Dishin’ on the Brackets: Raleigh Region
If you believe the experts, the Raleigh Region is where a number one seed will most likely get knocked off before the Final Four in this year’s NCAA tournament.
ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, Rebecca Lobo, and even “bracketologist” Charlie Creme are picking Brenda Frese’s Maryland Terps to be the team headed to Denver, not top seeded Notre Dame. I am sure that is fine with the Irish though, who repeatedly used the “lack of respect” card in discussing how important their regular season ending victory over Connecticut was to them.
Beyond Maryland and Notre Dame, the Raleigh Region has some of the more interesting story lines for hardcore fans, those that would like to see more than just how many tweets Skylar Diggins has, for example.
Notre Dame played tougher opponents in the Big East tournament than Liberty, never mind the NCAA tournament. The Irish will not have a problem here. Once Notre Dame gets by first round opponent and sixteenth seeded Liberty, they will face the winner of the game between California and Iowa.
None of Cal’s players have played in an NCAA tournament game, and they are led by a freshman point guard, Brittany Boyd. Most expected Iowa to go into a tailspin when sharpshooting Jaime Printy went down with a season ending injury, but the Hawkeyes are here, winners of eight in a row before a Big Ten tournament loss to Nebraska. I like Cal to advance, and people will write down Boyd’s name for future reference.
Earlier during the week I tweeted that Georgia has been banished to BCS Hell, a pod with three of the top mid-majors in the tournament. Their trip there will be short lived, however. Andy Landers’ team has talent for sure, but there is something about Marist at this time of the year that makes it hard to pick against them in first round games. I have many times written that Brian Giorgis may be the best coach in the country, and while this year’s Red Foxes edition is less talented than the last couple of teams he brought to the NCAA tournament, they are still the MAAC champions (seventh straight) and they still have a dynamic guard that not many have heard of. Corielle Yarde reminds me in game style of Armintie Price, except Yarde can shoot better. She is a double-double waiting to happen, and I mean that with rebounds, not assists. The team believes in themselves and the system Giorgis has implemented, and they make it work. Giorgis was a guest on the Dishin & Swishin podcast just last week, and he discussed his team and their success:
There must have been some karma involved with the February 2, 2012 podcast, because two of the guests on a show titled “A few things you may not know (but should) about this year’s college basketball season” were Saint Bonaventure head coach Jim Crowley and Florida Gulf Coast coach Karl Smesko. The two face each other in a first round match up between Crowley’s Bonnies and Smesko’s Eagles. This should be fun, with two different styles, Saint Bonaventure’s patience, and Florida Gulf Coast’s three point firing. In the FGCU’s first year of NCAA eligibility after moving to Division I, they not only have made the tournament, but they will win this game. Keep an eye on two fine playes for Saint Bonaventure though, Jessica Jenkins, a 1,000-point scorer, and Megan Van Tatenhove, an all-conference performer. Let me introduce you to these two fine coaches, with their respective Dishin & Swishin interviews:
Dayton is somewhat of a surprise participant in the tournament, as they would have been on the outside had they not won the Atlantic 10 tournament. Justine Raterman is a 14 point per game scorer the WNBA scouts will be looking at, but they are facing a tough Arkansas team led by guard C’eira Ricketts. A loss to Minnesota in their first game of the season is really the only bad loss on the Razorbacks’ resume, and they should move on without a problem.
When we were recording this week’s Dishin & Swishin Roundtable podcast, Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press commented he could not remember a defending champion flying this much under the radar. Texas A&M is a three seed, and Gary Blair has proven he knows how to get his team into the proper position to succeed in postseason play. They face Albany, the America East tournament champion in the first round, and it should not be a difficult game for A&M.
Louisville and Michigan State could be a fun opening game. The Spartans endured a four game losing streak at the beginning of February, but closed strong, finally falling to eventual champion Purdue in the Big Ten tournament. Louisville should be commended for the job they did this year, considering they endured a myriad of roster casualties but still rose to number seven seed. The fun to watch, and maddening, Shoni Schimmel leads the Cardinals into battle. Coach Jeff Walz discussed the pros and cons of Schimmel’s game with me during the Big East tournament. She can shoot Louisville into the next round or back home. I say it’s on to the next round for Louisville.
The last first round game has Maryland facing Navy, in College Park Maryland. Enough said about this game, Terps on to the next one.
The California bubble will burst here, as they run into the determined Irish at Notre Dame. Kayla McBride has played tremendous ball of late, and has given the Irish a complete lineup of threats now. Skylar Diggins may get more press, but Natalie Novosel has come up with big shot after big shot this year. I talked to Novosel on the December 1, 2011 Dishin & Swishin, right after she had hit the “unseen” buzzer beater to beat Duke, where there were no television cameras. We talked about her game, her teammates, USA basketball and more; here it is for you to enjoy.
In the mid-majors, the rookie Florida Gulf Coast will face tournament vet Marist. After almost taking out Duke last year, the Red Foxes will advance through the second round this year, as Giorgis’ legend and resume grows some more and WNBA scouts start thinking about Yarde a little harder. Besides, this way we get to hear the awesome Marist band for another round.
Gary Blair gets to take on Arkansas, where he coached previously. Add in that they will be conference rivals next year with the move of Texas A&M to the SEC, and there’s even more spice than perhaps this game would normally have. Experience and exuberance should win out here. Tyra White, Adaora Elonu, and Sydney Carter have been there before, and Kelsey Bone improved as the season went on. Remember, while the Aggies do have ten losses, four are to number one seeds Baylor and Connecticut. In a close game, Coach Blair moves on to the next round.
Jeff Walz gets to take on Maryland, where he was a coach previously. Didn’t I just write that a second ago? Well, almost. I am sure Maryland fans are not looking forward to hearing another round of how the Terps did not make it back to the championship without Walz, and they are right, that is an unfair statement about Brenda Frese and her teams. Frese has done a great job with Maryland, and she deserves credit for her program’s success. Maryland has too many horses for Louisville, and this one may not be that close. Even though the Terps were pre-season third place in the ACC, most seemed to think they were not going to achieve the success they have. I spoke with Frese right before their Christmas tournament match up with Delaware and Elena Delle Donne, when Maryland was in the midst of what would be a 16-0 start. Here is that interview for you to look back on.
Marist has a system that tends to keep them in close games; they lost to Kansas State by one point, for example. Notre Dame is a different type of team though. They will not take the foot off the pedal, and I just do not see a way for Marist to keep up with the superior athletes and superior talent of the Irish. Notre Dame will advance to the Regional Finals.
Two championship coaches, with two talented teams. Maryland has the physicality and the aggressiveness to beat Texas A&M at its own game though. The pressure both teams’ guards will put on the ball will be a great match up, but Maryland’s front line is one of the best in the country, and should guide Maryland into the Regional Final.
The match up most expect, number one versus number two. Some like Maryland’s physicality to push them past Notre Dame. Some like Notre Dame’s experience to push them past Maryland. The game will feature two of the top players in the country, Big East player of the year Skylar Diggins and ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas. Two great players, and great student-athletes. I counted them as two of the ten players that could make a difference in the postseason in a recent Dishin & Swishin podcast. In their own words, they discuss their teams and their success.
In the end, I am going with experience. Diggins will turn it on in the big moments, Devereaux Peters will rebound and screen, McBride and Novosel will drive and hit, and Brittany Mallory, the other senior, will have some big shots.
Notre Dame moves on to Denver.