Sky Hoops with House
March 22, 2012

NCAA Tourney time Sky Fans!... and what crazy March Madness it has been!... especially on the menís side! Lehigh. Norfolk State. AND, what about Grinerís one-step, one-hander? In traffic, in the flow of the game! Iím going to have to see if Big Syl has that one in her bag of tricks for next season.

I wish we saw even a little more of the first round upsets on the womenís side of the tournament. Parity has not completely arrived in womenís basketball, but it is coming and the overall play is better and better each year.

Iím not wishing ill will for the top seeded teams, but I believe for the overall growth of womenís basketball it would be healthy for a #11 seed to make it all the way to the Final Four. For more early round upsets like Duke going down on the menís side. Those type of wins for programs like Lehigh, or VCU or Norfolk State on the menís side has allowed those programs to recruit and sign student-athletes who may not have otherwise considered those schools. It seems in womenís college basketball, the perennial top teams are the ones that win year after year. The recruiting just follows suit. The top 20-30 teams sign the top 50 Ė 75 players. Go through the top 50 high school players in the current 2012 recruiting class, only two student-athletes picked two programs that are not considered on the major power list... and they were still BCS schools. No one picked a non-BCS school. The womenís game needs the upsets to help the recruiting. It needs more Delle Donneís at more of the Delawareís.

There is rarely the VCU or George Mason type story in the womenís game, or a team like that who makes it all the way to the Final Four. This year we do have a couple teams in the Sweet 16 that could surprise us and make that a run: St. Bonaventure and St. Johnís, and also two 11-seeds that could surprise some opponents in Kansas and Gonzaga. Donít count on it, but it is going to happen one day.

Letís take a look at the Sweet 16

3 Texas A&M (24-10, 11-7 Big 12)
2 Maryland (30-4, 12-4 ACC)

RALEIGH REGION - SWEET 16 AT RALEIGH,NC

Two battle-tested and aggressive teams. Maryland can score like crazy (80 ppg), but A&M is slightly better defensively. When the Terps have combined consistent, tenacious defense with their ability to score Ė they have been unstoppable. Maryland is 10-2 in games away from the Comcast Center while the Aggies are just 6-7. A&M is still the reigning National champion until someone knocks them out. They are tested and poised. Marylandís overall youth will be challenged in Raleigh. Look for a classic battle that will go down to the wire.

4 Penn St (26-6, 13-3 Big Ten)
1 Connecticut (31-4, 13-3 Big East)

KINGSTON REGION - SWEET 16 AT KINGSTON, RI

Penn State has been the team all season that just wonít die. They are the cat with 9-lives. The Nittany Lions can score in bunches and have done so on everyone. I love their poise and toughness. Both teams are about the same statistically on offense. Defense separates the Huskies from the Nittany Lions as well as the rest of the college basketball world. 45 ppg allowed in a 40:00 Division I college basketball game is tremendous. It makes Penn Stateís very solid 60 ppg not look as good. Since Coach Auriemma challenged the UCONN teamís lack of toughness after the home loss to ND... they have been relentless defensively. Letís see what they do to the crew from Happy Valley.

5 St. Bonaventure (31-3, 14-0 A 10)
1 Notre Dame (32-3, 15-1 Big East)

RALEIGH REGION - SWEET 16 AT RALEIGH, NC

In the A-10 Championship game, St. Bonaventure was jumped on by Dayton early and could not catch them. That loss Ė their only one in their last 21 games was probably the best thing that happened to them. Now 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament they are proving more worthy of the 5-seed many questioned. They have beaten: St. Johnís, West Virginia, Temple and Marist twice this season. BUT... this opponent is Notre Dame. The Irish can play any style game and win. Set up, Ĺ court game, transition, early offense, pressing, zone Ė they have won games playing at other teamís tempo, they have won games at home or on the road. They are exceptionally balanced and very deep with players who complement each other, while no one cares to be the shining star. Itís fun basketball to watch. I think this will be the best game of the Sweet 16.

11 Gonzaga (28-5, 14-2 WCC)
2 Kentucky (27-6, 13-3 SEC)

KINGSTON REGION - SWEET 16 AT KINGSTON, RI

Two statistically equal teams, with not as much separation in the area of being battle tested as people may think. The Zags two double-digit wins in the tournament so far over Rutgers and Miami showed a great ability to score. 83 points against Rutgers, traditionally a lock-down defensive team, speaks volumes. Kentucky is a pressing defensive team that can turn teams over in high numbers... but they have to prove they can hold leads, get critical stops and close out games. Watching a 17-point lead disappear to Green Bay was not what the Cats wanted to see going up against the fast paced Zags. If Gonzaga can keep their turnovers down and still score this could be the tournamentsí first major upset.

11 Kansas (21-12, 8-10 Big 12)
2 Tennessee (26-8, 12-4 SEC)

DES MOINES REGION - SWEET 16 AT DES MOINES, IA

It has to be Sweet 16 time because Tennessee is playing some of its best basketball of the season. Since knocking off the Kentucky Wildcats on February 13th, Tennessee has only lost once in their last 10 games. Donít sleep on Kansas though! This is a team that many wrote off in the middle of the season when they lost their leading scorer for the year. They re-grouped, dug in, defended and Coach and her staff did arguably their best coaching job during their time in Lawrence to bring this team all the way to the Sweet 16. Do they have another showstopper defensively to get by the Lady Vols? Not sure, but Iím going to enjoy watching to find out.

3 St. John's (24-9, 13-3 Big East)
2 Duke (26-5, 15-1 ACC)

FRESNO REGION - SWEET 16 AT FRESNO, CA

I have been anxiously waiting for this potential game since I saw the brackets announced. The Johnnieís and the Dukies... love it! Both squads hang their hats on their ability to get stops and hold teams down with their defense. Any team that takes down UCONN in Hartford is for real. St. Johnís has lost to only UCONN (Big East Tournament) and Notre Dame since the end of January. Duke has lost two in their last six (Maryland and NC State) and has at times looked tired, vulnerable. With the two teams playing in Fresno on a truly neutral court, who knows, but it has all the makings of a potential upset.

4 Georgia Tech (26-8, 12-4 ACC)
1 Baylor (36-0, 18-0 Big 12)

DES MOINES REGION - SWEET 16 AT DES MOINES, IA

If you have ever watched a Georgia Tech game... you know this: the Yellow Jackets will guard you no matter who you are or where you are. They are relentless. The Yellow Jackets held 20 of their 34 opponents under 60 points this season. Conversely, no one has had any answer for Baylor all year on the offensive end of the floor. Georgia Tech might not either, but Baylor and especially Brittany Griner, will feel like she has been in a football game when this one is done. Tech will have defensive schemes, a game plan and they will be all over the Baylor Bears. Tech has to keep the score down, find ways to score themselves, limit Grinerís touches and see if that is enough to give them a chance.

5 South Carolina (25-9, 10-6 SEC)
1 Stanford (33-1, 18-0 Pac-12)

FRESNO REGION - SWEET 16 AT FRESNO, CA

Another slight sleeper in the Sweet 16, South Carolina has been a team that has just improved a little each week throughout the season and come together at just the right time. A late February loss at Kentucky may have been the turning point. The Gamecocks played well enough to win, it just did not happen. It was a two-possession game all the way until 5:00 to go. The Wildcats built a 9-point lead, but USC came back and Kentucky needed three free throws in the final 10 seconds to seal the deal. This opponent is Stanford though. The game is in California. The Cardinal faithful travel as well as any team in the country and Fresno is like a home game for them. Stanford is nearly flawless when they play. They are another team that imposes their will on teams and leaves little doubt of how good they are on both ends of the floor.

Catch you next week Sky Fans when we will be down to eight. Enjoy the games!

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