About the past five days: I took a break from writing. Didn’t glance at message boards (which I decided sometime in recent years are best only in small doses anyway). But I watched on TV or followed on the Internet several games, and did the usual exercise in futility of voting in the AP poll on Sunday night. That followed UConn’s 106-78 victory over Oklahoma, a result that certainly reinforced the Huskies’ place atop the totem pole. Not that it necessarily needed reinforcement.
Here are some thoughts:
*-About all the upsets so far … I’m not buying it.
OK, that sounds harsher than I mean it, because I’m not suggesting seeing upsets isn’t fun. Nor am I saying they don’t reveal the concept of parity. Because they do. But I think you also must factor that it’s in large part the “November Effect.”
It’s early in the season and teams are not as cohesive as they’re going to be. It is easier for them to get distracted or rattled, and that has an effect of lessening the “better” team’s talent surplus sometimes. Plus, most of the upsets happen on the road; freshmen are just getting used to travel and upper-class players are re-adjusting to it.
Then throw in the holiday tournaments. When coaches take kids to places like the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Hawaii, etc., they should expect the obvious: The players are going to have some issues with focus. A lot of kids have never been to these places before. In the “real world,” people go there to relax and NOT work. Players are being asked to do something that’s pretty much counter to what everyone expects to to do when they’re going somewhere that feels like a vacation.
As for how that translates to upsets … I think when the favored teams are without some of their edge, the other teams sense it. And then they have the “underdog focus” kicking in to off-set the “Oh, wow, we’re at the beach” feeling that both teams have.
Finally, some of these “upsets” won’t seem like such big surprises later in the season, because we’ll know then that we underestimated or overestimated certain teams.
November upsets give us something to talk about, and they give attention and an energy boost to teams that are trying to climb the ladder in women’s hoops. But, ultimately, the very best teams still make hay in March.
So call me the Upset Grinch.
*-Huskies 2009 vs. Huskies 2002: Truly worth a debate?
That was one of the topics that ESPN brought up repeatedly during Sunday’s UConn-OU game. It’s what all of us who follow the sport have been reflecting on since before the season. The similar situations: The 2001-2002 UConn team was coming off a disappointing national semifinal loss the season before, had a senior point guard and a sensational sophomore … just like this current Huskies bunch.
Still, my initial thought this year was that as good as this team may be (and may become) it’s still not going to match the undefeated NCAA champions of 2002. Because I think that’s the best team in NCAA history. That team had five first-round WNBA draft picks, all of whom are still playing in the league. Three of whom have won WNBA titles and Olympic gold medals.
But I also think it’s impossible to separate that UConn team’s amazing accomplishments from its captivating personalities. It was an overload of riches … the humor and insight of Sue Bird, the “old-soul” eloquence of Tamika Williams, the glamour of Swin Cash, the hilarious and unvarnished truth of Diana Taurasi. Of course, Asjha Jones was the “quiet Beatle” of that group. Thinking about it, with those four AND Geno Auriemma around, it’s surprising that Jones didn’t just forget how to talk entirely.
At any rate, that was such a rock-star team that it would be hard for any subsequent group to seem “as good” let alone better. Plus, we have to add in that four of those starters already had one NCAA title (2000) and the fifth (Taurasi) would go on to win two more without them.
But let’s say this season’s UConn team DOES go undefeated. How will they be judged? Since it would be the first title for this group of Huskies, that still leaves them behind the nucleus of the 2002 team. And – through no fault of their own – they won’t have the Tennessee matchup as part of their “body of work” during the regular season like past UConn championship teams did.
Plus, we’ve had six years to reflect on how great the 2002 squad really was by watching, as mentioned, how successful they’ve continued to be. Think of it: Bird, Taurasi and Jones were all viable candidates to at least be considered for MVP this past WNBA season.
All that said, I really, really like this season’s Huskies’ squad. My colleague at ESPN.com, Graham Hays, wrote Sunday about the speed at which these Huskies play, and when you see them in person that is even more evident. They wear teams out, and they look damn good doing it. Which is why the Jan. 19 UConn game at North Carolina could be a gem. The Tar Heels are Speed Racers, too.
(Incidentally, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, whose team lost to UNC and UConn on consecutive weeks, said she didn’t think those two teams were that close. And she’s right _ when you compare player-to-player and look at how they would probably fare right now on a neutral court. But … this Carolina team is quite good, and the Tar Heels will have that game against UConn in Chapel Hill. The Heels CAN run with the Huskies. Whether they can successfully defend them is another story. Plus, Carolina may not be the offensive rebounding machine it has been in recent years – especially against the likes of UConn.)
As much as we knew Maya Moore was (and will continue to become) one of the great players in NCAA history, and that Renee Montgomery was a wizard point guard, the player that’s really captivated me so far for UConn is Tina Charles. She is so constantly active in the paint, so strong, athletic, quick and confident, it’s hard to see how anybody is going to handle her very successfully without giving up a whole lot to the other Huskies.
An assessment of Courtney
If you watched the OU-UConn game, you heard the sentiment that if Courtney Paris got a little more “fit” she would really be an amazing player. Or something to that effect.
I understand the point that at the WNBA level, Paris may struggle at times to keep up with the pace of play. But I can’t help getting annoyed about suggestions that if Paris could just do this or that, Oklahoma would be a better team.
Gee, maybe if she got “really fit” that she’d have a double-double almost every game of her career? Oh, wait, she’s already done that.
Maybe if she got “really fit” that OU could have beaten UConn? Oh, sure. Then she would have been able to guard Renee Montgomery, and stop Caroline Doty from shooting lights out from the outside the arc, and score against Tina Charles and slow down Maya Moore. Yeah, right.
Oklahoma has struggled with consistency in its guard play since the Paris twins came to Norman, and that isn’t something that either of them can fix. Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand can help fix that, and maybe they took steps in that direction last week. They did do some good things in the loss to the sensational Huskies.
Part of Courtney Paris’ strength is her size, and she works wonders when she gets the ball in advantageous positions for her to score. She can’t get herself the ball, though.
There are things that Courtney still needs to work on, of course, and she knows she’ll need to improve as she goes to the pro level. But, like I said, what OU has not accomplished in her time there is not due to any shortcomings of Paris.
All that said, I also understand that if people said that LSU’s Sylvia Fowles was the best center last season and Charles is the best center this season, I would not disagree with them. But Paris is still right there at the top.
Worst news of the holiday week
Well, you know it pretty much as to include the letters A, C and L.
It was confirmed Sunday to Notre Dame that Devereaux Peters, the team’s talented sophomore post player, had torn her left ACL the previous Sunday against Boston College. Peters went down in that game but then came back and still played, unaware of the extent of her injury.
Peters originally injured her knee on Feb. 10. So it was about nine months between injuries. This brings up the debate about whether players now in all sports try to come back too soon from ACL injuries. It wasn’t that long ago that a full year, minimum, was thought to be the needed recovery time after ACL surgery.
Now, it’s commonly six months or less. I’m obviously not in the medical profession, and I don’t want to suggest schools/coaches are forcing athletes back before they are ready. But I think it happens despite the best intentions of everyone involved.
It’s easy to understand why a player and her coach would not want to miss the end of one season and the entirety of the next before coming back to play. But now that’s what’s going to happen anyway with Peters – with the addition of another surgery and another from-scratch rehab process.
There’s really nothing more frustrating and heartbreaking in women’s basketball than ACL injuries, and it’s easy to second-guess situations after the fact. I’m really not trying to do that. It’s just that when I see players get injured in the second half of the hoops season and then try to come back by that next fall, I worry that they are pushing it too much.