance.