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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guru's Potpourri: New York WNBA Lotto Bound? Ivies Consider Playoffs

By Mel Greenberg

If Patrick Henry, one of the famed patriots of the American Revolution, were alive today and happened to be a WNBA fan of the team in New York that will still be playing in New Jersey two more seasons, his expectation for the months ahead might be summed up by re-editing his famed speech of yesteryear by proclaiming instead, “Give me Liberty and give me the lotto.”

And the way it looks, he could quickly get his wish in terms of New York possibly being one of four teams at the bottom of the class in the final standings and therefore up front next April when the draft everyone eagerly awaits arrives on the calendar.

This is not to say New York will be the Tulsa Shock of 2012, except that as the Guru was completing his preliminary WNBA three-city schedule (New York, Connecticut and Washington), things got to look very scary or very good, depending on what the fans of the Liberty would rather prefer – a playoff run that would probably be short-circuited or a chance to get a super talent that might translate into many and longer playoff runs in the future.

Start with this premise: If the widespread expectation exists that the Chicago Sky will finally be good enough to crack the postseason in their seventh chase out of seven attempts, then which of these four from last season’s playoffs would lose out on the tradeoff in the East:

Atlanta – Not likely (and obviously injuries are precluded in this discussion but do have the ability to throw all projections off.)

Indiana – The Fever are getting older but unless age impacts this time, they are likely to extend play as they have consistently.

Connecticut – Still young but probably have just enough to slip past New York, which the Sun gets a chance to do at the outset with back-to-back, home-and-home games on opening weekend. One note, though, is the Sun’s final two weeks are tough but it could be academic in terms of making the postseason, though if it’s close, fans in what has become the capital of U.S. Olympic women’s basketball may suddenly have a tough choice in what they’d like to see happen.

Incidentally, the Guru tentative schedule, not counting exhibitions, projects to about 47 dates, though there are seven conflicts, six two-team, and one three-team, in terms of the three teams of emphasis forcing a choice on a given night.

That aside, in reality it may not work out this way, but on paper, New York is the underdog in the Liberty’s first seven games until a trip to Washington could break the snide.

But, the Mystics will have the home court, though Washington could improve off last season but probably not enough to avoid giving Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne a chance to start her pro career near her home.

After the Washington game, New York is again an underdog on another long run. But if things go bad, here’s something look forward to in the Liberty’s last two games: It’s a home-and-home with Tulsa out of the Western Conference.

And those two games could have a major impact in terms of which of the two teams gets the weight advantage in terms of the bouncing ping pong balls to determine the order of the first four picks.

Even with all that, given what happened to Tulsa finishing with the all-time worst WNBA record and being saddled with the fourth pick earlier this month, anything is possible.

As for Washington, the Mystics are looking by default capable, not guaranteed, of getting a few Ws depending on the state of early cross-over games with the West.

Washington has one game in the opening two-month stretch with Tulsa, another with Phoenix, which might struggle without Penny Taylor, and a home-and-home with Seattle, which will be playing its pre-Olympic schedule without Australian sensation Lauren Jackson.

So if the Colonial era offers the Patrick Henry modified statement as a mantra for the Liberty, Washington fans may want to resort to an old baseball phrase refashioned in the nation’s capital: Last in the East, last in the league, but first in the second best-ever WNBA lotto.

Coaching Carousel

With the move at Tennessee in which Pat Summitt has become head coach emeritus and longtime associate head coach Holly Warlick moved up as the replacement to the beloved Hall of Famer, as well as a few other moves such as Kim Barnes Arico from St. John’s to Michigan, the Guru’s rough count now shows 56 vacancies have occurred at Division I schools since the season ended.

In some situations, such as that of Barnes Arico, in terms of filling a spot, obviously, one vacancy was filled from within the D-1 coaching roster, though a fair share of assistants have also moved into positions, though not many at BCS openings.

Ivies Playoff Bound?

There hasn’t been much discussion on the internet in women’s basketball circles, given the crush of major news occurring with the Pat Summitt story, the WNBA draft, and Baylor’s Brittney Griner’s decision to not participate in the Olympics, citing family and academic situations.

But at their recent meetings, the Ivy coaches have proposed giving up being the last conference not to have a postseason playoff to determine the automatic bid to the men’s and women’s tournament.

The plan, similar to lacrosse, which became the first sport in the Ivies to go the route, would be to have the top four teams in the league vie for the bid.

But not everyone is on board with the effort, which, ultimately, will be decided by administrators whether or not to implement the proposal.

One person happy with just the way things are is Princeton’s Courtney Banghart, a former Dartmouth star and assistant, whose Tigers have won three straight league titles in dominating fashion that made the squad seem more BCS in nature, considering Princeton’s out of conference performance.

The perfect run in the Ivy League and a strong RPI factored into Princeton becoming the first-ever Ivy team to crack the Associated Press women’s poll, which occurred in the final vote of the season.

Banghart told the Guru last week exactly what she said to the Daily Princetonian:

“I’ve been in first place, I’ve been in seventh place, I’ve been in third place, so I’ve been in all areas, and I couldn’t be more black-and-white in my thinking that I don’t think any single-bid conference should have a tournament,” she said. “We need to make sure that our best teams are going to the [NCAA] tournament.”

Banghart, who has been with the Tigers five seasons, also noted, “The only way we become relevant nationally is to win in the postseason. Believe me, I know how hard it is to win in the tournament — I’m living proof of that, I’ve been seven times. If we don’t send our best team, we’re decreasing the opportunity of that happening, and we’re becoming less relevant.”

She did offer that perhaps Princeton would have gotten an at-large bid if the Tigers didn’t win the automatic bid. But she has more faith in the NCAA tournament committee making that move than the Guru, although it doesn’t hurt to have an Ivy administrator on the current panel.

But a conversation the Guru had down the stretch drive of the season also points that one can never be exactly sure. Given that Princeton, after a tough non-conference schedule, was now on a two-month cruise by comparison beating Ivy rivals in UConn-esqe style, Banghart was asked if might it be wise to get a strong nonconference game in the middle of the week in February to make the team more NCAA-ready.

“The problem is, while it sounds good, in a given week, we would go Friday-Saturday (Ivy), then say the nonconference game Wednesday, and then Friday-Saturday, if we lose one of those weekend games, we could be in a more dangerous situation,” Banghart said, though remember this talk was held before the playoff push came to light.

Another Memory of a Summitt-Guru Moment

In writing the Pat Summitt retrospective for Fullcourt.com last week, the Guru noted several moments dealing with the coaching legend over the years.

But there are many more like this one the Guru thought would bring amusement:

In 2006 when the Women’s Final Four was in Boston, USA Basketball on the Sunday morning of the national semifinals held a USA team practice for guests and media at Boston College.

Summitt, whose team had been eliminated by North Carolina in the region final in Cleveland the previous weekend, was still on the scene and being involved on the international scene and having players on the squad, she and a group of several friends had taken a taxi out to the workouts.

When what was a two-member, team-Guru crew arrived, it didn’t take Summitt too many minutes to come over and asked if the Guru had driven out to Conte Forum.

When he answered in the affirmative, Summitt quickly lit up with happiness and said, “That’s great. Don’t leave without us. We’re all going back with you.”

Well, you don’t say no, if you get the drift, even though the transportation vehicle in question was not all that big, considering it meant packing seven people into the car.

Somehow, we managed to squeeze together and navigate our way back downtown.

Upon arriving, Summitt told the Guru: “Thanks for the lift; there will be a payback for this.”

The Guru jokingly commented after Summitt’s group departed into the hotel, “Well, a few of those people we just chauffeured are on the board of directors of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.”

Several months later at the June ceremonies in which Geno Auriemma among others was inducted, the vote for the next class of 2007 was taken earlier in the afternoon.

Later that night the Guru got the word on the side that he had been among the selections made in the voting that afternoon.

Running into Summitt a little while later, she said to the Guru, “I heard you got the news.”

The Guru acknowledged and had been aware of several new members involved in the vote earlier in the day who happened to be longtime working associates.

But nevertheless, when the Guru finished responding in the affirmative, Summitt had a twinkle in her eye and said, “Ah told you in Boston there would be a payback.”

And that’s the Guru blog for the moment.

--- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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