By Mel Greenberg
The Big East is not the only place where changes are about to happen in women’s basketball as more shifts predicated from the men’s side and also in the sport of football continues to occur.
Temple is saying adios and moving on to whatever the group of football schools left in what was the Big East will be called while Charlotte is heading for Conference-USA.
Multiple reports have Butler and Xavier ready to be picked off by the group of seven Big East Catholic Schools – Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, DePaul, Marquette, St. John’s and Seton Hall – and become part of what will be known as the Big East.
Some other A-10 members may be getting invites down the road.
And within what has been the normal tradition of the A-10 women’s competition takes on two different aspects this week when the first three but not all four rounds return to Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena for the second straight season.
Play begins Friday, as has been the way it was in the past, with first-round action and then the winners moving on to face the four top teams that had byes in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Then it’s on to Sunday’s semifinals and that’s where the similarity will end when the winners are determined.
Instead of moving into the Monday 5 p.m. slot for TV purposes to determine the champion and automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament the two finalists will take a break and then meet a week from Saturday in the middle of the men’s semifinals in the new Barclays Center, home of the NBA Nets, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Now what also is different is who made the 12-team field and who got left out from what was a group of 16 schools and where they landed.
That was all determined Sunday with the final games of the regular season.
All three Big Five teams in the A-10 got swept – in fact, Fordham is now the Big Five champ of the A-10, believe it or not – but two live to see another day though in different starting positions than in the past.
Both conference newcomers made the field with Butler (17-12, 8-6), formerly with the Horizon Conference, previously landing the sixth seed last week and Virginia Commonwealth (11-18, 4-10), a former power in the Colonial Athletic Association, bumping La Salle out on Sunday when the Explorers fell at Saint Bonaventure 71-58 in Olean, N.Y., and the Rams beat Rhode Island.
That created a tie for the last spot and VCU got the nod over the Explorers because of the head-to-head win by the Rams.
Rhode Island and Massachusetts again missed the tournament field.
La Salle had missed the A-10 several seasons before Jeff Williams arrived in the spring of 2011 after the Explorers lost a coin flip with Fordham to stay home and he immediately got La Salle (8-21, 4-10 A-10) moving upwards.
But injuries and departures took their tool, though things could be brighter next year.
In the final game for the Explorers, Shanel Harrison, who picked up some of the slack after Brittany Wilson’s injury, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Ebonee Jones had 13 points, and Jordan Mosley scored 10.
Though St. Bonaventure won the game, the Bonnies’ season is also over, finishing 10-19 and 3-11 in the league, having been eliminated with a loss last Wednesday.
The result is quite a turnaround from the perfect run in the regular season last year and advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
The marquee game of the day – in terms of TV exposure – had Saint Joseph’s visiting Dayton, ranked 12th in the Associated Press women’s poll.
After falling behind by 18 points in the second half the Hawks, guided by Cindy Griffin, mounted another of their famed rallies this season, but as a few others
have failed this one also fell short and Saint Joseph’s fell at Dayton Arena in Ohio to the Flyers 73-66 despite a career-high 28 points from junior Erin Shields.
The win enabled Dayton (26-1, 14-0 Atlantic 10) to overcome the loss of seven graduates who led the Flyers a year ago to their first tournament title.
That’s when they ruined St. Bonaventure’s Cinderella run of perfection until the championship and now coach Jim Jabir’s group will start play in the quarterfinals after an unbeaten regular season conference run – the third straight year following Xavier and the Bonnies that an unbeaten team incredibly emerged.
Natasha Cloud also scored in double figures for the Hawks (20-8, 11-3), who will be the fourth seed, the first time Saint Joseph’s has a bye since 2004, when under a previous set of standings they were the second seed out of the East.
Since then, 2007 was near magic when as the fifth seed, the Hawks upset George Washington in the semifinals but fell to host Xavier in the title game.
Saint Joseph’s has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2000, the year the city hosted the Women’s Final Four. But with an upset of Maryland early in the season, a strong run, a strong schedule, this could be the year, though they may have to beat fifth-seeded Duquesne again in the quarterfinals after edging the Dukes in overtime in Pittsburgh several weeks ago.
Charlotte, which has won a title in the past and been a perennial contender, will be the second seed, after suffering just the A-10 loss to Dayton.
The third seed, holding the other bye, is former perennial doormat Fordham (22-17, 12-2), which has not seen a season like this in 19 years or ever in the Atlantic 10.
Coached by former Saint Joseph’s Stephanie V. Gaitley, Fordham made a dramatic turnaround her second season, beat La Salle here in Philadelphia in a rout, edged Saint Joseph’s in overtime in the Bronx at Rose Hill Gym last Sunday, and on Sunday 24 hours ago, completed the Philly sweep by ruining Temple’s senior day with a 58-44 win at McGonigle Hall.
Temple (12-17, 5-9), lost its last five conference games – not the way the Owls wanted to leave after being upset in the semifinals last year by Dayton – but made it as a 10th seed off a head-to-head win over Saint Louis (11-18, 5-9).
Temple will open play at 5 p.m. on Friday, the first time since 2000 the Owls don’t have a bye, against Xavier (13-15, 7-7), the former conference heavyweight, who edged the Owls recently in town.
The Musketeers feel on hard times last year but got a bit better this time around.
The winner of the Temple game plays Charlotte in the quarterfinals, not a major daunting task, but the Owls’ youth has been an Achilles heel all year.
Things are changing every hour in terms of coverage of the conference musical chairs but Temple gets its act together for next season the Owls could thrive in their new home though the price of residency is probably home-and-home with UConn, unless the Huskies take off. There will also be a home-and-home with Rutgers before the Scarlet Knights take off for the Big Ten.
Temple has only one senior leaving in Victoria Macaulay, who had 18 points and nine rebounds against Fordham.
Erin Rooney had 15 points to lead four Rams in double figures.
“We wanted ‘Vic to walk away from here with a victory,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “You always want (your seniors) to have a memorable moment, and it stinks that we weren’t able to give that to her.
“Stephanie has done a great job with them. Their offense and the players they put on the floor. I felt like they were just a little too much for us today. On the offensive end, we got to the point where we were stagnant … We were just taking ill-advised shots and not going to our strengths. “
Fifth-seeded Duquesne (22-6, 11-3), which will open with VCU, has improved each year under former Penn State star and Olympic gold medalist Suzie McConnell-Serio.
The problem with Saint Joseph’s is having to come right back again and deal with Dayton in the semifinals unless the Flyers are shocked by the winner of George Washington (13-15, 7-7), which improved under new coach Jonathan Tsipis.
Atlantic 10 Tournament
Friday, First Round (All times Eastern).
No. 8 George Washington vs. No. 9 Richmond, 11:30 a.m.
No. 5 Duquesne vs. No. 12 VCU, 2:30 p.m.
No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 10 Temple, 5 p.m.
No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Saint Louis, 7:30 p.m.
No. 1 Dayton vs. No. 8 George Washington/No. 9 Richmond, 12 p.m.
No. 4 Saint Joseph’s vs. No. 5 Duquesne/No. 12 VCU, 2:30 p.m.
No. 2 Charlotte vs. No. 7 Xavier/No. 10 Temple, 5 p.m.
No. 3 Fordham vs. No. 6 Butler/No. 11 Saint Louis, 7:30 p.m.
Dayton side vs. Saint Joseph’s side, 1 p.m., CBS=Sports Network.
Charlotte side vs. Fordham side, 4 p.m., CBS –Sports Network.
Saturday, March 26
Brooklyn, N.Y. 7 p.m., ESPNU