Women’s basketball in rough position

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Online Poster

By Derek Barichello

When the women’s basketball team hosts IP-Fort Wayne tonight, it will be in a rare position, because even if the team wins, their chances of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid are hurt.

Coming down the stretch run in the season, the Illini are 14-10 and 6-8 in conference play. In the latest RPI rankings, the team was rated 77th.

The RPI system is one of the major determinants in the selection of NCAA Tournament teams. It is calculated by 25 percent winning percentage, 50 percent opponents’ winning percentage and 25 percent opponents opponents’ winning percentage.

IP-Fort Wayne comes into tonight’s game with a record of 4-19. Even if the Illini win, they will take a hit on their ranking.

The game leaves the Illini in a tough predicament. If the Illini lose, it would devastate their chances for an at-large bid into the tournament.

“Do you want me to cancel the game?” said head coach Theresa Grentz. “We’re going to the game and we’re going to win.”

Despite the Mastodans’ record and a conference showdown against Iowa lurking, the Illini know they can not afford to look past Fort Wayne.

Although the Mastodans have struggled in only their fourth season as a Division-I program, they have defeated two winning teams. Most recently, Fort Wayne topped Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi 63-62 on Saturday, who came into the game with a record of 18-6. Their other win against a .500 or better opponent came against Wisconsin-Milwaukee (14-12) 70-65 on Feb. 10.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Grentz said. “Every game is so important this time of year.”

Grentz said the Illini are not looking to try anything new or do anything special in tonight’s game. They are going to treat it the same way they would any other opponent.

“We’re coming down to the stretch run,” Grentz said. “It is no secret what needs to be done.”

The Illini have recorded quality road wins against Louisiana Tech (23rd in the RPI) and Purdue (41), but have suffered key losses to Bradley (118) and Wisconsin (90).

According to ESPN analyst Charlie Creme, who projects the NCAA Tournament pairings, the Illini would be left out of the field of 64 because of their poor RPI ranking and sub-.500 conference record.

Although the Illini’s tournament hopes are up in the air, they have opportunities to improve. The Illini finish the season against Iowa (35th in the RPI) on Thursday and Michigan (166) on Sunday.

The Illini will also compete in the Big Ten tournament. Depending on the results of their final two conference games, they could end up as high as a five seed and as low as a seven. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.