Thursday, March 18, 2010
What can we expect in Sacramento?
Before the women's NCAA tournament opens Saturday, ESPN.com breaks down the four regionals. Check out the Dayton, Kansas City and Memphis analysis.
Mechelle Voepel's breakdown
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Rutgers (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 8 p.m. ET Saturday): There's probably no team Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer would rather not play than Iowa, a program she loves and brought to women's hoops prominence while there from 1983 to 1995. Stringer went to the '93 Final Four with the Hawkeyes just months after her husband died suddenly from a heart attack.
Rutgers has won both its previous games against Iowa, in 2005 and '06. Stringer stirred up some dust a few weeks ago when she said she wouldn't have anything to do with the WNIT, but it turned out she didn't face that decision. Rutgers won four of its last five, falling to West Virginia in the Big East semis. It's hard not to think what this team would be like if Epiphanny Prince had not bypassed her senior season to play in Europe. But in her absence, senior Brittany Ray (14.2 ppg) has carried a big load.
Iowa is one of the great stories of this season: a team decimated by the loss of three players to injury/illness early on but able to come back strong. The Hawkeyes were 8-10 entering their Jan. 21 game at Illinois, but then won 11 of their next 14. They built a big lead against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, but couldn't hold on for the win. However, just making it that far and gaining an at-large bid has made this season a success for a Hawkeyes team led by junior Kachine Alexander (15.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg).
• Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Stanford: The Pac-10 Player of the Year, she has improved on every aspect of her game as a sophomore. Her understanding of basketball is now on par with her athleticism.
• Amber Harris/Ta'Shia Phillips, Xavier: OK, we're cheating by including both, but how do you mention one without the other? The Musketeers' twin towers are almost psychically linked on court after playing together since they were kids.
• Danielle Adams, Texas A&M: She might not fully be a "star" yet, but she's on the way. Adams was the Big 12 tournament MVP, and her shooting range is pretty much anywhere.
Three under the radar
• Tegan Cunningham, Oklahoma State: The senior from Australia, in her second year with the Cowgirls, is likely to be the team's leading threat with offensive whiz Andrea Riley suspended for the first round.
• Jasmine James, Georgia: The freshman guard (11.4 ppg) was second on the team in scoring behind senior point guard Ashley Houts, from whom James has learned a lot this season.
• Jence Rhoads, Vanderbilt: The junior is the Commodores' assists leader (151) and the second-leading scorer (13.5 ppg) for a team that once again is being carried by its guards.
Charlie Creme's take
Who's Hot: Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike. The sophomore is the Pac 10 Player of the Year and led the Cardinal in scoring and rebounding. She also was the team's top scorer in each of the three conference tournament victories. She bridges the gap between Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen, giving Stanford frontcourt production that is unsurpassed even by UConn.
Who's Not: North Carolina. Perhaps this list doesn't have a more obvious answer. Discounting that post-ACC win over North Carolina Central, the Tar Heels finished the season 2-8, inciting speculation that they wouldn't even make the field. Other than the season-finale victory over Duke, UNC seemed to play with a genuine lack of understanding or passion.
Possible matchup to watch: Georgia's Ashley Houts vs. Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley. If both teams advance, this will be Riley's first tournament game following her opening-round suspension that dated back to 2008. Could there be two more different guards in the country than the pass-first, charge-taking Houts and the no fear, no conscience, offensive powder keg Riley? Houts will probably not be asked to chase Riley the entire game, but it will be interesting to see her strategy when they do go face-to-face.
Possible upset: Seventh-seeded Gonzaga over No. 2 seed Texas A&M in the second round. The Zags got a look at the Aggies when the two met in Las Vegas just before Christmas. Neither team was as sharp as they are now and the 80-76 A&M win wasn't as close as the score might indicate, but if Gonzaga doesn't get killed on the backboards this game could be close.