Monday, March 9, 2009
Raleigh's wildest, worst scenarios
By Charlie Creme Special to ESPN.com
SCENARIOS:Berkeley | Oklahoma City | Raleigh | Trenton
What's the most the teams in Raleigh can hope for, and what's the way they don't want the season to end?
(1) MARYLANDBest case: Kristi Toliver shouts "layup!" each time she raises for a 3-pointer, Marissa Coleman averages a triple-double and Marah Strickland makes every 3 Toliver doesn't. The Terps score a bunch of points in the first two rounds and aren't really challenged. It gets tougher in Raleigh, but this time, Maryland prevails with more savvy and experience. Both come together perfectly in St. Louis, and Toliver and Coleman leave the way they came in: with a national championship.
Worst case: Toliver's propensity for slow starts emerges at the wrong time: the regional final against Baylor. The Lady Bears take advantage, and even a red-hot Toliver and fiery Coleman aren't enough to erase an early deficit. Baylor prevails and Maryland misses the Final Four.
(16) DARTMOUTHBest case: Maryland forgets its white (home) uniforms. The Terps wear their (road) red, but are issued technicals to start. The Big Green grabs the early lead and the entire game looks a little like Christmas. But Maryland isn't in a giving mood and still wins.
Worst case: The Maryland equipment manager gets it right, everything is smooth for the Terps from the start, and Dartmouth players get heckled by the crowd for not being from one of the 14 schools in the tournament with a 100 percent graduation rate.
(8) VILLANOVABest case: Laura Kurz scores 28 points and Villanova beats Utah 42-40. Harry Perretta is happy about the win, but frustrated that there is actually another team nearly as methodical as his. No such worries against Maryland, where his strategy of disabling the shot clock doesn't work.
Worst case: Kurz scores 28 points and Villanova loses to Utah 40-38. Harry Perretta is frustrated by the loss, but happy that he might have picked up a few tips from Utes coach Elaine Elliott on how to be even more deliberate.
(9) UTAHBest case: The game against Villanova has the rhythm and tempo of a chess match but is captivating in the same intellectual way. Every bucket has so much more meaning and the lead is never more than four points either way. Ultimately, and just like her performances in the Mountain West tournament, Morgan Warburton just doesn't let the Utes lose. Worst case: The game is so slow that ESPN starts to track time of possession. Mike Patrick refers to three straight baskets by Utah as a 6-0 walk. Ultimately, the NCAA officials on site make a rash decision at halftime. All the Maryland fans in College Park are getting restless, so it is determined that instead of the teams playing another 20 minutes, Kurz and Warburton will just play one-on-one to decide the winner.
(5) KANSAS STATEBest case: Ashley Sweat scores, Marlies Gipson blocks shots and point guard Shalee Lehning does everything else as the Wildcats leave Albuquerque still alive, erasing a bit of the memory of last year's second-round loss. In fact, Lehning goes for a triple-double against Vanderbilt, and then everyone wants to know her miracle cure for mono. Worst case: Sweat scores, but no else scores enough. Gipson blocks shots, but she can't get them all, and Lehning does everything else, but not in bunches. The rest of the Wildcats just don't help much, and Drexel takes advantage. The 12-5 upset is delivered
(12) DREXELBest case: A professor at Drexel has developed a device that thins the air and coach Denise Dillon uses it in practice for two days to simulate the higher altitude in Albuquerque. It works to perfection and the Dragons have a little more energy than Kansas State all night. Still, it takes a near-flawless shooting performance from Gabriela Marginean, including 13-for-13 from the line, for Drexel to pull the upset. Worst case: Turns out the device is just a humidifier. The Dragons spend two days practicing in wet air and three players get sick. Not at full strength, Drexel offers little resistance to Kansas State. The professor has a résumé over to LaSalle by the middle of the week.
(4) VANDERBILTBest case: The players know the hotel staff by name after having won two games in Albuquerque just last year, and a little extra fluff in the pillow doesn't hurt. The momentum from winning the SEC tournament championship sustains itself and Vandy gets to a second straight Sweet 16. Coach Melanie Balcomb immediately asks the SEC if the Dores can play Tennessee and Georgia at The Pit next year. Worst case: Hannah Tuomi's stress fracture is still a problem, the SEC championship is a distant memory and Christina Wirth has to call room service three times to get some extra towels. Vanderbilt doesn't make it out of the second round and the players never want to see Albuquerque again, unless it's for the hot-air balloon festival.
(13) WESTERN CAROLINABest case: Vanderbilt fans see Kellie (Jolly) Harper on the sideline and start to twitch. Seeing a former Lady Vol is too much for them. The Vandy faithful are virtually silent the entire game. Meanwhile, Brooke Johnson and Lauren Powell keep the Catamounts in the game nearly to the end before a valiant effort falls short. Worst case: Three national championships as a player don't seem to help at all for the fifth-year Western Carolina coach. Even in silence, the Commodores execute flawlessly, get open shot after open shot and steadily take the Catamounts apart. Harper's phone starts to ring right after the game.
(6) LSUBest case: Allison Hightower hits so many running one-handers that Van Chancellor ties her right hand behind her back -- does she really need it? The young Lady Tigers continue the progress they showed in the final month of the season. While not good enough to make a sixth straight Final Four, LSU enjoy the home cookin' in the opening rounds enough to reach the Sweet 16. Worst case: The offense becomes too much Hightower because no one else is willing. LaSondra Barrett goes MIA. Chancellor can only pump so much water out of an empty well. The Wisconsin-Green Bay pace is too frustrating for the inexperienced and impatient Lady Tigers. Home court means nothing and they get knocked off.
(11) WISCONSIN-GREEN BAYBest case: The confidence built up while compiling a 21-game winning streak bubbles over into the biggest game of the year. The veteran Phoenix are unfazed about playing in Baton Rouge. The deliberate offense and solid, tough-minded defense are why UW-Green Bay allowed the fewest points in the country this season. LSU is defensive-oriented too, but gets more impatient with each possession. UW-Green Bay doesn't waver from the plan. LSU does. The Phoenix win the war of attrition. Worst case: Chancellor has coached in 15 NCAA tournaments. Matt Bollant has coached in none. The game is close and that matters. The experienced coach with the young players pushes just the right buttons at just the right time and outduels the young coach with the experienced players.
(3) LOUISVILLEBest case: The Cardinals are disappointed by the No. 3 seed but downright ticked about being placed in Baton Rouge with LSU and not in Bowling Green, Ky. That anger fuels a we'll-show-you attitude that is the last ingredient in getting the Cardinals to the Final Four. In a matchup with Maryland in the regional final, Angel McCoughtry is the best player on the court. Worst case: The Cardinals can't get the shellacking by Connecticut in the Big East tournament final out of their heads. Their confidence is shaken. Louisville still has enough to get out of Baton Rouge alive, but doesn't look good in the process. Then in the regionals against Baylor, McCoughtry gets no help. Candyce Bingham goes into a shell and Desereé Byrd can't make a jump shot. McCoughtry alone can't outduel Baylor's balance. Jeff Walz immediately goes to the NCAA eligibility rule book, looking for a loophole that would give McCoughtry one more year.
(14) LIBERTYBest case: Louisville can't tell the Frazee sisters apart and it confuses the Cardinals' matchups. Megan, who averages a double-double, has a big first half and Liberty is in the game. To stay one step ahead in the second half, the sisters begin swapping jerseys during timeouts. Megan continues to get free with Moriah getting too much attention. Ultimately, Liberty can't stop the Cardinals enough and the Lady Flames lose, and the official scorer leaves with a headache. Worst case: It never matters who's who because Louisville's pressure defense is too much for Liberty to handle. The Lady Flames turn the ball over early, Megan Frazee never gets enough touches to impact the game and the 2005 Sweet 16 run gets one year further away.
(7) SOUTH DAKOTA STATEBest case: Jill Young makes four 3-pointers in the first half and Jennifer Warkenthien shines in her first real showcase game. South Dakota State relishes being the only non-Texas team in the Lubbock subregional and upsets Baylor in the second round. As the Jackrabbits celebrate, a student manager in the corner of the arena tosses a pin up in the air, trying to see if he really can hear it drop. Worst case: Playing in their first Division I tournament, the Jackrabbits get a little overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment. Warkenthien gets in foul trouble against TCU and, despite the fact that SDSU looks like it should be the better team, the Jackrabbits can't seem to get out of their own way. With some key seniors playing their last game, the Jackrabbits are loath to call this a learning experience.
(10) TCUBest case: Someone finally finds the cocktail napkin upon which coach Jeff Mittie jotted down how the Lady Frogs beat Maryland and Cal. The reconstituted formula helps TCU knock off South Dakota State. The win forces the announcers to say Helena Sverrisdottir for another day. Worst case: The team that managed to avoid a bad loss all season suffered one in its first game of the Mountain West tournament, and UNLV's nine-point victory over TCU proves to be no fluke. The shooting woes don't just go away, either, and the Lady Frogs don't bounce back.
(2) BAYLORBest case: Jessica Morrow and Jhasmin Player continue to share the responsibility of go-to player. With each passing game, the need to discuss the loss of Danielle Wilson diminishes. Baylor doesn't blow anyone out along the way, but before anyone really notices, the Lady Bears are in the Final Four again. Worst case: The loss of Wilson does become a factor in the regional semifinal with Louisville. She isn't missed as much as the Baylor depth is impacted. Rachel Allison and Morrow get into some minor foul trouble. Since she's only going with a six-player rotation, coach Kim Mulkey goes zone like she did in the Big 12 tournament, but it doesn't work this time. The Cardinals beat the zone and eventually beat Baylor.
(15) TEXAS-SAN ANTONIOBest case: It's suddenly discovered that somehow Danielle Wilson's knee injury is contagious and six other Lady Bears have contracted the same thing. Mulkey is down to a pair of walk-ons, Kelli Griffin, Jhasmin Player (she's immune after last year's injury) and herself to play the Roadrunners in the first round. Worst case: Doctors catch this before it spreads, Baylor is healthy and so is the deficit for UT-San Antonio.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.