The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team is in Boone, N.C., today for its regular-season finale against rival Appalachian State. The Lady Mocs, winners of 15 straight games, made the trip with the Southern Conference championship already in hand.
UTC (25-3, 18-1) wrapped up its 12th regular-season title Monday, beating Davidson 68-59 to pull two games ahead of the Wildcats with one game remaining.
"We know that while this does mean a lot, it doesn't mean an NCAA bid," UTC forward Taylor Hall said. "We still have a lot of work to do, and we have to grind out these next few games and come out on top of those as well."
Despite its season-opening win against Tennessee, which won the Southeastern Conference title and is ranked No. 8 in both major polls, and despite winning 25 games, UTC appears to be a long shot to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. According to bracket projections, UTC could be a No. 13 or 14 seed if it wins the SoCon tournament and claims the automatic bid.
"I don't think we've ever been that low," coach Wes Moore said.
The Lady Mocs' losses are to St. Mary's, Auburn and Elon, all on the road. The St. Mary's loss isn't much of a problem because the Gaels have an RPI rating in the 30s, according to RealTimeRPI.com and the NCAA's RPI.
RealTimeRPI ranks UTC at No. 48 and the NCAA has the Lady Mocs at 56. Auburn, which beat UTC 53-40 on Dec. 19 (UTC had 22 turnovers and made 15 of 55 shots), has gone 6-11 since then and has an RPI around 90, depending on the source. Elon, which beat UTC in overtime, has an RPI outside the top 150.
The Lady Mocs have the fewest losses of any team outside the top 45 in the NCAA's RPI rankings. What hurts them is the rest of the SoCon, which isn't among the top 20 conferences in the RPI.
"The conference RPI's bad this year. I don't know what happened or how it happened," Moore said. "Last year we were 14th in the country, and this year it's down a lot. That's going to hurt us, which in turn means our strength of schedule doesn't look very good, either."
All of that means the Lady Mocs need to play their best ball starting next weekend in Asheville, N.C. And they want to keep their momentum going by beating the Mountaineers today.
"Just keeping the momentum on our side will be a good thing, and continuing to execute and do the little things," said UTC center Ashlen Dewart, an ASU transfer. "We've just got to keep it up, and this game is a chance to do that."