If anyone other than Notre Dame wins at Salt Lake, it would be headline news. This season, the Irish have defeated nine unranked teams by 35 points or more and have not even been challenged in any of those "contests." None of the other three teams at Salt Lake are ranked and, unless the Irish have a total collapse, they should emerge from this ready to take on the winner from the Charlottesville site next week.
Then again, this is March, and there is madness in the air.
The team that comes out of Columbus will depend entirely on which Ohio State Buckeyes team shows up. Will it be the team that started the season at 7-0 and ended it with a 9-0 run? Or will it be the team that, in between, went 6-9 and lost to Duquesne and Northwestern at home?
The Buckeyes have had their problems in March in the past, as strong teams have made surprisingly early exits from the tourney. But if the "good" Ohio State team shows up, as seems likely in light of their recent run to close the Big Ten season, the other three teams can make plans at home next weekend. The Bucks are clearly the class of the site, especially since Ohio State is hosting the tournament and has a huge home-court advantage.
Should the Buckeyes decide to mail it in, any one of the other three teams could win it, as Ohio State more than amply proved during its January-to-early-February slump. As for the other side of the Columbus subregional bracket, despite the seeding, Bowling Green might just pull off the upset over fifth-seeded Georgia Tech. That game is a toss-up, since it is being played in Ohio, a short drive for the Bowling Green fans.
Let's take a closer look at Saturday's match-ups in Columbus.
There's going to be a lot of coaching firepower in the Durham pod of the Philadelphia Regional as NCAA Tournament play tips off Saturday with Joanne P. McCallie, Brian Giorgis and Bill Fennelly all working the sidelines. Before taking the reins of the Blue Devils, McCallie took Michigan State to the national title game; she had Duke on the verge of the Final Four last season. Fennelly has twice taken Iowa State to the Elite Eight, including their famous, three-pointer-fueled upset of UConn in 1999. Giorgis has established Marist as one of the premier mid-majors in the country, making annual sojourns to the NCAA tournament and even winning a game or two.
Second-year coach Kevin McMillan of Tennessee-Martin would seem to be the odd man out, but closer inspection reveals some parallels with Giorgis. Both spent nearly two decades as enormously successful high school head coaches in their home states before moving on to quick success at mid-majors in the same state. Playing Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium will certainly be an opportunity for McMillan's team to demonstrate just what they're capable of.
Iowa State and Duke played two of the toughest schedules in the country, while Marist comes into the NCAA Tournament riding a 26-game winning streak. Expect some tightly contested, low-scoring, well-coached games in Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend. Let's take a closer look at the match-ups.
Before American fans of women's basketball get completely swept up in NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and WNIT March Madness, it's worth remembering that there's another Final Four about to get underway, one that features many of the world's top women's ballers.
All four quarterfinal series in the Euroleague playoffs resulted in 2-0 sweeps, a result that was not expected by followers of the league. In the end, two Russian teams and two Spanish squads advanced to the Euroleague Final Four, and that fact was much less surprising, as Russia and Spain have been on top of the European women's basketball competition for quite a few seasons now.
Bourges Basket of France could not avoid two losses in a row against Spanish side Ros Casares Valencia. Halcon Avenida Salamanca of Spain got rid of the Polish team Wisla Can-Pack in two straight match-ups. Meanwhile, reigning Euroleague champion Spartak Moscow Region Vidnoje of Russia eliminated growing hotbed of the Turkish womens circuit Fenerbahce in just two games. Fenerbahce was on top of the league, but entered the playoffs without international stars Diana Taurasi (WNBA Phoenix Mercury) and Australian Penny Taylor, also of the Mercury, in the wake of a scandal over mishandled drug test results by a Turkish lab. Another Russian powerhouse, UMMC Ekaterinburg, gave absolutely no chance to the Italians of Cras Basket Taranto.
The four winners move on to the 2011 Euroleague Final Four to be held in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg from April 8 to 10. Ekaterinburg was announced as the host city for the Final Four at a press conference held prior to the Euroleague Women's All Star Game in Gdynia, Poland played on March 8. UMMC Ekaterinburg has never previously hosted the Euroleague Final Four but, with three consecutive Final Four appearances, has been one of the Euroleague powerhouses in the last few seasons.
The UMMC Ekaterinburg has the home court advantage in the event, there is certain to be an international championship game. On Friday April 8 the host team will face off against reigning Euroleague champions Spartak MR Vidnoje in a battle between the major Russian powerhouses, while the two Spanish giants, Ros Casares Valencia and Halcon Avenida Salamanca, will duke it out on the opposite side of the bracket. That sets up a championship game battle between the cream of the Russian and Spanish crops on Sunday, April 10, immediately following the bronze medal game.