It’s been the most successful season in University of Delaware women’s basketball history and it’s not over yet.
But things have changed. The Blue Hens are no longer the big fish in a little pond; now they’re a medium-sized fish in the biggest pond of all. And that means nobody knows what will happen when the Hens take on Arkansas-Little Rock on Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Delaware breezed through its conference schedule, going 18-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association and winning by an average of 17 points per game. They had just one nail-biter, a 40-39 victory over Drexel, and the Hens had only two other conference games that they failed to win by double digits.
It was the same thing in the conference tournament – Delaware went 3-0 against the cream of the CAA crop and won by an average of 21 points per game.
But that 30-1 record and CAA championship won’t mean nearly as much if the Hens lay an egg in the NCAA Tournament. Their first opponent does have a huge advantage, as Arkansas-Little Rock will be playing on their home court in front of what will mostly be their home fans. Plus this will be the third straight season the Trojans have been to the NCAAs, so they won’t be overawed at being invited to the Big Dance.
But they’re also the 14th seed for a reason – they’re not that good. The Blue Hens are the third seed and they are that good, or at least they have been so far. Now we get to see how the Hens will fare away from the CAA when it really matters.
They more than held their own in nonconference games during the regular season, and against some pretty prestigious conferences. The Hens were 9-1 overall against other conferences, including 2-0 vs. the Big East (Villanova and Providence), 2-0 vs. the Atlantic 10 (Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure), 2-0 vs. the Ivy League (Princeton and Yale), 1-0 vs. the Big Ten (Penn State) and 1-1 vs. the Atlantic Coast Conference (beating Wake Forest and losing to Maryland).
There was only one really bad team in that nonconference run, Rhode Island, which finished 1-28. The other teams finished the season with a combined record of 181-93, a winning percentage of .660, and that’s not bad. Three of those teams won their respective conference championships (St. Bonaventure, Penn State and Princeton) and another one (Maryland) also made it to the NCAA Tournament.
That 85-76 loss to Maryland, of course, was the only time the Delaware walked off the court in defeat this entire season. And even that loss wasn’t total – Maryland was No. 5 in the nation at the time and the game was played on its home court in the Terrapin Classic.
So, Delaware shouldn’t be intimated by a team from the Sun Belt Conference. Still, you never know, simply because you don’t know that much about the other team or its conference. And in the NCAA Tournament, there are no second chances, no opportunity to make up for one bad game.
And, of course, every team has a bad game now and then. NCAA Tournaments are filled with upsets every year, which is why they’re the most exciting events on the sports calendar every year. And the Hens only have to look at their opponent’s recent history to realize that. Two years ago, in their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans were the 11th-seeded team in their region and they promptly upset sixth-seeded Georgia Tech, another team from the mighty ACC.
It would be an even bigger upset if the Trojans beat the Blue Hens on Sunday. When a team goes into the tournament with a record of 30-1, dominates is conference and climbs all the way into the Top 10 in the nation and then loses in the first round, well, it’s hard to call that season a success, even when it’s the most successful season in school history.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.