Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Connecticut Headed For Philly NCAA Nostalgia?

By Mel Greenberg

Four unbeaten national titles, a talent-lode of all-Americans, and an all-time win streak are some of the highlights that have marked the University of Connecticut's rise to dominance of the collegiate women's hoops scene since the Huskies hit their stride in 1995 with the first of seven NCAA trophies.

Yet when pressed to list his favorite moments of a Hall of Fame coaching career with the Huskies, Geno Auriemma usually will quickly note two stops in Philadelphia near his Norristown (Pa.) home that are among his favorite memories.

One is the Cinderella run to the then-East regional in which UConn played in the fabled Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania's campus and pulled two upsets to gain its first NCAA Women's Final Four appearance.

The second was in 2000 when the City of Brotherly Love played host to the national finals and Auriemma made a celebrated homecoming guiding the Huskies to a title game win over Tennessee in what is now the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia that also houses the NHL Flyers and NBA 76ers.

Those moments are sure to be relived this season because all signs and the AP preseason women's poll points months down the road that if UConn makes the field and gets past the two early rounds it will host, then the Huskies will be heading for Philadelphia once more.

This time it would be the Philadelphia regional finals that will be hosted by Temple at the Owls' Liacouras Center with the winner advancing to the Women's Final Four in the NCAA headquarters city of Indianapolis.

Unless the tournament committee were to mess up an easy marketing opportunity for Temple -- and there is a history there so don't go thinking slam dunk -- using the principles and procedures that guide the pairings and placements Connecticut could fall of its perch during the regular season and still be headed to Philly.

Let's pretend that the first 16 in the preseason poll are the first 16 seeds voted upon by the committee for the 64-team field.

So line one would be Connecticut, Baylor, Stanford, and Tennessee.

Now in many respects even if the order were shuffled here's how it would work.

The Huskies' nearest geographical distance is Philadelphia. That would be an automatic placement as the overall top seed. But even if not, Baylor's near geography leads to Dallas, Stanford's leads to Spokane, Wash., and Tennessee is closer to Dayton (I think). So by default, it's cheese steaks galore though a slight ache would be felt by Germantown Academy's Caroline Doty, who is spending the season on the sidelines rehabbing from another knee injury.

Looking at the rest of the preseason Sweet 16, even if Connecticut fell from the top four, it virtually backs into the Liacouras Center on any of the next lines of four teams each because of its distance from the Liacouras Center.

But if the preseason poll held, and we know it won't, line two would have Xavier in Dayton, Duke potentially in Philadelphia, Ohio State in Dallas, and Texas A&M in Washington, though if the Aggies got ahead of the Buckeyes, they would stay home in the Lone Star State.

Oklahoma could also be Dallas bound as long as separation could be maintained among common conference teams such as the Big 12 influx with Texas and near-Texas identities.

Kentucky could could land in Dayton off line three, West Virginia in Philadelphia, Notre Dame would be stuck heading West. But if the Irish had the seed advantage, coach Muffet McGraw might have a Philly homecoming as could Ohio State coach Jim Foster whose seventh-ranked Buckeyes will open the season at Temple on Nov. 12.

Off line four, St. John's could have a shot at Philly, with Georgia Tech and North Carolina tossed to either Dayton or Dallas, and UCLA in Washington.

In terms of traditional programs in the East if they got hot, the only teams that could edge out UConn off the same line if the scenario occurs are Maryland, Rutgers or Penn State.

Out of all this is bad news and good news for Tonya Cardoza's Temple team, which has run into a similar problem that befell the University of California several seasons ago.

The circumstances are somewhat different, though.

Cal had won a bid to host a regional out West but afterwards the NCAA applied a rule to the women that was in place for the men in that you could only play at home in a regional if you play three games or less on campus if that is where the hosting will occur.

For example, if Temple had bid some other building in town then there is no conflict, but the Liacouras Center is the right size whether the Owls would be there or not.

In the case of Cal, the Golden Bears lived up to their hype as a Sweet 16 team but had to travel to Trenton, near Philadelphia, while administrators hosted four other schools back home in one of the other four regionals.

An attempt was made to move to another venue from Barkeley, but the NBA was reluctant to give up the building on the dates set aside for Golden State.

Now when it comes to Temple, the Owls also could not be put on a road to the Liacouras Cente.

True, this part of the discussion might be academic because no analyst is thinking Sweet 16 in terms of the Owls' long-range prospects though they certainly can challenge behind Xavier in the Atlantic 10 and earn another NCAA bid. Actually, come to think of it, the Guru needs to check out Dayton's situation since there are high expectations again for the Flyers -- not those Flyers.

Temple's home schedule calls for six games in the Liacouras Center, including several doubleheaders with the men, and seven games next door in McGonigle Hall across Montgomery Ave. on Broad St.

Several weeks ago the Guru tried to save the day, finding a way to yank three games out of the Liacouras Center until Temple officials made him aware the rule applied said the Owls can't play on their campus if they are the host.

Moving to another venue makes no sense in terms of what the marketing prospects mnight be, but considering the trade-off, the fan base for the Temple women isn't that huge right now to be a costly deduction, especially if UConn lands in the building.

Temple was aware of tne consequences but made the bid anyway in terms of what has been an ongoing commitment to support the women's collegiate game. Besides, chances are good that another team of geographical proximity could also head to Philly.

Penn State, for example, hosts the first two rounds and if the Nittany Lions finally bloom in Coquese Washington's fourth season, they have always had a tradition of drawing large crowds in Philadelphia.

But Guru, you said there was actually some good out of this for Cardoza.

Well, yeah.

If Temple makes the field, there is no chance to land in UConn's bracket for a third straight year if the Huskies are in the Philly bracket. An opening round loss to Florida two years ago adverted having to go against the Huskies on UConn's campus in Storrs.

But last year, Auriemma's troops routed his former assistant's team in the opening minutes of a second round game in Norfolk, Va., and played relentless in a lopsided result that would have been even worse had he not shown some compassion.

Still there was no reason for Temple's players to hang their heads considering most of the nation suffered the same fate until Stanford nearly pulled a stunner in the NCAA title game in San Antonio, Texas.

So if Temple makes the field and advances to the Sweet 16, it probably means a trip for the Owls to Dayton, an Atlantic Ten venue they've seen before. The game would be on opposite days from the games in the Liacouras Center so officials would probably host a big viewing party.

Again, it's a much longer shot for the Temple participation scenario to unfold than it was for Cal. But back in 2003, who knew Villanova could get that hot as to end UConn's former NCAA record streak and make it all the way to the Elite Eight in Knoxville against Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the Guru has lots of extra trivia notes off the AP preseason poll but since this blog has gone deep, that will give the Guru something to assemble in the next post.

-- Mel

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