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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Guru's Musings: Aftermath of Nashville

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru seems obligated to throw a few odds and ends around considering the numbers that have dropped by here while the Guru was helping the alma mater with the Immaculata Hall of Fame coverage and then drafted to handle the championship game between UConn and Notre Dame.

Considering the deadlines and the self-writing storylines, the bulk of what appeared in The Inquirer was written in the hour leading up to the game.

The fact that UConn turned the game into a rout made play by play inserts not all that much necessary.

Since the editing gods actually kept the essence of what was said about the UConn win, here is what might have appeared had Notre Dame won instead.

NASHVILLE -- The long wait is over for the Notre Dame women's basketball team and what a way to win.

In the most anticipated matchup in collegiate women's basketball history featuring two unbeatens in the NCAA title game for the first time, the Irish defeated longtime national rival and defending champion Connecticut xx-xx Tuesday night in the Bridgestone Arena to finish perfect at 38-0.

It's the second NCAA crown for Notre Dame and first since 2001 when the Ruth Riley-led Irish edged Purdue after upsetting Connecticut in the national semifinals.

But this one could be called an upset, also, considering that the Huskies (39-1) were No. 1 all season and a heavy favorite to win in the Bridgestone Arena before a sellout crowd of 17,519.

The game featured two Philly coaches in Connecticut's Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown, and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, a Big Five Hall of Famer who played at Saint Joseph's in the mid-1970s.

Furthermore, Notre Dame lost one of its key starters in Natalie Achonwa to a knee injury near the end of the regional final against Baylor in South Bend, Ind., l;ast week.

But that didn't stop McGraw's group from routing Maryland here Sunday night in the semifinals before Connecticut stopped Stanford to set up the battle of unbeatens.

Notre Dame's triumph kept Auriemma tied with Tennessee coach emeritus Pat Summitt at eight and deprived the Huskies of becoming just the second team alongside Baylor (20-12) to go 40-0 in an NCAA season competition.

Auriemma's teams have gone unbeaten four times previously before the finals here.

The Irish win also deprived UConn of pulling a second double in the wake of the Huskies' men beating Kentucky for that NCAA crown on Monday night.

Connecticut's men and women won titles in 2004 and they are the only school to win trophies for both genders in the same season.

Thanks to the football-driven conference shakeup last summer, this game took on an extra magnitude because Notre Dame left the old Big East configuration to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference while Connecticut became part of the American Athletic Conference.

Thus the Huskies and Irish sidestepped each other during the regular season, though they will launch a two-year nonconference series beginning in South Bend, Ind., next season.

That Connecticut added a fifth unbeaten run to the program's record book, was considered quite possible.

But Notre Dame was not expected to do as well with the graduation of all-American point guard Skylar Diggins and the move to one of the stronger women's rivalries where Duke, North Carolina, and, for this past season, Maryland call home.

However, coach Muffet McGraw got the Irish off to a quick start in November and they bolted to their fifth straight Women's Final Four.

Early in the season Notre Dame moved into the second spot in the weekly polls and that's the way things stayed the rest of the way as the collision course of unbeatens took hold.

Two of the Notre Dame recent Final Fours apearances involved taking down UConn in the national semifinals but last season after beating the Huskies three straight in the old Big East, Auriemma got revenge in New Orleans and then the Huskies beat Louisville, also part of the Big East, to tie Summitt with title No. 8.

Getting the Last Word

So in a few years in 2017 the days of the weeks of the Women's Final Four will shift from Sunday and Tuesday to Friday and Sunday for the purposes on helping attendance and making travel easier for fans who won't be forced to miss Monday and Tuesday work days.

There's no quibble here but the Guru should point this out.

The same as 2004 the last time UConn pulled a gender double to become the only school to have its men's and women's team win the same season, it was the women who got the attention and had the lasting conversation because it was up to them to finish the job after the men won on a Monday night.

The same situation occurred here and with all the extra toppings on hand with the double unbeaten records of the UConn women and Notre Dame, the Philly dustup during Monday's press sessions with Irish coach Muffet McGraw and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the curiosity factor heightened.

As ESPN executive Carol Stiff said to the Guru on Monday afternoon, "This is no longer a game -- it's an event," and the ratings supported that notion when released after the championship.

But if the calendar had already been in reverse, the women would have had their spotlight on Sunday night and into half of Monday but because the men were playing 24 hours later to close out the season for both genders, the focus would have been more on them in the ensuing days then the UConn women.

Before the next topic, if we're all one big happy basketball family trying to react of the Ackerman White Paper to make things better, unless the Guru missed a comment while running around all over the place, how come no one in a high NCAA place through a bone of approval to UTEP for the crowds the Miners drew for the Women's NIT won by Rutgers.???

Backroom Chatter

Though the Big East women's tournament was successful at DePaul in suburban Chicago and won by the Blue Demons, it may not return to the Midwest next time around.

The problem was even though five of the schools are gegraphically East -- St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and Georgetown -- in terms of regional awareness in its old haunts from the days UConn snd the Hartford XL Arena where the the tournament was an annual event, the distance but the Big East into a mental eclipse in terms of paying large attention to the games from afar.

So, according to some insiders, while on one hand, the Big East could remain in DePaul country, the idea of moving back to the seaboard, or switching the dates to the second weekend, or both, or something creative that might make it easier for the regional media in the East to go back and forth could be on the burner at the annual spring meetings.

Geno's USA Helpers

USA Basketball Women's honcho Carol Callan said there's no rush to name who will serve on the coaching staff under UConn's Geno Auriemma for this fall's World Championship.

The quetion was posed on when the news might come because considering who helped out at the last training session and the names speculated, it could be a strong Philadelphia accent.

Auriemma grew up in nearby Norristown after coming from Italy not long after arriving on the planet.

Some WNBA ingredients are usually required and most everyone believes after guiding the Minnsota Lynx to two titles and three straight finals, Cheryl Reeve, who grew up across the river in South Jersey, and played at La Salle is a strong candidate.

Even though South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will be heading the Under-18 squad this summer, she could still land on the staff, especially given her long affair as a player and coach with USA basketball and is one candidate likely groomed for the post-Auriemma era, whenever that will be.

Other possibilities are Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, the former UConn star who has already guided younger USA teams to gold medals as the Olynpic stars of the future; DePaul's Doug Bruno, who was an assistant to Auriemma in the triumph at the London Games in 2012; WNBA Washington's Mike Thibault, among others.

Some say what about Bill Laimbeer, coach of the New York Liberty.

When asked last summer, he smiled and replied, the players might like it but I don't know about everyone else.

Liking Mike

Chatting with Miami coach Katie Meier, a Duke grad, at the packed Blue Star Media party at one of Nashville's salooneries, the Hurricanes coach heaped praises on the Penn Quakers, which upset her squad in Coral Gables on New Year's Day to kick start a drive to the Ivy title.

"Not surprised that it happened," Meier said. "I loved the way they played. They should have beaten us. They were the better team. Mike McLaughlin's done a great job with them."

McLaughlin's name was on a lot of lips in Nashville as a prime candidate for BCS jobs or high mid-major positions in the future, though he is quite content to be with the Quakers in the Big Five.

Still, the Guru has seen it before. If someone has the bucks to pay the buyouts, and remember McLaughlin arrived with a history of Division II success at Holy Family in Northeast Philadelphia, they won't hesitate to raid the coaching cupboard with offers that can't be refused.

So if the Guru were Grace Calhoun, the new AD at Penn who hired former WNBA and Olympic star Sheryl Swoopes at Loyola of Chicago with zero experience, one of the first things he would do is chat McLaughlin up and make him an untouchable so Penn's return to Ivy prominence as well as its newly-found acclaim byond the Ancient Eight becomes secure in the years ahead.

Princeton's Courtney Banghart has already previously landed in the group of next generation star coaches with the way she transformed the Tigers, but the mistakes schools with openings made in their approach in recent seasons is they made offers she could refuse.

In fact, while Princeton is in transition -- the Tigers are also in the AD market with the impending retirement of Gary Walters -- some schools might feel the time is right to grab Banghart.

Speaking of that vacancy, the Guru has in a few places heard the name of Oregon State men's basketball coach Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Obama as a person of interest to the headhunters at Princeton.

One school that has moved quickly over the years to keep its women's coach in check is Hartford where everytime Jen Rizzotti's name would be mentioned for jobs, athletic director Pat Meiser, who also was involved in the hire of Auriemma at UConn when she was on the AD staff, would suddenly announce a new deal.

Meiser, incidentally, once coached Penn State.

Grentz the Author

Theresa Grentz, the first superstar center of the modern collegiate era when she played on the Immaculata championship squads that will going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on August 8, has just penned a book Lessons Learned Playing a Child's Game, as told to Dick Weiss and Joan Williamson.

Weiss, is the famous "Dickie Hoops" Weiss, the acclaimed sportswriter of men's basketball while the Guru remembers Williamson when she was working for Sports Illustrated when he first began covering women's hoops in the mid-1970s.

Here is a link to Grentz's website and info about buying the book.

http://grentzelitecoaching.com/lessons-learned-from-playing-a-childs-game. You're going to have to cut and paste this in the url window on your browsers.

USBWA Women's Awards

As soon as he sees what makes or doesn't make the USBWA's newsletter on rounding up the women's awards from Sunday, he'll post the transcriptions of the acceptances that were made.

Especially poignant were the remarks from retired ESPN executive Rosa Gatti and CoSIDA's Barb Kowal, in charge of external relations, about the creation of the Mary Jo Haverbeck award beginning next season.

With Breanna Stewart about to play in the semifinals, athletic diretors Warde Manuel and Deb Corum accepted the player of the year for her.

Muffet McGraw's husband Matt was handed the coach of the year award. Kirsten Moore, coach of the Westmont 2013 NAIA national champions, received the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award.

OK. Now you had a reason to hang around for new material.

More to come.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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