Clay Kallam debates who should be No. 1 given the fact that Baylor, UConn, Stanford and Notre Dame have all lost a game. (File Photo by Kelly Kline)
Clay Kallam debates who should be No. 1 given the fact that Baylor, UConn, Stanford and Notre Dame have all lost a game. (File Photo by Kelly Kline)

Who's No. 1? Let your money do the talking

January 8, 2013 - 5:03pm

I do a lot of national and regional rankings, and over the years I’ve refined a carefully calibrated system that allows me to create a balanced and well-reasoned list – except when it doesn’t.

Luckily, I haven't done college rankings this year, because my carefully calibrated system works about as well as Windows 8 when it’s faced with this merry-go-round of results.

Notre Dame, of course, can lay claim to No. 1 (in women’s basketball, at least – the Irish were exposed in that other sport) because of the win over UConn. The Huskies in turn knocked off the previous No. 1, Stanford, in humiliating fashion at Maples Pavilion, but Stanford, after all, had beaten Baylor. And Baylor, of course, beat Notre Dame.

So since it’s really impossible to decide who’s No. 1 based on head-to-head competition, and otherwise the top teams haven’t lost to anyone else, then it’s time to turn to Plan B, which is a variation on my method of determining an MVP.

OK, you’re dying to know how I pick an MVP. Or maybe not. But here goes anyway: For whatever reason, you’re playing a pickup game down at the park, and all the relevant players are gathered. You flip a coin, and you get first pick.

Oh, and the winner gets $10,000.

Your first pick is the MVP, plain and simple, because the object of the game is to win and the player who gives you the best chance to win is, in my mind, the MVP.

So let’s apply the same standards to the top four women’s teams, and figure out a No. 1.

Notre Dame:  The Irish beat UConn, yes they did, and that counts for a lot. But if Geno Auriemma doesn’t have the Huskies practice like their hair was on fire for nearly five hours in the preceding 24, are Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’s legs better prepared to make the game-winning three?

So yes, I’m saying that this was more about UConn losing than Notre Dame winning, though credit must be given to Skylar Diggins for hitting some big shots on a bad night, and to Kayla McBride for keeping the Irish close enough for Diggins’ late heroics to make a difference.

Maybe there’s some voodoo here, and Notre Dame has UConn’s number, and maybe the Irish will just keep beating the Huskies like a rented mule, but size matters, as does depth, and Notre Dame is short on both. For ten grand, I’m not rolling the dice on the Irish, especially after watching what was supposed to be a football game.

Stanford: The received wisdom about the Cardinal is the roster is full of very intelligent young women who are remarkably skilled at the game of basketball. They are not, however, particularly quick or athletic, at least in comparison to the other three teams, and those lacks are annually exploited in the Final Four.

And how many out there think the Cardinal beat Baylor if Odyssey Sims had played?  Just as I suspected.  And how many will put their $10,000 on Stanford?  Same answer.

Connecticut: This is a really good team, with loads of talent up and down the lineup. But the Huskies rely on young players (Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart) and are just a little short at the point. Bria Hartley is really good but not great, and with the inexperience in the lineup, UConn needs great point guard play this year.

Then again, by March, with maybe two more Notre Dame games under their belts, the youngsters may have been tempered by their trial by fire, and be fully ready to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Huskies win it all, and I think they’re going to be clear favorites for several years to come. But in 2013 …

Baylor: Auriemma famously said “We’ve got Diana and you don’t.” Kim Mulkey is as likely to steal Geno’s line as he is to steal her wardrobe – but the truth is that Baylor has Brittney Griner and no one else has anything remotely like her.

Sims is a brilliant point guard, and the other pieces offer enough value that the Bears are pretty much impossible to beat with Griner and Sims on the floor. Of course, every strength is a weakness, and the reliance on that duo is a major vulnerability – but if Mulkey has both available through the run of the tournament, I can’t see picking any other team to risk my $10,000 on.

Then again, I learned very early in my sportswriting career to never bet on sports, and in the end, it could be Duke or Tennessee fans celebrating on Bourbon Street while the four teams we all assume will be there are back home writing creative papers about how things went horribly wrong.  And wondering where the $10,000 went.