All eyes on the Sweet 16 this Saturday

March 28, 2013 - 4:36pm
Delaware's Elena Delle Donne knocks down two of her game high 33 points to lead the Blue Hens past North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Delaware athletics)

Delaware's Elena Delle Donne knocks down two of her game high 33 points to lead the Blue Hens past North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Delaware athletics)

At least fans trying to follow the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament on television won’t be at the mercy of ESPN’s “whip-around” coverage this weekend, as the actual translation of “whip-around” is “ignore the close games while focusing on routs by the top seeds.”

All eight games will be shown Saturday and Sunday, neatly sandwiched, for the most part, around the men’s Elite Eight, and three of those games will feature ESPN’s rightly hyped “Three to See” stars: Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne.

Only Delle Donne will be playing Saturday, and she starts things off as the Blue Hens tip off against the Kentucky Wildcats at noon Eastern time in what is most likely the game of the day. UConn and Cal look to be prohibitive favorites over Maryland and LSU, respectively, and Stanford matches up very well with Georgia -- and Kentucky could roll over Delaware, for that matter -- so it’s possible we’ll have four less-than-scintillating stretch runs.

But at least if there is a close game, we’ll get to see it.

Bridgeport Regional

Delaware vs. Kentucky

Simple question: Who’s gonna guard Elena?

Elena Delle Donne is 6-5, averages 25.8 ppg, shoots 48.7 percentfrom the field, 46.8 percent from three (think about that for a while) and 91.7 percent from the line. She averages 8.4 rebounds per game, has a nearly 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio and 69 blocked shots on the season.

One option, of course, is to let EDD get hers, and stop everyone else. If Delle Donne goes for 35, and the rest of the team only manages 20, well, Kentucky should be able to stagger to 56 points, right?

Of course, Delle Donne going one-on-one against A’Dia Mathies, say, or DeNesha Stallworth might result in 40 or 45 points rather than 35. Mathies, though quick and strong, gives up eight inches to Delle Donne, and though Stallworth is 6-3, Delle Donne will pull her away from the basket and either shoot jumpers or go by her.

Doubling EDD is a plan, but then there’s that A/TO, and a decent supporting cast that’s just good enough to burn a team that focuses too much on Delle Donne.

On the flip side, while Kentucky is known for its "Forty Minutes of Dread" defensively, offensive inconsistency is an issue. Sure, the Wildcats put up 84 on Dayton -- but they only managed 61 against Navy, and that 55-point stinker against South Carolina still sticks in my mind.

But Mathies can hit threes, Stallworth knows her way around the paint and Jennifer O’Neill can score, so there’s hope for Big Blue. The best hope, though, is for Kentucky’s athleticism to force Delle Donne to do everything: Bring the ball up, score, rebound and defend, because no one else can. And remember, the Wildcats have forced 816 turnovers so far this season (24 a game), and if the Blue Hens can’t get the ball across halfcourt, it’s going to be hard for them to win.

If they do, however, then the question returns: Who’s gonna guard Elena? The answer, as it has been all year, is no one, which is why Delaware will win a close one.

Connecticut vs. Maryland

Since the two teams already played, and UConn won by 15 -- and Maryland has lost three times since Feb. 24 -- this seems like an easy one for the Huskies.

It may not actually be easy, but it’s hard to see how deep and talented UConn can lose this game to a thin Maryland team with uncertain ballhandling (17 turnovers a game). Freshman Chloe Pavlech has overachieved at the point, but Brenda Frese really has no choice but to ask too much of her.

Of course, Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins are big-time players who will go high in the WNBA draft (Thomas next year, Hawkins this), but after them, offense is hard to come by. Kelly Faris, the UConn defensive ace, will give Thomas fits, and though Hawkins should be effective, she’s also going to be facing a platoon of defenders (Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, et al.) who will always be fresh. And who knows? Maybe Geno throws a triangle-and-two at Maryland just to shake things up.

At the other end, Maryland will have major problems matching up with the bevy of UConn scoring threats -- who look even better when freshman Stewart is playing with confidence. As a team, the Huskies shoot 49.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from beyond the arc, which would be exceptional for an individual, and is simply stunning for an entire roster.

And sure, UConn can’t beat Notre Dame, who handed the Huskies three of their four losses this season, and lost badly to Baylor, but Maryland isn’t at the level of either of those two teams. Expect the Terps to battle, but the Huskies just have too much firepower for Maryland to pull off the upset.

Elite Eight Round

Both Kentucky and Delaware have too many holes to have a great chance to beat UConn, but Kentucky definitely has the better matchups -- and matchups are crucial at this time of the year. Delaware would just be overwhelmed by the Huskies, and though Kentucky could hang on longer, in the end, UConn is simply better in pretty much every phase of the game.

If UConn doesn’t emerge from Bridgeport, it will count as one of the most stunning outcomes in recent memory.

Spokane Regional

Georgia vs. Stanford

Two of the winningest coaches ever will face off in Spokane -- which, by the way, is really a very cool town -- but unless Jasmine Hassell has the game of her life, Stanford, Tara VanDerveer and Chiney Ogwumike are off to the Elite Eight.

Ogwumike is just about as good as it gets in the college game, at 22.9 points and 13.0 rebounds per game; she shoots 58.0 percent from the field and 77.4 percent from the line. Joslyn Tinkle is a solid 6-3 senior complement, and point guard Amber Orrange is steady if not spectacular, and if unheralded Sara James continues to rise to the occasion in key moments, even the presumed continued absence of Toni Kokenis will not be a killer.

Georgia, on the other hand, simply struggles to score. Twice in the last month, the Bulldogs have only managed 38 points (which, as math majors will have already determined, is less than a point a minute), and as a team, they shoot 40.1 percent from the field and 28.0 percent from three-point distance.

Simply put, these are not Elite Eight numbers, and unless Khaalidah Miller and Anne Marie Armstrong suddenly start raining threes, Stanford’s size in the paint will stunt Georgia’s offense, and Ogwumike and friends will roll to a double-digit win.

LSU vs. California

The few, the proud … the Tigers.

It’s one thing to win with seven players on your home court; it’s another to go on the road and try to get past a team that has seven players who average more than 19.6 minutes a game. Oh, and those seven will attack LSU’s biggest weakness: Rebounding.

Cal outrebounds its opponents by 11.6 a game, and averages 18 offensive boards a game. LSU outrebounded its opponents by 1.4 a game, and gave up 23 more offensive rebounds than it collected.

The conclusion, obviously, is that even if Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd can’t make a shot (which can happen at times), Gennifer Brandon, Talia Caldwell and Reshanda Gray will simply keep pounding the boards until one of them scores. Yes, Theresa Plaisance is 6-5, but she is not the physical presence that’s needed to keep Brandon, Caldwell and Gray from terrorizing the Tigers on the glass, and 6-4 freshman Derreyal Youngblood averages an astonishing one foul for every 3:30 she’s on the court. (That's right -- she fouls out, on average, in just 18 minutes.)

And though much has been made of Jeanne Kenney’s absence, all her return would mean would be a 30.7-percent shooter (22.9 percent from beyond the arc) who averaged 5.5 points a game. The Bears will also focus on Adrienne Webb after her fine performance against Penn State, and if Clarendon can’t shut her down, defensive specialist Eliza Pierre will come on to make sure Webb doesn’t get another career high.

It’s hard to see how LSU can win this game, but then again, it was hard to see how the Tigers could beat the Nittany Lions -- but they did. Of course, that was in Baton Rouge, and that’s a long way from Spokane. There might be a few “Geaux Tigers” banners in the crowd, but with both Cal and Stanford there, and Pac-12 pride at stake, LSU will have to rely only on its magnificent seven.

And they won’t be enough.

Elite Eight Round

Cal vs. Stanford, round three. The two teams split the first two, each winning on the other team’s home court, so factoring in the effect of the neutral court is all but impossible. Both teams are very good, but both teams are also flawed. Stanford will be out to reinforce its dominance; Cal to topple the queen of the Pac-12.

In all honesty, I have no idea who will win, but if forced, I guess I’ll pick Cal -- by one, in triple overtime.