Sunday, March 2, 2014

The state of college hoops

On the boys' side, this year would appear to be wide open. There's no dominant team like Louisville was last year. Consider #1 ranked Florida, #2 ranked undefeated Wichita State (which should be ranked #1), and then go on down the list. A lot of the usual suspects are there. Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, and Duke are in the Top 10.  Also Villanova at 24-3 and, even more quietly, Saint Louis at 25-2. A slew of really good programs with very impressive records.

A Big 10 team like Michigan or Michigan State could very well make a run in this year's NCAA tournament, as could several others from around the country. And who knows what "Cinderella" team might emerge? It seems to happen every year.

Basically, once the "March Madness" starts, this looks to be a crap shoot.

Quite the opposite would seem to be true on the girls' side. Since the season started months ago, it appears there's the "Big 2", while the rest are also-rans, perhaps with one exception. I'll get back to that.

Geno Auriemma's UConn Lady Huskies are ranked #1 and well should be. They're 30-0. However, Muffet McGraw's Lady Fighting Irish aren't far behind at 29-0.

How far are they above the rest of the pack? UConn has won it's games by an average of 36 points this year. They're crushing everybody. Notre Dame sports an average winning margin of 27 points. They're killing people too.

In recent years, these two teams had to face each other at least twice during the regular season, more than likely a third time in the conference tournament, and perhaps even a fourth time when the big bad NCCA bandwagon started rolling. Most were highly contested games indeed featuring the best in lady's college hoops.

Yet this year, due to the on-going shifting sands of conference alignments (see money), the two schools won't meet at all until they likely clash in the NCAA tournament. Both could very well still be undefeated at that point.

The closest thing to a true test will come for UConn tonight when they play #3 Louisville on the road. The Huskies beat the Cardinals by 17 points, far under their average of 36, in their earlier meeting at UConn. Could the Lady Cardinals give them a run for their money at home? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The radar screen is a lot smaller in lady's college hoops than it is for the men. Just recently, the #10 Tennessee Lady Vols knocked off #4 South Carolina, for their first win over a Top 5 team in four years. Nobody outside of Knoxville paid much notice. Just a couple "also-rans". Somebody had to win. Normally, being #10 in the country beating an even higher ranked team is something to be very proud of. But somehow I don't think that would have been satisfactory under former legendary coach Pat Summitt's watch. She was the John Wooden of ladies' college hoops. Anything less than being the best just wasn't good enough.

So after a few more regular season games, then the various conference playoffs, the NCAA tourney will get under way. Sure, 64 teams will get invited. They'll get to travel here and there to different venues and, as the tournament wears on, they will be celebrated in their home towns as they advance. Also, the universities themselves will realize major cha-chings.

That's all well and good, but don't kid yourself.

Barring a rash of injuries or something else unforeseen, this is a two team tournament when it comes to having championship aspirations.

UConn and Notre Dame. All the rest are just there by necessity to fill out the brackets.

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