Filed by Wesley Rucker
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It still probably won't happen.
But it could. It really could. And that's an improvement.
Davidson coach Annette Watts said the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team would "definitely" get an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament with a close loss to top-seeded Western Carolina in Saturday's 2 p.m. Southern Conference tournament championship game.
"I'm hoping both of those teams get in," Watts said. "I think if Western wins, I definitely think Chattanooga will get in. If Chattanooga wins, I don't know how much credibility the committee will give Western.
"We had four 20-win teams. This conference is so much better. If they give this conference that respect, (two teams will get in)."
The Lady Mocs shared the regular season title with WCU but lost both head-to-head games with the Lady Catamounts to prevent being the tournament's top seed for an eighth consecutive year. Still, with an RPI in the low 50s before Friday's semifinal win over mid-50s RPI Davidson, the Lady Mocs would figure to at least get an at-large look with a close loss.
Still, though, the SoCon has never had two men's or women's teams get in the NCAA tournament. And UTC women's coach Wes Moore doesn't think it will this season, either. His voice reflected that of someone who has lost faith in the process.
"Oh gosh no. We're not going to get an at-large bid," Moore said. "Since we tied for first and are now in the finals, one of us will go to the NCAAs and one will go to the NIT."
Thanks to a new rule, the highest seed in every Division I conference that doesn't win the league tournament is a lock for at least the NIT, according to SoCon commissioner John Iamarino.
But Iamarino wants WCU and UTC in the NCAA.
"I do," he said. "I think they're both worthy, and I think the loser will be on the board for at-large consideration. I think both have resumes that should be considered.
"You'd like to think this would be the breakthrough year. I do think the committee will take a good, hard look at both of them."
Western Carolina coach Kellie Harper didn't completely agree with Moore, but was close.
"That's a tough (question), a really tough one," Harper said. "Going into this thing, you have to feel like you have to win the championship to get in the NCAA tournament, and if you don't , you feel like you're probably going to the WNIT.
"But I would love to see two teams get in the NCAA tournament. That would be great for both of our programs and the Southern Conference."
The SoCon has the No. 14 conference RPI, according to collegerpi.com. Moore said that's as high as he can remember in his eight years at UTC.
On the men's side, Appalachian State really hurt -- and probably eliminated -- the league's chances of getting two teams in the tournament Friday night with its overtime semifinal loss to the College of Charleston.
But the women still have a chance. And sorry to say it, UTC fans, but Watts is probably right about at least one thing -- that chance would be greater if WCU won tomorrow.
When asked if he thought the women could get two teams in the NCAA, Iamarino said he would be "disappointed" if they didn't.
"I think disappointed, not shocked, would be the right word," he said. "I think we'd be disappointed."
Regardless, they have a chance. An outside chance, but a legitimate outside chance.
"It's been a lot of fun in the conference office to have the conversation about multiple teams in the NCAAs, whereas in the past we didn't have a legitimate chance," Iamarino said. "We can have that conversation in a realistic manner this year.
"I have a lot of faith in the Division I (selection) committees, and I know a lot of people that work on that committee, and they assure us that all they're trying to do is put the best teams in the tournament, and I believe they are."
Not that my opinion carries any weight whatsoever anywhere but in my own head, but I tend to agree with Moore. I won't get into whether it's right, because that's not my job as a news reporter, but I don't think this league will get two bids yet.
E-mail Wesley Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org