Tournament officials announced today the 16-team field that will compete in the 2015 Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The event, formatted to guarantee three games for each team, will be held in November, with matchups and game times to be released on June 16.
The WNIT field consists of: Alabama State (SWAC); Baylor (Big 12); Chattanooga (Southern); Dartmouth (Ivy); DePaul (Big East); Drexel (Colonial); Indiana (Big Ten); Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun); McNeese State (Southland); Siena (Metro Atlantic); South Florida (American); Southern Illinois (MVC); Southern Miss (Conference USA); St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10); Tennessee State (Ohio Valley); and UT Arlington (Sun Belt).
Ten of the 16 teams advanced to postseason play in 2015; this is the Preseason WNIT debut for Alabama State, Jacksonville, Southern Miss, St. Bonaventure, Tennessee State and UT Arlington.
Teams making their first return to the event are Dartmouth (2006), DePaul (2010), Siena (2002), South Florida (2004) and Southern Illinois (1997). Others with multiple appearances are Drexel (2011, 2005), Indiana (2008, 1998), McNeese State (2011, 2004), Baylor (2011, 2006, 1998) and Chattanooga (2011, 2005, 2000). The No.-1 ranked Baylor Lady Bears won the 2011 Preseason championship after defeating No. 2 Notre Dame 94-81 in front of a sold-out home crowd. Baylor went on that season to capture the NCAA Tournament Championship and finish with a 40-0 record.
The tournament opens Nov. 13 with Round One. Round Two will be played Nov. 15-17; semifinals will be Nov. 19; and the championship is set for Sunday, Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. ET. The championship game will be nationally televised live on CBS Sports Network.
Teams that lose in the first two rounds will play consolation games on Nov. 20-21. All games are hosted by participating schools. The official tournament bracket with first-round opponents, game dates, and times will be announced in June.
Alabama State reached the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 17-15 record after dropping its final contest to Florida State. Jasmine Peeples, a 6-foot-2 center, closed her junior year averaging 11.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game; Britney Wright had a stellar sophomore year, closing with 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Lady Hornets won the SWAC tournament to claim the program’s second berth to the NCAA Tournament and welcome five freshmen and two JUCO transfers to the roster for 2015-16.
Baylor had yet another outstanding campaign under coach Kim Mulkey, going 33-4 overall and reaching the women’s Final Four before falling short against Notre Dame. Nina Davis impressed observers by averaging 21.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a freshman; she was one of five Wooden Award All-Americans and made the cut in May for USA Basketball’s World University Games team. Niya Johnson started 36 games at point guard and handed out 322 assists, a Big 12 single-season record. Davis and Johnson were voted by the team as co-MVPs.
Chattanooga finished with a 29-4 record for the third straight season, falling to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after winning 25 straight games. Jasmine Joyner and Keiana Gilbert were both invited to try out for USA Basketball squads in May and should be big factors for the Mocs in 2015-16; Joyner averaged 12 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest and blocked 132 shots; Gilbert chipped in with 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Chattanooga has won the Southern Conference a total of 19 times.
Dartmouth returns nine letterwinners from last season’s squad that finished 14-14 overall; that was the program’s best finish since going 18-11 in 2008-09 and reaching the NCAA Tournament. Junior-to-be Fanni Szabo (a native of Hungary) was named to the all-Ivy League second team after averaging 16.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game; she also had 59 steals for the year. Senior-to-be Lakin Roland added 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.
DePaul repeated as Big East tournament champion (taking down Seton Hall) and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, beating Minnesota before losing to Notre Dame and closing the year at 27-8. The Blue Demons had a stretch of games where they went 18-2. Megan Podkowa closed her junior year averaging 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game; she blocked 43 shots and shot an impressive 41 percent (47 of 115) from 3-point range. Chanise Jenkins was tabbed to the USA Basketball World University Games roster in May; she averaged 12.4 points and 4.6 assists per game for DePaul.
Drexel hit the 20-win mark (20-11 overall) last season for the fifth time in program history, coming up a few points short in its Postseason WNIT loss to Hampton. Rachel Pearson was named team MVP after ringing up 11.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. Sophomore Sarah Curran had a solid year as well, averaging 12.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest and earning first-team honors in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Indiana (15-16 last year) gets a couple of boosts for the backcourt this year in JUCO transfer Victoria Kemokai, a first-team All-American who played in Tyler, Texas, as well as Tyshee Towner, a first-team NJCAA guard from Wabash Valley College who averaged 17.1 points per contest. Sophomore-to-be Tyra Buss looks to build on her solid debut where she averaged 11.7 points and 2.1 steals per game. She’s the leading prep scorer in Illinois state history (4,897 points).
Jacksonville finished 12-17 this past season, but two freshmen hit the scene with impressive seasons and should be part of a turnaround in the program. Kayla Gordon was the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year after closing with averages of 8.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game; Brandi Buie broke through and started 10 games and was named to the league’s all-freshmen team. The offense has a good place to start with junior-to-be Sherranda Reddick, who averaged 14 points per game and shot 37 percent from 3-point range.
McNeese State reached the second round of the postseason WBI and closed with an 18-14 record. The Cowgirls are very tough at home, going 14-3 there in 2014-15. Jayln Johnson averaged 13.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a junior and led the team in steals; classmate Allison Baggett came through with nearly 16 points per contest. The program’s up-and-coming sophomore, Frederica Haywood, shot 48 percent from the field and averaged seven rebounds per contest.
Siena ended last season with a 22-13 record, including an impressive 12-4 result on the road. The Saints reached the WBI title game before losing to Louisiana-Lafayette by two points and won 13 more games than the previous season with a roster that was essentially seven players deep. Meghan Donahue had a standout sophomore campaign with 10 points and five rebounds per contest. Siena added some welcomed depth to the roster in April with the signing of Karolina Severova, a 6-foot guard/forward from Prague, Czech Republic.
South Florida raised eyebrows with its solid play last year, going 27-8 and beating LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Louisville in Round 2. Senior-to-be Courtney Williams earned one of 12 USA World University Games roster spots in May – she averaged 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season while leading the Bulls in assists and steals. Alisia Jenkins returns as a force down low – as a junior she started every contest and averaged 12.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
Southern Illinois finished 17-13 overall and just missed out on postseason play after losing in the first round of the Missouri Valley tournament. That marked a very successful season and one of the top turnarounds in the nation after going 5-25 in 2013-14. All five starters are back for 2015-16. Senior-to-be Dyana Pierre was a first-team all-MVC selection after averaging 14.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game and leading the Salukis in blocked shots. Azia Washington had a solid junior run, shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and averaging 10.3 points per contest.
Southern Miss had a 25-11 record last season and did its best work in the latter part of the schedule, going 13-4 in its final 17 games. The Lady Eagles reached the quarterfinals of the Postseason WNIT before losing to Michigan. Jerontay Clemons was a multi-category force as a junior, averaging 12.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while leading the team in steals and finishing second in assists. The team welcomes a backcourt lift with transfer Tajanay Veiga, a Boston native who played JUCO ball in Texas.
St. Bonaventure was 15-15 last year, dropping its final three games and missing out on the postseason. Katie Healy heads into her senior year as a team leader, having started all 30 games last year and averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. Nyla Reuter is another senior to watch – she averaged 10.6 points per game a season ago. Incoming freshman McKenna Maycock averaged more than 27 points per game in her prep finale and was named New York’s Class C co-player of the year.
Tennessee State won the Ohio Valley tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years before losing to Kentucky and closing with an 18-13 mark. Brianna Lawrence is the only senior on the roster for the year ahead – she averaged 8.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and paced the team in 3-pointers made. The Lady Tigers will welcome six freshmen to the roster this year – Tyesha Hood (6-foot-5) and Tiana Parker (6-4) add size to the frontcourt along with 6-1 forwards Jordan Brightwell and Franceska Brown as the Lady Tigers look to build on their historic season.
UT Arlington was 17-13 last year in the program’s turnaround efforts, and the Lady Mavericks had plenty to celebrate after winning just four games in 2013-14. Rebekah VanDijk, a 6-5 center, was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, averaging 13.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. She shot 54 percent from the field and blocked 52 shots. Breck Clark, a 5-10 guard, joins the team after a JUCO hitch in Oklahoma, where she averaged 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.