Monday night is a big one for the Lady Raiders because they will find out who is their first round opponent in next week's 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
The 64-team bracket will be announced at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
The team will be holding a selection show event tomorrow evening inside the Jeff Hendrix Stadium Club. The Lady Raiders earned its 16th overall, and ninth trip out of the last 10 seasons to the Big Dance after defeating Arkansas Little-Rock 53-48 in the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game on March 11. The win guaranteed MTSU a spot into the NCAA tournament.
Lady Raider head coach Rick Insell believes knowing the team has already clinched an automatic berth as a conference champion has brought relief to everybody in the program heading into selection Monday. Instead of the previous couple of seasons, when MTSU did not win the SBC tournament title, and it had to wait that night with fingers crossed, hoping it got in the field of 64 as an at-large selection.
“You always have a good feeling when you see your name on ESPN and in USA Today, and it says Middle Tennessee,” Insell said. “It takes some pressure off of you, because you never know with the selection committee.”
As for the players, they felt some pressure lifted off of their shoulders after winning their first SBC tourney since 2010. As it was emotional for the entire team after receiving its championship trophy last Monday afternoon.
“These kids have been through a lot,” Insell said. “This was the crew that went through the Tina Stewart situation. It has been hard on them for the past couple of years with all of the court cases. It bears down on them emotionally. Our kids were prepared mentally and ready to go. They were not going to be denied a championship.”
As all season, several players made key contributions during the Lady Raiders tournament run to the title.
They won three hard fought close games in three days to win the conference title. Junior forward and All-American candidate Ebony Rowe was named to the All-SBC Tournament team, and senior guard Kortni Jones was selected the Most Valuable Player of the event.
However, a few other players also made big plays during the SBC tournament, and one of those was freshman guard Caroline Warden. The Gainesboro, Tenn., native started all three games at the point guard position during the tournament, and she scored 10 key second half points in the 68-59 come-from-behind victory on March 10 against Florida International in the semifinals.
Warden walked on the squad before this season started as she wanted to live out of dream of playing for Insell. He tried to get her to go somewhere else, but she decided to stay a give it a shot. Warden's play earned her a scholarship a couple of months ago, and Insell is also glad she decided to stay.
“I told her last year we did not have any room for her, and I tried to convince her to go to another school, but thank goodness I'm not a good salesman,” Insell said. “She looked me in the eye and said, 'Hey, I can play for you and I'm going to walk on here and I will show you.' She has become a very important part of our basketball team. She has got a lot more successful days ahead of her.”
As for the actual bracket itself, ESPN women's basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme has the Lady Raiders penciled in the last few days as the No. 13 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional against No. 4 North Carolina with the game being in Louisville. He believes MTSU might have a hard time pulling off a first round upset.
“They have not had quite the season they have had in past years and as a result," Creme said via email, "(MTSU) will likely will have a lower seed, which in turn probably means a tougher first round game.”
The 2013 Women's NCAA Tournament will begin on March 23, and every game during the event will be shown on the ESPN family of the networks. The date, location, time and television network of MTSU's first round game will also be announced tomorrow night during the selection show.