BOULDER – The University of Colorado will tip-off the 2014-15 basketball season by participating in the 16-team Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).
The Buffaloes, led by fifth-year head coach Linda Lappe, will be guaranteed three games in the event which opens with the first round, Nov. 14-15. Round two will be played Nov. 16-17; semifinals will be Nov. 19-20; and the championship, televised live on the CBS Sports Network, is set for Sunday, Nov. 23, at 1 p.m. MT.
Teams that lose in the first two rounds will play consolation games on Nov. 21-22. All games are hosted by participating schools. The official tournament bracket with first round opponents, game dates and times will be announced in June.
Five NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago along with four Postseason WNIT participants, including Colorado, highlight the field. Notable potential opponents include perennial national power and 2014 NCAA Region semifinalist Penn State, Big 12 Conference regular season champion West Virginia, Mississippi State out of the SEC, and tradition-rich Western Kentucky out of the Sun Belt.
“The Preseason WNIT has been known for including some of the best teams in the nation and this year is no exception,” Lappe said. “We will be tested early which will be exciting for our team and our fans.”
Rounding out the field, in alphabetical order is, Albany, Arkansas State, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Jackson State, Mercer, North Dakota, Rider, Seton Hall, St. Francis Brooklyn and Towson.
Colorado makes its third trip to the Preseason WNIT, and first since 2001. The Buffaloes won the title in 1995.
Last year, No. 5 Louisville claimed the Preseason WNIT title knocking off Oklahoma 97-92 in overtime in Norman, Okla.
Here are capsules of the Tournament field (courtesy the Preseason WNIT)
About the WNIT
The Preseason WNIT began in its modern form in 1994. Since its inception, over 200 teams representing all 32 conferences have competed in the tournament. It is organized and produced by Triple Crown Sports, a national sports event company based in Fort Collins, Colo. For more information on the WNIT please visit: www.womensnit.com.
Albany made its third consecutive NCAA appearance in 2013-14 and finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record. The Great Danes season ended with a 76-61 loss to West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament First Round. Albany won the America East Conference title for the third-straight year and finished league play with a 15-1 record. America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards returns to the squad for her junior season. Richards finished the regular season ranked first in the conference in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage.
Arkansas State concluded one of its best seasons in program history with a berth in the Postseason WNIT. The Red Wolves finished the 2013-14 season with a 22-12 overall record and claimed its first ever outright Sun Belt Conference regular season championship and advanced to the SBC title game for just the second time in program history. Arkansas State narrowly missed out on securing its first NCAA Tournament berth after falling to Western Kentucky by one point in the SBC championship game. The Red Wolves welcome back three starters, including Sun Belt Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble.
Central Arkansas returns 10 players from the 2013-14 season including Southland Conference Freshman of the Year Brianna Mullins along with teammate Maggie Proffitt, one of the league’s top shooters as a freshman this past season. The Sugar Bears concluded the season with an 18-12 record, losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to McNeese State.
Colorado finished the 2013-14 season with a 19-15 record, logging its fourth-straight winning season and postseason tournament trip. The Buffaloes survived a bumpy Pac-12 Conference schedule, tying for ninth at 6-12, to make a run to the third round of the Postseason WNIT before losing to UTEP. Colorado returns 10 letterwinners including its top two scorers and rebounders. Junior forward Arielle Roberson (12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and senior forward Jen Reese (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) both earned honorable mention to the All-Pac-12 team a year ago. Colorado has spent a large chunk of each of the past two seasons ranked in the Top 25, reaching as high as No. 11 in the AP poll last December.
Eastern Kentucky made its first trip to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament semifinals since 2005 before bowing out to regular-season champion UT Martin. The Lady Colonels finished the season 17-13 and return three starters for 2014-15 including junior Shelly Harper who led the team in rebounds (6.2 rpg) and is the returning leading scorer (10.4 ppg).
Jackson State was knocked out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament semifinals in overtime by Texas Southern. The Tigers finished the 2013-14 campaign with a 15-15 overall record and 12-6 in conference play. It was their best season since 2008 when they won 18 games during the regular season and won the SWAC championship. The team returns its top three scorers from last season including Ayann Hardy-Fuller who averaged 11.5 ppg and also led the team in rebounding with an average of 7.0 rpg.
Mercer is coming off a 17-14 (9-9 Atlantic Sun) season in 2013-14 that saw the team advance to the semifinal round of the Atlantic Sun tournament. The Bears will make their debut in the Southern Conference in 2014-15 and are set to return four of their top five scorers from a season ago. Senior Precious Bridges returns for Mercer after leading the team in scoring with 14.8 ppg.
Mississippi State ended its second season under head coach Vic Schaefer with a 22-14 record and a run to the quarterfinals of the WNIT in its first postseason appearance since 2009-10. The Dawgs claimed the fourth-most wins in program history and earned three postseason victories for the first time. The Bulldogs finished the year 12th in the nation in turnover margin (+5.3), set new school records for points scored (2,551) and rebounds (1,410). The Dawgs return four of their five starters for the 2013-14 season including leading scorer Martha Alwal (14.9 ppg), and their incoming freshman class is ranked 20th in the nation by ESPNW HoopGurlz.
North Dakota finished the 2013-14 season as the Big Sky Conference regular season co-champion and won the conference tournament to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. UND fell to Texas A&M in the opening round, but finished a successful season with a 22-10 overall record, doubling its win total from 2012-13. UND loses leading scorer Madi Buck (16.0 ppg), but returns junior Mia Loyd who led the team with an average of 9.0 rpg and 13.6 ppg.
Penn State reached the NCAA Regional Semifinals for the 13th time in program history and second time in the past three years. The Lady Lions (24-8, 13-3) suffered a loss to No. 2 seed and host Stanford to end their 2013-14 season. The loss marked the end of the career of Penn State’s superb senior class, which was just the third class in school history to top 100 wins. Penn State claimed its third consecutive conference title and the eighth Big Ten Championship in program history, which is tied for third among conference programs. The Lady Lions lose four seniors, but have a talented crop of sophomores and new recruits ready to step in. They will look for leadership from last year’s only returning starter in senior Tori Waldner along with junior Candice Agee who played solid minutes coming off the bench.
Rider battled through an injury-riddled season, three starters went down with season ending injuries, to finish with a 15-17 overall record. The Broncs advanced to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinals before losing to eight-time defending MAAC champion Marist College. Rider loses leading scorer MyNeshia McKenzie to graduation, but returns a talented bunch including Mikal Johnson (10.5 ppg), Emily Fazzini (9.8 ppg), and Lashay Banks (8.5 ppg).
Seton Hall is coming off one of its most successful seasons in program history which saw the Pirates qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2007. Under first-year coach Tony Bozzella, SHU finished the 2013-14 campaign with a 20-14 record and advanced to the third round of the Postseason WNIT for the first time ever. The Pirates fell to eventual champion Rutgers in round three of the WNIT in a thrilling double overtime game. SHU returns two outstanding players in point guard Ka-Deidre Simmons and junior swing player Tabatha Richardson-Smith. Both players led the team in scoring and Simmons was named First-Team All-Big East, the first for the program since 1996.
St. Francis Brooklyn concluded the 2013-14 season with the most wins (19-11) in 36 years of the program. The Terriers finished with a program-best 10 wins in the Northeast Conference and finished first in many team statistical categories including holding opponents to a league-best 62.1 ppg. The Terriers return their top three scorers from a season ago including seniors Eilidh Simpson (14.0 ppg), Sarah Benedetti (11.4 ppg), and Jaymee Veney (10.7 ppg).
Towson returns three starters from a squad that finished 2013-14 with a 13-17 record. The Tigers’ season came to an end in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament after falling to College of Charleston, 70-64. Towson loses leading scorer Tanisha McTiller (19.4 ppg) to graduation, but returns LaTorri Hines-Allen (14.1 ppg) and Dominique Johnson (10.3 ppg).
West Virginia is coming off its first Big 12 Conference regular season title in program history and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers closed out the 2013-14 season with a 30-5 overall record (16-2 Big 12), the most wins in a single season in program history, and a No. 7 ranking in the postseason polls. WVU losses five seniors, but returns its leading scorer in junior Bria Holmes (15.2 ppg). Holmes, a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection, became the 14th player in Mountaineer women’s basketball history to have 500 points in a season with 516.
Western Kentucky reached the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time in program history and first since 2008 after securing the Sun Belt Conference’s automatic bid. The Lady Toppers finished the season with a 24-9 overall record and 13-5 record in conference play after losing to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Chastity Gooch returns for her senior year to lead WKU in 2014-15 in their first season in Conference USA. Gooch averaged a team-high 18.4 ppg and 9.03 rpg as a junior for the Lady Toppers.