On SelectionMonday, the Princeton Tigers were named the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship tournament. This came as a bit of a surprise to some, as the Tigers had a perfect season, finishing 30-0 and ranked No. 13in both the AP and Coaches Polls, winning their fifth Ivy League Title in six years.
The Tigers will face off against the No. 9 seed University of Wisconsin — Green Bay (28-4)onMarch 21at11:05 a.m.in College Park, Md., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
The Tigers, however, appear less concerned about their seeding, and are instead more focused on the games ahead.
“We’re very excited to be in the tournament at all … March Madness is where you want to be,” senior guard Blake Dietrick said in a teleconferenceon Tuesday. “We are very happy to be back here this year. There was a little bit of surprise at the seed, but now we’re all business.”
Head coach Courtney Banghart did note, however, that the committee’s selection further reflected a bias against teams from “mid-major” conferences, i.e. conferences that aren’t known for producing basketball powerhouses. Banghart questioned the committee’s desire to see mid-major powerhouses like Princeton in the final rounds.
“By scheduling [the Tigers] with Green Bay, [they’re] two of the top mid-major programs, they've ensured that only one of [them] is going to advance ... it makes you wonder how far does [the committee] want to give [mid-major teams] a chance beyond that first round,” she said, noting the difficulty of the Tigers’ potential path to the top.
The winner in this battle of the mid-majors will then face off against the winner of the contest between No. 1 Maryland and No. 16 New Mexico StateonMarch 23.
However, if past performance is any indicator, the Tigers look more than ready to go. They have had the best season in Ivy League history, garnering recognition both across the league and around the country. With an incredible amount of drive and momentum, the Tigers stepped into the national spotlight, quickly becoming one of the top teams in the nation.
This greatness comes after a disheartening end to the season last year, when the Tigers fell to Seton Hall University in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament after narrowly missing out on the Ivy League title and NCAA tournament.
“It definitely does take a lot to win the postseason,” Banghart said. “We didn’t necessarily show up,” she added, referencing last year’s game against Seton Hall.
Despite the results from last year, this Tiger team looks encouraged to play against opponents of all calibers.
“Whoever we play, it’s one game, it’s one given matchup.” Dietrick said.
After enduring losses in past tournaments (including losses to Kansas State University and Florida State University, schools from incredibly strong basketball conferences), she sees this year going differently.
“We are so close to proving we can get over that edge, and get a ‘W’ in the postseason,”Dietricksaid.
With respect to the upcoming matchup against Green Bay, the Tigers are excited by the opportunity to play team both accomplished and not dissimilar to the team.
“Green Bay is similar to us in that they have absolutely earned their record,” Banghart said. “They’ve got versatile weapons on offense. They play a lot of kids, all of the kids can shoot the three, and they share the ball really well … It’s a quality team.”
Banghart said she does not think the Ivy League has gotten enough credit for preparing the Tigers for the NCAA Championship.
"The league has prepared us for the opportunity,"Banghart said."Green Bay is going to push us and we’re going to push them.”
Regardless of the outcome of the game, this season has proven that any team can dominate on the court and in the rankings, even one from a mid-major school. The game is going to come down to how well the Tigers can maintain the momentum that they’ve drawn on throughout the entire season
As Banghart notes, this is a team that has both the talent and character to compete at the highest level.
“I haven’t had to be their disciplinarian or their cheerleader: I’ve been able to be their coach,"Banghart said."I’ve never had to worry about their focus. They will enjoy playing this game.”
She added that, ultimately, the self-reliance of this team means they are the controllers of their own fate.
“It’s about the players,"Banghart said. "It’s about what Blake Dietrick’s story is going to be and what [junior forward] Annie Tarakchian’s story is going to be and what [junior guard] Michelle Miller’s story is going to be … They are each others edge and they are each other’s crutch.”