The NBA Finals begin Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs play in Miami against the Heat. The Spurs, idle for nine days after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies will fight against the idea that they've had too much time to rest. The Heat, who rested only for a third of that time,after grinding out a game seven victory over the Indiana Pacers, look to repeat after winning the Larry O'Brien championship last year.
There are tons of potential plot lines going into these finals, but there's little concrete evidence to aid in a prediction. The teams played only two games during the regular season and they both have enormous asterisks next to their results. Coach Gregg Popovich—himself one of the most interesting subplots insofar as his brusque interview style during games—sent most of his starters home, without notifying the NBA in due time, before the Spurs' visit to Miami on November 29. Then, the JV lineup for the Spurs nearly beat the Heat. And Pop, officially for not giving notice in time, but ostensibly for throwing a nationally broadcast game with the reigning champs, was fined $250,000. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said the Spurs organization did a, "disservice to the league and our fans." Fans of the Spurs, on the other hand, saw their second-stringers nearly beat the best team in the league, on their court.
Given the hubbub surrounding their previous match up, when the Heat visited San Antonio four months later, the national media's interest was piqued. This time, the Spurs were near full strength, missing only Manu Ginobili, who sat out with a strained hamstring. The Heat, however, were not. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both out, the Heat still managed to eke out a two-point win in the AT&T Center. It's worth noting that James and Wade were definitely hurt as they had played in the previous game but did not play in the Heat's next, at New York. Coach Pop, feigning surprise and hostility at the news of James and Wade missing the game, was gracious enough to not comment on the fact that the Heat were not fined when their players missed the game.
So, the regular season games are tossed out the window, if not taken with an enormous chunk of salt. What does that leave prognosticators with? James has faced the Spurs in the Finals before. In 2007, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team was swept by the Spurs. He has acknowledged that he'd love revenge for the loss that came so early in his career. But James was a completely different player and these Heat are not only geographically different from those Cavs - the presence of All-Stars, in Wade and Chris Bosh, a former Finals MVP, again Wade, and the small ball revolution that the Heat fully embraced during last year's championship run - the past history seems just as invalid.
Looking at the paths both teams took results in just as much confusion. The Western Conference was seen as vastly more competitive. But the Spurs swept both their first round opponents, the Lakers, and their Western Conference Finals opponents, the Grizzlies. The Heat were far and away the best team in the East, almost universally assumed to come out on top. After sweeping the first round against the Bucks, though, they gave away a game to Chicago and fought for a five-game victory in that series. Then came the Pacers, who took the Heat to seven games, and had some pundits believing in Indiana's ability to take the series.
So what does it actually come down to? The Heat have the best player in LeBron James. There can be no denying that. But Tim Duncan, the rock of the Spurs for the last sixteen years, is just as good now as he was in the early championship days. The Heat have home court advantage, but the format shifts in the Finals to a 2-3-2, wherein the lower seed gets three games in a row at home. It's a matter of debate who this actually benefits. The Heat will look to run more than they got to against the Pacers, but Tony Parker, point guard for the Spurs, has looked incredible at all speeds. The Heat have the Vegas odds on their side, as well as the majority of the expert picks. They won last year and are a mere four games away from repeating. The Finals start tonight at 7 MST and all games are broadcast on ABC.
With the Lobos' victory over the Valparaiso Cruisaders last weekend, they improved to 10-0, their best start since going 12-0 back in 2009. Fans are extremely happy because there is a high chance that they can at least match that opening record this season.
This Lobo team is just as deep as last year's and possibly even deeper. Alex Kirk sat last season out due to an injury, but has started this season off with some exciting play that has helped earn the Lobos the number 17 spot in the Associated Press top 25.
"They are being mentally challenged right now," head coach Steve Alford said in the post-USC victory radio interview in reference to the final exams that the players were focusing on. But he admitted that they would also be physically challenged in attempt to keep their undefeated record alive. Challenging the players during finals week paid off with another victory, and we'll just have to wait and see how it affected them academically.
The next three games that the Lobos play are games against unranked opponents that should add more victories to their impressive resume. In fact, the next game that should pose any challenge will be when they face the 11th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats on the road. Starting with this game on the Dec 27th, the Lobo's schedulewill increase in difficulty as they move into conference play soon afterwards.
This year, the Mountain West Conference is arguably the most competitive it has ever been. While the Lobos are definitely one of the best teams in the conference, there are several teams that would like to take the conference championship away from them this year.
San Diego State is currently rankedjust below the Lobos in the AP top 25. This makes sense considering last year the Lobos were able to win two out of three matches against the Aztecs. There are also the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Wyoming Cowboys who are going to give the Lobos tough matches. While Wyoming is not currently ranked, there is a good chance that they will be because they are receiving votes in both the AP top 25 and the USA Today Coaches polls and have also started out with a perfect 10-0.
With high expectations this year, the Lobos are going to have to practice hard and show some true resilience as they face the stiff competition of conference play.
The US women are dominating like it aint no thing ...
While the USA men's basketball has been making headlines with its blowout win over Nigeria and the relentless stream of questions about whether this team could beat the 1992 Dream Team, there's been a steady storm of wins accumulating on the women's side that very few people have talked about.
On Tuesday, the women put up nearly twice as many points as their opponent, Team Canada. Team USA slaughtered Canada so effectively that only two players—Chelsea Aubry and Kim Smith, both D1 talents during their college days in America—scored in double figures.
Aside from demolishing Canada, Team USA has now won 39 straight Olympic games. The last time the women's basketball team lost was in 1992, when that storied men's Dream Team was unveiled to the world.
Since '92, however, the men's game has teetered back and forth between nonchalant dominance and embarrassingly lackadaisical effort, resulting in a disappointing bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. While the men's team recommitted after those Athens games, the women's team never needed to; they never stopped winning. They haven't lost a game in the preliminary rounds of the Olympics since 1976—the very first time women's basketball was even a sport in the Olympics.
Team USA faces a tough challenge on Thursday, going up against an Australian team that made waves of its own in the publicity field, and has played some mean games of basketball, to boot. The Opals will challenge the Americans inside with strong post play, but might have trouble with the way Team USA likes to get out and run on the break.
More importantly, the mainstream press is doing its quadrennial look at women's basketball: seemingly impressed, ESPN even featured a story about how the US women are the real Dream Team. That being said, it's troubling, as with so many other professions and occupations, what kind of disparity the women will come back home to, regardless of whether they medal or not, gold or otherwise.
While the league minimum in the NBA—where every player on the men's team has a job after the Olympics are done—is at least $473,604 dollars, depending on whether it's a rookie contract, women in the WNBA cannot earn more than a $103,500. Anthony Davis has trademarked his unibrow, just in case he needs to supplement his income. Meanwhile, female greats like Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi barely have name recognition.
It'd be wonderful if the Olympics rewarded the best play with the most money or the most fame, or whatever it is that society decides is the way to reward these people who dedicate their lives to excellence. Unfortunately, it seems the thing we value most is a good story.
In 2008, the United States basketball team was on a mission to restore our title as the best basketball nation in the world. Named the “Redeem Team,” Team USA showed dominance resembling the classic Dream Teams of the past en route to the gold medal. They were under massive pressure from the nation to deliver following the disappointment of the 2004 team. This year’s team is more worried about bragging about upstaging the 1992 Dream Team and dunking exhibitions than defending the title. Despite being lead by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, key players like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are injured.
But before the Olympics, America will play some tune-up games to get ready for London. They already passed their first test by embarrassing the Dominican Republic 113-59. John Calipari lent his services to the Dominican but it was no match for the athleticism and talent of the United States. However, the victory was bittersweet as L.A Clippers star Blake Griffin was injured in practice prior to tip-off. Now Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski must depend on No. 1 pick Anthony Davis to play big minutes against difficult international competition. Most basketball fans are assuming Team USA should destroy the competition, but with a limited time to gel as a unit and injuries, international teams should feel optimistic to pull off the upset.
Spain failed to capture the gold against Team USA in Beijing in 2008, but they pose the biggest threat to America's gold medal chances. NBA veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will dominate the middle and should give them an advantage over every other team in the Olympic tournament. Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and José Calderon round out the rest of the pros to give Spain a combination of speed and experience. By avoiding the Americans in group play, Spain shouldn’t have in trouble make it to the medal round. When they final collide with Team USA, the only advantage Spain will have is their inside presence. Without injured point guard Ricky Rubio and the lack of a true superstar, they will have to hope America gets cocky and overconfident in order to prevail.
Similar to Spain, Argentina is on the quest for revenge. In ’08, Argentina went 4-1 in group play but fell to America in the tournament round. Manu Ginobili led fellow NBA pros Carlos Delfino and Luís Scola on one of the most experienced teams in the tournament. Even though Argentina finds themselves in the same group as Team USA, they shouldn't feel intimidated as they defeated the United States in the 2004 Olympic Games. They may lack the number of pros compared to other top international teams, but their success in international competitions make Argentina a contender to win gold in London.
Up 3-1, the Miami Heat have a commanding lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder. And the Heat are on the cusp of victory with game five kicking off tonight at 7 p.m. in Miami. In the history of the NBA, no team that has gone down 1-3 in a Finals series has ever come back to win that series.
So, with history on their side, it's time to start assuming that the Heat have won the championship, right? Well, not quite so fast. The Thunder are a more than capable team, and they won the first game in the series in a manner that most pundits termed convincing at bare minimum.
The Thunder's core of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have traded off between dominating performances, but the third member of their triumvirate, James Harden, has been lackluster—to say the least—for the duration of the Finals. His defense has been relentless, which perhaps explains the anemic performance on offense, but that doesn’t justify much, at least in the eyes of Oklahoma City fans.
Winning in Miami has not been an easy task for the Thunder, which had a significant lead in game three—nine points, on two separate occasions, but lost a wire-to-wire outing in game four. They'll have to muster the strength to not only hold a lead, but to do so at the end of the game in Miami at least once, in order to squeeze out a return home for the possibility of game six—much less force a game seven.
The statistical possibility of the Thunder mounting a comeback aside, there are serious repercussions to the idea of LeBron James winning his first championship. The laughable which critics love to throw in his face upon his yearly exit from the playoffs will stop being evidence of his supposed crimes and will start to look like eerie prescience from a phenomenal talent. The collection of superstars in South Beach will no longer look like greedy millionaires, but rather basketball players mature enough to put ego aside and play together. Most importantly, LeBron James will no longer have the strike of, "He doesn't have a ring." Most all-time greats in the NBA have championship rings, and it’s bizarre to think of the most talented player of our generation as not having one, not being capable of getting one.
That time period is almost through. Maybe the Thunder have a last gasp in them. Maybe they pull together. Maybe James Harden comes out and plays the game of his life. But even given the best possible outcome for a Thunder fan in game five, the odds and the historical record both say that the Heat will win the NBA Finals. Get ready for the reign of King James.
The NBA Finals have begun in an emphatic manner. After the Oklahoma City Thunder roller over the San Antonio Spurs, who were looking as near-invincible as any team can, they awaited their Eastern Conference opponent. And while it took seven games, the Miami Heat eventually triumphed over the Boston Celtics. This presents, of course, a sort of dream match-up for basketball fans. Commissioner David Stern has got to be giddy over the ratings prospects of the Heat in the Finals for a second year in a row, especially against some of the NBA’s youngest, most marketable stars. Old school purists must find something delectable about the way the Thunder have taken on characteristics of the Spurs after dispatching them, passing the ball in that crisp manner, and always deflecting individual praise in deference of the team concept. Finally, the drama-seeker in all of us craves LeBron James in almost every situation. Win or lose, love him or hate him, he presents compelling viewing.
Game 1 showed the tenacity of the youngsters in Oklahoma. The Heat poured on the points in the first half, but the Thunder hung on, and changed the game in a significant manner in the second half. Eventually winning by 11, it seemed as though the Thunder had heavy momentum heading into Game 2, at home.
On Thursday night, however, the Thunder came out flat. They came out uninspired. They came out looking like a team that thought, perhaps, the road to the trophy would be a bit easier than it turned out to be. They fell into an 18-2 hole, with just over seven minutes elapsed in the first quarter, and the game almost seemed out of reach by halftime, when the Thunder trailed 43-55.
However, after tying the second quarter, the Thunder proceeded to win both the third and the fourth quarters, eventually pulling within two points in the final minute.
The aforementioned hole, however, ultimately proved to be too much. In conjunction with the five fouls that Kevin Durant was playing with—having picked up that dreaded fifth foul only a minute and a half into the fourth quarter—the Thunder simply could not get the job done. They now face the daunting task of going into Miami and playing three straight games in South Beach.
The pressure now shifts from Miami to the young Thunder. Coming into the series, they were seen as slight favorites. Of course, it'll be very difficult for Miami to win all three in a row at home, but the Thunder have got to consider their backs to be up against the wall. Coming back home for the final two games of the series, and needing to win both, is a terrible place to be. On the other hand, there are worse options, such as Miami sweeping these middle three games, and closing the series out in Florida. The Oklahoma City Thunder have responded thus far in the Playoffs every time they've needed to, and the truth is, they need to now more than ever.
Dallas traded up to take cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick.
While some football fans think the NFL Draft resembles the male version of “America's Next Top Model,” most cannot contain their excitement whenever they see the commissioner give his awkward handshake to the new recruits of the league.
The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins took the suspense out of their first two picks in selecting Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (respectively), but the draft still contained some surprises. Cleveland Browns General Manager Tom Heckert chose to overhaul the offense by selecting Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round. Current Browns starting QB Colt McCoy showed some promise last season, but the Browns needed to make some power moves to make sure they’re no longer an afterthought. Another surprise was the Dallas Cowboys moving to sixth pick of the first round to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Even though the Cowboys had to give up 14th and 45th overall picks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was a necessary sacrifice to ensure Dallas improve its much-criticized defense.
As for the University of New Mexico, no Lobos were selected in the draft, but three defensive players have signed free-agent deals to play at the next level. Leading the pack is Carmen Messina, who shockingly wasn't selected but signed a contract with the improved Detroit Lions. All-Mountain West safety honorable mention Bubba Forrest was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals and defensive end Jaymar Latchison used Twitter to state he signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia Sixers
D. Rose is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Everything was working perfectly for the Chicago Bulls in game one against the Philadelphia Sixers. The Bulls bench was performing well and the starters were showing why they were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose's triple double was almost in sight with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then the unthinkable happen: Rose drove in the lane and tore his ACL. Pain and fear was written all over Rose's face as he was helped to the locker room. The Bulls went on to win game one, 103-91, but it seems their title hopes have all but disappeared. An 18-9 record without Derrick Rose in the regular season means Chicago has reacted well without their captain. Now its up to Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton to step up and prove the Bulls are still a serious threat to win the title.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin and the Clippers overcame a late 27-point deficit to edge the Grizzlies.
It was a party in Memphis as the Grizzlies had a dominate 27-point lead in game one. With the Clippers down by 21 in the fourth, head coach Vinny Del Negro removed point guard Chris Paul from the game. But Paul pleaded with Del Negro for one more shot to at least gain a moral victory. Instead, Paul had seven assists and hit two clutch free throws to take a 99-98 lead with 23.7 seconds left. Rudy Gay had a chance to be the hero but missed a fade-away jumper to give the Clippers the stunning victory. Now Los Angeles has stolen home court and the momentum of the series. To make matters worse, rumors have now heated up regarding tension between Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies have tons of potential and have good fundamental skills to make a respectable run in the playoffs. But if they can't put a stop to their issues, the Clippers will embarrass the Grizz.
With college basketball over, it’s time for the NBA to take the hoops spotlight. Even though everyone picked the Miami Heat to finally capture the title, the playoff field is wide open for any team to become champion. Here’s a breakdown by conference:
The Big Three might have one last championship push left.
Both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat have been fighting injuries since the All-Star break and have been mediocre in the month of April. And the struggles of the Eastern Conference’s best have opened the door for an old favorite to have one more run at the title.
When the boston Celtics put together its Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it was with the expectation that the group wouldn't last forever. But along with Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have captured an NBA championship and have become a tough defensive opponent for any league team. So it was puzzling when the organization was aggressively trying shop Rondo around the league. Luckily for the Celtics, it kept him and the result has been Rondo quietly putting together a 17-game streak of 10-plus assists. His point guard play has turned into victories with the Celtics going 7-3 in their last ten, including a dominant performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite having four superstars (albeit a few of them dwindling), the Celtics have dodged additional pressure from the national media. If the playoffs started today, Boston would face the dangerous Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Even though it’s not considered one of the league top contenders, the Celtics bench and veteran leadership could lead them to a surprise playoff run.
Dwight Howard—a hard guy to get along with.
What would be the equivalent of oil and water in the NBA? It would probably be the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and head coach Stan Van Gundy. They've never had the best relationship and now it’s reached a boiling point with Van Gundy confirming rumors he heard Howard requested he be fired. It's unfortunate the Magic are falling apart because they have one of the most effective offenses in the league. Its three point shooting combined with Howard dominating the paint should have made Orlando a lock for the conference finals. Instead, trade rumors, injuries and the turmoil of Howard and Van Gundy have turned the Magic into the most disappointing team in the association. Despite Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith publicly denying the rumors about Van Gundy, he has to determine either to fire his coach now and please Howard or keep Van Gundy and salvage the remainder of the season. If the Magic continues to side down the playoff ladder, it may be best to cut ties with Van Gundy and convince Howard to sign a long term extension with free agents and a big name head coach.
Under the Radar:
When Reggie Miller retired, the Indiana Pacers had to begin a search of a new identity to ensure the future of the franchise. It's been a long rebuilding process, but the Pacers have finally returned to respectability and have quietly made its way into the third seed in the East. Former-Lobo Danny Granger has been the star for the majority of his tenure in Indiana, but now he doesn't have to bare the burden alone with the additions of Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough. Last year the Pacers pushed the Chicago Bulls to the limit in the first round with their lockdown defense on Derrick Rose. Now if Indiana can hang onto the third seed, they're most likely to receive a favorable first round matchup.
Tim Duncan and the aging Spurs are still sharp.
From 1999 to 2007 the San Antonio Spurs won four NBA title titles, but got little love from media or fans. Even though they have arguably the greatest power forward ever in Tim Duncan and consistent All-Star players with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they are always overlooked. Granted last year the Spurs performed well in the regular season but suffered an early elimination by the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2012 the Spurs have managed to earn the best record in the Western Conference without attracting scrutiny from the mainstream media. Head coach Greg Popovich has managed to keep his four main stars and surround them with quality roles players who are non-selfish and focused on winning. With the OKC Thunder barely behind the Spurs for the top seed, San Antonio cannot afford any injuries. The Western Conference is now going through a transition of younger teams dominating the playoff picture, but if the Spurs are healthy, it can use its experience to make a run to the conference finals.
Before Blake Griffin, the L.A. Clippers were considered the laughing stock of the league. Whenever the Clippers would be lucky enough to gain any talent, they would trade it away in order to make the organization profitable. Finally for Clippers fans,the organization has renewed focus on winning and playing exciting basketball. The acquisition of Chris Paul has enabled the Lakers’ 'little brother' to be fan pleasing while moving towards the top half of the playoff picture. But its loss against the Lakers should be a red flag for “Lop City” fans. Blake Griffin has morphed into a human highlight reel but fails to play consistent defense or make mid-range jumpers. The Clippers currently hold the fourth seed and would face the underrated Memphis Grizzles in the first round. If the Clippers plan on purely outscoring its opponents en route to an NBA title, the only thing the Clippers would be lobbing is their heads against the wall.
Under the Radar:
Yao Ming's sudden retirement from the NBA left the Houston Rockets reeling. But, like the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets have quietly formed an effective combination of veterans and newcomers to currently gain the sixth seed. Head coach Kevin McHale has turned a potential bottom feeder into a respectable playoff team. The major Achilles heel of the Rockets is its ability to win games on the road. Its 11-17 road record will not translate into success in the playoffs. But the Rockets recent victory over the Lakers in the Staples Center should give them a much needed confidence boost. If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would face the troubled Lakers. The Rockets are unlikely to win the series, but considering the recurring Laker drama, Houston has the ability frustrate the Lakers into a long seven game series.
ESPN replayed the Michigan Fab Five documentary a few days ago. On Monday night, as the newest national champions were crowned, it seemed perfectly appropriate. If Michigan and their fabulous freshmen broke barriers insofar as starting lineups, it's been pointed out that Coach John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats have now broken barriers insofar as winning it all.
The Wildcats claimed the biggest prize of them all for men's college basketball on Monday night, vanquishing the Kansas Jayhawks and setting a whole lot of people to doubt the whole college basketball scene. Regardless of that doubt, however, there can be none that Kentucky was the better team. It was a better team all season, and it was a better team on Monday night. Wooden Award-winning freshman Anthony Davis seems to be the best collegiate player in the country and, with this win, seems virtually assured of going first in the upcoming 2012 NBA draft. He scored a mere 6 points in the game, but grabbed 16 rebounds, smashed 6 blocks and secured the Most Outstanding Player trophy. Although he will have spent just a year in college, he emerges more of a finished product than some of his soon-to-be-peers in the NBA.
Kentucky's ascension to the top of college basketball seemed like a foregone conclusion for much of the season. It lost only two times all year—to Indiana and Vanderbilt—and it looked dominant at almost every other opportunity. Near the middle of the NCAA tournament, Charles Barkley even had the gall to make the inevitable, approximately twice-yearly, idiotic statement that the top college program could beat the lowest professional team: this time that Kentucky could and would beat the Charlotte Bobcats, the Washington Wizards or the Toronto Raptors. (Things like this always get tossed around. In football, we occasionally have to endure the pundits engaging the same lines of fallacy. Luckily, not everyone agrees.)
While the first half of the first period Monday was a back-and-forth affair, with Kansas refusing to fold, the simple truth was that Kentucky continued to pull away. The defense of the Wildcats proved to be the bigger determining factor. With Kansas wanting to push the tempo in the beginning minutes, Anthony Davis picked up his first nasty block, and the Wildcats clamped down. On the other end, the Wildcat offense proved capable of overwhelming the Jayhawks' defense, and as the first half wound down, Kentucky put firm distance between itself and the challengers, concluding the half up 41-27.
The second half looked like it was going to be more of the same, but Kansas decided, with about 4 minutes left in the game, that the fight had not gone out of them. For the first time since early in the first, they trimmed the deficit to single digits. Suddenly, with just over a minute left, the Wildcats led by a mere five points, and Kentucky looked shell-shocked. The upset was still possible! Alas, it was not to be. Five made free throws for Kentucky versus a lone made field goal for Kansas provided the final margin at 67-59.
Kentucky's coronation may bring some doubt for those who claim to love the NCAA game for its purity, but there are examples, including the conclusion of that Fab Five story, that shed more than a bit of a shadow on that purity. Regardless of its implications, the simple fact remains that the NCAA men's basketball tournament is the most exciting postseason playoff format of any sport and the title game between Kansas and Kentucky was a great basketball game.
Brittney Griner heads a threatening Baylor team into the Final Four
With an eye on the past, but its gaze overwhelmingly focused on the future, women's college basketball set up a historic Final Four earlier this week.
On Monday, the Baylor Bears dispatched the Tennessee Lady Vols and legendary coach Pat Summitt. Prior to that, the Stanford Cardinal did away with No. 2 seed Duke. On Tuesday, the University of Connecticut got the ball rolling again for the 1 seeds, and Notre Dame finished off the excitement against Maryland. Over the course of four games in two nights —hardly in one fell swoop, but still in a pretty decisive manner—all four No. 1 seeds confirmed their reservations for the women's NCAA Final Four in Denver. This marks only the second time in the history of the women's tournament when this has happened—the other occurring back in 1989.
Stanford got the sweep started, carried by its senior Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Ogwumike's been in this position before, as she's made the Final Four in each of her four years with the Cardinal, having been beat by UConn twice and losing to eventual champ Texas A&M last year. Stanford, in fact, made the Final Four before Ogwumike arrived, which makes this its fifth in a row. Coach Tara VanDerveer has done an amazing job getting this school back up to lofty standards, but they've been posited with the unfortunate problem of playing Baylor on Sunday night.
If there's a standout amongst the four top seeds, it's got to be the Baylor Bears. Brittney Griner may be getting the most publicity for her in-game dunks, but there's no doubt that her defense in the true highlight. In the NCAAs, she's flirted with triple doubles, especially against Tennessee. However, the Bears' ascension means that something has to be left behind, and this year, the Tennessee Lady Vols will not be a part of the Final Four for the fourth year in a row. To put this in perspective, to find the last time Pat Summitt's team didn't make the Final Four two years in a row, we have to stretch back to 1993 and 1994. While Summitt's future is up in the air, it appears as though it's no longer a foregone conclusion that Tennessee and UConn will run women's basketball—and the sport is all the better for it.
Despite the Lady Vols being sidelined, the old guard will be well-represented by the University of Connecticut and its Huskies. Coach Geno Auriemma matches Stanford's accomplishment by making his fifth Final Four in a row, but he won't be satisfied with making just that; UConn has won seven previous national titles—and three in a row at one point—so it'll be geared up to play against Notre Dame. Coach Auriemma has even admitted that after losing Maya Moore last year, he wasn't sure what kind of team this was going to be, or how deep of a run they could make. As usual, though, the Huskies have come through with a dominant regular season and a stifling defense. UConn lost only four times in the regular season. Two of those losses, however, came at the hands of Notre Dame.
The relative newcomer of the group finished things up on Tuesday night by unleashing a beating on Maryland. The Irish, who were national runners-up last year, getting edged in the title game by Texas A&M, have only won the national title once and have only been to the Final Four once besides that. To couch these accomplishments in terms such as "only won the national title once before" shows what a decorated group of teams are about to converge on Denver. The great guard play of Notre Dame starts with Skylar Diggins, but extends to the rest of the team, too, comprising one of the deepest teams in the field.
When the games begin on Sunday in this ridiculously talented women's field, anyone who's watching will see some of the finest basketball that will be played that weekend. And when a new champion is crowned on Tuesday, it will have long-lasting ramifications for the game—no matter which No. 1 it is.
There's no doubt the University of New Mexico basketball team has had great success throughout its history. From conference championships to 30-win seasons, the Lobos have an impressive résumé. But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, true prosperity has always been out of reach for New Mexico.
It looked like this might finally be the year that curse would be broken. In Thursday's Second Round matchup, the Lobos held off a tough Long Beach State 75-68 to face Louisville on Saturday night.
The first half featured a defensive battle with New Mexico only behind 33-31 and carrying momentum headed into halftime. Despite Drew Gordon injuring his knee early in the game, he returned and had a standout performance with 21 points and 14 rebounds. With Gordon's leadership, New Mexico seemed primed for their its first-ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, but when the second half started, the pressure finally got to the young and inexperienced Lobo backcourt. The Louisville Cardinals capitalized on Lobo turnovers and bad offensive execution to gain a 15-point lead. When the Lobos actually ran plays on the offensive end, they were successful and eventually closed the gap to 53-51 with 1:48 remaining. Louisville's star player Peyton Siva was contained by the Lobo defense but he proved to be the difference by hitting a pass to Gorgui Dieng to extended the Cardinal’s lead by four. Siva also nailed some free throws to give Louisville a conformable 59-53 lead headed into the closing seconds. Gordon did give Lobo fans some hope by hitting a three with 2.9 seconds left, but it was too late as Louisville advanced with the 59-56 victory.
While the Lobos have a lot to be proud of this season, head coach Steve Alford and his team have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away. Alford has lots of young talent to find a true leader to guide the Lobos out of the round of 32 and into competing with top basketball powerhouses. This loss with hurt in the short term, but Lobo fans should feel excitement for a promising future.
March Madness Sweet Sixteen Preview
As usual, this year's tournament has produced many upsets and busted brackets. With No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri taking an early plane ride home, there are some refreshing matchups in the Sweet Sixteen.
Kentucky vs. Indiana has the potential to be one of the most memorable games in this year’s tournament. Marquis Teague hasn't let his inexperience affect his performance in the dance so far by having 24 points and 7 assists against Iowa State. Teague's lead the Wildcats to an impressive 87-71 victory and now will face a hot Hoosiers squad. Indiana had an easy time with New Mexico State but faced the dreaded VCU Rams in the second round. The Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller had 16 points and 13 rebounds to help his team survive VCU’s attempt at another run to the Final Four. Many experts and fans probably have Kentucky advancing, but Indiana has been the more battle-tested squad. If Kentucky doesn't bring the intensity, Indiana can spring the upset.
Despite winning back-to-back national titles, Florida doesn't get much national creditability compared to traditional basketball powers. The Gators haven't had the best season and their seven seed proves it, but they have improved their play and even took Kentucky to the limit in the SEC tournament. They handled their first two tournament games with ease but now will face their toughest test against Marquette.
The Golden Eagles have bounced back from their disappointing loss to Louisville with two wins over BYU and the Cinderella story of the regular season, Murray State. Now Marquette must battle a Florida team with a successful tournament track record.
UNM coach Steve Alford cuts down the net after the Lobos win the MWC tournament.
After this weekend, it’s understandable why the Lobos are on cloud nine. They beat their conference archrivals UNLV and San Diego State en route to a Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship. UNM was also awarded a fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament.
And after winning a share of the regular season title, the Lobos must feel they've accomplished most of their goals they set in the preseason. But if they want to achieve the ultimate goal of advancing to the Sweet 16, they must battle an enemy that almost ruined their season: complacency.
The team was full of swagger and confidence after they beat San Diego State and UNLV in the regular season and were ranked in the Top 25. But then they let their guard down and lost two consecutive road games. Since that time, the Lobos are on a five-game winning streak and seem to have a renewed focus on defense.
Long Beach State has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation and will face the Lobos in the second round in Portland, Ore. If they advance, a potential match up against the Big East champion, Louisville, awaits.
March Madness apps
For most people, it’s almost impossible to sit on the couch and watch the entire tournament. However, that doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the action. Here are a few mobile applications that will ensure you never miss any possession or buzzer beater:
The NCAA has their official March Madness Live mobile app for iOS and Android that should satisfy any basketball junkie. Fans will be able to fill out a bracket, get live updates on their favorite teams and even watch every game for a one-time fee of $3.99. So far usability has been pretty seamless, so hopefully it delivers at game time.
ESPN also has its Bracket Bound mobile app which offers in-depth opinions and analysis on the tournament. It’s available for for iOS and Android and offers up-to-date Twitter feeds of ESPN personalities, video analysis and the ability to follow your team’s progress in the big dance. The only negative is the app still lists the projected field of the tournament and hides the real bracket in the top corner of the application. Despite the drawback, the app is free and offers users the ability to win $100,000 for the winner of the Tournament Challenge.
With these two apps, there's zero excuse why you shouldn't be the smartest fan in the room.