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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guru's WNBA Musings: Cambage & Jackson Highlight Impact of Returnees Sidelined Before The Olympics

By Mel Greenberg

Forget that talk about all things even out when it comes to this season's WNBA schedule.

It is what it is whome one considers all the other variables just to produce a schedule that had to factor a missing month to pause for the Olympics in London, dates extending beyond the normal ones on the back end, arena availability, among other considerations.

Some traveled a lot before activity halted on July 13 and some did not.

But when one looks at individual teams, there are differences also.

Those that played the Seattle Storm and the Tulsa Shock a lot, for example, had an easier shot, injuries notwithstanding, because of the absences of Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson and Shock second-year pro Elizabeth Cambage who bypassed the opening months to train with their national team in Australia for the Olympics.

Now that the two will be back in the WNBA, the challenges will be greater.

Diana Taurasi saw minscule moments on the front end in Phoenix with the Mercury because of a strained hip flexor and saved herself to star in London with the USA team.

More injuries on the Mercury will detract from the return of Taurasi, though the good news-bad news is that the Guru is hearing some whispers that the former UConn star still may not play much, if at all, and remain a cheerleader on the bench.

The answer for sure will come as early as Thursday when Phoenix visits Seattle, which has a five-game lead in the standings for the last playoff spot in the West.

If true, the bad news is a virtual adios to the postseason for Phoenix but the good news is lottery here we come.

Atlanta missed Erika de Souza, who was with Brazil, but she is back. Furthermore, fourth-year pro Angel McCoughtry, the former Louisville star who was in uniform the first half, returns from London with added experience that makes her even more dangerous on a Dream squad likely to pick up steam in the seedings race in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs.

Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers star, had the Chicago Sky playing above high expectations for a first-ever playoff spot before suffering a broken foot that caused the team to stumble through most of the July push.

Now she's back and while the Sky could still continue to drop, the potential of New York going on a surge is not worth betting the house even if Plenette Pierson is back in uniform because the Liberty may still struggle considering how heavy the load is in terms of going on the road.

Furthermore, New York was negatively affected in the post by the decision of former Virginia Commonwealth star Quanitra Hollingsworth to train with Turkey for the Olympics and declare she would stay in that country following the dousing of the flame in London.

Also, consider the Liberty will be meeting more teams that will be stronger than they were prior to the break beccause of absences and injuries.

Additionally, New York opens Thursday night at home in an absolutely must-win game against the Eastern Conference frontrunning Connecticut Sun and then travel to Mohegan to do the same deal Saturday to match the opening weekend in June when they were swept by Mike Thibault's squad.

Now the Sun could be even tougher given the experience thrid-year pro Tina Charles and veteran Asjha Jones just went through as defensive forces for their former UConn coach Geno Auriemma in London.

Cambage and Jackson Factor

All of that said, the focus here is on the return of Cambage in Tulsa and Jackson in Seattle and how they will impact, though it may still be a few games before they are in uniform. Additionally, Seattle is missing Ann Wauters and Tina Thompson who are still recovering from injuries.

"I don't know if we can climb up to a spot or two in front of us," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "But if we are all together at the close and playing well, we might be able to start making some noise when the playoffs begin."

Cambage drew attention in London because of a dunk she threw down -- the first in Olympic competition for women -- in the early rounds and then her first half performance against the USA squad when the outcome with Australia was still in the balance.

But whatever happens, they are not only going to be impacting in terms of their own personal performances but also on the league race even if Tulsa is out of the playoffs and Seattle plays so-so.

Cambage will only be facing the Charles-Jones Sun combo that shut her down in London just one more time, and actually, forget that because that's not happening since she may not yet be back to play for a few more games.

However, because there is a three-way taffey pull at the top of the West, any win by Tulsa or Seattle impacts the other end of the line besides also affecting the remainder of the two-set six-team crossover competition against the East.

And there is also the lottery at the bottom end of the standings that will also come into focus.

Though Tulsa at 3-15 had the worst record overall, Phoenix at 4-15 and Washington at 4-14 are right there with New York the fourth in the lotto projection at 6-12.

But New York could easily out-slide the other three and end up with the best chance to come up the winner in the ping-pong ball determination on the order of who gets picks No. 1-4.

And for you neophytes who might be visiting here for the first time because the Olympics made you more interested in the WNBA, the next draft at the top is a gold mine with the highly coveted Baylor sensation Brittney Griner, perhaps the best of the group, Delaware star Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame player-sports journalist Skylar Diggins.

In terms of the Cambage-Jackson factor, here's what you need to know about the rest of their schedules in Tulsa and Seattle.

Out West, the San Antonio Silver Stars closed out the first half with a nine-game win streak following a shaky 2-4 start and were humming on all cylinders.

But Tulsa still has four games to play against Dan Hughes' squad so there is a chance to be really disruptive in terms of San Antonio finishing first or second in a bid to have opening and second-round home-court advantages.

Here are Tulsa's and Seattle's remaining games with also a #note indicating opponents in the projected lottery hunt:

Tulsa vs. the West

vs. Minnesota -- 2 away, none home, total 2
vs. San Antonio - 2 away, 2 home, total 4
vs. Los Angeles - none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Seattle -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
vs #Phoenix -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
West total -- 4 away, 6 home, total 10, vs. lottery-bound 1

Tulsa vs. the East

vs. Connecticut -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #New York -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2*
vs. Indiana -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #Washington -- completed and went 1-1
vs. Chicago -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Atlanta -- 1 away, none home, total 1
East total -- 4 away, 2 home, total 6

*-The New York series comes on the final weekend.

Overall total -- 8 away, 8 home, total 16 -- lotto opponents: 4

Seattle vs. the West

vs. #Phoenix -- 1 away, 2 home, total 3
vs. Los Angeles -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Minnesota -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. San Antonio -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
vs. #Tulsa -- 1 away, 1 home, total 2
West total -- 3 away, 6 home, total 9. vs. lottery-bound 4

Seattle vs. the East

vs. Connecticut -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Chicago -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Atlanta -- 1 away, none home, total 1
vs. #New York -- none away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Indiana -- 1 away, 1 home, total 1
vs. Washington -- none, series completed, total 2-0 sweep.
East total -- 2 away, 4 home, total 6. vs lottery-bound 1.

Overall total -- 5 away, 10 home, total 15. lotto opponents 6

Shocking Deliberations

Now comes the time to play general manager/coach of Tulsa, replacing for the moment first-year head Gary Kloppenburg, the former Indiana assistant who has done a quality job to date, despite the record.

Here's the question:

Let's say Cambage plays like the Cambage that performed in the first half of the USA game but the luck of the draw, no matter where Tulsa finishes, produces the number one pick.

And so it gets interesting because there are choices to be made before the throng assembles at ESPN studios next April to welcome the new influx of talent.

If you're Tulsa, do you keep them both? Or is the better way to go is to deal one or the other -- the Griner pick or Cambage.

Obviously, in terms of the collegians, Griner is coveted by everyone, though only the four lottery teams prior to the draw have the best chance to add her unless some deal can be made with another club on a contingency basis.

But now suddenly Cambage has high value, especially for teams that need a strong presence, and then you can build around Griner. Maybe you can swing a trade down among the lottery teams depending what you do.

Some think trading Griner might be the thing to do while others believe Cambage may be the way Tulsa would go if making a move.

Agains, as in the Olympic coaching exerise post about 2016 earlier this week, all discussions were off the record, especially since none of the persons chatted with are involved with the Shock.

Some wouldn't be surprised if Cambage is dealt -- Tulsa may not be her cup of tea, English or other wise, as a town and one person noted unless you're Seattle who got lucky with Jackson, who has had longevity, there is a certain unreliability among the staying power desire of foreigners.

"You can look at a bunch of them, with talent, who left teams," said a veteran WNBA observer.

The Connecticut Sun is one example of playing foreign roulette though the squad has thrived because of other players possessing the deadly quality against opponents known as UConn DNA.

So let the pro games return in the USA and it will be a fascinating run top-to-bottom between now and mid-September and beyond, but not necessarily for the same reason.

Up next:

As the sun of nature -- not Connecticut -- is rising in the East, the Guru after a morning catnap, is still due to interview Anucha Browne Sanders, new NCAA vice president of women's basketball championships, all three divisions,this afternoon. If the schedule holds, the Guru will be back with that discussion right here Thursday morning prior to the trip to Newark, N.J., for the New York-Connecticut game.

And as a side note, after wise remarks made over the years about the Guru's late night phone calls, the Penn State entourage currently on a trip to Paris, where on Tuesday they crossed paths with the Duke entourage by the Eiffel Tower, made the happy discovery that it is possible to actually talk to the Guru in the middle of the night while gazing out the window in France in broad daylight.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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