If you are in the Big East and you are not the University of Connecticut womens basketball team, you have one guaranteed loss, maybe two.
Those are the games when you play UConn, which has sewn up its 19th Big East regular-season title and will be the undisputed No. 1 seed in the conference tournament when it tips off March 4 at nearby Hartford, Conn. UConn will be going for its 17th conference tournament title. Absent an upset in the conference tourney, Connecticut may well be the No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA tournament as well.
Heading into the season, and recognizing the departure of post stalwart Tina Charles and the likelihood that this year's edition of the Huskies would be forced to rely heavily on freshmen, Head Coach Geno Auriemma laid the proverbial mattress, naysaying talk of a third consecutive national championship, or for that matter, of breaking the NCAA record win-streak established by UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden in the '70s. Yet, UConn indeed broke the UCLA record, and though their historic streak came to an end in late December at Stanford, if all plays out as some expect, the Huskies will three-peat as the national champions, the second three-peat in the schools history and the eighth overall. A 15th 30-win season seems guaranteed with UConn currently at 26-1.
That is established team tradition for the elite team of this era.
There is always a star player, of course. The latest greatest is Maya Moore, everyones consensus All-America and as close to a lock for the consensus National Player of the Year as there is. That is individual tradition at UConn.
The last team with a statistical chance to beat them was Notre Dame. At South Bend earlier this season, UConn narrowly escaped, 79-76, as Moore scored 31. She has led the scorers in 17 of Connecticut's 27 games so far.
Last weekend, the Irish came to UConn. Certainly their plan was to contain Moore. She cooperated, with 17 points against her 23.7 points per game average. (Still, it was her 139th career game in double figures.) Yet UConn solidified the 2011 regular-season title with a 78-57 win.
The game announced the national arrival of freshman Bria Hartley.
Get out your calculators, your spreadsheets, and your coffee and try to figure out what the various possibilities are for seeding next weekends Big Ten Tournament.
Three weeks ago, Ohio State was just one more loss away being handed a Thursday game in the tournament, but the Buckeyes have won five games in a row, ruining all the naysayers predictions that this was the year the mighty would fall.
Have the Bucks stumbled? Yes.
Have they fallen? Yes
Did they get back off the floor and come roaring back? Yes.
Is this head coach Jim Fosters finest coaching year? That depends on how his team does in the tournament, but the last five games have been uber-impressive. The Buckeyes never should have beaten Purdue on the road last Sunday, but they did, scoring on their last 10 trips down the floor to do it. Then they drove up to East Lansing on Thursday and ruined Michigan State's regular-season championship party with another one-point squeaker.
Penn State is safely ranked at No. 2 in the conference, but the battle for third, fourth and fifth spots are a big mess with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, and possibly Purdue all scoreboard watching in Sundays final games.
For the rest of us though, enjoy the games on Sunday and then let the accountant-types figure it all out. One way or another, it's time to head for Indianapolis!
Let's take a look at Wednesday and Thursday's games, the current standings, and this weekend's upcoming action.
This addition completes our article Bubble Wrap 2011: Week of February 22, 2011 for those readers whose browsers do not support our article body extension. It includes locks and bubble teams for the Southeastern, Sun Belt, West Coast and Western Athletic Conferences.
Mid-major and lower Division I women's basketball coaches, players and teams often toil away in obscurity. In his series on Mid-Majors Worth Watching,Full Court analyst Bob Corwin throws some fresh light on several of these programs, and at the same time, tests our readers' knowledge of mid-major women's basketball.
In Part V of our series, we zero in on James Madison, a mid-major program where a diminutive point guard, who has found her way onto everyone's watch lists, is carrying on in the face of chronic illness. For the last few years, when you thought James Madison, you thought of 5-7, senior point guard Dawn Evans, last year's NCAA scoring leader. You still should.
But first, let's test your knowledge of a little James Madison trivia.
Trivia Question: James Madison head coach Kenny Brooks played three years of Division I college ball at what school, and for what legendary men's coach?
It's that time of year again! The regular season is winding down, March Madness is on the horizon, and armchair pundits unwilling to wait for Selection Monday have already begun to read the tea leaves to cipher out who will be part of that envied field of 64 come NCAA tournament time. And Full Court analyst Jim Carson is back once more to help them with his annual "Bubble Wrap," a perennial favorite of Full Court subscribers.
The NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament field is ever-so-slightly different from that of the men. In the women's game, 31 of the 64 NCAA Tournament berths are reserved for the conference champions (automatic bids), all but one of which will be determined in the conference tournaments that are just around the corner. (The Ivy League does not hold a conference tournament, instead sending its regular-season champion to the Big Dance as its automatic bid recipient.)
That leaves 33 "at-large" berths for the NCAA's Selection Committee to allot to the worthiest teams in the nation.
Until the bracket is formally announced by the committee on March 14 before a national TV audience, anyone's predictions of the field will contain a fair dose of speculation. Still, some outcomes are (far) more probable than others. What kind of implosion would it take at this point of the season, for example, for Connecticut or Stanford to work their way out of a tournament berth?
It is in that vein that Jim Carson (who began this exercise when his daughter was a player at Clemson and he was trying to 'suss out her tournament prospects) brings you the first in this year's series of "Bubble Wraps." Of the 31 Division I NCAA Conferences, we see seven -- the ACC (6), the A-10 (1), the Big East (5), the Big Ten (4), the Big XII (3), the Pac-10 (2) and the SEC (4) -- that have one or more teams whose success at this point in this season has been such that they can safely be considered "locks" for the tournament. In all, Jim identifies 25 teams in those seven conferences who, he believes, have already locked up their tournament berths.
If one simply subtracted the 25 "locks" from the 33 at-large berths available, one would wind up with just eight at-large bids still up for grabs. But it is reasonably safe to assume that at least one of the locks in each of those seven conferences will wind up taking its conference title and advancing to the tournament as an automatic bid, thus opening another berth to remaining bubble teams. So at least for now, we'll add seven more berths back into the at-large pot for a grand total of 15 places still available for "bubble teams" who are still hoping to convince the Selection Committee with their performances over the final weeks of the season.
Here, then, is this year's first cut at the 25 locks and the 43 teams (spread through 18 conferences across the country) that we view is still "on the bubble" vying for one of the 15 tournament spots not already locked up. For now, we've spread our nets wide, including any team that can make its case for a bid with a straight face. Over the final week of the regular season -- and on into the conference tournaments -- we'll be refining those lists as results push various teams off the bubble, either into a lock or out of contention altogether. (Last year, for those keeping track, Jim was spot on with his tournament predictions by the "Final Wrap.")
Numerous, mostly booster-rich BCS universities have sunk big bucks into arena renovations and plush practice facilities/locker rooms/office suites for the relatively less prominent sport of womens basketball which gets to eat from the same table as its male counterparts thanks in no small part to the groundwork set by Title IX.
The Auburn Tigers women and mens basketball teams moved into their brand new facilities this fall, and Auburn will play host to the opening rounds of this year's NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. Eighty-five-plus million dollars can buy a lot in terms of facilities, and the new Auburn Arena is no exception.
The conundrum: Do uncommonly good, expensive new facilities put extraordinary pressure on a program to field a team on a par with their state-of-the-art digs?
In this case, at least on the women's side, Tiger backs appear to be against the wall. It is a very real question whether they will get to participate in the first NCAA Womens Tournament to be held at the new Auburn Arena.
Let's take a look at both this team and its sparkling new facilities.
Sometimes it is amazing how an instant in time can change everything.
Sunday afternoon, Ohio State's Brittney Johnson capped an unbelievable comeback, netting a three-pointer with .7 seconds remaining that made believers out of home team Purdue as well as the rest of the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes are back. And, although the top seed in the Big Ten tournament will be Michigan State, who clinched a share of the Big Ten title for the third time in history and its first one since 2005 (the same year they advanced to the national championship game), with a walkover against Illinois, all eyes are now on Jim Fosters team.
Trailing by as many as 11 in the second half, and still down by one with just 14 seconds left to play, the Buckeyes could have folded Sunday. Instead, they scored on their last 10 possessions against the best defense Purdue could muster. Purdue, for its part, did not surrender in the face of the onslaught, but was unable to counter that perfect five minutes of Buckeye play. Johnson, held scoreless for the first half, first gave Ohio State life with a couple of huge treys and then killed Purdue with the last second swish that put her team over the top.
The win does more than add another "W" to the Buckeyes' win column. As the race for the final tournament byes grows ever tighter, it just might give them the advantage over Iowa. Ohio State defeated the Hawkeyes by 14 points at Columbus, while Iowa beat Ohio State by 13 at their house. If both teams win out over the balance of the season, that one-point scoring differential may mean that Ohio State gets the coveted Thursday tournament bye.
That sets up a hugely interesting game Thursday when Michigan State entertains Ohio State. It is a game that the Buckeyes must win to keep their hold on to their fifth-place tie with Iowa in the league standings. The Spartans, of course, would like to claim the regular-season conference crown outright and with a two-game lead over second-place Penn State and just two games left in the regular-season schedule, a win Thursday would do the job.
And, of course, dont forget the psychological advantage such a win for either side would provide should the two teams meet in the tournament.
You know, if Johnson had missed her shot, this whole thing would have been a lot easier.
Let's take a quick look at last weekend's results, the current standings and Wednesday and Thursday's action.
The Spartans Thursday win over Northwestern, Penn States loss to re-emergent Ohio State and Wisconsins loss to Iowa opened up what had been a neck-and-neck race and boosted Suzy Merchants team to a one-and-a-half-game edge over Penn State and a two-game lead over Wisconsin for the regular-season Big Ten women's basketball title.
The more interesting battle is for the two remaining Thursday bye spots in the Big Ten Tournament after these top four teams are accommodated. With three games to go. Michigan controls its own destiny with games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. Iowa and Purdue are both 8-6 but Purdue plays Ohio State and Penn State, while Iowa faces bottom feeders Illinois and Indiana. Ohio State would have to win all three games against Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin to finish 10-6.
It is too early to play what if without getting out a calculator and a spreadsheet but the game to pay attention to Sunday is in West Lafayette when the Ohio State Buckeyes invade.
Let's take a quick look at this week's action, the current standings and this weekend's upcoming games.
The big game of the weekend in the Big East -- and most likely in the country -- pits No. 9-ranked Notre Dame (22-4) against No. 4 Connecticut (25-1) in Storrs this Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern.
The Irish have won nine in a row, blasting nearly every opponent they have met since conference play began, while UConn has started another 11-game win streak after having their 90-straight record shattered on a west coast trip to Stanford in late December.
The Huskies against the Irish (well, the Huskies against anyone, really) has been a lopsided history in favor of Geno Auriemmas girls. However, Notre Dame took the Huskies to the wire in two games after the UConn streak was broken, losing only after two well-guarded shots by Irish Naismith nominee Skylar Diggins bounced off the rim in the waning seconds.
That game showed a couple of things. First, how well Notre Dame will do in March will be directly related to how well Devereaux Peters does in the big games. Even without Peters, this team easily makes the Sweet 16 and most likely the Elite Eight, unless the entire team breaks down all at the same time. The other thing is that Notre Dame knows how to defend, even at the highest level of play.
But Auriemma knows where his squads competitive advantage is; he exploited it in the first game and undoubtedly will do Moore of the same in this one.