One of the greatest joys in sports is to see a team come out of nowhere to fight, or even win. This year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Competition has many newcomers, and everyone has the potential to make noise.
The thing about emerging teams is that they are hungry for the first tournament victory, and everything is a milestone. For many of them, the last few weeks have been winning or going home.
At least five newcomers should make things interesting.
No. 13 Lehigh (10-5)
The Mountain Hawks did not have an easy road to the Patriot League Championship. First, they knocked down the top-seeded Bucknell on the road; then they stopped an almost dominant second-seeded Boston University team, also on their way.
The Patriot League hosted its tournament on campus grounds, so there was a lot of travel to beat two teams that would expect to go to San Antonio. The victory in Boston was particularly impressive. Lehigh took a lead in the first quarter and never allowed a sharp-shooting Terriers group into the game, earning its first tournament since 2010.
The Mountain Hawks are dangerous in cunning ways; their 200 offenses were the 15th least in the country. Their three-point shooting is their bread and butter, with 9.8 attempts per game for three, and their defense is tough, keeping teams with a 26.2 percent behind the arc, 19th lowest in the country.
Like all Patriot League teams, the Mountain Hawks only played teams in their own conference and entered 15 games after starting their campaign in January. Lehigh is not the kind of team that gets the usual March headlines, but that they have been in an upset mode for weeks is a worthy narrative.
They stalked two teams in the Patriot League. Maybe they will do it on a bigger stage.
15 Mount St Mary’s (17-6)
For the first time in 26 years, the mountaineers are dancing. The champion of the Northeast Conference easily defeated Wagner 70-38 on his way to the national tournament.
Fourth-year head coach Maria Marchesano led them to their first 20-win season since 1999. The last time they reached the national tournament was in 1995, and their only other appearance was in 1994.
The Sunday to earn the crown was also not a foregone conclusion. The Seahawks in second place swept Mount at the end of the regular season, but the Mountaineers responded with revenge.
Not a ton falls on paper over the mountaineers. Their score of 12.7 was 26th in the country. The winning margin in the title race, the first NEC championship with a gap that has been large since 2013, is a great example of what it looks like when you shoot on all cylinders.
However, a game between Maryland is always fun and to play against a big dog like the Terps in the first round and keep it in a state for a wild group of Maryland basketball fans, the number 15 seed will surely be extra give energy. .
Rebecca Lee had two doubles in the conference tournament and Aryna Taylor and Kendall Bresee were also dominant. Watch them: they will be the players who offend.
14 Wyoming (14-9)
The seventh seeded Cowgirls in Mountain West has been playing basketball for some time. In their own conference, they were so low that they needed an automatic qualifying bid to pray at the national tournament.
It took four wins in four nights to pick up their ticket, including a tight 59-56 victory over Fresno State in the championship game. They became the lowest team to win the Mountain West tournament.
Quinn Weidemann was named the MVP of the tournament with an average of 13.5 points per game.
Leading scorer McKinley Bradshaw averaged 11.6 points per game over the course of the season, and she and Weidemann will be the livestockmen who rely on scorers the most.
Their strength is their defense; the Cowgirls allowed just 57.3 opponent points per game, good for 35th place in the country.
This version of the Cowgirls, a program that has been active since 1973, has never won a conference game. When they won the tournament in 2008, it was a large group.
They defeated four-time conference champion Boise State and second-seeded UNLV and eventually Fresno State. There are five players born in Wyoming, and they have already led the Cowgirls to more success than the program has ever seen.
It’s hard to say that more wins would just be gravy, but it’s already been a fairytale season for the Cowgirls.
14 Drexel (14-8)
In their third consecutive CAA championship, the Dragons finally did so by taking down top-ranked Delaware. It was years of sadness, and it looked like they were on track for a third consecutive defeat with a nine-point deficit to overcome.
Instead, Junior Keishana Washington, the MVP of the tournament went through with 30 points games to lead the Dragons. Senior Hannah Nihill scored 14 points after halftime to aid the dramatic return.
The Dragons story, like many teams making their debut or first appearance in a decade, is perseverance. They were not favored in a deep CAA field, and Delaware and Towson were expected to win.
Junior guard Maura Hendrixson ended the season with a 3.80 assist-to-turnover ratio, good for third in the country. Nihill was 17th with 2.86 steals per game. This is a team that will steal possessions and not turn the ball around.
Drexel is very busy disrupting teams, and that’s what groups want to upset their opponents about. The Dragons might just keep surprising.
14 Stony Brook (15-5)
It took a big effort to beat a solid Maine team in the U.S. East Championship, but the Sea Wolves are dancing for the first time.
It could have been the second; Stony Brook came close to its first U.S. Eastern Conference title last season before the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, just after they qualified for the game.
With a chance to finally take it, they did so and brought the Black Bears behind Anastasia Warren, who scored a career-high 31 points and sank two free throws with 0.7 seconds left in the game to achieve a 64-60 victory against the team should have fought a year ago. It was a big emotional victory.
The Sea Wolves must now turn their attention to bigger – and better – opponents. Their points defense was fourth in the country, with opponents scoring just 50.7 points per game. They can suffocate teams at the end of the floor, like at a solid score like Maine.
Now, on a bigger stage than the America’s East Tournament, they want to take the chance again.