Nearly everyone got a surprise yesterday when the 48-tea field for the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament was announced.
Everyone, that is, except Maryland coach Chris Weller, who thought her 12th-ranked team would get one of the eight national seeds, despite seven losses.
It turns out that Weller was right, as the Terps (22-7) received the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, behind Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference tournament champion and the nation's top-ranked team.
In the end, Weller said, Maryland's schedule -- one of the nation's toughest -- and its success gave the Terps higher standing with the nine-member tournament selection committee than with the poll-takers.
"I wasn't surprised at all," said Weller. "The polls have been very questionable this year because voters don't seem to be looking back on the overall season when they vote week to week. They vote on what happens each week. The losses we've had, we've rectified all of them except two."
Indeed, the Terps did defeat every Atlantic Coast Conference team that beat them, and their second loss to Virginia was last week's 106-103 triple-overtime classic in the ACC tournament final.
In addition, the Terps lost just one non-conference game all year, a three-point decision to Iowa in early December, and beat then-No. 1 Tennessee in late December, as well as Big East champion Miami and Colonial Athletic winner Old Dominion.
Judith Holland, women's athletic director at UCLA and chairwoman of the committee, said: "Seven losses wasn't the primary concern for us. It was their strength of schedule and how they turned out on our [ratings], and Maryland turned out very high."
The Terps will play host to the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between eighth seed Southwest Missouri State and No. 23 Oklahoma State, the ninth seed in the Midwest, on Saturday.
Southwest Missouri State (21-8), a surprise entrant in last year's Final Four, lost five of its first eight games before going on to win the Missouri Valley Conference, and Oklahoma State (23-8) finished in the upper half of the Big Eight during the regular season, but was upset early in the conference tournament.
"Both of them are excellent defensive teams and I believe both of those teams prefer to run and have good outside shooters," said Weller.
Texas (22-7) and Stephen F. Austin (27-4), which will play host to the regional tournament on March 25 and 27, received the third and fourth seeds in the Midwest.
Despite sharing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title, Coppin State (20-9) did not receive a bid, which would have been difficult since the MEAC is one of nine conferences that does not receive automatic bids.
However, Holland said if the tournament field expands to 64 next season, as expected, all 32 conferences will receive an automatic bid.
The SEC, widely acknowledged as the best women's basketball league, led the field with six bids. Tennessee (27-2), which alternated in the top spot with Vanderbilt through the season, got the top seed in the Mideast.
The other No. 1 seeds went to defending champion Stanford (25-5) in the West, and to Ohio State (24-3), a surprise choice in the East.
For the first time in the 11 years that the NCAA has conducted a women's tournament, the ACC placed five teams in the field.
Virginia (24-5), the regular-season and tournament winner, received the second seed in the East. North Carolina (22-6), which tied Maryland for second in the league, got a fourth seed in the Mideast and a first-round bye, despite a weak non-conference schedule.
Clemson (18-10) was awarded a fifth seed in the Midwest, and Georgia Tech (16-10), which narrowly missed getting into the tournament last season, got a ninth seed in the Mideast and became one of seven teams making their first appearance.
Elsewhere, Vermont, which has not lost a regular-season game in two seasons, got the eighth seed in the East and will play host to Rutgers Wednesday.
Second seed Iowa (24-3), which will play host to the Mideast Regional tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 10 days, will not be able to host a second-round game there because of a Guns N' Roses concert scheduled in Iowa City on Friday night.
As a result, the Hawkeyes, who shared the Big Ten title with Ohio State, will have to go on the road to face the winner of the Old Dominion-Tennessee Tech first-round game.