Not all games are created equal
Editor's note: Click here for Charlie Creme's Jan. 28 bracket projection.A number of things have been firmly established now that the season is well past the midway point. Connecticut and Tennessee are really good. The Big 12 is must-see TV. The Big Ten is like prime-time television with the writers on strike (oh wait, we know what that's like, too). And a one-handed Erlana Larkins is still better than most posts with two good mitts.
This week, much of that was simple because the entire body of the bracket rotated on the axis of four games. The most significant and bracket-defining moments were located in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Bay Area, Kansas and Stillwater and Norman, Okla.
Maryland at North Carolina (Saturday)
This one is obvious. First place in the ACC and a No. 1 seed were on the line and the game was a classic. It took two overtimes (usually the Terps' domain for success) before the Tar Heels prevailed. And the bracket could not begin moving until LaToya Pringle was finally done with her final five-minute explosion. The result put UNC as a No. 1 seed and bumped the Tar Heels to No. 4 overall on the S-curve. Maryland then slid to a 2-seed and No. 5 overall. Had the Terps won, Maryland would have been No. 3 and UNC No. 5, with Rutgers grabbing the final No. 1 seed.The loss really hurts Maryland in this regard. The Terps are now 0-2 against the Tar Heels and Scarlet Knights, their two chief rivals for a No. 1 seed. That could be tough to overcome if everything else stays equal. Maryland's only shot to erase this defeat would be in a potential ACC tournament meeting with North Carolina. The Tar Heels and Maryland don't meet again in the regular season. That's why Saturday's game was as important as it was exciting.
Stanford at Cal (Saturday)
Less than an hour after Maryland and North Carolina finally finished, the Cardinal and Bears took the floor in Berkeley, Calif. Regardless of the outcome, Cal was going to maintain the top spot in the Pac-10. In fact, a win by the Bears would have all but finished off Stanford in the league chase. However, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament was up for grabs in this one.
Stanford's offensive surgery that resulted in a 20-point win re-established the Cardinal mojo in the league, despite still trailing by a game. Now, Cal is looking over its shoulders in the league and looking up at Stanford in the NCAA field. The Cardinal get the 2-seed and are back in that conversation as Final Four contenders. Cal is left to wonder a bit. The Bears have lost to the three best teams on their schedule, including two (Baylor and Stanford) by double digits. Cal is very good, but the confidence and the seeding have taken a hit.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State (Sunday)There's no way this game was even on the radar for this kind of story back in November, but the two most surprising teams in the Big 12 are starting to make some noise nationally. The battle of the backcourts went the Wildcats' way thanks largely to the fact that they received the best frontcourt performance. Marlies Gipson's 21 points and 16 rebounds helped overcome Andrea Riley's 34 points for the Cowgirls. Now, Kansas State is tied with Baylor atop the conference, two games clear of anyone else. This road win, plus those at Texas and Texas A&M, are part of a nine-game winning streak that has pushed the Wildcats from off the board (they weren't in two weeks ago, which was probably an oversight on my part) to a 6-seed.
The e-mails insisting that should be higher yet are sure to come pouring in soon. However, while K-State has been on fire, the 5-5 start, which included losses to Tulane, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Creighton, can't be ignored. So for now, the Wildcats sit at No. 22 overall on the S-curve.
The loss prevented Oklahoma State from a much higher climb. The Cowgirls, who had won eight in a row, now have a losing streak since they also lost at Texas. A win on Sunday probably would have pushed OSU into top-four seed territory. That might be the max for the Cowgirls, anyway. That nonconference schedule is not going away.
Georgia at Oklahoma (Sunday)
This might have been the most influential game on the weekend slate, largely because both clubs fall squarely into that mystery category. The Sooners still didn't have a marquee win and had lost at home to Baylor a week ago. Georgia was even more curious. The Bulldogs have fallen well short of expectations. Perhaps no team in the country has done less with more. So this was Georgia's chance -- but it didn't happen. Oklahoma led almost throughout, and minus a couple of Bulldogs spurts, were in control from the outset. A big opportunity slipped away and the result is Georgia dropping to a 6-seed.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma -- after losing to Tennessee and Maryland to begin the season -- now has a big-time nonconference win in 2008. A No. 1 seed is not in the cards now, but with this victory, and if Amanda Thompson plays like she did on Sunday, the Sooners can (and will) compete to move up a few spots into a 2-seed.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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