Sports, Women's Basketball

Go Figure: What Will it Take for the Eagles to Make the NCAA Tournament?

Boston College women’s basketball has won four straight and six of its last seven games. The Eagles (16-10, 9-6 Atlantic Coast) have already set their single-season program record for ACC victories and are 5-1 in February. Finding its groove at the right time, BC sits on the bubble with three regular season games remaining.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Eagles have a shot at making the dance this year. Throughout ACC play, they have donned a commemorative “CI” patch on the left shoulder of their jerseys to honor the late Cathy Inglese, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and died this summer. Inglese was the last head coach to lead BC to the NCAA Tournament—her seventh and final trip with the Eagles came in 2005-06 during her 13th year at the helm of the program.

A storybook finish to the regular season could lead to a tourney appearance. But first, BC will need to make a few things happen.

The Eagles will cap off their four-game homestand on Sunday against Miami (13-13, 5-10) before wrapping up their 18-game ACC slate with a pair of road contests versus No. 5 Louisville (24-3, 13-2) and Syracuse (15-11, 9-6).

Without a Basketball Power Index equivalent for projections, there is no available metric to forecast game-by-game results this far out.

That said, Miami is coming off a heartbreaking loss to No. 10 North Carolina State and has dropped four of its last five games. The Hurricanes rank 10th in the league and 197th nationally in points allowed per game, and the Eagles have one of the best offenses in the ACC. And Miami is still without senior Beatrice Mompremier. The 6-foot-4 forward has missed the last 13 games with a foot injury, watching her team go 4-9 in her absence. So for the purpose of this piece—built on hypotheticals—let’s say BC beats Miami.

That puts the Eagles, who entered this week as one of the “next four teams out” on ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s most recent NCAA Tournament projections, at 17 wins. In all likelihood, BC will need to take one of its final two regular-season games.

That victory will be hard to come by at the KFC Yum! Center. BC is 1-7 all-time against Louisville and hasn’t defeated the Cardinals since 1985-86. The Eagles’ 11-point loss to the Cardinals on Jan. 16 was their closest defeat in the series since the 2015-16 campaign. With a star-studded backcourt—Dana Evans and Jazmine Jones average a combined 32.1 points per game—and the highest field goal percentage of any team in the league, Louisville could once again prove too much for BC to handle.

A loss to the Cardinals would set the stage for a dramatic regular season finale at Syracuse. At 17-11, BC would enter the Carrier Dome with a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament locked up. But a win over the Orange—assuming Syracuse splits its games against Notre Dame and NC State—would likely guarantee the Eagles a top-six seed in the conference tournament. 

Syracuse claimed the teams’ first meeting of the season, defeating BC in Conte Forum, 89-79, on Feb. 6. In fact, that victory kickstarted the Orange’s current five-game win streak. Again, let’s roll with this imaginary scenario and say that BC gets revenge on the road to finish the regular season on a high note.

In that case, the Eagles would go into the ACC Tournament with a 18-11 record, including a 11-7 mark in league play. On day two of the tourney, they’d face either the No. 11 or No. 14 seed, depending on the outcome of those teams’ first-round matchup. According to the current ACC standings, BC would be up against the likes of Clemson or Wake Forest—both opponents that the Eagles have already beaten this month. 

A win against the Tigers or Demon Deacons would be BC’s first in ACC Tournament play since 2015-16, but it’s more likely than not that the Eagles would come out on top versus one of the conference’s bottom dwellers.

Then, things get tricky. BC would play the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals. At this point, it appears as if that could either be Duke, No. 17 Florida State, or Virginia Tech, considering that those teams rank third, fourth, and fifth respectively in the conference standings and are all tied with 10 ACC wins approaching the final stretch of the regular season.

BC hasn’t faced Duke since its ACC opener on Dec. 8, a losing effort in which the Eagles shot 35.7 percent from the floor and Emma Guy mustered just four points. A month and a half later, BC lost by 21 points to Virginia Tech, only to shock then-No. 14 FSU on the road seven days after that. The Eagles, who average 73.2 points per game, scored just 49 in Blacksburg, Va. and held FSU—which boasts the 14th-best offensive rating in college basketball, per Her Hoop Stats—to 37.5 percent shooting. Neither were predictable performances, and the same could be true for BC’s quarterfinal matchup.

In this hypothetical, however, we won’t bet on the upset. So, with a loss, the Eagles will wait for the committee’s call at 19-12. Four of the past five years, the ACC has sent at least seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. Yet, like 2015-16, this season could very well be a down year for the conference. At the moment, Creme’s projections only seed five ACC teams in the field of 64: Louisville, N.C. State, FSU, Virginia Tech, and Duke.

Over the course of the next few weeks, though, the bracket is bound to change, and the ACC could easily slip another program into the dance. After all, 19-win ACC teams have made the tourney before. Last year, North Carolina (18-14) and Clemson (19-12) both heard their names called on Selection Sunday. The year before that, Virginia got in at 18-13.

Unfortunately for BC, its RPI might not be high enough to convince the committee that the Eagles deserve a bid. RPI, which stands for rating percentage index, is a metric that’s been used by the women’s basketball committee since 1984 to pick at-large teams and seed the field. Essentially, a team’s RPI is dependent on its own winning percentage, the winning percentage of its opponents, and its opponents’ strength of schedule. 

Coming into their Sunday afternoon game against Miami, the Eagles are 75th nationally in RPI. To put that in perspective, no ACC team has made the NCAA Tournament in the past five years with an RPI ranking lower than 65 (Miami in 2015). And last year, the lowest RPI of any at-large bid was 60 (Tennessee).

BC is just 1-2 versus the Top 25 and, of its nine conference victories thus far, only one has come against an ACC team that currently ranks inside the top five of the league standings. Meanwhile, head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s team is weighed down by non-conference losses to Holy Cross, Providence, and Charlotte.

Ultimately, 19-12 probably won’t cut it. But if the Eagles can swipe a win at Louisville or, more realistically, in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, they might just find themselves in March Madness for the first time in 14 years.

Featured Image and Photo by Kait Devir / Heights Staff

Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Senior Staff

February 23, 2020