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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guru's College Musings: Latest Conference Shifts Could Have Maryland's Frese and Rutgers' Stringer Back in Big Ten

(Guru's note: New content at the local site and ranking of the ten teams is now posted at http://www.philahoopsw.com First season rankings of the ten locals are part of the package.)

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru was having a nice do-not-too-much Friday when at mid-evening a reliable source sent a text saying: "Maryland to the Big Ten."

"Are you sure?" the Guru responded. "They just raised the ante to get out of the ACC."

"No problem. Big Ten network will be providing $26 million a year. Go work your magic."

At that hour the Guru really had nowhere to pursue and, besides, Mayland was going to be in town for the Saint Joseph's game the next day. What the Guru didn't know was whether he was in a minority of people handed knowledge of the move.

A little while later, however, the Guru's longtime friend and former Temple classmate Dick Weiss, nationally known in the men's basket world as "Dickie Hoops" of the New York Daily News tweeted, "Does this Maryland rumor have any legs?"

He didn't note what the rumor was but the Guru replied, "Heard it from my side of the fence."

Weiss didn't respond and the Guru stood down until after the ensuing sunrise.

Upon arriving on Hawk Hill, the Guru was greeted by Terrapins coach Brenda Frese's husband, Mark, and he began with the usual, "What's going on?"

"There's some report that you guys are headed for the Big Ten."

"Oh, they've been saying that for the last ten years," he responded, discounting the report.

Then a little while later Brenda emerged, gave a greeting and the Guru noted the rumor to her and she was also incredulous. And the brief conversation turned to other things.

The Guru found Frese's lack of knowledge interesting, comparing schools in these situations because he knows through a a solid source that Notre Dame Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw hd been aware for three weeks prior to the announcement that the Irish were going to be heading out of the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Yet someone else well acquainted with the Guru who has held prestigious positions in women's hoops had noted to him several days after the announcement on Notre Dame what a shock it was because the individual had been around Virginia (as in Cavaliers) people the previous weekend in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductions and no one had said a word.

Meanwhile, back on Hawk Hall, Saturday, shortly after the conversation with Frese, Rose DiPaula, the Terrapins women's media liason, had just arrived from a long drive from Norfolk, Va., where the past multi-national champion field hockey team had been bounced out of the NCAA semifinals by Princeton, which won the title Sunday.

The Guru mentioned something to her and she said, "I have no idea. I haven't been around school all week."

And so we all moved on to the game that became a national story when Saint Joseph's held off the No. 5 Terrapins 50-49 for a major upset, perhaps the greatest in the entire history of the program.

Yeah, the last top five team the Hawks beat was No. 3 Montclair State in 1977 in the first year of the Associated Press Poll, but Saint Joseph's had been in the Top 10 as opposed to being an unranked team that upset Maryland on Saturday.

As the game got under way, the Guru on press row mentioned something to media colleague Gene Wang of the Washington Post, the Maryland women's beat writer who also covers other events, figuring if smoke is rising in College Park, he would have heard about it.

Wang, who then had to rush off to Atlantic City afterwards to cover a fight, said it was news to him but he would fish around.

However, DiPaula said to the Guru soon afterwards that the report was lighting up every message board involving the university.

With the game concluded, the Guru had to rush off to Temple for the Owls' contest against Northeastern. However, during the second game in the men's part of the doubleheader at the Liacouras Center, when the Guru noted the report to a friend and colleague of the Guru from The Inquirer, he was well aware and for the first time the Guru heard that Rutgers was also strongly in the mix.

Meanwhile, the Guru later saw the reaction of two prominent Maryland grads and longtime Guru friends on facebook in former Baltimore Sun sportswriter Milton Kent, who was vehemently opposed, and Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood, who had a mixed reaction.

Later, another Maryland grad, Sam Angell, who is now the Drexel women's media laison, weighed into that conversation.

As for Rutgers, the Guru can only imagine coach C. Vivian Stringer's reaction because the Guru can bet the house that she might have been totally out of the loop on this one.

The Scarlet Knights will be in the house Wednesday night at McGonigle Hall when Temple hosts them in a nonconference game at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, after reading all the reports, on the women's side, here's the great irony that Frese, who became an instant high-profile candidate for the Maryland vacancy following making Minnesota a national force in one season, and Stringer, who brought Iowa to prominence, now find themselves most likely heading back to the Big Ten.

When Stringer was about to leave the Hawkeyes to return East, she had major concerns about whether the Big East could be as good as the Big Ten.

Now, at this hour, ever the fierce competitor, Stringer could be thinking in reverse about whether the Big Ten could measure up to the Big East considering the way the two conferences have altered in perception in recent seasons.

The weirdness of the geography is also this: In Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State, you have three of the four top teams in the old AIAW Region 1B coalition after Immaculata had peaked as a power.

The fourth, by the way, was Cheyney, then coached by Stringer.

When the NCAA came along, the Guru remembers Hall of Fame former Maryland coach Chris Weller, who was Frese's predecessor prior to her retirement, talking about how she had two different groups of people she had to hang out with at the annual WBCA convention: Her old friends from IB and her new ones in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was about to undertake women's competition.

The move, which forces the revival of competition among Penn State and Rutgers reunites two former powers of the early era of the Atlantic 10, then the equivalent of today's Big East.

Incidentally, some people with Maryland connections are concerned how this might impact recruiting on Frese's program, but first things first in terms of what might take place.

Also, if Maryland is gone, another reason the ACC might reach out quickly to pluck Connecticut from the Big East is the men's ACC coaches have had a negative impediment removed.

Past rumors when Connecticut wasn't gobbled in the previous shifts suggested the ACC men's basketball coaches were reluctant to have Jim Calhoun become part of the Tobacco Road brotherhood. But that is now history with his retirement and the ascent of the likeable Kevin Ollie.

For women's basketball fans in general now further up the Mid-Atantic corridor, if all this comes about, one will be able to travel shorter distances to see the best of the ACC, Big East, and Big Ten, with probably seeing a lot of SEC playing those schools in nonconference competition.

And since the Guru must always keep track of the numbers, if everything were signed, sealed, and delivered at this moment and happened right now, which obviously it can't, but for illustration's sake, here's how the numbers work in the AP Poll history charts through last week's poll.

Connecticut is sixth in total appearances with 388, Maryland is eighth at 361, and Rutgers is 10th at 348. Penn State, incidentally, is seventh at 367.

All three of the schools potentially involved in the shifts also have a slew of Top 10 and Top Five rankings, while UConn has a dominating total of No. 1 rankings.

So, the Big Ten would pick up 709 rankings, the ACC on a net change would gain through UConn a plus 27, though much more when Notre Dame makes its move, and the Big East would lose 388 and much more through Notre Dame's 237.

That's it for now. More to come in both the Guru national channel here and the brand new local channel mentioned in the Guru note at the top.

-- Mel








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