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, March 18, 2020

Guru’s AP WBB Poll Report, Part One: Some History

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

To get you all going, your Guru is going to answer some questions from Tuesday that were out there after the final Associated Press women’s basketball poll of season 44, week no. 20, overall week no 788 was released.

The data was mined to review the whole season and overall updates, however, since that took most of the night, better to be at full coherency in reading the number off the written notes to then write the narrative.

By the way in having 20 weeks’ worth of votes ties a record of several times of most in a season.

 In more recent years the total  was reached because of a late October release of the initial poll and the earlier start of games.

There were 37 teams ranked at some point with 16 going wire-to-wire within the 25. We’ll get to more of that in part two later Wednesday.

One thing we had because of the type of year that existed was four different teams reaching No. 1, starting with Oregon, moving on to Stanford, then briefly UConn, and finally South Carolina, which held serve the final 10 weeks of the season and the Gamecocks, guided by legendary coach Dawn Staley, had their first ever No. 1 finish, though they already have one NCAA championship banner hanging in the arena.

Secondly, one of the firsts we had this season was when Arizona State, then unranked, beat Oregon and Oregon State within 48 hours on a Pac-12 weekend, making it the first time that ever happened.

It triggered a memory in Guru brain quarters of Rutgers once having done something similar but a little different.

The Scarlet Knights were ranked at No. 24 when in a two-week span at the turn of the New Year of 2004-05 in successive games they beat No. 8 Tennessee, No. 4 Texas and No. 1 LSU to make two leaps to No. 14, and then on Jan. 10, 2005, to No. 4, one of the fastest rockets to this day in poll history.

A question arose did we ever have a postseason after-the-NCAA tourney vote such as is done with the WBCA-USA Today coaches’ poll.

No. 

 But what did happen was it looks like three years we did a vote (then coaches with the Guru) before the final four in 1980, 81, and 82. The idea of taking it further was to be more reflective of the end of the season.

However, there was never an intent to go beyond because the national champion should be decided in the NCAA tournament.

 And a team didn’t have to make Final Four to finish highly ranked if upsets happened, depending on the status of the team with the upset.

By the second year in the NCAA world they requested if possible to be like the men’s operation and have the last one out before the start of the tourney, which yours truly was happy to reply to cut the workload as tournament coverage was ramping up.

Your Guru thought it only happened once, but the database shows two late March dates for the polls of 81 and 82 so probably it was possible it got done before heading off to the AIAW Final Four at Eugene, Ore., in 81, and the NCAA first tournament in Norfolk, Va., at Old Dominion in 82.

An earlier finish date shows for 1980 but the Guru remembers that one specifically so it is likely that was when he would head to the Final Four site at the front end of the week.

Back then in ‘80, the poll  was calculated on an old Radio Shack, not the TRS-80, but the crew in Philly did the ballot collecting and relayed the votes to yours truly at Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant.

The equipment was too heavy to haul but the local SID from the host school got the local Radio Shack to provide the similar equipment and setup while the Guru brought the software.

They were all excited off something national happening in Mount Pleasant for the first time.

The Guru used to go out early in the week back then to help promote the finals at a time crowds, but not sellout crowds, were the ambience of the day and being in town early got an experience doing the broadcast radio tour to hype the event.

That Final Four was memorable for many situations as all the notables embedded for the weekend in the Kodak Suite in the motel in what was a land of frozen tundra with white stuff.

South Carolina came through as a dark horse, led by Magic Johnson’s sister Evelyn.

The bracket, then put together by a committee of coaches, was fair and balanced but in doing so there was a lot of traveling involved and the AIAW was not the NCAA, if you get the Guru’s drift, so athletic directors began to simmer.

And not only that but in having the powers of the game up there, nice enough that the host school, which has since become a MAC force, was, grumbling that’s not the hidden place that should be showcasing the championship.

And so backroom whispers began with the folks in Kansas City and that’s when the powder keg was lit on the way to the NCAA not long thereafter decide to take up governing women’s athletics and sponsoring champions, claiming they were responding to the “desire of our membership.”

One other thing while on this memory lane – hey you’re all in lockdown so you got time to be entertained – there was a nice story Tuesday in the Washington Post about the first TV game, which featured Immaculata and Maryland.

The now-deceased former Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe was mentioned. 

Your Guru can tell you that I dealt with him when I first got into this and was writing about Title IX and the coming of college athletic scholarships for women.

Your Guru can tell you that Mr. Kehoe was as gung-ho as anybody as what should be done for women’s competition. The administrations at Rutgers and Penn State were also on board.

In fact, when Dottie Knight was hanging her coaching sneakers up, he tried to poach Cathy Rush from Immaculata, but she after a brief go-round backed off, believing that Knight’s assistant Chris Weller deserved the job.

Ok, so here’s the next question from Tuesday that can be answered which was who in the last ten years finished number one in the poll, but that team did not win the championship.

Since none of you are going anywhere, the Guru went through the whole nine yards and here’s the list, showing the team and where their demise occurred, with a comment or two.

2020 - South Carolina – NCAA tournament cancelled due to the pandemic coronavirus outbreak. Major disappointment because a rare time that three super strong teams were going to have number one seeds, and a possibility existed that some dark horses behind had upset capabilities.

 2018 – Connecticut – Lost in national semis to Notre Dame. Speaking of the Irish, 2020 is their first Final Pole absence in 12 seasons.

2017 – Connecticut – Lost in national semifinals to Mississippi State.

2013 – Baylor – Lost in the Sweet 16 to Louisville.

2011 – Connecticut – Lost in national semifinals to Notre Dame. (Like during this season, one of the rare times the No. 1 and No. 2 AP team fell on the same day.)

2008 – Connecticut – Lost in national semifinals to Stanford.

2007 – Duke – Lost in the Sweet 16 to Rutgers on a pair of missed free throws at the buzzer.

2006 – North Carolina – Lost to Maryland in the national semifinals. A Boston glee party with three ACC teams, including Duke. Was a three team stretch drive in the top five thru February.

2005 – Stanford – Lost to a Joanne P. McCallie  coached Michigan State team in the Elite Eight. Two big upsets at WF4 as Spartans and Baylor take down Tennessee and LSU, the Baylor wins first title beating Michigan State.

2004 – Duke – Lost to Minnesota in the Elite Eight. Lindsay Whelan and Chanelle McCarvelle do damage.

2001 – Connecticut – Lost to Notre Dame in the national semifinals (one of the worst shooting halves in freshman Diana Taurasi’s life).

 1997 – Connecticut – Lost to Tennessee in the Elite Eight. (Always was suspicion how they got seeded to play that early).

1996 – Louisiana Tech – Lost to Georgia in the Elite Eight. (Connecticut made it and fell to Tennessee in overtime in the semifinals a year after the first title.).

1993 – Vanderbilt – Lost in the national semifinals to Texas Tech and a sharp-shooting Sheryl Swoopes.

1992 – Virginia – Lost to Stanford 66-65 in the national semifinals in the last rodeo for Dawn Staley, the player, in third straight attempt in finals. (Note, doubleheader began at 9 a.m. PST because was on same day as men’s, both under CBS, and still went long because of a million fouls in first game. CBS soon thereafter was knocking on ESPN’s door in the middle of the night begging  to take the event off their hands.)

1991 – Penn State – (Psst, Virginia was the real No. 1 team but lost in ACC and fell a spot). The Lady Lions were poised to win and land at The Palestra regional in Philly, and so was Rutgers generating excitement. 

But PSU became a rare No. 1 in the bye round losing to unranked James Madison. Rutgers. Meanwhile, got upset by Toledo and went on to lose to – yep, UConn, which came to Geno’s hometown and upset Kay Yow’s North Carolina State squad and Clemson, got to the Final Four in New Orleans, took a commit from Rebecca Lobo and that led to all those mentions you already read.)

1990 — Louisiana Tech — Lost to Auburn in the national semifinals. Dawn Staley’s Hoos got there the first time, ruining Tennessee, the host, in the Elite Eight. Stanford through the bracket kept getting the underdog advancing to play them from the previous round all the way to the first of two NCAA titles.

Auburn’s Joe Ciampi wasn’t happy with comparisons in that period with the Super Bowl-losing Buffalo Bills.

 1988 – Tennessee – lost to Louisiana Tech in national semifinals in Tacoma, Wash, first time WF4 not played with homecourt advantage. Next year returned to the site down the road from the men’s tourney in an experiment. Techsters with Teresa Weatherspoon launch huge second half comeback in title game to beat Auburn, first of three straight WF4 losses.

1987 – Texas – The ‘horns were in their own building but fell to Louisiana Tech in  a terrific semifinal while on the other side, Tennessee took down a feisty Joan Bonvicini-Long Beach team, which produced the quote of the tournament from Cindy Brown before the game saying, “Worried? They’re just a group of corn-fed chicks.” Vols finally won a title to end criticism also put to UNC’s Dean Smith on the men’s side back them about winning the big one. Leon Barmore admitted – we won our title when we beat Texas.

1985 – Texas – Lost in a bye round at Western Kentucky, not getting to a WF4 the ‘Horns were hosting. (They went unbeaten the next year in ’86). Paid the price of beating up the Southwest Conference after a pre-January tough non-conference slate. The future look at UConn and the AAC. Also, quiet pressure of needing to win to host and produce mega crowd, which was everyone’s goal back then.

1983 – Louisiana Tech – Lost to the Cheryl Miller-led Southern Cal bunch at Pauley Pavilion, home of UCLA. Became part of a two-year 1-2 national punch with the Techsters (ask Mulkey). 

1978 – Tennessee – Upset in the AIAW elite eight round by Maryland on the same weekend that SI had a scowling Pat Summitt head shot on the cover with the headline Transfer U?. UCLA and senior Ann Meyers beat the Terps for the title. Montclair State also got there in the last collegiate hurrah for Carol Blazejowski. Wayland Baptist also made it.

1977 – No. 1 Delta State won it in last 16-team one site AIAW finals, which was held at U. Minnesota, which came at end of Year 1 on the poll. Using this year, to sign off for now.

Back later Wednesday afternoon with the 2019-20 poll year in review.

            

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