The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga earned its ticket to the NCAA women's basketball tournament last Monday, when Kayla Christopher's putback lifted the Lady Mocs to a 64-63 win over Davidson in the finals of the Southern Conference tournament.
After a week of waiting, UTC (29-3) will find out who it will face in the first round, and where, tonight, when the brackets are announced on ESPN at 7 p.m. There is a selection show viewing party at Big River Grille on Broad Street.
"I think we ought to be at least a 12 seed," coach Wes Moore said last Tuesday. "We won 29 games, we've won 19 in a row, we beat the SEC champion [Tennessee], we beat another SEC team on the road [Alabama]."
The Lady Mocs won the SoCon regular-season title, going 19-1 in league play, and haven't lost since Jan. 7, when they fell at Elon in overtime. Their three losses were at St. Mary's (20-10), at Auburn (16-14) and at Elon (18-13).
ESPN women's basketball "bracketology" analyst Charlie Creme had the Lady Mocs as a No. 13 seed when he spoke to the Times Free Press on Wednesday. As of Sunday, UTC was bumped up to a No. 12 seed in Creme's latest bracket.
Creme said he didn't foresee UTC being anything but a 12 or 13 seed.
"They had a great season, no question, and they have a great record," he said, "but ultimately to be an 11 [equates to being an at-large team] and I don't think the Southern Conference would have gotten a second team in."
UTC is listed at No. 44 in the NCAA's RPI ranking, but that hasn't been updated since March 11. RealTimeRPI.com has UTC at No. 37, and has UTC as an 11 seed. What hurts the Lady Mocs is the conference RPI, which RealTimeRPI has at No. 22 out of 32 conference.
Of the 11 teams in the SoCon, five finished the season with 12 wins or less. UTC's strength of schedule, according to RealTimeRPI, is No. 216. It was hurt not only by the SoCon, but Auburn was 9-2 after beating UTC in December and then won just seven games the rest of the season. UTC beat Alabama in December, but the Crimson Tide finished 13-18.
Creme said UTC's season-opening upset of Tennessee (he projects the Lady Vols as a 3 seed) has merit, "it absolutely does," and might help move UTC up a spot.
Seniors Kylie Lambert and Kayla Christopher were freshmen when UTC made its last NCAA appearance, in 2010. UTC led Oklahoma State 37-19 at the half before falling 70-63. Lambert said she believes UTC is capable of doing what the 2004 team did, win a first-round game.
"I definitely feel like it is different [than 2010]," Lambert said following practice Sunday. "Obviously our record is different than it was my freshman year, and I do feel like we can go in and win a few games."
The Lady Mocs were a 10 seed when they upset 7 seed Rutgers in the first round of the 2004 tournament. It's the program's only NCAA tournament victory.