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TT Exclusive: A conversation with a member of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee

Oregon deputy athletic director Lisa Peterson provided insight on Maryland and the national scale just days before the postseason begins.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With March right around the corner, Maryland women's basketball finds itself in an interesting spot heading into the postseason.

The Terps stand with a 20-7 record with only one game remaining in the regular season. Since entering the Big Ten, Maryland has only had one season with that many losses; the Terps went 26-8 and were knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the 2017-18 season.

Maryland has dealt with a ton of adversity this year, whether it be injuries, illnesses or personal matters. Regardless, the Terps, winners of eight of their last nine games, hope to find themselves in a position where they are playing their best basketball entering the most important month of the season.

Five teams stand within one game of first place in the Big Ten.

To get a look at where Maryland and the conference stand on the national scale, Testudo Times spoke to Lisa Peterson, the deputy athletic director at Oregon and one of the 12 members of this season's Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, via a phone call on Feb. 24.

(This interview was lightly edited for clarity, but the content has not been altered.)

It’s your second year on the tournament selection committee, so what has that experience been like in terms of the joys and challenges of seeding certain teams and especially dealing with COVID since you started?

Yeah, so it hasn’t been normal. So I’ve been on the volleyball selection committee, and I know that women’s basketball is a little bit different, but the process is very similar. And it’s been incredibly challenging since being on the women’s basketball committee because we’ve had COVID as a part of it, and it’s really hard then to compare to apples to apples because of all the pauses, or coming off pauses, or missed games and makeup games and all those things. So I’m looking forward to a year where we don’t have to take all that into account. But we are expected to watch a lot of basketball, and I really like basketball, so that part I love. It’s been a great year. I think that if you look at it, there might be one or two teams at the top, but then there’s a lot of parity right below that. So it’s been a lot fun.

With the first couple top-16 reveals, Maryland was out of both. Just how close was Maryland to making that line in the last one, and do you think anything’s changed since then?

I don’t think I’m going to be able to answer those kinds of questions, that’s pretty specific. Obviously, they are a great team. I know that they’ve had a lot of interruptions for a lot of different reasons. But they’re certainly one of the teams that we are tracking, and if you look at just their last 10, I think they’re 8-2. So the challenges that they had previously, it seems that they’ve gotten those fixed, they’ve got players back and things like that, so definitely a team that we’re tracking on.

Looking at some of the criteria for at-large bids, availability of talent is one of them. How much is that factoring in this year, considering teams are playing certain games with certain players missing, not just Maryland, but obviously across the country?

That’s what makes it really challenging is because you see it, right. I don’t think that there are very many teams that you look at that don’t have maybe one or two games that people are missing, right, whether for whatever reason. And certainly that’s been like that in the past, there’s been injuries and things like that. But with COVID and all those things, it does make it a little bit different, and I think that’s what’s one of the more challenging things. Do you assume that if those players were available, that the outcome would be different, and it’s hard to not think that way, but it’s also, you can’t forget the fact that they didn’t win that game if that happened to be the case. I think that when we get to selections for the tournament, I think if somebody is not going to be back for the tournament, that could definitely have an impact. But hopeful that teams are getting people back. Obviously, there’s some injuries and things like that, which is normal, but hopeful that COVID doesn’t have a negative impact on all of that. We talk about it, we have conferences to tell us when people have missed, it’s definitely part of the conversation, for sure.

A conference like the Big Ten, so competitive at the top... the importance of things like conference titles in the regular season and both the tournament, how much is that going to be taken into account, at least in your eyes, this season?

The way that we kind of talk about it is your body of work is what gets you into the tournament, and then maybe there’s more emphasis paid on how the last month has gone as far as what your seed is in the tournament. So I certainly think the team that wins the Big Ten or wins the conference tournament, which by the way it’s been very exciting to watch the Big Ten this year, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. A lot of really, really good teams. I just watched the Indiana-Iowa game on Monday, a lot of really good games that are happening. I think that we definitely pay attention to the tournament and how teams do in the tournament, for sure. You look at the whole body of work, but you’re definitely paying attention as to what happens recently.

With conference tournaments starting up next week, what’s the committee’s schedule in terms of locations, meetings in the upcoming days before the actual reveal of the bracket a couple Sundays from now?

We’re gonna do another top-16 reveal on Monday [Feb. 28]. So the Selection Show is a day earlier because we’ve added those First Four games. We head to Indianapolis on [March] 8th, and then selection starts on [March] 9th, on that Wednesday, through Sunday. We’ll be monitoring because there are several conference tournaments that end next week, but we’ll be monitoring all of those that continue that week while we’re in selections and have that final bracket ready on Sunday night.

Only a couple years old, but the NET replacing the RPI. Is there still a familiarity process with everyone on the committee sifting through what parts of the NET might be important in terms of seeding teams and what other aspects of things like the eye test that you have to look at?

Absolutely. I think the NET is something we are all still trying to figure out. That’s where, again, I don’t even think that this year is a true test, because think of all the makeup games, and you've heard stories of teams, how many games they're playing in a few weeks and all that kind of stuff. I don’t think that what we’re seeing is what it’s really going to be when we get back to “normal,” and I use air quotes around normal because I’m really hoping that we get back to some sort of normal season. I’d definitely say, yes, trying to navigate, because what we’ve seen is teams are beating people by a lot. So if you’re winning by 30 or 40 points, your NET increases quite a bit. Doesn’t necessarily, if you’re looking like a head-to-head matchup with someone who could be very similar to you in the rankings, and you beat that team, some would think, well then you should rise higher in the NET, and that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s more about offensive and defensive efficiency, so we are trying to navigate through all that. And that’s why I think that if you were to look at the rankings, it’s definitely not based solely on NET. We don’t just pick the top-16 and start putting them in the bracket. So it is a piece of it, and it is something that we are all still working through. How we each evaluate, the value of teams, but I will also say that I don’t think that anything is as good as watching the team play.

Are there any sort of key storylines over the next couple of weeks that you think could shape some big-time movement ahead of Selection Sunday?

Wow, good question. We haven’t really talked about that. My opinion would be if there happens to be a big run by someone in a conference who isn’t in the top half right now, they run through their conference tournament and steal that automatic bid, that could certainly shape up some things. Teams that you look at that maybe aren’t necessarily expected to make it, and there always seems to be one or two that get hot at the right time and make their way into the tournament. So those kinds of things can happen. As far as other teams, that’s a really good question. We just keep watching to see how things shake out. Like I said, I feel like there’s only a couple teams at the top, and everything else seems to pretty wide open and anything could happen. And it’s on any given night, I don’t feel like there isn't a team that can’t be beaten. So it just provides for a really exciting rest of the regular season and hopefully a great tournament.

What is one overlying theme that Maryland fans should know about their team and what could happen between now and the tournament in terms of seeding and stuff like that?

So what I would say is they have opportunity to really show how good they’re playing right now. When you play a team like Indiana, and then that Big Ten Tournament is gonna be fantastic. You’ve got, just like we said, five or six teams right now that are kind of vying for the championship or have the opportunity to win that. So I think that there’s opportunity for Maryland to maybe play their way into a better seed or higher seed, especially with the games that they’ve got in front of them. They’ve been playing well. You go back to, I feel like they stumbled against Michigan, but you go back to their last loss was the end of January to Ohio State. So I think that [Maryland head coach] Brenda [Frese], believe it or not, I was actually there when Brenda got hired, and I used to work at Maryland. She’s an incredible coach, and if there's one team that I wouldn’t count out in any tournament is the team that’s coached by Brenda Frese. She’s done it, she’s been there, she knows what it takes, and she’ll have them motivated and ready to play when it’s time.