by Bob Joyce
One of the best weekends of the sports calendar– the first four days of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament… Just FYI, I filled out the Men’s bracket today with some upsets included, but ultimately my Final Four is Duke, Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina… with ‘Zona beating the Heels in the finals.
But if you want my take on the Women’s tournament, where we all know who’s trying for a fifth consecutive national championship… my thoughts on the Huskies will come later, but we’ll start west to east, first.
Stockton Regional: The top 4 seeds are South Carolina, Oregon State, Florida State, and Miami… the Gamecocks enter the tournament minus one of their twin towers in Alaina Coates. The senior’s right ankle is not even close to being able to play, and she’s a no-go in the tournament. So it’s Aja Wilson and the guards that will have to carry the load. I know Wilson, who may just be the national player of the year, will produce. But will the trio of Davis, Gray, and Cuevas get it done? Even before Coate’s announcement, I think the Gamecocks are the most likely #1 seed to fall.
Marquette has a group of fearless sophomores that will shoot from anywhere. As good as Oregon State’s Sydney Weiss is, I’m not sure they have enough… but Florida State could be the dangerous team, if they can recover from their two-game slide entering the NCAA’s. They have good guards and Shaq Thomas is one tough cookie in the post…
Oklahoma City: Baylor is the #1 seed and after three straight regional final losses, the Bears seem to be ready to get to Dallas. Like UConn, they really don’t have to travel much… Waco, OKC, and Dallas. Is Alexis Jones’ knee in good shape? Can their freshman continue to play well?? As good a story as Mississippi has been, I’m not convinced they’ll get past the Sweet 16. Then there’s Washington, a Final Four team a season ago with the NCAA’s all time leading scorer in Kelsey Plum and the nation’s top rebounder in Chantel Osahor. Can they get into an up and down affair if they get the Bears in the Elite 8? And what about Tennessee, as up and down a team as I’ve seen all season? Three wins over top five teams, only to follow it up with a bad loss…
Lexington: It’s Notre Dame’s to lose, with Stanford and Texas serving as road blocks. The Cardinal got the Irish in the Sweet 16 last March with the help of Karlie Samuelson… can she and Erica McCall stun them again? Texas has some great, young players led by Ariel Atkins and Joyner Holmes. But do they have enough in the post to get to the Final Four? Remember, they did beat Baylor in Waco this season… if anyone has a shot to bear the Irish, they’ll need to play their best, as Notre Dame has overcome some early season chemistry issues and– led by PG Lindsay Allen and Forward Brianna Turner– seem ready to get back to a Final Four.
Bridgeport: UConn, Duke, Maryland, and UCLA are the top four seeds. But should Syracuse beat Iowa State in round one… a second round date in Storrs would be juicy. Alexis Peterson beat out Allen as the ACC Player of the Year. With Brittany Sykes to compliment her, they could be a dangerous duo… and they’d be fearless. UCLA’s Jordin Canadais very talented, but based on what we’ve seen in the last two Sweet 16s, well… which comes down to Duke and Maryland… Lexi Brown transferred from Terp’ville to Durham and has worked well with Rebecca Greenwell in the back court. But they face a Maryland that’s been disrespected so much by the committee due to a weak non-conference schedule and a poor Big 10. But the eye test tells me they can get to the Final Four… remember the name Destiny Slocum. The freshman Point Guard is absolutely fearless; she reminds some of Diana Taurasi to some extent. Too bad she’s only playing with Brionna Jones for one season.
I’ve thought since November that UConn is a Final Four team. It’ll be a heck of a job for this group if they beat Maryland, Baylor, and Notre Dame to win the Championship again. And if they do, be warned– we might be looking at six or seven in a row… SERIOUSLY, there will be upsets like last year. And there are no givens. The Huskies are the favorite, but don’t be shocked if they come up short.
LET THE MADNESS BEGIN!!