Dishin’ on the Brackets: Kingston Region
The airlines and the expressways will see a lot of action in this bracket. There is Connecticut, playing in Bridgeport and should they advance, Rhode Island, a total of around 200 miles. Then there is Miami and Rutgers, who have to travel from their east coast homes to Spokane back to Kingston, over 5,000 miles. Across those miles, there are some potentially interesting games.
Prairie View A&M brings their 17-15 record into Bridgeport, a virtual home game for UConn. The Huskies just avenged two of their losses in the Big East tournament by defeating St. John’s (a number three seed) and Notre Dame (a number one seed). UConn rolls. Enough said, on to the next game in this region.
Kansas State was a bubble team until they defeated Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament, having lost their three previous games. With victories over Texas A&M and Marist on their resume though, they have to be taken seriously. They take on the first Ivy League team to be ranked in a regular season AP or coaches’ poll, coach Courtney Banghart’s Princeton Tigers. A loss to Navy aside, Princeton’s only other losses were to Stanford, DePaul and Delaware. They have Niveen Rasheed, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. She will be the difference, as the Tigers win their first round game. Ivy League player of the year, I considered Rasheed one of the ten game changing players I included in a Dishin & Swishin podcast a few weeks ago. Here is the interview we had.
How about Nikki Caldwell’s timing? Conference tournament championship game, have a baby, first round NCAA game at home. Impressive to say the least, as has been the recent play of her LSU Tigers. In this, her first season at LSU, the team hit some bumps, but roared come SEC tourney time, making it to the finals before losing to Tennessee. In that game they stayed close despite seeing senior leader LaSondra Barrett taken off the court on a stretcher. They will play San Diego State, a solid team with outstanding coaching by Beth Burns, but not enough overall ability to stay with the Tigers.
Penn State could be a surprise in the tournament if they play like they did in the Big Ten tournament. Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley are a dynamic back court, and Nikki Greene has really improved her post play. They open with UTEP, who only lost three games in winning Conference USA. The Miners are a strong thirteen seed, and may keep this one close, but I do not expect them to be able to hold on against the talented Lady Lions.
Last year Gonzaga rode Courtney Vandersloot and playing in Washington to a huge run. They are back in Washington, but there is no Sloot magic this year. Kelly Graves does have Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon leading an explosive offense, a sharp contrast to their first round opponent, C. Vivian Stringer’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Rutgers is known for their in your face defense, personified by the physical inside play of Monique Oliver and guard play of Khadijah Rushdan. Home court advantage will push through Gonzaga over sometimes offensively challenged Rutgers.
Guard play wins championships, according to no less an expert than Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, and Miami coach Katie Meier has two guards that will both be top ten picks in the upcoming WNBA draft. Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams both average 16 points per game, and combine with Stefanie Yderstrom to form a lethal three guard combination. At least for the first round, the travel across the country should not have an impact, as Idaho State is not up to Miami’s game. I talked to Miami coach Katie Meier about her guard combo and the success she has had with the Hurricanes, a legitimate ACC power on Dishin & Swishin in February. Here is that interview.
Green Bay lost one game all season, and Matt Bollant’s team was “rewarded” with having to play lower seed Iowa State, on Iowa State’s home court. Iowa State has lost at home, but only to Baylor and Texas A&M this season. It will not be easy for the Phoenix. I do like their chances though, and think they can survive this first round game.
The final game in the first round pits second seeded Kentucky against fifteenth McNeese State. A number of pundits are saying Kentucky may be one of the earliest top seeded teams knocked off but that would be versus a Green Bay or Miami, not McNeese State. Matthew Mitchell’s Wildcats will move on. This is a Kentucky team that was underrated early in the season, got respect, and then did some things to lose some of it. I spoke to Coach Mitchell around the holidays about his team. It’s interesting to hear what he said back in December, and compare it to the way his team played during the rest of the season.
Rasheed and Princeton take on the Huskies in the second round. The Tigers will be happy to keep this one close for a half or so, I would guess. As good as they are, UConn just has too much talent to keep this game close. Rasheed being defended by one of the Big East’s best in Kelly Faris could be a fun match up to watch though. Faris is known for her defense and intangibles, but criticized for her lack of offensive consistency. She came through in the Big East final with two huge three pointers at crucial times though. After that title was won, I was able to talk to Faris about the Huskies’ season.
The inside game of LSU will face the outside shooting of Penn State. Again it is important to note that the game will be held at LSU, in one of those lower seed hosting higher seed games. Penn State has played so consistently well, and they have several that can make the big shot. I have to think that the Lions can beat the Tigers, oh my.
Gonzaga’s magic will not be able to handle the Johnson-Williams combination of Miami. The Hurricanes were a borderline two or three seed, and they were hurt in the quest for number two by their inexplicable loss to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament. That will wake up Meier’s team, and I think they will roll through the first two rounds.
Probably the best second round game will be Kentucky versus Green Bay. Talented players like A’dia Mathies of Kentucky and Julie Wojta of Green Bay are both worth watching. Both teams like to get out and play their own styles. Mathies was SEC player of the year for a reason, and she can take over games. Wojta is a very special player, the kind of senior that absolutely gets the most out of her abilities. She plays inside as an undersized center, but uses her skill to rebound and still step out to shoot the three. A true All-American, Wojta is going to get Green Bay past Kentucky, on to the next round. I spoke to Wojta a few weeks ago for that “ten game changers” podcast.
As good as Penn State is, they do not have the horses to take down Connecticut, and the Huskies will advance. Bentley and Lucas are a great tandem, but Connecticut has been pressuring guards with success all season long. Bria Hartley, Caroline Doty, and Tiffany Hayes keep the pressure on. Hayes is the one senior on this year’s UConn team, although her roommate and best friend Doty is academically a senior (as is Heather Buck). Hayes and Doty have chemistry on and off the court. On the court, they know where to look to find each other. Off the court, they crack each other up and know each others jokes. I had a great time talking to both of them together after one game for a Dishin & Swishin podcast. I hope you enjoy it
The Phoenix are about to meet a Hurricane or two. Katie Meier’s team is built for the long haul, and as impressive a run to the regional semifinals would be for Green Bay, it will end there. Green Bay is becoming a known commodity at this point, and Bollant one of the hottest mid-major coaches around. Bollant and I talked back on December 8, 2011. There will certainly be off season discussion about whether Bollant is pursued aggressively by larger programs.
Miami versus Connecticut is going to be a great match up. The guards of both teams will get their points, Williams and Johnson for Miami, Mosqueda-Lewis, Hartley, and Hayes for UConn. The difference will have to come from the inside, much like it did for UConn in the Big East tournament. Stefanie Dolson and Kiah Stokes will be counted on by the Huskies to “play big” this entire tournament. The two centers will need to control the lane. The emergence of Stokes helped the inconsistent Dolson play with more confidence, knowing that the freshman can shoulder some of the load. However in the Big East tournament Auriemma went back to playing Dolson big minutes, and she was ready. It will be interesting to see if Stokes has earned more minutes in practice since then. I spoke to Dolson back on February 9th about her season.
She will be ready regardless of whether or not Stokes is, and the Huskies will be moving on to Denver.