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, September 01, 2012

Guru's WNBA Notebook: Gridlock In The Draft Lottery Hunt; N.Y. Seeks Reversal; Chatting With Catchings

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. --
And so less than 48 hours after the New York Liberty got handled here Thursday night by the Indiana Fever in the Prudential Center to drop a half-game behind the Chicago Sky for the fourth and final berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs, an opportunity comes to crawl back onto the ledge when the last-place Washington Mystics visit Saturday afternoon (today) in a 4 p.m. start.

It's the first of three remaining games with the Mystics on the Liberty schedule, which has nine left overall.

In terms of opposition, New York still has the advantage to return to the postseason and relegate the Sky to an 0-7 effort in gaining a playoff berth since joining the league as an expansion unit in 2006.

In fact, while New York is dealing with the Mystics, Chicago navigates its Labor Day weekend chores with an act of labor, considering a match Saturday with the Indiana Fever, which has dominated the Sky to date, and then on Sunday with the Los Angeles Sparks, which had been zipping along challenging the WNBA defending champion Minnesota Lynx in the West until getting tripped up Thursday night in Oklahoma by the suddenly feisty Tulsa Shock.

"They just played better than us," New York coach John Whisenant said after Indiana messed up the start of a long homestand by the Liberty after an arduous road trip in which New York went 2-2.

"I don't think I've seen a schedule like this since I've been in the league," said former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, who was a rookie with the Phoenix Mercury in 2006 as the second overall choice and went on to be part of two WNBA champions in Arizona before gaining her wish to return to the East near her alma mater that occurred as part of a three-way deal with Chicago and Phoenix prior to the 2010 season.

"I'm going to chalk this loss up to that," said Pondexter while acknowledging the team must play much better.

Whisenant also was able to quickly take an optimistic approach as to what lies immediately ahead, though Washington caught New York here to even the series at 1-1 last month in the final game before the four-week break halting competiton while the Summer Olympics occurred in London.

"We still have nine games left," Whisenant said: "We've got three against Washington, one against Phoenix, one against Chicago, two against Tulsa and then San Antonio and Los Angeles."

All but the last two of those opponents are more likely to land in the lucrative four-team draft lottery, which next April will offer the highly elite prizes of Baylor's Brittney Griner, considered the overall best choice, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, whom some WNBA types have whispered that with a number one pick they might select the Wilmington resident over the Texan, and Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins, who just recently was part of the winning USA squad that captured a gold medal in the FIBA 3x3 tournament.

"Six are at home, which doesn't seem to help us a lot," Whisenant continued. "But we're not throwing in the towel, yet. We feel if we can keep plugging we can make the playoffs and if we can just try to correct some of our flaws, that' s what we're going to try to do."

But New York or Chicago in the lottery would need a miracle on ping pong ball production because going into the system that produces the 1-2-3-4 order, either team would probably enter the defining moment this fall with no better than the fourth best set of odds behind the other three.

And it is among that trio that quite a battle is going, as perceived by their respective fans and observers, in terms of becoming the worst of the bunch, though ask Tulsa what finishing at the bottom of the barrel and top of the draft prospects produced the last two seasons.

Though selecting second a year ago behind Minnesota, who got the right to pick UConn sensation Maya Moore No. 1, Tulsa did get a perceived jewel in Australian youngster Liz Cambage.

But after announcing at the outset that this summer she would bypass the first half of the season to train with the Australian Olympic team, with which she became the first women to slam a dunk in the international games, she then made a surprise declaration earlier this week, saying she was basically burned out and wouldn't return for the rest of the way but would honor her deal to play in China this fall.

Cambage's absence appears to have cost Tulsa a bunch of close games, even if the Shock overall play has improved under new coach Gary Kloppenburg.

In fact, with Tulsa and Phoenix, which upset the Seattle Storm on the road Thursday night, springing unlikely wins, Washington's loss to the struggling two-time defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream, inched the Mystics into the overall worst won-loss percentage in the league heading into Saturday's visit to New York that will be followed at home Tuesday night in the Verizon Center with a visit from the Eastern leading Connecticut Sun.

The three wayward teams -- Tulsa, Phoenix and Washington -- have been so consistent in landing on the wrong side of the won-loss column that right now it is not out of the realm that they could finish in a three-way tie for the worst overall record.

Knowing that, the Guru went to one of the WNBA operations and scheduling wonks, asking informally how would a triple deadlock be broken.

The answer is procedures would run opposite to the way ties get broken on the upside in terms of assigning playoffs seeds and overall homecourt advantages for the best-of-five finals.

"The first would be head-to-head," the source said, even though the Guru pointed out that once the process began, Washington fans would be at a disadvantage because in a common comparison among the three, the Mystics come up short in number of games because they play each West team just twice for a total of four. On the other hand, the Phoenix-Tulsa intra-West series produces two more games for an overall total of six.

But here is how the picture stands now and some of the things that would be done at a three-way finish.

Worst-To-Less-Worse Standings

1. Washington 5-20 .200
2. Phoneix 5-19 .208
3. Tulsa 6-21 .231

Incidentally, while Washington takes on New York, Saturday, Phoenix will battle the San Antonio Silver Stars, which has recently gone into a skid following a long surge on the winning side. Tulsa finished its weekend activity Friday night, falling short in a competitve loss at Minnesota.

Breaking The Three-Way Deadlock Head-to-Head

1. Tulsa vs. Washington 1-1; vs. Phoenix 1-2 (1 remaining): total 2-3 .400
2.Washington vs. Phoenix 1-1; vs. Tulsa 1-1; total 2-2 .500
3. Phoenix vs. Washington 1-1; vs Tulsa 2-1 (1 remaining): toal 3-2 .600

Tulsa and Phoenix play one more time on Sept. 14 in Phoenix.

A Pboenix win would keep the above order in place if the trio finishes in a tie with overall won-loss worst records.

But if Tulsa wins, then all three would be at .500, though Washington would have less games in the equation.

For now, the Guru will skip the next tiebreak procedure because major parts remain to be completed and it could be a waste of energy, though he will re-visit the procedure if the three-way deadlock is still alive entering the final week of play.

But there is another thing to consider: the two-way deadlock.

If it's Tulsa and Phoenix, then the No. 1 odds slot would go to Tulsa if the Shock lose on Sept. 14 and finish 1-3 in the series with the Mercury.
But if Tulsa wins, then the teams finish 2-2 and whomever had the worst conference record in the West would get the top pick.

That's unclear now with a bunch of West games remaining for each and a current 3-14 conference record for both Tulsa and Phoenix.

There is a history of that kind of deadlock needed to be broken. In 2009, the season before Cheryl Reeve became coach of the Lynx, Minnesota had been clearly awful all season.

But in the final weeks, the Lynx made a bonehead move (as opposed to the accused way Phoenix has undergone or not undergone its business in the wake of a slew of injuries) and started winning.

Los Angeles, which missed Lisa Leslie that season because of pregnancy and then lost Chamique Holdsclaw to her demons of the time a month into 2007, suddenly began losing like crazy, caught Minnesota at 10-24, won the tiebreaker and then the odds held up with the grand prize being -- Tennessee superstar Candace Parker.

Meanwhile, if Washington is tied for worst with either Phoenix or Tulsa, the first tiebreaker would be thrown away since the head-to-head records would be 2-2 in each situation.

So, then it would be whomever had the worst record against the opposite conference, which is a reversal of how homecourt advantage for the best-of-five championship finals would be determined if the conference champions were 1-1 in their two meetings in the regular season and their overall records were the same.

Right now Washington is 2-9 against the West with just a visit from Los Angeles remaining on the Mystics' cross-conference slate.

Tulsa is currently 3-6 against the East with two games home-and-home with New York and one game with Indiana remaining, all coming at the end of the final week. The Liberty-Shock series could be quite intriguing if a playoff or lottery destiny is still undetermined on the New York side just before those games, which will be the final two overall for the Liberty.

Phoenix is 2-5 against the East with five remaining: 1 with New York (Sept. 5 on the road), 2 with Connecticut (Sept. 7 away and Sept 12 home), 1 at Indiana (Sept. 9) and 1 hosting Chicago (Sept. 16).

So to all the friends of families of Griner, Delle Donne, and Diggins, who would like to have an idea of what's in store for next summer, and to the fans of Washington, Phoenix and Tulsa anxious to learn which jewel might be heading their way, fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Olympics Aftermath: Injuries, Burnout, and Angel

Not counting the situation involving Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, the overall No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft out of Louisville who is currently under suspension in the wake of the controvery that resulted in the firing of Dream coach-general manager Marynell Meadors on Monday, the Guru was chatting with Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn here Thursday prior to the game since the two go way back over several decades dating to Dunn's collegiate stops.

"I think they're all tired, how can you not be when you factor in the pressure of keeping the gold medal streak alive," said Dunn, who was an assistant with USA in 1992 when former Rutgers coach Theresa Grentz was in charge prior to her later move to Illinois.

Currently, besides the McCoughtry incident after both she and Meadors (assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma) were involved in the London games, Sylvia Fowles has been on the sidelines in Chicago for personal reasons, though a knowledgeable source said her knees were bothering her -- a problem that existed in London, Asjha Jones has been rested by Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault as a precaution after incurring a minor Achilles injury just prior to the games, and Diana Taurasi continued to miss games in Phoenix for various reasons until returning to play Thursday night.

However, former Tennessee star Tamika Catchings after her third Olympics has returned not missing a beat in helping Indiana surge and keep the pressure on Connecticut contending in the East.

"We're playing really well, right now," Catchings said. "Coming back from the Olympics and getting ready for the second half, we just want to focus and play with more of a sense of urgency and we're starting to play with that.

"We're not worrying about who we might play and where we stand. For us, every single player got better during the break and you can tell the way we're playing. Defensively, we're playing all together."

As for the post-Olympic fatigue, Catchings said, "I think it is tougher on your body than you realize it is. This is my (third) time around doing it, so 2008 I felt like I was a lot more tired coming back and for a lot of these players, this is the first time they're going back to their teams.

"I feel right now for most players, kind of get that break and take a little rest and hope you're team is able to step up and by the time you get your player back, you're ready for the playoffs."

Considering time spent with McCoughtry and Meadors, Catchings was asked if the news out of Atlanta this week surprised her.

"Angel is a great player and whatever is going on down there, I know, having spent time with Marynell over in London and the last four years with the (FIBA) World Championships included, I feel like she's a great person, in fact both of them, so whatever is going on within the organization, they'll take care of whatever they need to do."

The Guru will be tweeting live from Newark @womhoopsguru and return to blogging soon enough. Speaking of tweeting, it appears if there are four or five of you among others anxious to become a follower, one of you can be the next Guru milestone and help him hit 1,900.

Not bad, considering the number was at some 200 in April, 2010, when he pushed the retirement mechanism leaving The Philadelphia Inquirer.

-- Mel



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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