The two of us are underwhelmed. Of course we're both planning to watch the Final Four, and we'll certainly follow the draft (though Passover travel may prevent us from watching the latter live). Of course we expect to see some hard-fought games, and some highlights from Parker, Fowles, White, Latta, Larkins, Vaughn, and the 55 press. And yet... compared to recent Final Fours, we're underwhelmed. Why? Well...
1. No newcomers. Tennessee and, now, LSU are perennials, and UNC, now a repeater, won it all on Smith's famous last-second shot
in '94. Rutgers surprised the unwary this year, but they made the Final Four in 2000, and coach Stringer, as you will hear many times this weekend, has been to the Final Four with three schools.
By contrast, two newcomers met in 2005 for the championship game. 2004 had our Gophers,
'02 the Sooners, '01 Jackie Stiles (though
Missouri State had been there in '92), '00 both Rutgers and Penn State, and 1998 ninth-seeded Arkansas.
(On the other hand, rematches can be fun: UT met UNC last December
and in last year's regional final.
UNC won both times.)
2. Lame-o regionals. We're not talking about the attendance, though some people are;
nor are we talking about effort from the athletes, 95% of whom played their hearts out. We're talking about the games that resulted; half were blowouts, and most were decided with four minutes still on the clock.
Worse yet, among the twelve games which cut last week's Sweet Sixteen down to four, the two closest, most dramatic weren't exactly designed to create happy memories. In one, the lasting moment will be Lindsay Harding's choke.
In the other, the Huskies outplayed the Wolfpack, but the circumstances of Kay Yow's career made the outcome
hard to celebrate even for those of us who wanted to see UConn win it all.
Yes, there were
two more fine games,
but unless you're an Ole Miss fan, they weren't as memorable.
This year's first two rounds had wonderful
surprises, buzzer-beaters, rewards
for hard work, and all sorts
games. The last two... not so much.
3. Defense-first teams. Though you might not have seen it on Monday, both Rutgers (always) and LSU (this year) often show better defense than offense: Rutgers can score, but they're known for their press,
they've never been known for their passing, and big wins in past years have kept both teams under 60.
LSU-- well, Fowles' opponents don't make layups, and when the Tigers' outside shots don't fall, both teams risk ending up under 50. LSU lost the SEC final 51-45; one observer described the game as water torture.
The Rutgers-LSU semi could be exciting and close. It could also be close and unwatchably ugly, with both teams shooting under 30%. Last time these teams met, Cappie wore scarlet, Seimone wore purple, and RU upset
LSU in overtime... 51 to 49.
4. Few links to this year's WNBA. Parker and Fowles are juniors, and aren't coming out. Larkins and Ajavon are juniors, too. Vaughn is a
soph. Rutgers and LSU don't even suit up a senior. Latta's a first-round draft pick, but after that, will anyone playing this weekend alter the balance of power for, or even see significant minutes in, the WNBA? Maybe Camille Little.
Perhaps Sidney Spencer,
whom I didn't realize listed herself as 6'3". This Final Four isn't likely to change the draft (though Spencer could move up), and this year's draft
isn't likely to change the league.
Next year's draft, however, will change absolutely everything. If interest in Parker or Fowles can hold for a year, the WNBA will benefit from this year's Final Four, and with luck, the press can help that happen. (That's "press" as in "freedom of the press," not "55 press.")
So what else can journalists do? Same as always: find cool storylines and new ways to get people excited. By "new" I mean: no Pokeygate unless you've done original reporting, and no new Parker stories unless you've read the old ones
There is Bob Starkey, maybe the nation's best assistant coach
or maybe just the one who coaches Fowles. There's Fowles: is she as famous as she should be?
There's coach Stringer, who has
quite a life story.
And there's still Erlana Larkins, the best reason UNC beats good teams.
And if you're going to Cleveland... feel free to write us and tell us what excites you. Maybe we'll end up overwhelmed after all.