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Virginia Tech's women's basketball team hasn't played a game since March 7th, and they finally get to jump back in the water Sunday in the NCAA Tournament, as a #8 seed going up against #9 seed Iowa (16-12, 10-6 Big Ten) in Blacksburg at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
In the other first round game, #1 seed Penn State (25-5, 15-1 Big Ten) takes on #16 seed Hampton (17-12, 14-4 MEAC).
The sub-regional definitely has a Big Ten flavor to it with PSU and Iowa, so attention immediately turns towards wondering what the strength of the Big Ten is relative to the Big East, and how teams with 12 losses and 5 losses got a nine seed and a one seed, respectively.
While not on par with the SEC and Big 12, the RPI of the Big Ten puts it fourth as a league, ahead of the Big East (#5) and behind the SEC (#1), Big 12 (#2), and ACC (#3).
Iowa has the same in-conference record in their league (10-6) as VT does in the Big East (10-6), and with the leagues being similar in strength, the seedings are comparable, and the teams are comparable. But while VT suffered no losses outside the Big East, Iowa lost five games outside their league.
Three of their losses outside the league were to teams in the top 50 of the RPI: Houston (#7), Kansas State (#8), and Missouri (#45). Their other two OOC losses were to Iowa State (#74) and Creighton (#76).
The Hokies' highest-rated OOC opponent was ODU (#18), whom Tech beat 79-72 in Blacksburg. Other than that, the Hokies didn't give themselves an ultra-stiff challenge out of conference, defeating teams with RPI ratings between 47 (Maryland) and 170 (JMU).
The VT-Iowa matchup should be a classic, competitive 8-9 matchup, similar to their 7-10 matchup with Georgia Tech in the first round last year, which VT won 61-59.
Iowa has three players who all average more per game than VT's leading scorer, Ieva Kublina (13.3 ppg): #52 Jamie Cavey (6-3 Jr., 16.9 ppg) , #22 Kristi Faulkner (5-7 Sr., 16.0 ppg), and #50 Jennie Lillis (6-1 Sr., 15.8 ppg).
Iowa averages 73.3 points per game to 63.2 for VT, and the Hawkeyes shoot a solid 36.1% from three-point range, to 30.9% for VT, so Iowa has the advantage in scoring and long-range shooting.
Iowa has been outrebounded by 1.5 per game, while VT holds a huge +4.4 rebounding margin, so Tech should have an advantage on the boards. Iowa holds an advantage in free throw shooting, 76.6% to 72.6%.
If Tech wins, they'll most likely face Penn State in the second round, and that's where things could get very tough. At 25-5, PSU may sound like a #1 seed with a lot of losses, but they have an incredible nine wins against teams in the RPI top 25, with another six coming against the RPI top 50 (compare that to VT, for example, with three wins against the RPI top 25, and only one more win in the RPI top 50).
PSU's top scorer is #13 Kelly Mazzante, who drops in 20.8 ppg, and three more players average in the low double-figures. One player who will get your attention is 6-6 freshman post player Reicina Russell (#50), who can be seen on an ESPN promo palming a couple of basketballs, her arms extended. Russell averages just 4.6 ppg game but has racked up 78 blocks (Ieva Kublina, for comparison, has 68 blocks, but she plays 11 minutes more per game than Russell does).
Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson appeared on Big Dog Sportstalk with Rick Watson yesterday in the New River Valley and said that ticket sales were at 4,000, as of late Thursday. That sounds a little low, but a good walk-up crowd is expected -- I would guess a lot of Penn State fans will show -- and if the Hokies make the Tuesday night matchup with the Lady Lions, it should be at least close to sold out.
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