While any number of factors can slow a team from reaching its potential in the grind of an NCAA women’s basketball campaign, one development that usually helps is if that program took part in the Postseason WNIT the preceding year.
Missing out on the NCAA Tournament is sometimes a bitter moment, but the wisest players and coaches use the WNIT to experience the work and focus required to excel after the long regular season. Last year, the Postseason WNIT’s four semifinalists were Georgia Tech, Michigan, Villanova and Washington State, and three of those teams have more than made a mark on the 2017-18 schedule.
Michigan, the 2017 WNIT champion, closed the regular season this year with a 21-8 record, earning the No. 6 seed and a first-round bye in the Big Ten postseason tournament.
The Wolverines have enjoyed typically terrific performances from seniors Katelynn Flaherty and Hallie Thome. Flaherty, the all-time leading scorer for men or women at Michigan, averages 23.5 points per game, shoots better than 41 percent from 3-point range and leads the team in assists (122). Thome shoots an amazing 61 percent from the field, averaging 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
In the latest ESPNW bracket projections for the NCAA tourney, Michigan is seeded 8th, and has an RPI of 38.
Georgia Tech, which put up a three-overtime fight in the 2017 WNIT final, is sitting at 17-12 (RPI of 65) as the Yellow Jackets prepare for the ACC Tournament. This is one of the most stingy defenses in the nation, holding teams below 59 points per game, with opponents barely shooting 40 percent from the field and coughing up the ball 21.5 times per contest.
Francesca Pan, a sophomore from Italy, averages 13.9 points per game, and Zaire O’Neal comes through with 9.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Villanova used its semifinal run in the previous WNIT and sprinted to a 10-0 start this season; the Wildcats are now 22-7, with a 26 RPI and the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament.
The team has four players averaging in double figures in scoring – Alex Louis (11.9), Mary Gedaka (11.6), Kelly Jekot (11.4) and Adrianna Hahn (10.6). Villanova is also holding a No. 8 seed in the latest ESPNW projections.
Washington State, the other 2017 WNIT semifinalist, is 10-19 this year. Interestingly, the Cougars were just 12-19 last year before the WNIT, getting into the event when a huge chunk of the Pac-12 played in the NCAAs, leaving WSU as the automatic qualifier. They showed a postseason run is always a possibility, something conference mates Utah (17-12) or Colorado (14-15) might get to enjoy if they get a WNIT bid out of this demanding conference.