By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
West Virginia University sports fans undoubtedly will be wishing the greatest ever Mountaineer women’s basketball team well in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite WVU being 29-4, ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation and co-champion of the Big 12 Conference, the NCAA selection committee did the Mountaineers no favors whatsoever. That’s not only my opinion but of, truth be known, Coach Mike Carey and his outstanding players.
They’re admittedly “fired up” by the NCAA treatment in the selection process but also the lack of fair attention by ESPN announcers during last Monday night’s NCAA selection show. Schools below West Virginia’s No. 2 seeding received greater time and praise.
Instead of placing the Mountaineers in position where they could at least play one early game at home, the NCAA sent them way down there into Baton Rouge, La. That’s where Carey’s club faces 15th-seeded Albany (28-4) at 3p.m. on Sunday.
ESPN will televise the contest in the tournament’s first round. And if WVU wins, it probably would have to play seven-seeded LSU on its home floor in a second-round game on Tuesday night. LSU must get past 10th seeded Georgia Tech in a first-round matchup.
As you can see, West Virginia faces a seemingly tougher two-game challenge than most other No. 2 seeds would just to reach the tourney’s round of “Sweet 16.” And this is the first time in the school’s 40 years of women’s basketball history that WVU has been seeded that high.
I have heard that the NCAA will change bracketing next year allowing a No. 2 seed at least one game at home in the first or second round. But that doesn’t help the five seniors on this year’s team — the best Carey has had in his incomparable 13 years at the university.
Meantime, don’t sell Albany’s Great Danes short. They have captured their third consecutive America East Conference championship. With a 28-4 record, could that raise a question whether the New York school is the first ever NCAA team losing only four games and seeded 15th in women’s basketball tournament history?
I don’t know. Perhaps the answer is weak strength of schedule.
Albany has some apparently good players, though. Shereesha Richards, a sophomore guard, is averaging 20.3 points a game.
There’s also a chief threat in Albany’s 6-foot-9 center Meagan Craig, who averages 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Great Danes also apparently have a fine coach in Kate Abrahamson-Henderson.
She’s no stranger to Mike Carey, against whom Abrahamson-Henderson led Southwest Missouri to a victory over Carey’s 2005 team for that year’s women’s National Invitation Tournament’s championship.
So there’s an obvious angle of revenge in this second meeting of the two mentors.
The WVU players, meanwhile, will be motivated in search of respect. They strongly feel they have deserved that from the NCAA in the program’s most successful season ever.
Who could blame them?
Carey, making his program’s fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tourney, believes this year’s team is loaded with motivation. The Mountaineers’ goal is to win it all and prove the doubters wrong.
“As far as what went on (in the TV selection show Monday), that should fire the team up,” Cary said.