COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle women's basketball team, defending regular season champion of the Ohio Valley Conference, has been selected as one of 16 teams to participate in the 2011 Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). The field, which includes three Top 10 programs and several opponents that Tech has never faced, was announced Thursday.
Top 10 teams Baylor, Notre Dame, and UCLA headline the field that also includes Akron, Chattanooga, Detroit, Drexel, ETSU, Hartford, Howard, Indiana State, Long Island, Manhattan, McNeese State, UAB and the Golden Eagles.
"We're excited about the opportunity to play in the Preseason WNIT," said Sytia Messer, TTU women's basketball coach. "With the excellent teams that are participating, our team will be tested early. I think having the opportunity to play in this event with this calibre of teams says a lot about the season we had last year and it puts high expectations on our team for the coming season.|
"We hope to represent the OVC well in the tournament," she said.
The Preseason WNIT features a three-game guarantee format. The event opens Nov. 11 with first-round games. Second-round games will be played Nov. 13-14; semifinals will be Nov. 16-17; and the championship is set for Sunday, Nov. 20. Teams that lose in the first two rounds will play consolation games on the second weekend, Nov. 18-19. All games will be hosted by participating schools, which could give the Golden Eagles additional home games top open the season.
"I think being selected to play in this tournament gives us the advantage of being able to begin our season practice a little earlier, and start the season a little earlier," Messer said. "It gives us an earlier chance to see where we stand as a team."
While Tech did face Baylor two years ago in Messer's first season at Tech, most of the opponents in the field are new to the Golden Eagles.
"There are a lot of new opponents that Tennessee Tech has never faced before, and each team brings a different style," she said. "That will challenge us early on to learn to make adjustments."
The Preseason WNIT bracket will be announced in June. Here's a quick snapshot of the field:
- Akron loses just one senior from its 14-16 team, and with the return of four starters, the Zips expect to get back to their form of 09-10 when they posted their best season in school history at 18-14.
- Baylor is a favorite to win next season's national title after advancing to the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Lady Bears have U.S. Basketball Writers Association coach of the year Kim Mulkey to lead freshman of the year Odyssey Sims, All-American Brittney Griner, and the vast majority of the Bears that went 34-3 last season and captured the Big 12 Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
- Chattanooga won 11 straight Southern Conference titles until last season's youth-laden team lost in overtime in the semifinals of the tournament. This year's team is a year older and will build on a 17-14 mark with everyone on the roster back for another season under coach Wes Moore.
- Detroit is a program on the rise, as the Titans return all five starters from their 13-18 team that defeated Michigan on the road for the first time since 1983.
- Drexel earned its third straight trip to the postseason and finished 19-12 despite suffering some key injuries. The Dragons welcome all but one player back for next fall.
- ETSU has won three of the past four Atlantic Sun Tournament titles. The Lady Buccaneers return three starters from their 19-12 team, including Destiny Mitchell, who earned all-conference freshman team honors after suffering a season-ending knee injury in February.
- Hartford finished last season on a high note by winning the America East tournament and earning its sixth trip to the NCAAs despite a slow start with an inexperienced team. The Hawks, who were 27-5 a year ago, will again be a favorite this fall in the America East.
- Howard finished runner-up at the MEAC championships and returns conference Player of the Year Saadia Doyle for her junior season. The 16-18 Bison return all five of their starters for their first appearance in the Preseason WNIT.
- Indiana State head coach Teri Moren set a school record for most wins in a rookie season as the Sycamores were 16-16. They get all but one player back from a team that advanced to the Missouri Valley tournament's semifinal round.
- Long Island returns its top players from a 19-11 team in the Northeast Conference, including senior Ashley Palmer, a two-time NEC first-team all-conference honoree.
- Manhattan is coming off its winningest season in school history, as it finished 24-10 and played in the postseason. The Jaspers welcome back four starters.
- McNeese State posted a record-setting season and tied the best turnaround in NCAA history with a 26-7 record after winning seven games the year before. The Cowgirls captured both the Southland Conference regular-season and tournament titles, and played in their first NCAA Tournament in school history. Their top players return to the team this fall.
- Notre Dame made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling to Texas A&M, and the Fighting Irish (31-8) will be back in force this fall for another strong run. They are led by point guard Skylar Diggins, who is among a record three Irish players who recently made the 14-player cut for the U.S. World University Games.
- Tennessee Tech won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title and played in the Postseason WNIT. The Golden Eagles posted a nine-game turnaround from the season before, finishing with a 23-8 overall record. They get all five starters back this fall.
- UAB rolled to its first 20-win season in a decade, going 20-15 and winning the WBI postseason event. The Blazers return four of their five starters and all but one player on their roster.
- UCLA earned more regular-season wins (26) than ever before, and matched its highest seed in history in the NCAA Tournament at No. 3. The Bruins (28-5) will have a new coaching staff led by Cori Close after Nikki Caldwell took the LSU job, but should again be picked to finish around the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 Conference this fall.
In last year's Preseason WNIT, Purdue defeated DePaul 67-58.
For more information, visit the WNIT website at www.womensnit.com