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Mike Lopresti | | February 10, 2022

11 women's basketball teams that could finally end NCAA tournament droughts this March

Women's basketball rankings: Michigan soars, Tennessee falls in Power 10

March, the name is opportunity in women’s college basketball. And not just for the glittering names; not just for South Carolina to run the table or Stanford to repeat. Who knows what might happen when Connecticut loses to a conference opponent for the first time in 3,256 days? We’ve had three U.S. Presidents since that last happened.
The current conference standings suggest there is the chance for a number of programs that have been waiting a long time — or even forever — to win league tournaments and grab an automatic berth. Consider some of the present leaders.
Rhode Island, a program with one NCAA tournament appearance and that was 26 years ago . . .
The 19-3 Rams are 9-0 in the Atlantic 10 and have won 12 games in a row. They recently crunched La Salle with a 40-2 advantage in points in the paint. Coach Tammi Reiss has an interesting resume that includes everything from the WNBA to owner of a personal training business to credits as a film and television actress. Now she’d like to add NCAA tournament coach to that.

“It’s just playing together and playing hard,” she told reporters after Rhode Island’s latest win.  “Knowing we want to win and want to be champions. You combine the work ethic with the habits and that kind of mentality — this is what it leads to.”

MARCH MADNESS: Women's selection show date, tournament schedule 
More will be known about Rhode Island’s chances soon. Third-place Fordham, at 16-5, is next, then Dayton. The Flyers are 10-0 in the league and have won 13 consecutive games. The two teams with the second and third longest winning streaks in the nation will meet twice in the next two weeks. Keep padding its resume, and Rhode Island could be in line for an at-large spot.
Campbell, who hasn’t been in the NCAA tournament in 22 years, and South Carolina Upstate, who has never played in it . . .
The Big South has two hungry teams at the top. Campbell leads the league at 11-2 with South Carolina Upstate at 10-2. They’ve played once and South Carolina Upstate won by 19 points.
IUPUI, whose first trip ever to the NCAA tournament was scuttled by the pandemic in 2020, and Youngstown State, who hasn’t been there in 22 years . . . 
Both are atop the Horizon League at 13-3. IUPUI upset Iowa and took Michigan to overtime. Post player Macee Williams has a chance to be a four-time Horizon League player of the year, an absolute rarity at any level regardless of gender. This might be the Jaguars’ time. Then again, Youngstown State has waited a long time and took IUPUI to overtime before losing. They’ll meet in Indianapolis later in the month, and then maybe again in the conference tournament. That would be in Indianapolis, too.
Fairfield, not seen in the NCAA tournament since 2001 . . . 

If the regular season is an indicator, the Stags will be hard to stop in the Metro Atlantic conference tournament. Their 12-1 conference record — the program’s best in 31 years — is three games ahead of second place. An NCAA berth would be a swell parting gift for Joe Frager, the 15-year coach who has announced he is retiring after this season because of health reasons.

RANKINGS: Power 10 | AP Poll

Norfolk State, last in the NCAA tournament 20 years ago . . .
The Spartans are 6-0 in the MEAC, with five of the wins by double digits. Guard Camille Downs has either been MEAC player of the week or defensive player of the week five times this season.
UNLV, not in the NCAA tournament in two decades  . . .

The Lady Rebels are 18-4 and 10-1 to lead the Mountain West. It’s an interesting roster. There’s leading scorer Desi-Rae Young, a Las Vegas native daughter who got only two college scholarship offers . . . second leading scorer Essence Booker who is in pre-nursing . . . starting forward Khayla Rooks, who is a graduate student in cybersecurity and daughter of the late NBA veteran Sean Rooks, lost to heart disease at 46. Right behind UNLV in the Mountain West at 10-2 is New Mexico, and the Lobos have gone 13 years without an NCAA bid. They’ve met twice this season and each home team won close games.
Southeastern Louisiana, without a past NCAA appearance in its history . . . 

The Lady Lions are 7-0 in the Southland, holding six of the opponents to 58 points or under. They are in first place without one player averaging in double figures. One of the program’s claims to fame is No. 7 on the career scoring list: Renowned broadcaster Robin Roberts.
PREDICTIONS: What a title would mean for each of the top 12 women's teams

Boston University, with one NCAA tournament spot in its history and that was 19 years ago . . .
The Terriers are 10-2 in the Patriot League, with new coach Melissa Graves starting her career 6-0 in league games. They’re tied for the lead with Holy Cross, whose last tournament bid was 2007.
Fairleigh Dickinson, who has never gotten past the door of the NCAA tournament . . .

That might be about to change. The Knights are 11-1 in the Northeast, their best NEC mark in school history. Second place is three games back. They won the conference tournament in 1990 and 1992, but the league had no automatic bid then. This March could be a landmark month for the program. And for lots of others who have had to wait.

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