Selection Sunday presented a bounty for Horizon League women’s basketball, as four of the conference’s 12 teams were tabbed for postseason tournaments, led by IUPUI’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, Youngstown State was formally locked into its previously-accepted autobid for the WNIT, Green Bay will join the Penguins in the WNIT as an at-large selection, and Cleveland State will attempt to defend its 2021 WBI title.
Full bracket: NCAA.com
Projections placed the Horizon League’s tournament champion and autobid holder anywhere from Tucson, AZ (NCAA.com) to Bloomington, IN (ESPN) – and generally always as a 12-seed – but the NCAA selection committee ultimately went in their own direction by handing the Jags a 13th seed and sending them to Norman, OK to play fourth-seeded Oklahoma on Saturday.
In Norman’s 5-12 contest, Notre Dame and UMass will face off, with the winners of that game and IUPUI-Oklahoma competing to head to Bridgeport, CT for the regional semifinals.
The NCAA bid is, of course, a culmination of a two-year journey for Austin Parkinson’s crew. IUPUI won the Horizon League championship in 2020, but didn’t get to use their accompanying tourney bid thanks to COVID. Last season, the Jags fell victim to a hot Wright State team (and, to some extent, the conference’s standings formula) in the title game and declined any other postseason opportunities, but instead elected to reload with most of the team’s core returning and supplemented by key transfer additions.
Fans of both IUPUI and the Horizon League are undoubtedly excited by the possibility of the Jaguars making a serious run in the Big Dance, following Wright State’s first-round upset of Arkansas last season. On December 21st, of course, IUPUI took down Iowa – which went on to win the Big Ten championship – in Iowa City, and the Jags took a very good Michigan team to overtime in their season opener. With Macee Williams, Rachel McLimore, and Destiny Perkins primed for one last ride together, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and UMass certainly should be on upset alert.
Full bracket: WomensNIT.com
As the highest-finishing team in the Horizon League that did not win the conference tournament, Youngstown State earned the league’s WNIT autobid and formally accepted it on March 8th, shortly after IUPUI clinched their NCAA Tournament bid (had the Jaguars lost the HLWBB tourney final to Cleveland State, they would have received the NIT autobid, forcing YSU to hope for an at-large spot).
The Horizon League’s regular season co-champions were shocked on their home court by seventh-seeded Oakland in the league quarterfinals. Despite that heartbreak, the Penguins have enjoyed, possibly, their best season since the 1990s (their 18 conference wins and 24 overall wins are both high-water marks since joining the Horizon League in 2001-02). They now find themselves short of where they planned on being this week, but nevertheless holding the opportunity to augment their 2021-22 accomplishments with a postseason run.
Chelsea Olson and Lilly Ritz will lead YSU into their fourth WNIT appearance, all in the last decade and highlighted by an opening round win over Indiana State at the Beeghly Center in 2013. This year, they’ll once again lead off on Rosselli Court, against Kent State on Wednesday evening, before taking on the winner of a Toledo-Houston Baptist game in the second round with a victory against the Golden Flashes.
Postseason play is nothing new for Green Bay of course, and the Phoenix will be making their sixth WNIT appearance (to go with their 18 NCAA Tournament bids) starting on Thursday at the Kress Center against Minnesota. With a win, Green Bay will play either Ohio or South Dakota State in the second round. A Phoenix contest with SDSU, in an interesting bit of full-circle karma, would be a rematch of both teams’ season opener back on November 9th, won by the Jacks 70-49.
Despite a late-season upset loss at Milwaukee that cost UWGB the conference regular season title, and a tournament semifinal defeat against Cleveland State, the Phoenix have been the second-best Horizon League team in most rating systems throughout the season. Their final placement of 116th in NET was largely thanks to wins over Oklahoma State (which, despite a 9-20 overall record, finished 83rd in NET) and IUPUI (the HLWBB leader at 68th). Green Bay also defeated the UW system’s flagship campus, Wisconsin, and though a bad Badgers program doesn’t really help anyone’s metrics, knocking off a Big Ten squad certainly helps the eyeball test (for what it’s worth, Minnesota swept their games against Wisconsin, though their latter meeting was a two-point contest).
Curiously enough, though Green Bay has had a healthy amount of success at the NCAA Tournament, including a Sweet 16 run in 2011, they’re 0-5 in WNIT games. Their last appearance, in 2019, ended with a home loss to Kent State.
Cleveland State entered Selection Sunday with hopes of a WNIT at-large bid fueled by a run to the Horizon League championship game, but the Vikings missed the cut by the slimmest of margins (one projection had CSU as literally the final team in the field). Instead, they will return to the WBI to defend their 2021 title after defeating Manhattan, Stetson, and Portland to earn the program’s first-ever postseason trophy last March.
This year’s tournament, like last year’s, will take place in Kentucky – though the site has moved from Frankfort and Kentucky State University to Transylvania University in Lexington. The eight-team field also includes Bowling Green, Furman, Saint Mary’s, Austin Peay, Davidson, Nevada, and Northeastern, with CSU taking on Northeastern in their opening game on Friday at 7:30 PM. Win or lose, the Vikings (and all participating teams) will play three games over the course of the weekend thanks to a full consolation bracket.
The Horizon League has had quite a bit of success at the WBI over the years. In addition to Cleveland State’s championship, Detroit Mercy took the crown at the tournament’s fourth edition in 2013, while UIC brought it home the following year. CSU also appeared in the WBI in 2011, beating current conference rival Purdue Fort Wayne (then known as Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne) in the first round before falling to Chicago State in the quarterfinals.