Dishin’ on the Brackets: Fresno Region
Every year those that decide tournament sites look at a map and say “we have to find someplace close to Stanford to host a regional.” This year, it is Fresno that gets to bring in the top seeded Cardinal. As for the rest of the bracket, there are some more of those higher seed on the lower seed’s home court match ups, but not a lot that should be surprising.
Stanford has to go all the way to Norfolk, Virginia to defeat Hampton in the first round. In addition to the traveling across country issue, this game is notable because many pundits feel Hampton was seeded poorly, and deserved a higher seed. Hampton certainly felt it was, and has taken the unusual step of submitting a letter to the committee detailing their complaint. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Welcome to the Big 12 West Virginia, your future starts now, with a first round eight-nine match up against Texas. Many felt Texas did not deserve to make the tournament. It probably took end of regular season wins over Texas A&M and Oklahoma to get Texas in, but they are dancing in Norfolk. Mike Carey’s group makes it more like a slam dance than a Texas two-step, however. The Mountaineers won nine of their last twelve, including the big upset at Notre Dame, their own losses being to ranked teams. They are young and they are aggressive. Asya Bussie was all-conference and is a handful inside. I have seen West Virginia enough in the Big East that I will not pick against them in the first round here. West Virginia advances.
Dawn Staley makes her first tournament appearance as head coach of South Carolina. They last made the tournament nine years ago. In a year that saw South Carolina defeat Tennessee to end a forty-game losing streak, they will get to face Eastern Michigan, winner of the MAC’s automatic bid. Tavelyn James of EMU won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith award as the nation’s outstanding women’s player 5-8 or shorter, and is fun to watch, but will not be enough for the Eagles to defeat the Gamecocks. Staley has done an incredible job with her program, changing the culture at South Carolina to being other than just a “football school.” Back on the January 19, 2012 Dishin & Swishin I talked to her about her success.
Purdue won the Big Ten tournament, defeating NCAA tourney teams Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska in order to do so. Hard to believe they ended the regular season dropping five of their last eight games. When Brittany Rayburn is dropping threes in, they are capable of going far, and hosting the first two rounds will help. South Dakota State is a fun, up and down the court team, and their style will give Purdue some trouble, but in the end Purdue should wear down those Jackrabbits and advance.
Oklahoma does not have the star power of years gone by, when the Paris sisters and Danielle Robinson were around, but they can still shoot the three, and are playing at home to start the tournament. Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg will have to play well, and will help push the Sooners. Opponent Michigan dropped eleven games this season, but seven of those losses happened in their last eleven games. Bad timing. Oklahoma advances comfortably.
From unranked in the polls to a number three seed in the tournament in just over a month. Since January 31, St. John’s won eleven of twelve, defeating UConn in Storrs. Their only loss of course being the rematch in the Big East tournament. They are a talented team led by point guard Nadirah McKenith, who should have been a Lieberman award finalist and makes the team flow on both ends of the court. Creighton is their first opponent, who won the Missouri Valley tournament after finishing fourth in the conference. No struggle for the Red Storm here.
Middle Tennessee State gets to stay in their home state for their first round game. They have also been wishing for a game against Vanderbilt for years. Unfortunately, they go it on Vandy’s home court. Vanderbilt only lost one game at home including their SEC schedule, with wins over Tennessee, Georigia, LSU and Oklahomas to name a few. Sorry MTSU, it will be one and done here as Christina Foggie, a 17.8 point per game scorer, leads the Commodores.
I originally wrote here “Duke needs to get this tournament in before they lose any more players to injury!” Then before this was even published, the Blue Devils announced freshman center Elizabeth Williams has a lower leg stress fracture. She will play, but she is ground and pound player, and that has to decrease her effectiveness. The depleted roster will eventually slow down the Blue Devils, but they will be a tough out as long as Williams and Chelsea Gray are on the court. They lost early in an upset in the ACC tournament, but Duke will knock out first round opponent Samford.
West Virginia plays tough defense, and caught Notre Dame napping. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, that has put the rest of the country on alert, and Stanford will be ready for them. The Stanford team playing now is much improved than the one that suffered their only loss early in the season at Connecticut. More than just Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, there is more outside shooting and better guard play. Back on the October 27, 2011 Dishin & Swishin, Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer was my guest. I love listening back to those early season interviews, while looking at the changes that have evolved in the team since then.
Purdue is very tough to defeat at home, they have a diversified offensive game, and do not rely on just one player to get it done. South Carolina, though, just may have a little touch of that Staley magic going on, as her team continues to do things no one expected of them. This should be a very close, exciting game. In the end, I just think that Staley will manage to will her team into the Regional Semifinals.
If you can win at Storrs, Connecticut, on senior night, and break a 99 game home winning streak, you would think a team could win at Norman, Oklahoma against a lower seeded Sooner team, right? Well, I do. St. John’s is peaking at the right time, has players like Shenneika Smith to make the big shot and Da’Shena Stevens to lead them. Kim Barnes Arico has done a great job building the Red Storm program up, and has more wins than any other coach in program history. I talked to her after their victory over UConn about their season and the way she has built the program, on the February 23 Dishin & Swishin.
Kim Barnes Arico
Can Duke with their shortened roster find away to overcome Vanderbilt’s home court mastery? No, I do not think they will be able to get it done, especially with Williams hurting. It is not just Vanderbilt’s court, they really are a very good team. In addition to Foggie, the Commodores have guard Jasmine Lister, forward Tiffany Clarke, and center Stephanie Holzer that all score in double figures per game. Their schedule has them prepared for just about any opponent, and Duke will not scare them. In a close one, Vanderbilt upsets the number two seed and moves to the Regional Semifinals.
Even the magic of Dawn Staley cannot handle the talent of the Ogwumike sisters. Stanford is determined to not stop until they reach Denver, and anyone that gets in their way, look out. Stanford should win this one without much of a problem either.
How will Vanderbilt fare when they leave their own arena? St. John’s has proven they can win in the most hostile of environments, so a neutral court in Fresno, California will not be difficult for them to master. The Red Storm, as said before, have the pieces that fit together to form a great team, and they have overcome injuries and adversity to become just that, a great team. Kim Barnes Arico will have them in the Regional final, ready to take on Stanford.
St. John’s has already played two of the other number one seeds, Connecticut and Notre Dame, so why not play a third? I am sure Kim Barnes Arico would not mind missing Stanford, as this is one team that really plays to the Red Storm’s weakness. St. John’s does not have the strength inside to handle Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, and the height of the remaining Stanford posts will cause issues as well. Saint John’s has a strong back court, but the sisters just have it all going on right now, and will not settle for less than Denver.
In the time that I have been conducting interviews for Dishin & Swishin I do not know if I have spoken to two more impressive young women than Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. They appeared together on the December 15, 2011 podcast, talking Stanford, family and heritage, and it was a blast. Here is that interview for you once more.
Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike
On to Denver go the Ogwumike Sisters, Coach Tara VanDerveer and the rest of the Cardinal.