March 5, 2010

Women's basketball prepares to meet Simpson in first round of NCAA play

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The time for worrying about regional rankings, selection committees, and all the other aspects of that pseudo-science known as “bracketology” is over. Now, performance is all that matters for women’s basketball.

The Maroons were selected on Monday to appear in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years and just the third time in program history. Chicago last made the tournament in 2008 when they beat St. Thomas and St. Norbert to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

If this year’s team is to replicate that performance, the Maroons will first have to defeat Simpson (22–5) today. The Storm earned their sixth straight tournament berth when they won the Iowa Conference’s automatic bid by defeating Coe 65–61 in Saturday’s conference tournament final. The winner of the Chicago–Simpson game will play either host institution Illinois Wesleyan (26–1) or Franklin (21–6) tomorrow.

On paper, the Maroons appear unlikely to advance out of this regional, considering that they have the worst winning percentage of the four teams. However, Chicago’s record looks more impressive in light of the fact that each of their six losses came to another tournament team and four of them came against top-ten ranked opposition. If nothing else, the Maroons should be prepared for the level of competition they will face in the tournament.

Preparing for Simpson specifically might be more difficult. Today’s game will be the first ever between the two programs. However, Chicago is not entirely unfamiliar with the Iowa Conference. Back in November, the Maroons beat Coe 64–57 in the Midway Classic final. In addition to their conference tournament final, Simpson and Coe also met twice in the regular season with each team prevailing on its home court.

The Storm also present a challenge in that they play a style that is almost exactly the opposite of Chicago’s. While the Maroons have built their success on a foundation of strong field goal defense and rebounding, Simpson’s main asset is a prolific fast break offense. The Storm rank ninth in the nation in scoring offense at 77.1 points per game and fifth in assists with 17.2 per contest. While their defense is only mediocre in most statistics, Simpson compensates for that by forcing frequent mistakes from their opposition. They rank third nationally with 15.8 steals per game.

Simpson’s standout players are second-year center Stacey Schutjer and fourth-year guard Katie Kitzman, both of whom were named to the All-Iowa Conference first team. Schutjer led the Storm in both points per game (15.3) and rebounds per game (6.4). Kitzman scored 13.7 points per game and proved a lethal long-range shooter by making 42.1 percent of her three-point attempts. Third-year guard Amy Hamilton was named to the second team.

If the Maroons defeat Simpson, they face a likely rematch with third-ranked Illinois Wesleyan. The Titans visited Chicago on December 5 when they beat Chicago 64–57. The Maroons led by as many as nine points early in the second half of that game before the Titans pulled ahead thanks to a 17–2 run.

Much like Simpson, Illinois Wesleyan features a potent transition game and a press defense that forces opposing offenses into mistakes. The Titans rank second in scoring offense, first in assists per game, and second in turnover margin and are led by first team all-CCIW selections fourth-year center Christina Solari (13.8 points per game) and third-year guard Hope Schulte (11.7).

The Franklin Grizzlies will attempt to play spoiler against the hosts in the opening round. Franklin won the HCAC automatic bid by beating Hanover 80–73 in the conference tournament final. The Grizzlies are led by HCAC Most Valuable Player, Sarah Condra. Condra scored 16.8 points per game and shot 43 percent from beyond the arc.