Midnight Madness takes the court this weekend nationwide: Some 345 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams begin their journey on the road they hope will culminate at the Final Four. Read more »
By Rick Nixon
The journey down a road that hundreds of women’s basketball teams hope will culminate with a trip to the Women’s Final Four has begun, as official practices are being conducted across the country this week. Many women’s programs have started their preparations thanks to a new NCAA rule this year that permits women’s teams to begin practicing 40 days before their first game.
Several other teams will gather in arenas late Friday night for Midnight Madness, the annual celebration that marks the unofficial start to the season. ESPNU will televise a four-hour ESPNU Midnight Madness special featuring extensive whip-around coverage from top college basketball programs around the nation on October 15 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU HD.
The University of Connecticut women’s program – the two-time defending national champion, which is riding a 78-game winning streak (10 short of the UCLA men's record for consecutive victories in NCAA Division I basketball) – will be featured along with several men’s programs, including defending national champion Duke University as well as Kentucky, Memphis, Gonzaga and Kansas State. The Huskies will be the first women’s team to be showcased during Midnight Madness programming since the show debuted on ESPN platforms in 1993.
The question entering the 2010-11 women’s season centers on Connecticut’s winning streak and which teams will stand between the Huskies and a run at a third straight national championship. Nonconference play will provide an early indication as Connecticut faces Baylor on Nov. 16 in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in a rematch of a 2010 national semifinal contest. A rematch of the 2010 national championship game will occur when Connecticut plays Stanford on Dec. 30.
Additional nonconference women’s matchups will take place across the country in November and December with key and important games featuring Rutgers-Stanford (Nov. 14), Texas-Stanford (Nov. 28), Oklahoma-Duke (Dec. 5), Tennessee-Baylor (Dec. 14), Stanford-Tennessee (Dec. 19), Xavier-Duke (Dec. 21), Xavier-Stanford (Dec. 28) and Rutgers-Tennessee (Dec. 30) to name just a few.
An experimental rule to be applied during exhibition play will involve the continued effort to examine the distance of the three-point line. The Women’s Basketball Rules Committee has asked institutions to record shooting percentages from both the men’s and women’s lines from one home exhibition game. This information will provide the committee with significant data on how many three-pointers are actually being taken from behind both the men’s and women’s line.
Conference play will feature key matchups as teams vie to win a conference championship and continue to build a resume worthy of earning their way into the championship field. The 64-team women’s tournament field will be announced Monday, March 14 on ESPN.
First- and second-round sites include Albuquerque, New Mexico; Columbus, Ohio; Durham, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Salt Lake City, Utah; Spokane, Washington; Stanford, California; University Park, Pennsylvania; Auburn, Alabama; Charlottesville, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; College Park, Maryland; Shreveport, Louisiana; Storrs, Connecticut; Waco, Texas; and Wichita, Kansas, with games set for March 19-22. The four regional sites will be Dayton, Ohio; Spokane, Washington; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Dallas, Texas on March 26-29. The Women’s Final Four will be April 3 and 5, 2011 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Tickets for all sites can be purchased by going to www.ncaa.com/tickets.
The women’s bracket is constructed by using the committee’s principles and procedures, which are located at www.ncaa.com/finalfour. Members of the 2010-11 Division I Women’s Basketball Committee include chair Marilyn McNeil of Monmouth University. She is joined on the committee by Sybil Blalock of Mercer University, Greg Christopher of Bowling Green State University, Leslie Claybrook of Rice University, Rich Ensor of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Heather Gores of Gonzaga University, Dru Hancock of the Big 12 Conference, Carolayne Henry of the Mountain West Conference, Chris Massaro of Middle Tennessee State and Kathy Meehan of St. John’s University (New York).
For the ninth consecutive year, ESPN and ESPN2 will broadcast all 63 games of the 2011 Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. The network will offer whip-around coverage in high definition. This marks the 16th straight year (since 1996) that ESPN will serve as the championship’s exclusive television home.
Before teams start dancing their way through NCAA March Madness, they will have a little fun with Midnight Madness and the practices this week. The journey down the Road to the Women’s Final Four begins in October with this tradition that started nearly 40 years ago when Lefty Driesell had his University of Maryland men’s team go for a run on the campus’ track minutes after midnight on the first day of allowable practices. Approximately 3,000 fans attended the event, and it became a tradition that spread across the country and now features a variety of activities to entertain thousands of men’s and women’s basketball fans. In addition to ESPNU coverage, many of the practices are televised live locally and carried live via video streaming across the Internet.
Rick Nixon is the associate director of the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.