Another year, another NCAA tournament road game for St. John's.
It's almost become a running joke with the Red Storm's women's basketball staff.
For the third straight season, coach Kim Barnes Arico and her third-seeded Red Storm may play an opponent on its home court in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"I have a stomachache about it," Barnes Arico said, laughing. "We've done it multiple times now. You put yourself in a position to get a great seed and then you get rewarded having to play on someone else's home court. That said, we beat UConn at home, so we showed we can win anywhere."
This time the Red Storm will have some company on the road as six of the eight No. 2 and No. 3 seeds may play an opponent on their home court or in their home city in the opening two rounds that begin Saturday. Throw in fourth-seeded Penn State and there are seven of the Top 16 teams that could be playing on an opponent's home court. That's the second-most since 2000. In 2004, nine teams played on an opponent's home court according to STATS LLC.
St. John's, which opens against Creighton, lost in the second round to Florida State and Stanford the past two seasons. In those games, the Red Storm were the lower-seeded team. This year they are the higher seed after a spectacular season. If the seeds play out, the Red Storm would meet No. 6 Oklahoma on its home court.
"Home-court advantage makes a huge difference," Barnes Arico said. "I saw the Oklahoma game against UConn, how many people did they have in the stands? That place was rocking."
Putting together the NCAA bracket is one giant jigsaw puzzle. The selection committee tries to make every piece fit using a certain list of procedures and principles.
This year, the group was in a bind because many of the host schools for the opening two rounds were going to be seeded in the lower half of the bracket. Only four of the top 16 teams in the tournament were sites for the first two rounds, leaving many of the higher seeds left to potentially play on opposing floors.
The committee spent hours trying to avoid that situation. They actually had three brackets working at once, but in the end it was impossible to make it work.
"We wanted to protect the No. 1 seeds," NCAA selection committee chair Greg Christopher said. "Given the host sites we had this year, we had issues with higher seed teams playing on lower seed's courts. We had some No. 1 seeds playing on host sites. We wanted to do everything to protect those No. 1 seeds. The ramification of that is you have two or three seed teams playing on lower seeded court."
Second-seed Duke could have to play at No. 7 Vanderbilt; No. 2 Kentucky could play at 10th-ranked Iowa State and No. 2 Tennessee could face seventh-seeded DePaul. Those three lower seeded hosts are a combined 44-5 at home this season.
The Blue Devils, who have hosted the first two rounds the last two seasons, are no stranger to facing an opponent on their home court. In 2009, coach Joanne P. McCallie and her top-seeded Duke squad had to visit her former school Michigan State. The Blue Devils ended up losing to the Spartans.
"After a while you know that some things are out of your control," McCallie said. "You just control what you can control. Our team is young and they will be challenged."Comment on this story
The three seeds aren't much better off. Besides St. John's, Delaware and the nation's leading scorer Elena Delle Donne will have to visit Arkansas-Little Rock in their opener. Miami will have to travel across country to face Gonzaga on its home court in the second round if both teams advance.
"We knew we're going to have some top teams that were going to be challenged," committee member Kathy Meehan said. "We tried to work the bracket many times to minimize that, but it just wasn't possible to have all of higher seeds protected."
What may help the committee in the future is the opening-round sites are now selected one year in advance instead of two. Nine of the top 16 seeds this year are hosting next season, including St. John's.