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Archive for March, 2009

NCAA Louisville Maryland Basketball       It’s interesting that three of the teams at the Raleigh Regional could be seen as running a relay where they didn’t really pass the baton but rather grabbed it away from each other.

  Here’s what I mean: If all of women’s college basketball is in a yearly race to keep proving that the Big Dance is more than a two-team tango, then among those leading the pack are Baylor, Maryland and Louisville. 

  Tennessee and Connecticut winning eight of 10 titles between 1995-2004 had its benefits in terms of establishing those two with “dynasty status” and bringing a spotlight to the sport because of their excellence and rivalry.

But by the time Baylor won it all in 2005, the sport was more than ready for such completely new blood.
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   1090870e3c6174f6March Madness (which leaks over to April) is always presented as this thrill ride of possibility, a grand adventure only the most fortunate get to take part in, an athletic festival.

  I suppose it is all that … until the men’s and women’s tournaments actually start, and it just becomes almost like this demonic game of musical chairs. Where being in the right place at the right time – i.e. in front on the scoreboard when the game clock expires – is often a matter of chance. And every round, somebody you think still belongs has to go.

  If you are a writer covering the entire tournament and not just one specific team – which has been the case for me  for ESPN.com since 1996 – then you never cover a “victory.” Every game you watch and write about, you are experiencing both sides because you listen to and ask questions of the winners and the ones who didn’t win. 
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 getsmart-phone There’s something we see in every sport, but never so achingly often as each year in the NCAA tournament. To lose stinks, sure. To lose a close game stinks worse.

  But nothing stinks more than to lose after giving up a decent-sized lead. 

  To get blown out is no fragrant affair, either, but the emotions are usually muted then. Getting beat soundly tells you something worse about your team than losing 69-68, as Michigan State did to Iowa State on Saturday. Getting your tail kicked leaves you with less to feel proud about than falling 78-74, as Vanderbilt did to Maryland. But …

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   304882b11af2a9361To borrow from “Sgt. Pepper’s” … we celebrate the birthday of the first NCAA women’s championship game: March 28, 1982. 

  Now, it is not the anniversary of the first women’s college basketball national championship, which started way back in 1969 at West Chester State. And we know that some folks felt that the NCAA _ which, remember, had OPPOSED Titled IX initially _ would not do as good a job with women’s sports as the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women). 

  Ultimately, though, the NCAA came around on women’s sports (it didn’t take that long, actually).
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  b45b3574120c14bcI’m sure to get some Michigan State folks ticked that I wrote on ESPN.com  that the predetermination system is flawed. And some peoples will say, “Louisville won at LSU, so it’s just tough for Duke and Auburn that they couldn’t manage to win on the road.” And others will say, “Just SHUT UP about predetermination and home-court advantage.”

  So I’ve said what I think about that (more than once), and now it’s time to move on to the Sweet 16, where No. 1 Oklahoma gets to be in Oklahoma City and No. 2 Stanford gets to be in Berkeley, both of which are a lot like home, if not actually their home courts.
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     aub-12088-lgAuburn’s season “back on top” is over, and Monday night the Tigers found out where 30 victories and and an SEC regular-season championship will get you: an elimination game on the home court of a team that lost nine more games than you did (coming into the NCAA tournament) and was seeded five spots lower that you.

  Such is the nature of the women’s tournament that we still have to live with. The bracket is compromised from the start because of pre-determined sites. Schools do not earn home-court advantage because of their results in a year. They don’t “earn” home-court advantage at all. They buy it.

   If their administration makes a successful bid, they have that advantage.

  People used to bash the old system of having the top-16 seeds host because they said the early rounds were too predictable then. It was too hard for teams to win on others’ home courts. But a defense of that system is to look at a sport like the NFL, where you earn home-field advantage for the playoffs. Earn.
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      1286640154_a9945020013Tennessee never dropped out of my Top 25 poll this season, and I had the Orange Crush moving on to the Sweet 16 in my bracket (which I reluctantly fill out every year).

  But now Tennessee is out of the tournament after the first round – a sentence I never thought I would type. Not even this season.

   One of the things about being in the media and watching Tennessee for so long is that it’s given me the chance to see both sides of the program’s dominance very clearly. Meaning I’ve seen what it takes to keep a program at that level season after season and the joy that’s brought participants and followers. But I’ve also seen the toll – in terms of losses and disappointments – that Tennessee’s strength takes on other programs.
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