Occasionally, the universe conspires to generate situations which cause one to pause and reflect. Last night, two teams scored 80 points each. Both teams held their opponents under 60. One of those results was entirely unsurprising. The other? Potentially eye-opening.
Connecticut is, of course, still the prohibitive favorite to win their fourth straight national championship and eleventh overall tomorrow. This is merely a truism in this environment, one where it simply doesn't matter who you are, who you have, or how badly you want to beat the Huskies. You're still going to lose, probably by an entire quarter's worth of points. It is, as the cliche goes, what it is.
But in the nightcap of last night's final four action, Syracuse did to Washington what Connecticut did to Oregon State. And while it's hard to process, one wonders: could Syracuse actually make a game of it tomorrow night?
It would be a long shot, and it's also worth remembering that the last time Syracuse beat Connecticut, their football team hadn't yet gotten smoked by K-State in the Fiesta Bowl. It would also be prudent to remember that Washington was a 7-seed; K-State, a ninth-seed, lost to the Huskies by 40 in Hartford early in the season. So maybe Syracuse will lose by 20.
But last night, the Orange at least indicated their intentions. They're coming to fight.
|NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|NATL SF||(1) Connecticut 80, (2) Oregon State 51||Morgan Tuck (CONN), 21|
|NATL SF||(4) Syracuse 80, (7) Washington 59||Talia Walton (WASH), 29|
It's Championship Day today, and for two-thirds of the games on the schedule Connecticut is still a looming shadow. Here's the basic schedule, followed by complete How-to-Watch details for all three games.
|NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||2:00pm||(W2) Alaska-Anchorage||(SC1) Lubbock Christian||Indianapolis IN||CBSSN|
|NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||5:00pm||Tufts||Thomas More||Indianapolis IN||NCAA.com|
|NCAA DIVISION I MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||8:19pm||(S2) Villanova||(E1) North Carolina||Houston TX||TBS|
NCAA Division II Women's Championship
When: 2:00pm CT
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN (18,165)
TV: CBSSN, with Ed Cohen and Debbie Antonelli.
Audio: Online only, via Stretch Internet's Lubbock Christian portal.
Streaming video: None. The game will only air on television.
The Game: Lubbock Christian (34-0) faces Alaska-Anchorage (38-2) in the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship Game. It is the first appearance in the title game for both teams, and their first meeting ever.
Lubbock Christian is appearing in their first-ever NCAA Division II tournament -- because this is the first year they're eligible, having moved over from the NAIA a couple of years ago. They're the first of the three women's teams trying to run the table this year, although it comes with a slight asterisk: they actually played UConn this season, getting drilled 95-39 in Hartford back on November 2. But that game was just an exhibition, and therefore doesn't count.
Should they win, Lubbock would become the third NCAA Division II women's team to go undefeated, following in the footsteps of North Dakota State in 1995 and Bentley in 2014. The Chapparals, led by All-American Nicole Hampton, are members of the Heartland Conference, along with Rogers State (the closest four-year institution to Bring on the Cats World Headquarters) and Wichita's Newman University.
This would arguably be the greatest season in Chapparal history even if one views NAIA Division I as equal to NCAA Division II; Lubbock's best performance in the NAIA was a title game loss in 2006, followed by a Fab Four appearance in 2012. (Notably, though, the Chapparals did defeat Texas Tech in a 2009 exhibition game.)
This is also the apex of Alaska-Anchorage women's basketball. This is the ninth Division II appearance for the Seawolves in the last ten years, but only twice -- in 2008 and 2009 -- have they even reached the Final Four, and both of those years ended with semifinal losses. Anchorage, surprisingly, has never won an NCAA championship in any team sport despite the strength of both basketball programs and their hockey program.
NCAA Division III Women's Championship
When: 5:00pm CT
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN (18,165)
Streaming: Video NCAA.com, with announcers unknown; no separate audio stream.
The Game: The Thomas More Saints (32-0) take on the Tufts Jumbos (28-3) in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship Game. The teams are familiar with one another; the Saints won 62-52 in last year's national semifinals before going on to win the national championship.
This game also ties into UConn, in more ways than one. In the history of college basketball, only two teams (both women's teams) have ever gone unbeaten in back-to-back seasons: Connecticut in 2008-09/2009-10 and former conference-mate of the Big 8 schools and current Division III member Washington (MO) in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. This evening Thomas More will also be trying to turn the trick. The Saints, from the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati metro, have won 65 in a row -- and if they hadn't lost to Whitman in the Elite Eight of the 2014 Division III tournament in a game they were forced to play on the road all the way out in Walla Walla, Washington, despite coming into the game with a 31-0 record, they might be going for their one hundredth straight victory today.
Interestingly, Thomas More had to get through Washington (MO) to get here, knocking the Bears off in the Elite Eight. And today they'll be playing on the same court Connecticut will play on tomorrow, both teams seeking the same goal. Links within links within links. If you're looking for a reason to watch, here's one that's hard to avoid: the Saints are led by three-time Division III Women's Player of the Year Sydney Moss -- daughter of some guy named Randy.
Thomas More's opponent today, Tufts, is also tied to Connecticut. The Jumbos are coached by Carla Berube -- who is not remotely unfamiliar with the overarching theme of this week's championship games in Indianapolis, as she herself was a member of an undefeated national champion. Berube was a key role player on Connecticut's first national championship team in 1995.
Tufts has gotten here by playing ferocious defense; in their semifinal win against Wartburg, the Jumbos left their opponents with a great big zero on the scoreboard for the entire first quarter. Tufts, a member of the academically-elite New England Small College Athletic Conference, is making their third straight appearance in the Final Four. Both previous appearances ended in semifinal losses followed by losses in the third-place game (which isn't being played this year). The NESCAC has for years been the best conference in Division III basketball overall, and this year's tournament very nearly resulted in an All-NESCAC final; Amherst, which used to be the NESCAC's usual Final Four team, lost to Thomas More in the other national semifinal.
|NCAA DIVISION I MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Mon, Apr 4, 2016
NRG Stadium (71,500)
|8:19 PM CT
(34-5, 16-2 BE)
|vs||(1) North Carolina
(33-6, 14-4 ACC)
The Game: The North Carolina Tar Heels face the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Game. This is the sixteenth meeting between the teams; North Carolina leads the series 11-4. Villanova seeks their second national title, while the Tar Heels are after their seventh (including one pre-tournament era championship).
Odds: North Carolina is favored by 2.5, with the over/under at 149.5. 75-73 or so, then.
TV: TBS, with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, and Tracy Wolfson. TNT will offer the North Carolina Teamcast with Wes Durham, Brendan Haywood, and Dwayne Ballen; Scott Graham, Brian Finneran, and Kacie McDonnell will present the Villanova Teamcast on truTV. On ESPN International, Sean McDonough and Dick Vitale have the call.
Radio: Kevin Kugler, John Thompson, Clark Kellogg, and Jim Gray will provide the call on Westwood One Radio affiliates. (In Kansas City, that's WHB 810AM; KFH-1240 in Wichita, and I guess if you're in Manhappiness or Topeka you're just out of luck unless you've got Sirius/XM, in which case the radio call will be on Sirius/XM 84.)
Online: NCAA.com, and also via the NCAA March Madness app.