The Big Three
The Class of 2013 has changed women’s basketball. And with the debate on where they will go in the WNBA draft, their impact on the game is likely just beginning.
Brittney Griner, 6-8 Center, Baylor
Candace Parker brought the women’s dunk to the ESPN highlight reel. Griner took it to a new level. A dominating force in the game, her career numbers include 3,172 points, 1,255 rebounds and 731 blocked shots. Sure, Griner can dunk, push people around in the low post and alter an offense by the mere threat of her shot-blocking abilities. But in her time at Baylor she has improved her footwork, her shooting touch and increased her other defensive skills. She’s much more than just the big girl in the middle. Even after Baylor went 40-0 to win the national title last year, Griner is hungry for a repeat. Also, Griner, who isn’t very good at live TV interviews, still gave one of the best answers on the ESPN selection show. When asked what it takes to motivate her she said, “just bring me some bacon and I’ll be fired up to go.”
Skylar Diggins, 5-9 Guard, Notre Dame
Speaking of hungry, Diggins has twice been a national runner-up with the Irish. She bolted to fame her sophomore year when she led Notre Dame to an upset of Connecticut, only to lose the title game to Texas A&M. Her Twitter feed blew up that year. Lil Wayne started following her. She became the star-powered face of women’s college ball. The point guard with swagger has instincts for the game and has honed her speed and quickness to take advantage of her basketball IQ. Her steal and pass led to the game-winning shot for the first Big East title for Notre Dame.
Elena Delle Donne, 6-5 Forward/Guard, Delaware
By now, you’ve heard her story, the one where Delle Donne left Connecticut and all the tradition, power and glamor of Huskie Nation, to return home and play for Delaware in the Colonial Athletic Association. You’ve heard how she couldn’t stay away from her older sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and is blind and deaf. It’s an incredibly touching, real and inspirational story. But there’s another side to the Delle Donne story — her basketball game. Combine her ability to score quickly and create with her size and athleticism and she can be a one-woman offensive wrecking crew.
The magic of Marist
The Red Foxes seem to own Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s basketball. In the last 10 years, they have lost the championship game only once, to Canisius in 2005. They became the mid-major darling in 2007 when they advanced to the Sweet 16, losing to Tennessee in the regional semifinal.
Since then, they have gotten to the second round only three times, losing to LSU, Duke and, last year, St. Bonaventure.
This year, Marist went undefeated in the conference, which isn’t all that surprising. Elizabeth Beynnon was the tournament’s most valuable player. (You may remember her as “Kelsey” but her bio on the Marist website states she “wished to go by her first name “Elizabeth” during her senior season.”) Beynnon started every game for the Red Foxes, averaging 12.2 points.
Marist has balanced scoring and wins on defense, allowing opponents just 52.2 points a game.
This year, as a No. 12 seed, Marist will face No. 5 Michigan State at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, in College Park, Md. The Red Foxes could win another first-round game as many pundits see the Spartans as over-seeded.
Atlantic 10 snub?
You knew that Saint Joseph’s (tournament champion) and Dayton (Ranked 18th in the AP poll and 14th in the USA Today Coaches Poll) would make the tournament field. But that’s all the A-10 got. And the committee didn’t do them any matchup favors.
Dayton pulled a No. 7 seed and will meet No. 10 St. John’s. That sets up a matchup with No. 2 Kentucky — a team that could contend for the national title.
Saint Joe’s was given a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 Vanderbilt. The winner gets No. 1 Connecticut.
Former St. Bonaventure standout Jessica Jenkins tweeted: “I feel like #A10wbb got snubbed in this years NCAA bracket. #norespect.”
Also on the A-10 wagon is Curt Miller, formerly of Bowling Green and now the head coach of Indiana, who tweeted: “Congrats to the six Big Ten Teams in the dance…surprised the A-10 doesn’t sneak a third team in the tourney.”
It appears that Charlotte was among the first four out of the field. Big snub to Fordham, which had an incredible turnaround this season.
And what about the MAC?
The Mid-American Conference got only one team into the field — Central Michigan, which won the conference tournament. The Chippewas drew a No. 11 seed and have to face No. 6 Oklahoma. Again, Toledo was one of the first four teams out. Little love for some pretty good mid-major conferences this year.
If the seeds hold, we could see a Spokane Regional final between No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Cal. The teams split their regular season meeting in one of the most exciting women’s basketball rivalries you’ve never heard of. They never got their third meeting in the Pac-12 tournament as UCLA (a third seed in the Oklahoma City Region) upset Cal in the tournament semifinals.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the top four seeds — Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford and Connecticut — will end up in New Orleans. But there are other quality teams in the field that have a chance to pull an upset and make the Final Four:
Penn State is the third seed in the Spokane Region and the Lady Lions went 6-1 against ranked teams this season. A horrendous shooting night against Michigan State knocked them out of the Big Ten tournament.
Maryland is the No. 4 seed in the Bridgeport Region and while the Terps have lost two players to torn ACLs, they are motivated and fired up by coach Brenda Frese.
Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Region. In the first year with Holly Warlick at the helm, the Lady Vols are the fourth-highest scoring team in the country.
Duke earned the No. 2 seed in the Norfolk region and the Blue Devils are on a roll after winning their third-straight ACC title.