Dishin’ on the Brackets: Des Moines Region
This bracket should be fun! In one bracket, two finalists for National Player of the Year honors, possibly the final curtain for Tennessee’s seniors and the ultimate coaching legend, and just for kicks, toss in an undefeated season. All of this goes on in the Des Moines region, headed by number one seed, the undefeated Baylor Bears.
Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims could both be first team All-Americans, and Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears are just taking care of business as they march toward Denver. Baylor opens against UC-Santa Barbara, and it should not take long for them to dispatch the Gauchos, who finished sixth in their conference prior to winning the conference tournament. This is the team ranked No. 64 in the field, so they deserve mention just for that fact.
Jim Foster, the coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, was really upset with his team’s eight seed. Short of Hampton’s letter writing protesting their sixteen-seed, Foster gets the award for most vocal. He does have some merit to his claim though, and it appears his team may have been bumped down a seed to keep them in Ohio. Ohio State has a tremendous backcourt in Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill, but their front court struggles at times, and No. 9 Florida will give them a tough game. The Gators are an interesting team; since December 1, they have not won or lost more than three in a row. They just cannot get on a roll. Playing in the state of Ohio will help the Buckeyes, who will escape this match up.
Georgetown has a defense that can test their opponents’ patience, and an offense that can test the patience of the heartiest fans. Fresno State on the other hand wants to shoot three pointers and get out and run. The Bulldogs broke their conference tournament record for three point shots made in a game in their victory over Louisiana Tech in the final. Fresno has ten players on their team shooting over thirty percent behind the arc. Georgetown has Sugar Rodgers. Their offense is all Sugar all the time. Rodgers is criticized for getting her points as a volume shooter, but her shooting the ball is the best chance the Hoyas have to score. In their last two games, Georgetown scored 45 points and 32 points, respectively. In the Big East tournament game against West Virginia (the 32 point game), they shot 15 percent from the floor. I spoke to Rodgers for Dishin & Swishin, as one of the difference makers in the tournament. Her difficult upbringing is well-chronicled and her success in life is inspirational. She freely admits there is a large amount of pressure on her at all times because of the rest of her teammates lack of offense. It was a fascinating listen, and I have it here for you:
Fresno State, in the biggest first round upset of the tournament, will knock out Georgetown.
Chapel Hill, with Duke and North Carolina a residing a short distance apart, has Georgia Tech as the closest participant in the pod. Think about that for a second. Ohio State gets dropped a seed so they can play at Bowling Green, but with the Tar Heels not in the tourney and Chapel Hill vacant, the committee shipped Duke to Nashville instead of keeping them here. I do not get it, but Georgia Tech will at least bring an ACC flavor to the location. Tech comes in hot, having won twelve of thirteen before losing to eventual champion Maryland in the ACC tournament finals. Tyaunna Marshall is Tech’s leading scorer, but center Sasha Goodlett will be the difference maker. Sacred Heart is trying to show there is basketball in Connecticut south of UConn, but this is just a bad match up. They will not be able to handle Goodlett, and this should be a quick one.
In one of the more ironic first round games, first-year Big Ten member Nebraska faces old conference foe Kansas of the Big 12. Kansas does not belong in the tournament in my opinion. They finished 8-10 in conference, and their biggest wins were against Oklahoma and Iowa State. After star Carolyn Davis went down with injury, they went 2-6. Temple would have been a better choice here and would have given Nebraska a better game. The Huskers, on the other hand, have been inconsistent this season, but are playing excellent ball coming into the tournament. They lost the Big Ten final to Purdue in double overtime. They have one of the best guard-forward combinations around, with Lieberman finalist Lindsey Moore and sophomore forward Jordan Hooper. The two are best friends and create a combination tough to defend. Both average more than fifteen points per game. Hooper also averages nine rebounds, while Moore averages five assists. They will lead Nebraska to a win here. Together they make for a fun combination on the interview circuit too, as I found out when I interviewed them in tandem for the February 2, 2012 Dishin & Swishin:
Jordan Hooper, Lindsey Moore
If there is one school people want to see in this tournament, it is Delaware, who come into the tourney at 30-1, with their only loss being to second=seeded Maryland. Elena Delle Donne has captured the public’s imagination, and is leading an unknown but talented team much like Larry Bird led Indiana State to the Final Four against Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team. The Blue Hens open in Little Rock against Arkansas-Little Rock, but that should not be a concern. Once they shake the nerves in what I expect will be a close first half, the Blue Hens’ talent will take them away from UALR. Tina Martin is coach of the year in the CAA for the Hens, and as Mel Greenberg said, mastered the great recruiting line “my office is down the hall if you ever want to play again.” Seriously though, she has assembled recruits and transfers that fit beside Delle Donne, and turned them into a cohesive, confident team. Martin and I discussed the Blue Hens being a team, not just “Elena and the others” on the February 2, 2012 Dishin & Swishin.
Doug Bruno may have done the best coaching job in his twenty plus years at DePaul this season. After injuries stripped him of not only All-American candidate Keisha Hampton but most of his bench, he played with basically seven players and still won 22 games. Anna Martin is a special player, a do-all guard that is willing to take on whatever is necessary for her team, all at a high level. Brigham Young is a tough first round match up, a balanced team led by sixth year senior guard Haley Steed, yet another Lieberman Award finalist. In the end, I think playing in Chicago and Bruno’s experience will push DePaul by the Cougars.
So much has been written about Tennessee this season, that it would take volumes to discuss the facts, rumors and innuendo about this team and its coaching situation. Suffice to say, no one is sure at this point of anything regarding Coach Pat Summitt’s coaching future except she will be on the sideline against her alma mater Tennessee-Martin. I am also pretty certain that her Lady Vols will win comfortably.
Here is why Jim Foster was so mad. The Buckeyes get to play Baylor in the second round. Note earlier that I said that the Buckeyes’ weakness is in the post. Note also that Baylor has the most unstoppable post in college basketball. This is a recipe for disaster for Ohio State. Throw in the fact that Baylor has Odyssey Sims and Kimetria Hayden to play against Hill and Prahalis, and it gets even worse. Baylor in a blowout.
Georgia Tech continues its hot play, and takes care of the lowest remaining seed, Fresno State. Georgia Tech has too many weapons. Fresno State’s shooting, if they are hot from outside, could keep them close, but Georgia Tech plays strong enough defense that the Bulldogs will not be able to keep it up for forty minutes. Georgia Tech advances comfortably.
Delaware will face an opponent of high caliber for the first time since Maryland. Nebraska will play them very tough, and Hooper versus Delle Donne will be a fun matchup. Delaware’s guards are going to have to keep Moore in check, but I think over the course of the game, Delaware will hold onto their composure, and show everyone how they almost defeated Maryland. In what should be the best game in the bracket through two rounds, Delaware moves on.
The short roster of DePaul will be exposed versus Tennessee, much as it was versus Notre Dame in the Big East tournament. The Lady Vols have the athletes to defend Martin and make things difficult for her, while still having enough skill players that will not be worn out chasing Martin. DePaul is as gritty as they come, but they will not be abe to handle Glory Johnson, Vicki Baugh and Cierra Burdick inside. The Lady Vols move on to the regional semi-finals, and a matchup people are hoping to see.
In the regional semifinals Brittney Griner will at least have someone that can compete with her physically. Sasha Goodlett will try to be physical with Griner, but that could backfire and put her on the bench with foul trouble. Goodlett has played against large bodied centers in conference, but no one with the quickness and versatility of Griner. What makes Baylor even tougher inside is if you focus too much on Griner, Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope can crash the boards as well. It really is a case of choosing your poison, as evidenced by Baylor’s perfect record. Baylor will move through to the conference finals.
Delaware versus Tennessee. Two great teams, one a mid-major, one a legendary BCS school. Before discussing this game, I just want to touch on Elena Delle Donne. Supremely talented, tremendous attitude on and off the court, true to herself and her values. She leads the nation in scoring, and also averages double figures in rebounds. What is impressive to me is that she gets her points in the flow of the offense Very rarely does she force things. She also is very willing to talk about her team and her teammates, but deflects from herself. Just listen to this interview from the Dishin & Swishin ten who can make a difference podcasts from March 2.
Elena Delle Donne
Unfortunately, this is where the wonderous ride of the Blue Hens comes to an end. Glory Johnson has the length, speed and agility to be the most difficult defender Delle Donne has faced this season. Delle Donne tries to post up, and step out for the three. Johnson can go with her to both places. She has help inside from Vicki Baugh, and outside from Shekinna Stricklen and the guards. Meighan Simmons has supreme quickness that the Blue Hens have not had to deal with as well, and the match up problems just go on and on for Delaware. They will keep it close, but the Lady Vols will move on to the Regional finals.
A lot of the focus here will be on the coaches, Kim Mulkey versus Pat Summitt. The first time they met, in November, Baylor won at Tennessee by nine, 76-67. If this does turn out to be the last season for Summitt, will the Lady Vols be able to push on to Denver? The big question is which Tennessee team shows up. The one that dominated and rolled through the SEC tournament, or the one that lost to Virginia and to Arkansas at home. If Tennessee plays to their ability, this could be a great game. Griner scored 26 against the Vols the first time, Stricklen scored 25 against the Lady Bears. Sims and Baugh had big games for their teams, but Johnson was held in check by Baylor. She will have to play big and combine with Baugh to push Griner from her comfort zone. Ariel Massengale, Tennessee’s freshman guard will need to play better this game; she was one for ten shooting, while Sims had her number. In the end though, it will be all about Griner. The development in her offensive game since even the beginning of the year is startling, and she is just that much better than everyone else. Griner off the court, is different than you would expect. She longboards around campus, and it was fun chatting with her before the Big 12 tournament. If you missed it, here is that interview.
The Baylor Bears will be facing destiny and an undefeated season, in Denver.