Sky Hoops with House
March 29, 2012

FINAL FOUR TIME!

Let me quickly go back to last week’s topic of “parity” in Women’s Division I college basketball.

Here is the lineup of the Final Four this weekend in Denver:

1 Connecticut (33-4, 13-3 Big East)
1 Notre Dame (34-3, 15-1 Big East)
1 Stanford (35-1, 18-0 Pac-12)
1 Baylor (38-0, 18-0 Big 12)

Four #1 Seeds advance to the Final Four. No parity, but it is only the second time in NCAA tournament history (first since 1989) that all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. The reality is, parity isn’t coming anytime soon and in one sense, everyone should be careful wishing for it. I agree that the overall growth of the women’s collegiate game needs the distribution of talent across many, many different programs for the game to grow. This would potentially allow for more upsets and Cinderella stories like in the Men’s game. But, this Final Four, a Final Four of four very strong #1 seeds, is arguably the best collection of overall team talent at a Final Four in a very long time. It is the 5th straight Final Four for Stanford and UConn. (LSU the only other school to accomplish such a feat... hmmmm, I wonder who was coaching there at that time? ☺ )

Let’s get to the preview!

Connecticut (33-4, 13-3 Big East) vs. Notre Dame(34-3, 15-1 Big East)

Jan 7 | Notre Dame vs UCONN - Notre Dame 74-67 OT
Feb 27 | Notre Dame @ UCONN - Notre Dame 72-59
Mar 6 | Notre Dame vs UCONN* - UCONN 63-54

Talk about two teams that know each other well. Not only is this the Big East tournament championship game all over again, but also this will be the 8th time the two teams will meet in the past two seasons, a 4-3 advantage to UConn. Both teams rolled in their games leading up to the Final Four. Who thought ND would beat Maryland by 31?... not me, no way. This high scoring is a very unique distraction to the key to this game because it will be the team that defends the best that will come away with a trip to the National championship game.

Stanford (35-1, 18-0 Pac-12) vs. Baylor (38-0, 18-0 Big 12)

The understatement of the Final Four and this game is that it is all about Brittney Griner. Offensively and defensively Griner causes so many problems and challenges for opponents. The old adage that great players make those around them better is so very true for Griner. With those around her already being very good... the result is 38-0 and very scary for opponents. Don’t sleep on Odyssey Sims; her NCAA tournament run has been extremely impressive. Griner’s dominance has been enhanced by her extremely aggressive play in the NCAA tournament. This has fueled and fired everyone else on this team up. Baylor is playing at a tremendously high level right now on both ends of the floor.

Stanford and Baylor squaring off is a very unique match up. Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s tremendous athletic ability combined with her overall talent is something that Griner has not faced a great deal of. Stanford having Chiney to double and trap Griner (should they chose to do so) will present problems for her. Sure, Griner’s been doubled (and tripled all season, career) and is a very sound passer out of the double team, but she hasn’t been doubled by the Ogwumike sisters yet. Nnemkadi’s offense will also give Griner some challenges from the high post. She has the ability to stretch defenses and can make jumpers as well as drive from the high post, which could get Griner in foul trouble. I wouldn’t count on her fouling out though; she has only fouled out once (her freshman season) her entire career.

The National Championship game

I’m not one for predictions, but let’s look the potential match-ups.

Connecticut vs. Baylor

The two have played this year in Waco, a 66-61 win for the Bears, last year in Connecticut, a UConn win with Griner’s missing eight free throw’s. This season’s game was in December, 10 games into the season – it really doesn’t have much impact on the potential National Championship game itself, other than Connecticut knows it is one of their four loses. The Huskies’ held an 11-point second half lead on the road and saw that lead disappear. That could work to Coach Auriemma’s advantage. UConn has been on a defensive tear ever since a late season challenge to the overall toughness factor the Huskies’ were NOT possessing at the time. A chance to avenge an earlier loss? A possible National Championship when many thought they couldn’t win it without Maya? A perfect recipe.

Connecticut vs. Stanford

Stanford has been (nearly) perfect this season. The only “L”, at UConn in Hartford, November 21st, 68-58. In that game Nneka Ogwumike had two quick first half fouls and wasn’t a big factor until the second half. From November 21st until now, if they beat Baylor, that will be the only blemish on their season. If they beat Baylor, it will take a supreme effort, tremendous defensive and offensive execution and it will be very emotionally draining. Question: Would there be too much fatigue and let down two nights later, late in the game for Sanford to win it all? You would think, no – the season and a National title on the line, but you never know. Connecticut getting to the National Championship game will not hold the same factors.

Notre Dame vs. Baylor

I’d love to see this one! There is the earlier game this season, the little “tussle” between Diggins and Simms and just the idea of it is another match up that is very intriguing. I am not sure Notre Dame matches up with Baylor very well (who does,) but the results of the November 20th WNIT Championship game (a 94-81 win for Baylor) could have more impact than one would think. Anytime a team plays for a championship there is a little “extra.” Griner and Simms combined for 57 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, six steals and five blocks... that can’t happen again if ND hopes to win this title from the Bears. Notre Dame has proven to adapt, prepare and adjust this season as well as any team in the country. This would be a great match-up.

Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Another unique match-up because, frankly, no one thinks this one could happen. Everyone I talk to is saying Baylor – UConn, Baylor – UConn, Baylor – UConn. What if we see the Irish and the Cardinal play for the ‘ship? Are there two teams more clearly matched? It’s the only one of the potential match-ups that we haven’t seen yet. It is the one match-up of similar styles, strengths and defensive play that I’d love to see. Devereaux Peters matching up with either of the two Ogwumike sisters. Will the Stanford backcourt contain Diggins and Novosel? The probability of this on happening isn’t high, but from a basketball coaching standpoint, I’d love to see the chess match in this one!

Any way you look at it, the game to win the 2012 Championship is going to be amazing!

Email me your thoughts and let me know what you think!

I’ll be in Denver for three college combine and free agent camps during the Final Four. I will send over a special “Final Four Addition” of Sky Hoops for you!

Catch you next week Sky Fans. Enjoy the games!

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