KSU leading scorer Megan Carter in action against Buffalo in the MAC Tournament. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)
Kent State’s women are very likely to play in the 64-team Women’s National Invitational Tournament, which starts this week. Here’s what you need to know about it:
What is the WNIT?
It’s the second major postseason tournament for Division I women’s basketball teams. You might call it somewhat of a consolation prize for good teams that didn’t make the NCAA field.
Who gets in?
Automatic bids go to the highest-ranking team that didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament in each of the 32 women’s conferences. In the Mid-American Conference, that’s likely to be Miami. The Redhawks have a long shot of making the tournament; if they do, the highest ranking team is Kent State.
After the automatic bids are at-large spots for 32 other teams. WNIT rules say they are selected using at least six women’s basketball-ranking systems and gives examples using several RPI systems, which emphasize more a team’s record and strength of schedule. and others using broader criteria, including record against strong opponents and margins of victory.
Then they add factors like how well a team was playing at the end of the season, common opponents and key injuries.
So how does Kent State do in the criteria?
KSU’s RPI is in the low to mid 80s (of 351 teams) across various services. In broader measures, the Flashes drop to 120 to 130.
Two years ago Kent’s RPI was in the high 90s, and the Flashes made the tournament. Coach Todd Starkey said he thought KSU’s resume made a strong case this season. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said Saturday he expected three teams to make the NCAA and four to get in other postseason tournaments. Those would likely be Miami, Kent State, Toledo and Northern Illinois. I’m more dubious about NIU.
When will we know?
The WNIT field is announced a few hours after the NCAA selection at 6 p.m. Monday. So we’ll know if the Flashes made the tournament about 9 p.m. Pairings are announced a few hours later.
Where and when would Kent State play?
First-round games are Wednesday to Friday this week. All games are played at campus sites.
The WNIT tries to minimum travel costs in the early rounds, so the Flashes likely would play within fairly easy driving distance. Two years ago they played at Michigan. in the Bob Lindsay era, they played at Michigan, Duquesne and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.
Teams can bid for home game. It costs a minimum of $6,500 to host a first-round game. Costs go up as teams advance. If two teams bid, the WNIT says it decides based on fan base, location, previous games with WNIT opponents and other factors. The WNIT website says multiple times that a team has to make the field first; it can’t buy its way in by promising to bid big on hosting a game.
Kent State showed no interest in hosting a game two years ago, and I don’t hear anything to believe that would be different now.
MAC teams have hosted games before. Toledo actually won the WNIT in 2011 and played every game at home. Bowling Green just missed the NCAA in 2014 and hosted every game until it lost in the quarterfinals.
Kent State is 0-4 in WNIT games. The only postseason game the Flashes have ever won was a first-round victory over Texas A&M in 1996 they’re 0-3 in other NCAA games.
So about a specific place?
We know where it won’t be. The WNIT won’t schedule a first-round game against a team in the same conference or a team a school played during the regular season.
Besides MAC schools, that eliminates Duquesne and Youngstown State, teams likely to make the WNIT field whom KSU played in the non-conference. Wright State and Robert Morris, two other teams the Flashes played, have made the NCAA Tournament as their conference champions. So has North Carolina State. North Carolina is likely but not guaranteed.
Obviously we won’t know for sure until Monday. A lot depends on what bubble teams make the NCAA tournament. Relatively nearby teams in that category are Indiana and West Virginia, according to ESPN. (The network also has Ohio as one of the last four teams in and Miami as one of the group of “next four teams out.”)
My best guess would be that the Flashes would travel to Cincinnati (21-10, RPI 77), Ohio State (14-14, RPI 101) or Dayton (17-13, RPI 118). Kent hasn’t played OSU since 1981 and Dayton since 1979. It played Cincinnati in 2013.
Other possibilities are (in order of distance) West Virginia (20-10, RPI 79), Butler (21-9, RPI 74), RPI 56), Virginia Tech (20-11, RPI 73) and Georgetown (16-15, RPI 71).
All those sites would be good places for Miami and Toledo, too.
Is the WNIT seeded?
Sort of. According to the WNIT website, the selection committee looks at its field and parts teams in top, middle and top tiers. In the first round, top tier teams play bottom tier ones, and middle-tier teams play each other. I’d guess Kent State is in the lower half to the middle tier. That , though Ohio State would be fun.