"Today, there is more talent, skill and athleticism in women's college basketball than at any other time in the history of the game. To do nothing is to guarantee that these fine athletes who are so deserving of widespread national attention will never get it."
Christine Brennan, "Pssst, there's a women's tournament, too" USA Today, 3/18/11
March Madness, as Brennan is quick to point out, is about more than just basketball...it's a pop culture phenomenon. Next to the Super Bowl, the Men's NCAA brackets foul the oddsmakers as the top bet in Vegas.
And why not? Since 1939, small-school, mid-major Davids have faced the Goliaths of Division 1 big-name teams...defying odds, sweating blood, guts and passion, and slaying the savage beasts witness the talented Morehead State, who slayed Rick Pitino's beasts...uh, Cardinals..of Louisville on St. Patrick's Day.
And for Bulls fans, the sight of future first-round draft pick Derrick Rose of the University of Memphis, powering his teammates to overtime against the Rock-Chalk Jayhawks in the 2008 Championship Game. Gosh, he reminded me of another Bull I've interviewed...from North Carolina, 6'6..point guard MICHAEL JORDAN! He had his own shining moments with Dean Smith's UNC Tar Heels before making history with the Bulls.
Or my own personal Final Four memory: Watching UConn's Geno Auriemma fit himself through the hoop, arms raised triumphantly high, then almost disappeared in a shower of confetti, after cutting down the net at St. Louis' ScottTrade Center in 2009.
With March Madness so imbedded in the national subconscience, this quiz ought to be an easy A for everyone:
Which teams could make up a historic Final Four in the 2011 Women's NCAA Division One championship?
a) UConn, Stanford, Baylor, Tennessee
b) Ohio State, UConn, Stanford, DePaul
c) Tennessee, DePaul, Notre Dame, UConn
What city will host the Women's Final Four?
What year did the Women's NCAA's begin?
Answers: 1) a 2) b 3) c
How many got 100% on this test? Write me if you did. Please. I would like to know.
Since 1982, women have been a part of the annual March Madness. Some of the most recognizable names in the history of women's sports have come through this tournament...Nancy Lieberman...Rebecca Lobo...Lisa Leslie...Sheryl Swopes....Diana Taurasi...Sue Bird..Candace Parker..Angel McCaughtry....reads like a roster of WNBA players over the past 15 years.
This year, the Midwest is well-represented, with the DePaul women coming in as a #3 seed and making it past the first round for the first time in five years after beating the Lady Midshipmen of Navy, Notre Dame, Marquette, and Purdue all made it into the Big Dance, along with perennial Big Ten champ Ohio State. Hundreds of women will make similar marks this year. Women with stories that are every bit as compelling as the tales told on the likes of CBS leading up to matches. Local products like Joliet Catholic's Sam Quigley, who stars for DePaul. Or Fenwick's Devreaux Peters, who, as part of a revitalized Notre Dame team, could just pulll off an Elite Eight finish this year.
Even Northwestern, which has struggled to maintain respectability over the years as they were better known for graduating athletes than recruiting top prospects (I don't always think this is a bad thing) is representing well in the NIT and WNIT tournaments. Both women and men advanced past their first-round opponents
All eyes, however, will be on the nation's number one recruit, UConn's Maya Moore, as this year's team tries to three-peat as national champions. A three-peat has not been accomplished since Taurasi's time at UConn. And what a way for Auriemma to celebrate his 25th year with the Storrs, Connecticut-based powerhouse.
But let's leave it to the venerable Ms. Brennan to capture the true significance of the 29th anniversary of Women's March Madness:
"In less than three weeks, the NCAA could be hosting the greatest women's Final Four in history. If top seeds Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor all make it to Indianapolis, it could be a terrific Sunday of college basketball: UConn would play Tennessee, renewing the high-wire rivalry between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summit; and Stanford, the team that ended UConn's historic NCAA winning streak in December, would play Baylor, led by towering, 6-8 center Brittney Griner."
can Les and Steve possibly be correct in their assessment? And if so, who will be watching the potentially storied matchup? Will it be you?
The major complaint about women's basketball seems to be that the game lacks the high-flying athleticism reminiscient of "Showtime," as played by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson and continues to define the NBA of today. One of Brennan's respondents actually captures my sentiments about the game...it's evolving. Women are taller, faster, and more athletic, as the 6'8 Greiner, the Chicago Sky's 6'6 Sylvia Fowles (the same height as Jordan), and 6'4 Candace Parker might suggest...all who have dunked the ball and provided the athleticism that has been supposedly lacking. The respondent, "dcb" writes:
"I love women's basketball for what it is - a game played with great passion, increasing skill and athleticism, and exemplary teamwork. It's a very familiar game to those of us who grew up in the '50s, because it looks very much as the men's game did then. Plus, as did the men of the past, the ladies know how to make free throws!"
Yes, they do, and thank you for noticing! I want to encourage everyone to take a look at the women's game in 2011. Make some more history....when the Final Four meets in Indianapolis, let's make it the highest-rated women's game in NCAA history!