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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Guru's WNBA And Collegiate Musings: Will Seattle's Opening Meltdown Have Long-Range Implications?

By Mel Greenberg

Considering the way the Los Angeles Sparks finished last season, even with the return of Candace Parker after missing most of the way with a knee injury, it seems the team from Tinseltown has a new coach and new attitude at the outset of 2012.

How else to explain the Sparks' rally from a 21-point deficit and still 14 down in the outset of the fourth quarter on the road to win at the Seattle Storm Friday night in the season opener behind former Maryland star Kristi Toliver's 25 points to give former Atlanta Dream assistanr coach Carol Ross her first victory as a sideline general in the WNBA.

One can apply the usual "it's just one game," to hold the gleefulness in check on the winner's side and shrug the loss off by the home team, but, in a short 34-game season and one in which everything could come back later as a tell-all effect on the final results who knows how much this result will be held up under a magnifying glass when the four playoff spots in the Western Conference spots are determined in September.

Just a week ago prior to the WNBA defending-Minnesota Lynx taking the floor in Connecticut against the Sun in a preseason tilt, coach Cheryl Reeve reflected on an outcome involving the Sparks in the last week of the 2010 season when Minnesota appeared to have a game won against the Sparks only to have veteran Tina Thompson, now on Seattle, nail a shot just before time expired.

"That 1.4 seconds did a lot because if we win the game, we're probably in the playoffs and Los Angeles is in the lotto draw of the draft," Reeve noted.

"Instead, it went the other way and then we won the rights to the No. 1 pick and we get in line to take (former Connecticut superstar) Maya Moore," she observed about one of the key additions that helped Minnesota have a super-talented roster to make a dominating run to the Lynx's first title.

A year ago Los Angeles could look at two losses that would be regretful, blowing a 25-point lead at home to the forlorn Washington Mystics and losing another game to the even-more woeful Tulsa Shock as setbacks that deprived the Sparks of appearing in the postseason.

But just like Minnesota's bad luck to good in 2010, Los Angeles hit the jackpot to gain the overall No. 1 pick and while former Stanford star Nneka Oguwmike many not be the total equal of Moore she certainly was a worthy top prize in one of the weaker three-round draws in the league's 16-year history.

Yes, on Seattle's side Friday night there were allusions to the absence of Storm sensation Lauren Jackson who is bypssing the front part of the season to train with her country's Australian Olympic team. However, as former Connecticut All-American Sue Bird noted, it's not like Seattle hasn't had to make do without Jackson for large stretches in the past due to injuries.

But one might better note the absence of another former Connecticut all-American -- their imprints are all over the WNBA -- Swin Cash, as well as former Auburn star Le'coe Willingham -- who were dealt away to the Chicago Sky in exchange for the No. 2 pick in last month's selections, which became former Tennessee star Shekinna Stricklen.

That swap could become even more magnified this weekend if Cash and Willingham propel Chicago to a road-opening win at the Indiana Fever.

But then again, if Seattle were to miss the playoffs by a game and land in the lotto capturing either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, a year from now, and then open up with Jackson ready for a full four-plus months worth of work with either Baylor superstar Brittney Griner or Delaware sensation Elena Delle Donne or Notre Dame great Skylar Diggins in the lineup in a Storm uniform, then the passionate fan base in the Northwest may look back at Friday night's painful meltdown and just grin ear to ear.

A Second Look At That General Managers' Forecast Survey

Some items appearing here in this post the Guru noted earlier in the day on his twitter @womhoopsgur, but since not all of you who come here may be followers, he'll repeat the observations.

This week the league at its WNBA.Com website ran the annual survey of general managers about aspects of the 2012 competition ahead and the thought suddenly hit that the makeup is different than earlier years offering the same outlook.

As time evolved, economy and cost-cutting has resulted in most of the league now having combo coach-general manager positions dominating the 12 franchises.

In each division only two teams have separate positions, not that at those places the coaches have that much less influence.

Over in the East, for example, Connecticut has always had Chris Sienko as a sole GM with Mike Thibault being the coach in the Sun's 10-year history since moving from Orlando as the former Miracle while Kelly Krauskopf has also held the singular GM job alongside several Indiana Fever coaches -- the current one being Lin Dunn.

After Carol Blazejowski's ouster in New York a year ago, John Whisenant was hired for both positions with the Liberty similarly to his dual role with the former Sacramento Monarchs. Likewise, the ouster of Angela Taylor and Julie Plank in Washington resulted into dual titles for Trudi Lacey with the Mystics a year ago. The same holds a year ago when Chicago inked Pokey Chatman to a dual role which is likewise held by Marynell Meadors with the Atlanta Dream.

Over in the West, Penny Taylor has always been a GM only in Los Angeles while the same holds true for the situation in Tulsa where newly-hired Gary Kloppenburg, the former Indiana assistant, is the coach of the Shock while president Steve Swetoha has more of the general manager functions, though Kloppenburg also has major input on personnel decisions.

In San Antonio, Dan Hughes a year ago returned to a combo role when he sauntered back to the Silver Stars sidelines, while Reeve in Minnesota holds both roles. Last winer in Phoenix, Corey Gaines added the GM title to his coaching duties when Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale gave up the role for other functions. In Seattle Brian Agler has both positions, though his GM-type title is different.

Thus the so-called GM survey has a lot of coaching mindset into the answers for better or worse -- just saying.

The College Scene

There are no new updates overnight in the Guru's ongoing coaching carousel though some more are about to be entered in the post of May 1 in the next 24-48 hours. High Point did announce a succesor to Jen Hoover, who left for Wake Forest, promoting an assistant, while it appears likewise is occuring at UC Irvine. Colorado State also seems ready to announce a hire.

So for the moment, if all the names are true, the overall summary will hold at 68 new coaches at Division I schools but the rookie count will grow to 37 who will be eligible for the annual WBCA Maggie Dixon award and the remaining openings will shrink from 12 to nine barring other new vacancies occuring either through movement to the existing vacancies or brand new exits.

While this migration either through dominoes effect, ousters or legitimate retirement decisions has resulted in an all-time offseason high that is way above the 40-something count in the past, it has also resulted in just four conferences who, at the moment, will begin with the same coaches at the helm to start 2012-13 that signed off after 2011-12.

The four conferences are the America East, the Ivy League (though seven were hopeful that Princeton might open to give them a better chance against the Tigers), the Pac-12 and the Southern Conference.

But speaking of conferences, seismic shifts continue in terms of members themselves, especially a season from now, which will impact updating the Guru's database of the history of appearances in the Associated Press Women's Poll.

For example, though Old Dominion hasn't been ranked in some time, the once dominate Lady Monarchs will be heading for Conference USA as will Louisiana Tech bringing some hefty AP history categorial numbers with them a year from now.

Likewise, additions this season notwithstanding, Temple brings a total of 26 appearances a year from now to the Big East, which has lost some numbers in West Virginia's departure next season for the Big 12.

Next season, Missouri and Texas A&M will tote some numbers from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference while at some point to be settled a small total will go with Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast.

There are some others involve. Despite the shuffle the database does maintain a category that shows what conference a team was in at the time of the ranking besides listing the same team's current conference membership.

Anyhow that is all there is to say right now.

The Guru as previously mentioned will be heading to New York on Saturday and then on to Uncasville for the two-day back-to-back games between the Liberty and Sun, though he will track all the other games elsewhere.

Separate stories will be focusing first on whoever wins Saturday and then the other team -- win or lose Sunday -- for Full Court followed a few days later with one on the Washington Mystics.

The Guru will be doing game-specific roundups here at the blog across the way and then again on Tuesday when New York, which is setting a record for arena evictions, returns to the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. from Madison Square Garden to host Minnesota.

A year ago New York began a three-summer hiatus across the Hudson River while the Garden undergoes renovations but the results of the current National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoffs which has the Jersey Devils hosting the New York Rangers on Saturday has caused the Liberty to return to the Garden to open the season in a one-game appearance before the jackhammers start up again.

You media types who did not cover the Maggie Dixon Classic at the Garden in December and haven't been to the Garden since the Liberty closed shop in 2010 will be impressed by the revamped media room operations.

So as the sun comes up, it's time to get some shuteye before figuring out the cheapest and least time-consuming way to transport to the weekend doubleheader.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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