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Grant UConn its independence!

Connecticut’s women’s basketball team is undefeated and ranked first in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.

YIPPEEE!

Tonight, the Huskies play South Carolina in Columbia. The Gamecocks, the 2016-17 national champions, are ranked seventh, but they have never beaten UConn, nor have they ever beaten a team ranked #1 in the AP poll. Remember, UConn lost in last year’s semifinals to Mississippi State in overtime, and the Gamecocks beat their SEC brethren in the final.

UConn hosts Mississippi State Monday. The Huskies have to play these kinds of non-conference games, simply because the American Athletic Conference is horrible in women’s basketball outside of the Huskies and maybe–MAYBE–South Florida.

The bottom of the American–East Carolina, Tulsa, SMU and Wichita State–have no business playing Division I. Most of the other teams in the American would finish at or near the bottom of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

If the NCAA and the American were smart, they would release UConn from the obligation to play a full conference schedule and instead let the Huskies play as an independent. That way, the teams in the American would have legitimate dreams of a conference championship, and UConn would be able to play every major power it wished and not fill its schedule with teams which drag down its RPI.

Of course, RPI doesn’t matter when a team keeps going undefeated like UConn, but there could come a year where the overall weakness of the American could cost the Huskies a top seed. It has happened to Tennessee, Stanford and others through the years.

I’ve looked at attendance figures from when UConn visits its conference opponents, and there is no appreciable increase for many schools. Also, there are empty seats showing up at Husky games in Storrs and Hartford. It’s the same as Alabama playing Mercer or Chattanooga, or Kentucky’s men’s basketball team playing some of the non-conference cupcakes on its schedule. Heck, I witnessed it first hand with LSU baseball.

I don’t know if it would be possible for UConn to play high-profile opponents in the middle of their conference seasons, but South Carolina and Mississippi State are both playing the Huskies in February, so it would not be out of the question.

If teams in the American wanted to continue to play UConn, it could be arranged, similar to the way ACC football teams play Notre Dame.

Women’s basketball is the real reason UConn has tried and tried again to get into the ACC. Football is terrible. Men’s basketball has won four national championships, but the Huskies would consistently be behind Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, and many others. If UConn played women’s basketball in the ACC, there would be many more challenges and Geno Auriemma would not have to create ways to motivate his team to not overlook someone. Heck, UConn’s bench could beat East Carolina, Tulsa, Wichita State and many other American teams.

I know it will never come to fruition. But it is worth thinking about.

Now, the hard part for Mississippi State…

Mississippi State ended Connecticut’s 111-game women’s basketball winning streak late last night.

That’s the great news.

The bad news?

Now the Bulldogs must turn around and beat a Southeastern Conference foe which defeated them twice prior to the NCAA tournament.

State plays South Carolina tomorrow at 5 p.m. Central for the national championship.

Certainly, nobody will term the Bulldogs’ season a failure if the Gamecocks prevail.

However, it will undoubtedly be a little disappointing for Vic Scaheffer and his charges, especially daughter Blair, a junior guard.

There is precedent which should give State optimism.

I can recall three specific instances where a team had to come down from an impressive victory and do it again 48 hours later.

Three words: Miracle on Ice.

Anyone who knows a little bit about sports probably knows the story of the United States’ 4-3 victory over the powerful Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament.

Mike Eruzione’s goal with 10 minutes remaining against the Red Army turned out to be the game-winner.

However, it did NOT win the gold medal.

The Americans had to come back two days later, on a Sunday morning, and defeat Finland to win the gold.

If the Americans fell to the Finns, who were led by  Jari Kurri, who would go on to be the Hall of Fame right winger on the Edmonton Oilers’ NHL dynasty of the 1980s, they might leave Lake Placid without a medal.

Sure enough, the Americans were down 2-1 through two periods.

According to Eruzione, coach Herb Brooks told his players if they lost, they “would take it to their graves. To their F***ING graves”.

Well, the Americans got the point, scored three goals in the third period, and won 4-2. As Al Michaels famously exclaimed, “This Impossible Dream comes true!”

There are two examples relevant to college basketball, too.

The more recent was in 1991.

UNLV came into the Final Four 34-0. The Runnin’ Rebels were the defending national champions, and the overwhelming favorite to repeat, led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.

The Rebels’ semifinal opponent was Duke, making its fifth trip to the Final Four in six seasons under Mike Krzyzewski.

Despite the Blue Devils’ success in the first four rounds of the tournament under Coach K, plus historical success under Bill Foster and Vic Bubas, Duke had zero national championships when it arrived in Indianapolis on Easter weekend.

In the 1990 championship game, UNLV eviscerated Duke 103-73, the largest margin in a title contest. That mark still stands as we sit six hours from the start of the 2017 Final Four.

Yet the Blue Devils gained their revenge, 79-77.

Some thought Duke would not be able to turn around and defeat a fine Kansas team coached by Roy Williams, but the Devils won 72-65. They repeated in 1992, and have added titles in 2001, 2010 and 2015.

Another Atlantic Coast Conference team was involved in the next example.

UCLA came into the 1974 Final Four seeking its eight consecutive national championship in what would be the final go-round for Bill Walton, who may be the greatest college basketball player ever. He certainly would be on my starting five, along with Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson and Bill Bradley.

The Bruins came into the 1973-74 season with a 75-game winning streak. It reached 88 before they lost 71-70 to Notre Dame in South Bend. UCLA later lost back-to-back games in Corvallis and Eugene to Oregon State and Oregon, but regrouped and easily made it to Greensboro.

In December of that season, the Bruins easily defeated North Carolina State 84-66 in St. Louis. The Wolfpack, who went 27-0 in 1972-73 but was on probation and thus could not play in the NCAA tournament, featured David Thompson, one of the ACC’s all-time greats; 7-foor-4 center Tom Burleson, a 1972 Olympian; and Monte Towe, who stood only 5-foot-7, but was one of the nation’s best point guards of 1973-74.

NC State almost missed the 1974 tournament, too.

The Wolfpack had to survive one of the greatest college basketball games ever played in the ACC tournament championship game vs. Maryland, which featured All-Americans Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas.

In 1974, only the conference champion was eligible for the NCAA tournament. While almost every conference determined its representative through the regular season, the ACC held a tournament, which meant NC State would be out in the cold if it lost to the Terrapins.

The game was only televised in ACC country, meaning those in Los Angeles, Lawrence and Milwaukee, not to mention everywhere else, never saw it until ESPN Classic finally televised it in the late ’90s and again throughout the 2000s.

The Wolfpack prevailed in overtime, 103-100.

Exactly three weeks after that thriller, NC State returned to the site of the battle, the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Wolfpack did not have to leave the state during the 1974 NCAA tournament. The regional was in Raleigh at Reynolds Coliseum, and then NC State had to migrate only 80 miles west on Interstate 40 for the next step.

Only NC State and Marquette, which defeated Kansas in the first game of the 1974 Final Four, stood between the Bruins and tying the Boston Celtics for the most consecutive basketball championships in history.

The Wolfpack had other ideas.

The game went into a second overtime, and UCLA grabbed a seven-point lead. So long State, right?

Nope.

In one of college basketball’s most stunning turnarounds, the Wolfpack outscored the Bruins 13-1 the rest of the second overtime and won 80-77.

Two nights later, the Wolfpack had little trouble defeating Marquette. Al McGuire would get his championship in 1977, when his Warriors defeated the Wolfpack’s archrival, the Tar Heels of Dean Smith, in the final in what would be McGuire’s last game as a coach.

As for the ladies from Starkville, the bad news is they have lost twice to South Carolina.

However, both games were in the Palmetto State, once at Columbia and once at Greenville in the SEC tournament final.

State should have the crowd on its side after the victory over UConn. Dak Prescott will be leading cheers for the cowbell crowd.

State and Carolina are all too familiar with a Goliath in their midst.

For the longest time, SEC women’s basketball was Tennessee and everyone else. Georgia had some good teams, LSU made five consecutive Final Fours, and Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt all got to the big stage, but the Lady Volunteers were too good.

Pat Summitt, who won over 1,000 games and led the Lady Vols to eight national championships, had a lot to do with that. God rest her soul. She was taken from us too soon.

Tennessee also had some damn good players. Chamique Holdsclaw. Tamika Catchings. Candace Parker. Holly Warlick, who is now the Lady Vols’ coach. Not to mention the role players who were so crucial, including my all-time favorite, Abby Conklin.

Today, the SEC is much more competitive. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs are the upper crust of the league, but Tennessee is still there, Texas A&M has a championship banner in Reed Arena (albeit in the Big 12), and Kentucky’s women are much more than a time killer waiting for the next men’s game.

There’s one flaw with UConn: the American Athletic Conference is very weak beyond the Huskies. When Louisville and Notre Dame left the old Big East for the ACC, it became UConn and a bunch of nothing in the new AAC.

Tulane nearly beat the Huskies in New Orleans in February, but that was more a fluke than an indication the Green Wave are on their way to being a consistent winner.

As much as I would like to see Tulane succeed, the Wave will always be a distant second behind LSU in my homeland. On the other hand, Tulane has certainly passed Louisiana Tech for #2 in the Bayou State. Tech once was right up there with Tennessee and Stanford amongst the sport’s blue bloods, but without Sonja Hogg, Leon Barmore and Kim Mulkey, it hasn’t been nearly the same in Ruston.

I’m guessing Dawn Staley has scheduled everything so she and her team can watch the Gamecock men play Gonzaga at 5:10 tonight. But something tells me that there won’t be two celebrations in Columbia.

I don’t think there will be one.

State wins tomorrow.

Coronation canceled

I was WRONG.

If you read the blog post before this one, I stated the belief the Connecticut Huskies could not be stopped en route to their fifth consecutive national championship and 12th under Geno Auriemma.

Instead of a press conference and a closed practice to prepare for Sunday’s championship game vs. South Carolina, the Huskies will be on their way to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport later today to board a plane which will ferry them to Bradley International Airport near Hartford.

The queen is dead. UConn’s 111-game winning streak is history.

No parades through Hartford and Storrs.

Mississippi State 66, UConn 64.

Not only did the Bulldogs take down the seemingly unbeatable Huskies, they did so after an egregiously bad call.

With under 20 seconds remaining in overtime and State ahead 64-62, the Bulldogs were called for a flagrant foul.

If that was a flagrant foul, then Don Denkinger’s call in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series was 1,000 percent correct.

Of course, the flagrant foul was nowhere near “flagrant”. It was only “flagrant” because it came in a game involving mighty UConn.

To nobody’s surprise, ESPN analyst Doris Burke said repeatedly the flagrant foul was the right call.

Come on, Doris. Anyone who knows anything about your background knows you harbor a secret crush on Geno. You live in New England and have lived and breathed UConn basketball (men too) for the last 30 years.

ESPN has shoved UConn down our throats for the last 22 years you want to vomit. Who’s their leading expert? REBECCA LOBO, who continues to be an unabashed shill for the Huskies. I’m sure Diana Taurasi has a job lined up at ESPN once she retires from the WNBA.

Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn’s unanimous All-American, sank two free throws to tie the game.

The Huskies got the ball back with the chance to win the game, but incredibly, they turned it over with 12.7 seconds left. Gabby Williams drove the lane, but she was cut off by Mogan William, State’s phenomenal 5-foot-5 point guard who scored 41 points in the regional final vs. Baylor. UConn wanted a foul, but incredibly, the officials swallowed their whistles and gave the ball to State.

State had trouble finding an open shot, but as time was about to expire, WIlliam pulled up from 15 feet just to the right of the lane.

Swish.

Just like that, Mississippi State, the school with the lowest all-time winning percentage in the Southeastern Conference heading into the 2016-17 season, brought down Goliath.

This means two schools best known for baseball will be playing for the women’s basketball national championship Sunday. Not surprisingly, former baseball coaches are now the athletic directors at both schools: Ray Tanner at Carolina and John Cohen at State.

Sunday’s game will be the first All-SEC final since 1996, when Tennessee beat Georgia.

Friday’s shocker was UConn’s first loss to an SEC team in 10 years.

The last SEC team to beat UConn? LSU, in the 2007 West regional final in Fresno. What, UConn actually had to play in a regional outside the northeast? Unheard of today.

The Bayou Bengals’ coach the night of March 26, 2007? Bob Starkey, who was elevated to interim head coach following a scandal which forced LSU to fire Pokey Chatman in the week between the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

LSU beat UConn that night 73-50. In the Bayou Bengals’ next game, they set a Final Four record for futility by losing 58-35 to Rutgers.

Mississippi State is 1-0 in the women’s Final Four. LSU is 0-5. In fact, LSU has a dubious record: 0-11 in all Final Fours, men’s and women’s.

For all of the success State has enjoyed in baseball, it has never left Omaha as champion. Now, the Bulldogs can leave Dallas with a championship trophy on their first try Sunday.

If State wins Sunday, maybe the parade should stretch down Mississippi Highway 25 from Starkville to Jackson. Sure, the Ole Miss fans would bitch, but who cares?

State was not the biggest winner last night.

It was women’s basketball, period.

It had gotten to the point where the tournament was a mere formality, where 63 teams were basically playing for second place.

Now, other teams have hope. And not just Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame and South Carolina. But the up and comers, too.

Starting in Starkville.

 

 

 

 

48 hours and change until UConn’s latest coronation

The NCAA Division I women’s basketball Final Four is taking place tonight in Dallas’ American Airlines Arena, home of the Dallas Mavericks and their crybaby owner, Mark Cuban, who complains more than either of the women, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Grenier, on Shark Tank

Did I say Final Four? More like another coronation for the University of Connecticut. 

While several teams have a realistic chance of winning the men’s national championship each and every year, the women’s game has no such parity. 

There are 64 teams in the tournament, but really, 63 of them are playing for second place. 

Connecticut enters tonight’s game vs. Mississippi State riding a 111-game winning streak. If it doesn’t reach 112, then Geno Auriemma ought to retire right then and there in Dallas. 

The Huskies have made a farce of the women’s game with their dominance. Some of the regular season games UConn plays are grossly unfair. Auriemma has built up such a machine that the players on the end of his bench could beat most opponents’ starting fives. 

ESPN has jammed UConn down the throats of America year after year after year, telling us there is some pressing need to watch the Huskies slaughter some overmatched team by 50 to 60 points. 

Last year, UConn defeated Mississippi State 98-38 in the Sweet 16. That’s a SIXTY point margin for those who are mathematically challenged. Does anybody outside of Mississippi realistically expect the Bulldogs to put up much more of a fight tonight? If there are believers out there, I’m guessing they’re limited to Starkville, Columbus and other communities in east central Mississippi. Of course, I’m certain many in Oxford and Hattiesburg would love nothing more than to see State get slaughtered again. 

Stanford and South Carolina play the first semifinal. Two fine women’s basketball teams, led by two fine ladies Tara Van Derveer has won over 1,000 games with the Cardinal. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley was an All-American playing for Virginia, an Olympic gold medalist in 1996, and has been a very successful coach, first at Temple and now at South Carolina. 

Yet Stanford and South Carolina are playing for the right to probably get beat badly by the Huskies Sunday. I would expect the game to be closer than the 38-point beatdown UConn laid on Oregon Monday in the East regional final, but if UConn doesn’t win by at least 15, I would be surprised. 

I’ll give Auriemma this: he doesn’t shy away from the media, unlike Bill Belchick, Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich, all of whom would rather the media leave Earth and exist on Uranus if at all possible. Auriemma will speak his mind and not back down from his comments. 

However, Auriemma has been known to say some stupid things, like claiming men’s basketball was “unwatchable” in comparison to the women’s game a few years ago. 

I’ll agree with Geno on this point: most basketball is unwatchable. I am so glad Caitlyn is done with playing basketball, because high school games are so intolerable with officials who refuse to call blocking in the low post. College women’s games feature too many blowouts. And the NBA? Is that real basketball, or just a shooting contest? 

Barring something unforeseen, UConn will leave Dallas with its 12th championship trophy. There will be another huge parade somewhere in Connecticut. And few outside the Constitution State will care. 

Embarrassing, ESPN

While the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has produced a record number of lower-seeded teams winning in the first round, the chalk, as expected, is dominating the women’s tournament, which began yesterday.

The only wins for lower seeds, not counting the 8-vs-9 matchups, which are tossups anyway? St. Bonaventure, a No. 10, over Oklahoma State (7), and Albany, a No. 12, over Florida (5).

ESPN normally covers the first and second round games of the tournament in “whip-around” fashion, meaning it will cut from game to game to game to show the most competitive game to the largest audience. An exception to the whip-around is if a local team is playing in your area, then that game is protected, meaning ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU will not cut away from that game. For instance, when Missouri plays BYU this evening, the entire states of Missouri and Utah, plus the Kansas portion of the Kansas City metro, will see the Tigers and Cougars from start to finish.

One team, however, is immune to whip-around coverage for the first two rounds.

Of course, it can only be ESPN’s darlings, the Connecticut Huskies.

ESPN went to UConn and asked them to start today’s game vs. woefully outmanned Robert Morris at 11 a.m. Eastern (10 a.m. Central, 9 Mountain, 8 Pacific) so it could be shown to everyone before the other 15 games today tip off at Noon Central.

Geno Auriemma, who never met a spotlight he didn’t aim at himself, jumped at the idea.

Of course, the good people of the Nutmeg State aren’t going to complain about being able to showcase their Husky women to everyone else, either.

What is going on right now in Storrs is beyond atrocious. It is utterly embarrassing to everyone associated with Robert Morris University, a small, private liberal arts college near Pittsburgh.

At the end of the first quarter–the women now play in quarters, not halves like the men–it is UConn 41, Robert Morris 4.

That’s right. FORTY-ONE TO FOUR.

Shame on you, ESPN. Shame on you for foisting this “game” upon us. UConn would have been better served scrimmaging a Connecticut girls high school All-Star team. It would have been better off scrimmaging a UConn alumni team of Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Rebecca Lobo, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. Heck, let former UConn All-American Shea Ralph, now an assistant to Auriemma, suit up again. Where’s Svetlana Abrosimova? Aisha Jones? Jennifer Rizzotti? Kara Wolters?

ESPN has shoved the UConn women down our throats for over 20 years. We have been led to believe women’s college basketball, at least as long as it’s coming to us from Storrs, Hartford, or wherever the Huskies are playing, is on par with the men’s game.

Only at UConn could a men’s team which has won four national championships since 1999 be relegated to second-class status. And I wonder what football coach Bob Diaco thinks about having a smaller budget than the women’s basketball team. No wonder Randy Edsall flew straight to Maryland after losing the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma on New Year’s Day 2011.

Until there are more women’s basketball teams who can actually challenge UConn consistently, why bother watching?

ESPN executives, game announcers Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke, and Lobo (Mrs. Steve Rushin), an ESPN studio analyst, should go hat in hand to Robert Morris’ campus and apologize to all associated with the university for shaming these young ladies on national television. I’m sure the Robert Morris players and coaches are handling this far better than I. Good for them. That’s more class than Geno Auriemma will ever know.

I’ll get off the soapbox. Wichita State and Miami tip off the men’s tournament in 35 minutes.

Another slaughter in Storrs

If women’s college basketball fanatics wonder why their sport doesn’t get near the air time on sports highlight shows as men’s basketball, then all they need to do is turn to ESPN2 right now and their question will be answered.

Connecticut is once again stomping all over a hapless foe on its home court. Only this opponent is 22-0 and ranked first in both major Division I polls.

South Carolina has gone from Southeastern Conference doormat to powerhouse under Dawn Staley, who remains one of the greatest women’s basketball players the United States has ever known, even though her career at Virginia ended 23 years ago. Staley was also a three-time Olympic gold medalist for the Red, White and Blue before embarking on a successful coaching career, first at Temple and now at South Carolina, where she has pulled the Gamecocks up from the SEC’s abyss to its summit.

The Gamecocks were anointed as one of the pretenders to UConn’s throne last year when they were able to keep A’ja Wilson, widely regarded as the nation’s best female high school basketball player in 2013-14, in the Palmetto State instead of going to the Huskies. Carolina also returned the reigning SEC Player of the Year, Tiffany Mitchell.

It’s impressive to see how much women’s basketball has taken off in Columbia. Carolina is best known as a baseball superpower, evidenced by back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011 under Ray Tanner, now the Gamecocks’ athletic director. Gamecock fans have always been passionate about football, even though there have been some bad teams at Carolina, bottoming out at 1-10 in 1998 and 0-11 in 1999. Men’s basketball enjoyed success under Frank McGuire in the early 1970s and Eddie Fogler in the late 1990s, but otherwise the Gamecocks have been an also-ran.

UConn, the reigning national champion which went 40-0 in 2013-14, was naturally the unanimous number one coming into the season, but it fell from the top spot when it lost at Stanford early in the season. Since that loss in California, the Huskies have obliterated everything and anything in their path, wanting to send a message to the Gamecocks.

That message is resounding loud and clear. Carolina trailed 47-31 at halftime, and there’s no way any team, not even this year’s Gamecocks, can rally from that deficit in Storrs.

This game will once again show women’s basketball is an oligarchy, with UConn at a level so high into the ionosphere that nobody has any hope of catching them as long as the arrogant Geno Auriemma is calling the shots.

There’s no denying Auriemma is a master tactician, motivator and recruiter. He would never have sniffed 900 wins at UConn without possessing all of those talents in abundance.

However, Auriemma lacks humility, and that’s what turns off many people about the Huskies.

UConn won 90 consecutive games from 2007 through 2010, two more than the UCLA men won from 1971 through 1974. When the Huskies broke the record, he made sure to point out “women did this”.

First, Auriemma had no right whatsoever to claim the Huskies’ achievement was greater than UCLA’s. That’s comparing apples to kumquats. Second, we know Auriemma coaches women. Why rub it in? I wish Bill Walton would have found Geno and kicked him in the family jewels.

Why does anyone outside of Connecticut bother watching the NCAA women’s tournament? Anyone with half a brain can predict what’s going to happen at the end.

Another problem is the sheer lack of challengers to UConn. Unlike the men’s tournament, where at least 15 teams go in harboring legitimate title hopes, you can count the number of women’s teams with a realistic chance on one hand.

You will never see a Cinderella like Butler reach the championship game in the women’s tournament. You will never see a low seed like Villanova win it all. If you like watching the same team win it over and over and over, by all means tune in. Otherwise, you’d be better off watching NCIS reruns.