Women's hoops brackets are done, but Notre Dame's Jill Bodensteiner can't relax

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Now’s not an opportunity for Jill Bodensteiner to sit back and relax.

On the contrary, starting Friday, she will be holding her breath, hoping for a lot of competitive basketball games.

The work may be done, but the results are crucial.

Bodensteiner, the senior associate athletics director (involved with compliance and policy management), has been in the athletic department at Notre Dame for nine years. Before that, the 46-year-old native of Valparaiso worked in the university’s Office of General Counsel.

Previously, she had been involved in other initiatives on a national level, but this was her first year on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Sport Committee.

Bodensteiner and nine others were responsible for picking and seeding the 64-team women’s tourney field that begins play Friday.

“I’ll still worry,” she said of the situation as play begins. “You want competitive games, because you’re the person who helped put the bracket together. The student-athletes and the coaches work so hard, you want to create good matchups; reward people and seed them correctly so they’ve got a good chance.”

One of the bold moves by the committee was to drop Maryland, 30-2, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champ, currently ranked no lower than No. 4 in the two major polls, to a No. 3 seed — playing in the same regional as the nation’s top team, Connecticut, and No. 2-seed Duke.

The Terps’ No. 117 strength of schedule had everything to do with the decision.

“In Maryland’s case, defending the entire body of work was really, really difficult,” said Terry Gawlick, chair of the selection committee, who addressed the issue Monday night on ESPN. “It was tough, because we felt Maryland didn’t test themselves in the same manner as (other) teams we were considering at the time.”

In contrast, Notre Dame, the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Regional, has the country’s No. 1 strength of schedule.

“Our goal is to be as transparent as possible,” said Bodensteiner. “One of the things that I’ve learned is the importance of scheduling. So many factors go into putting a basketball schedule together, but, boy, is that an important one when it comes to evaluating teams.”

That’s one of the situations that might cause Bodensteiner to toss and turn a bit until it all plays out.

“I guess there’s human nature to second-guess yourself, when you hear everyone else talking about it. But at the end of the day, I felt really good about the bracket we put together,” she said. “There’s so much that goes into it. There’s so much more data than the 200-300 games that we watch. It was a great process and a great experience. I’m in good spirits.”

There are 32 conferences in Division I women’s basketball. Each committee member is assigned seven — three as primary, four as secondary. In keeping with the goal of transparency, she held regular meetings with the officials of each of her primary conferences, gathering as much information as possible.

Besides watching many games on television, Bodensteiner saw a few in person. Next year, she plans to see more.

“I spent a good deal of time watching Stetson, Jacksonville and Florida Gulf Coast — three of the top teams in the (Atlantic Sun Conference),” she said of one of her primary leagues. “I watched enough so I could describe their styles to the other committee members.”

The process that culminated Monday with the unveiling of the bracket began in June in Dallas, when the foundation was set. There was a mock selection in Indianapolis in August, sort of a dry run of how it was all going to come together.

Since then, the group met regularly, and in January released its first of three evaluations of top teams, similar to what the College Football Playoff selection committee does in the fall.

“Last year, we did it twice and we did the top 10,” Bodensteiner said. “This year, we did the top 16 seeds and did it three times.

“There were a couple advantages to doing that. From an external perspective, it adds a lot of excitement. Internally, it made sure (the committee was) on (its) ‘A’ game early. If you’re going to go public with something, you better be prepared. A person like me, who tends to be a procrastinator, it was good for me.”

That part’s over. Now’s when all the work comes to fruition on the floor.

And, certainly, no time to relax.

Jill Bodensteiner, Notre Dame's senior associate athletics director, helped put together this year's bracket for the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. (Photo provided)