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, December 26, 2010

Long Range Forecast: UConn Likely In Philly For Sweet 16

(Guru's note: For those of you who haven't visited here since before the holiday break, you will want to read the post under this one about the new initiative. And the Guru has been spending the hours trapped inside the house by the storm - had no place to go till Tuesday anyway - reading the advance copy of Bird At The Buzzer by Jeff Goldberg, former Huskies women beat writer for the Hartford Courant. It is movie material going inside both UConn and Notre Dame history focusing on the famous Big East title game of 2001. Big week for Huskies coach Geno Auriemma whose beloved NFL Eagles beat out the Giants for the East title while being delayed two days by the snow.)

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA -
More and more it looks like top-ranked Connecticut, the two-time defending and unbeaten NCAA women’s basketball tournament champion, is on another collision course with this region to make an appearance in the 2011 episode of March Madness.

The City of Brotherly Love and Temple’s approximately 10,000-seat Liacouras Center will be one of the four host venues on March 27-29 at the Sweet 16 stage of the tournament leading directly to the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

The other four sites are Dayton, Ohio; Dallas, and Spokane, Wash.

Whether the Huskies’ NCAA-record Division I winning streak will still be alive or sealed into a future standard to be attained remains to be see. However, Stanford, Thursday night; North Carolina, Notre Dame or Duke in January; and Notre Dame again and Oklahoma in February have the best shots to apply the plug. Otherwise, perhaps an upset looms in the Big East tournament as did occur in 2003 when a seasoned Villanova team pulled the shocker over a young UConn team in the conference title game at Rutgers to stop the previous women’s all-time streak in Division I at 70.

Previously, in terms of UConn and Philly and the NCAAs, the Huskies won it all, beating Tennessee in the title game in 2000 in a Women’s Final Four held at the then-named Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia.

That event served as a special homecoming beyond conference trips to Villanova for Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown.

Temple has since hosted a first-second round stage of the tournament and also a regional final but UConn played elsewhere both times. The Huskies did pass through Trenton, the capital city of New Jersey about 40 minutes to the North, and the then-called Sovereign Bank Arena in 2009 for a regional appearance on the way to winning the title in St. Louis during the first season of the current win streak.

Now, unless some standards have since been changed from last year by the tournament committee, when it comes to pairing of the 64-team field and line placement, four No. 1s, etc., seeding and bracketing, unlike the men’s tournament, the activity is not the same.

So to again to repeat what has been related before, especially off media-attended mock-bracketing exercises at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis in recent seasons, after the four No. 1 teams have been determined, each team at the top gets placed in near geography in order of the best seed.

The same is then applied to the No. 2s so there is not necessarily a true overall No. 1 meeting an overall No. 8 along the way if upsets don’t occur.

Based on what has occurred to date, it is way too early to have a gauge how the top four to be placed in each region is played out. For one, the committee will have its hands full because as of now UConn is the only true Eastern team among the upper crowd based on the weekly polls and RPIs.

The West has a minimal number of teams also – basically Stanford and UCLA, which has experienced a resurgence under former Tennessee assistant Nikki Caldwell.

But the focus here is the odds of Connecticut being engraved into the Philadelphia regional.

So first, the easy deal – UConn is the overall No. 1 and gets placed in Philadelphia though there will be no homecoming Caroline Doty makes good story this season. The former Germantown Academy star is sidelined again with a third overall ACL knee injury and second since her rookie season in 2009.

“I guess no matter what happens to the season, she’ll still be unbeaten,” Auriemma jested last summer while expressing regret and sympathy for Doty’s situation after it occurred.

But to continue, now let’s say Duke beats UConn and navigates successfully through the Atlantic Coast Conference and gets the overall No. 1 and UConn is the overall No. 2. It’s academic, by the way, if the Huskies fall any lower because the next potential teams in the pecking order right now have their near geography elsewhere and not Philadelphia.

If the unforeseen occurred and the Huskies dropped to a No. 2 seed they would definitely be placed in Philadelphia unless Maryland, Rutgers or Penn State made an amazing run to get in the tournament – that part still potentially possible and less amazing – and landed ahead of the Huskies as a No. 2, which is not likely to happen.

But consider this even if Duke were the overall No. 1 and Connecticut the overall No. 2:

According to Google maps, which might be a little different than the program used to help the NCAA committee, Duke is 94 miles closer to Philadelphia then Dayton with a time of 45 minutes shorter.

UConn is 245 miles from Philadelphia and 4 ½ hours away in driving time. The Storrs campus is 760 miles from Dayton and 12 ½ hours away.

So even if Duke were the overall No. 1, it’s a virtual wash for the Blue Devils in site placement. Thus, the committee would look a bit foolish, don’t you think, by not letting the Huskies play at Temple.

That takes care of the original premise. However, looking at the other parts of the scene right now the committee will be in for some real long discussions in filling the top of the bracket in terms of the Sweet 16.

Let’s start with Charlie Creme, the ESPN women’s bracketologist, and his current video cast naming the top eight seeds if things were done today.

OK, Baylor is the second best No. 1 – simple, Dallas.

Duke is the third best – simple again, Dayton.

Now he calls Tennessee the four and Xavier the best No. 2 as the fifth overall seed.

If that held, that would mean Tennessee goes to the last open spot, which is Spokane, the home of Gonzaga, on line 1, while Xavier would be at nearby Dayton on line 2.

Let’s flip that and it becomes interesting because Xavier though two hours or so away from Dayton would have to go to West.

Meanwhile, to complete his eight, and he stopped there, Stanford was second best No. 2, followed by Texas A&M and then UCLA.

Well, Stanford would go to Washington, Texas A&M should go to Dallas, and then UCLA would actually back into Philadelphia.

The other waggle in that scenario is Texas A&M and Baylor, two Big 12 conference teams, meeting before the Final Four, though it is legal as those of you with memories of UConn-Rutgers in Greensboro, N.C., several years ago could affirm.

But remember this is still early in the overall game of projection, really early. Also, an extra caveat is the committee can shuffle around to make sure all four regions have balanced bracketing.

That last thing said, if Stanford rose to the fourth No. 1, a possibility, the Cardinal goes to Washington, Xavier or Tennessee, depending who wins out, fight it out over going to Dayton or Philly.

Aha, the Guru knows what flashed into your mind – a potential Tennessee-UConn game in Philly.

Possibly, but in terms of near geography Tennessee is 304 miles and five hours from Dayton as opposed to 623 miles and 10½ hours to Philly, which the Guru can affirm having made the drive two years ago – do it once for the thrill – to attend induction ceremonies at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Connecticut-Xavier has its own little twist for the media crowd in that Pat McKenna, the new athletic department media liaison for the Huskies this season, had previously worked with the Musketeers.

So that should be plenty to store in the back of your minds heading into the New Year. See you at the next post.

-- Mel

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