NCAA basketball tournaments always represent a chance to make history.
Some teams have already done this before taking the field.
The 12th seed in the women’s group, Massachusetts set a program record with 26 wins on its way to its first tournament in 24 years.
Atlantic 10 Conference tournament champion UMass, Oklahoma at No. 5 will face Notre Dame. Coach Tory Verdi took over in 2016, when Minutewomen wasn’t exactly a high-profile program.
But make no mistake; Minutewomen are not just happy to be in the tournament. They want to shake the pitch.
“I feel like we’re all really stepping into this challenge, like the bigger the stage, the better we play,” Sam Breen, a graduate striker and A-10 player of the year, said this week.
Breen leads a group that includes Sydney Taylor and Destiney Philoxy, both second-team all-conference witnesses who witnessed the rebuilding of the program.
Years after the biggest stage, there are six more teams looking to create a new tournament story.
On Wednesday, Howard made history twice in the same game: Bison won the first women’s First Four in South Carolina, beating #16 Incarnate Word 55-51.
It was also Howard’s first tournament victory – ever.
Bison (21-9) took the field to win the Middle East Athletic Conference tournament final, avenging their loss to North Carolina A&T in the championship game last season. The best-seeded Howard, No. 2 Norfolk County administered 61-44.
Dive Deeper into NCAA Tournaments
So, for the first time in 21 years, Bison is part of the NCAA tournament and they got a win under their belt thanks to a 15-point double-double from Brooklyn Fort-Davis.
Their reward? A date with the #1 seed South Carolina on Friday is one of the favorites on the field.
Fairfield Manager Joe Frager knew this would be his last season.
In October, ahead of his 15th season with the Stags, he said he would retire at the end of the year, citing his health.
Frager has previously led postseason runs: The Southern Connecticut State team won the 2007 NCAA Division II championship in 2007, the final year before moving to Fairfield.
Under the direction of her predecessor, Dianne Nolan, the Elks received a big bid to the 2001 NCAA tournament.
They had not returned since.
“This has been a special season because of the efforts of our coaches and players,” said Frager. Said. “This group has been focused and goal-oriented from start to finish, and that says a lot about the leadership provided by our elders. Right now, I am very much in the moment. I am sure after some time I will be able to savor the memories of this wonderful season.”
Fairfield (25-6) defeated Manhattan to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship and earn an automatic qualifier. The Stags are led by veteran forward Lou Lopez-Senechal, who scored 24 points in the conference championship game. On Friday, they’ll play against Texas, the #2 seed and Big 12 Conference tournament champion.
UNLV (26-6) has not participated in the tournament since 2002. He rejoined the tournament 20 years later, beating Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game.
As the 13th seed, UNLV faces a sudden challenge Saturday night with 4th seeded Arizona, who lost to Stanford in last year’s championship game.
Coach Lindy La Rocque took over the program in 2021 and returned to college basketball’s biggest stage a year later.
UNLV averaged 75.6 points per game, the highest since 2009-10. The team is led by Essence Booker, who scored 25 points in the championship game and was named the Mountain West tournament’s most valuable player.
Texas in Arlington
Starr Jacobs, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year, has only played for one Division I season.
After transferring from Temple College, a junior college in Texas, he became the first UTA player to average more than 20 points per game. He also led UTA (20-7) to the tournament for the first time in 15 years.
As the 14th seed, the team will face third-seeded Iowa State on Friday night. This program will represent the Sunbelt for the last time, as the university will join the Western Athletic Conference next season.
Before then, UTA wants to demonstrate its star power, or rather Starr power.
State of Illinois
The Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions, the Redbirds won a single NCAA tournament game in 1989. They haven’t even had a chance since 2008.
The 15th seeded State of Illinois (19-13) will play Big Ten tournament champions and second-seeded Iowa, one of the most dynamic and high-profile teams in the NCAA tournament, on Friday.
The Redbirds are 1-5 in the NCAA tournament and it won’t be easy to beat the Caitlin Clark-led Hawkeyes.
Juliunn Redmond led the Redbirds with 17.6 points per game, while all-conference forward DeAnna Wilson has had eight double-doubles this season.
When Longwood goes to court Thursday night in Raleigh, NC, the production will take more than a decade.
The 16th seeded Lancers, which completed their transition to Division I in the 2007-8 season, struggled with losing seasons for years before joining the tournament. Just three seasons ago, they finished 3-27.
Now in League I, third in blocks with Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee and behind Big South Conference player of the year Akila Smith, the Lancers (21-11) are at Mount St. Mary’s. A win on Thursday would earn them a date with the No.1 State of North Carolina.