Durham, NC (U-WIRE) -- This might just be the strongest year ever in women's ACC basketball. With four teams in the top 25 and a few close behind, the conference has a chance to garner its highest number of NCAA bids ever come tournament time.
This week's Associated Press poll has Duke at No. 3, North Carolina at No. 8, Maryland at No. 20 and N.C. State at No. 21. Florida State, which was in the poll two weeks ago, and Virginia also received votes in the latest edition.
"This is the best the conference has been in my 13 years, without a doubt," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "There are some other great conferences out there; most of them are a little bit top heavy, whereas ours, top to bottom is very high quality."
Most of the ACC teams played difficult out-of-conference schedules, which will help their in-conference opponents improve their strength of schedule rating. The Rating Percentage Index, which is used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to help determine bids and seeding, uses a strength of schedule rating as one of its key ingredients.
According to collegerpi.com, a service that attempts to replicate the secret RPI formula, all six ACC schools that got votes in the most recent AP poll are in the RPI top 25. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, which have struggled with the difficult conference schedule, are in the top 40 in the RPI estimation. As a conference, the ACC has held the highest aggregate RPI throughout season.
In the 64-team field, at least 33 spots are reserved for at-large bids. With the top teams usually winning their respective conference championships, this usually means that most teams in the RPI top-40 receive an invitation to the tournament. Despite mediocre 4-6 and 3-6 conference records, respectively, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are still in very good shape for the postseason. Even RPI No. 51 Miami, boasting a 4-7 record in the ACC, is still in the mix to get into the bracket.
"Right now when you look at it you'd say definitely six, but I think we'll get more than that because there are still so many games to play, and then you add the conference tournament," Goestenkors said. "So I think there may be one or two other teams that hit the stretch run and do really well. And I think that might pull a seventh or an eighth team in."
The ACC has historically been more interested in the success of its men's basketball teams. The NCAA women's basketball tournament debuted in 1982, and the conference as a whole only made it to the Final Four once in the first decade.
Virginia enjoyed a brief stint of success in the early 1990s, and North Carolina won the ACC's only national championship in women's basketball in 1994.
Through the efforts of conference administrators, schools and most importantly individual coaches over the past decade, the ACC has raised its profile in many sports, including women's basketball.
Goestenkors, along with long-time assistant Gale Valley, pulled off a recruiting coup in 1993 when they pulled in the ninth-best class in the nation, according to the Blue Star Report. Since 1999, every Blue Devil recruiting class has been in the top-five, with some recruiting services calling Duke's haul the best in four of the past five years.
"Duke's success has brought recognition to the conference," Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. "It's given all of us the opportunity to go out and sell to recruits just the fact that you're going to be able to play against the best.
"This year I think you can really see the benefits we've had in recruiting. We've had some very good teams in recent years in the ACC, but this year teams like N.C. State and Maryland are also emerging as major contenders."
Other powerhouse conferences such as the Big East, Pac-10 and SEC have showcased programs such as Connecticut, Stanford and Tennessee to use as a selling point. The Blue Devils are now playing that role for the ACC.
The ACC's recent expansion has also strengthened the overall level of play. Miami and Virginia Tech, which both made the NCAA Tournament last season, give the conference a chance to earn its most berths ever.
"We've added some great teams in Miami and Virginia Tech, and the conference's commitment to being No. 1 in women's basketball has really helped more than any one school's commitment," FSU head coach Sue Semrau said.
The most teams the ACC has ever gotten into the tournament was six in 2001. Shrinking the conference schedule from 16 to 14 games this season allowed schools to play more rigorous out-of-conference slates. Along with more television exposure and two more teams, this year's ACC is ready to break that record.
(C) 2004 The Chronicle via U-WIRE
The ACC has become one of the nation's top conferences in women's basketball.