Saturday, February 19, 2005
The frog was right all along
By Mechelle Voepel Special to ESPN.com
Kermit the Frog was right, of course: It's not easy being green. Nope, not in women's hoops. No green teams have ever made the NCAA Women's Final Four.
Some might consider Notre Dame, which made it in 1997 and 2001, as a green team. But the Fighting Irish list their school colors as gold and blue. And even when they don their rarely seen alternate green uniforms, it usually doesn't end well.
Admittedly, there just aren't a whole lot of green teams out there. But anyway ... the point is, take a look at the rankings and you start thinking, "Wow, it actually could happen: TWO green teams and kind of a green team in the Final Four this year. Michigan State, Baylor and Notre Dame."
Oh ... and then what if Wisconsin-Green Bay -- 22-2 entering the weekend -- made some crazy, inspired lower-seed run to Indianapolis ... THREE real green teams!
Now, the bracket is probably not going to work out quite like that, with a green (or kind of green) power in every region or anything. It's just an interesting possibility in this season where a lot more seems possible than in past years.
Bringing us to Michigan State, a green team that isn't "green" but has plenty of veteran experience. The Spartans have been on a steady climb under coach Joanne P. McCallie. The Spartans went from 4-12 in 2001 to 6-10 in 2002 to 10-6 the past two years in the Big Ten, and now they have a shot at winning the league title.
However, a big red team -- Ohio State -- will have a lot to say about that. The No. 3 Buckeyes travel to No. 9 Michigan State for a pivotal Big Ten matchup Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.
Ohio State is 12-1 in the league; Michigan State and Penn State are 12-2. The Spartans' two league losses have come at the hands of Ohio State and Penn State. And those two schools will meet again in the regular-season finale in Columbus on Feb. 27. Penn State won the first matchup on Dec. 30.
Michigan State has won seven in a row, including a 79-48 victory at Minnesota on Feb. 10 that was especially eye-opening because of the margin. The Spartans aren't a very deep team, but the balance and versatility among
the top six are exceptional.
Junior forward Liz Shimek leads in scoring (15.0) and rebounding (9.3). But junior guard Lindsay Bowen, senior center Kelli Roehrig and senior guard Kristin Haynie are also averaging double figures in scoring. Haynie has been the assist queen, with 126 to just 56 turnovers.
The other members of the super six are both sophomore guards: Victoria Lucas-Perry -- which sounds exactly like it could be the name of some family matriarch on daytime television, doesn't it? -- and Rene Hayes. Sophomore forward Katrina Grantham has emerged as a seventh player; she logged 21 minutes in a tense, tight 67-60 victory over Iowa on Thursday as the Spartans needed her inside. Roehrig was limited to just 15 minutes in that game due to foul trouble.
Five of those seven -- Shimek, Bowen, Haynie, Lucas-Perry and Grantham -- are from Michigan, which is a nice part of the story, too.
Hayes, though, is from Buckeyeville: Columbus, Ohio. But two Buckeyes -- Tamarah Riley and Kim Wilburn -- are from Detroit.
However, just as the Spartans get most of their "motor" from the state of Michigan, the Buckeyes are powered by Ohio. Leading scorer and rebounder Jessica Davenport (19.2 and 8.8) is a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Columbus. Caity Matter, Michelle Muñoz, Brandie Hoskins and Stephanie Blanton are all from Ohio, too.
Ohio State has won 14 games in a row. Michigan State hasn't lost at home this season. The Spartans, whose only Big Ten title in women's hoops came in 1997 as they shared the regular-season crown with Illinois and Purdue, could
set a program best of 24 victories if they win Sunday.
All of which makes for a classic late-February showdown.
Then, there's the second game of Sunday's doubleheader on ESPN2, which also is important in league standings: No. 24 NC State travels to No. 5 North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 9-2 in the ACC; NC State is 8-3. Duke, at 10-1, again leads the pack.
Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.