Tennessee will have tough time replacing Moore

Updated: January 27, 2004, 10:02 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Obviously, it's upsetting to everyone to see Tennessee point guard Loree Moore go down with an ACL injury. She's played terrific so far this season, helping Tennessee ascend to No. 1.

NCAA Tournament history
The NCAA took over running it in 1982. That year, it had 32 teams, went to 36 in '83 and then back to 32 the next two seasons. It was 40 from 1986-88, then 48 from 1989-93.

During that time, virtually all early-round games were played on the home court of the higher seed, unless there was a scheduling conflict and that school wasn't able to be a host. There was also a bizarre experiment in 1993, when the committee announced only the top 16 of the 48 seeds.

The bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1994. That season, there were 32 sites for the first round and 16 for the second -- with the higher seeds as host unless, again, there was a scheduling conflict.

In 1995 came the "subregional'' system, where the top four seeds in each region hosted three other teams. Meaning there were 16 early-round sites, and the hosts were the 16 top seeds (minus scheduling conflicts).

This system stayed for eight years; the big complaint was that it was too predictable because the top 16 had such an advantage.

But at least they had to earn it, plus it meant there was close-to equality across seeding lines. The No. 1's had similar paths, and so forth. You didn't have things like two No. 1's playing the early rounds at home and two playing on the road, as is the case this year under pre-determination.

The teams with the most legitimate gripes under that former system were the No. 5 seeds and some No. 6's, because they were so close to the No. 4's competitively but didn't have that hosting advantage.

Still, there was logic to it all -- as opposed to having randomly awarded homecourt advantage based on bids, not results.

Under the bid process, schools have to guarantee the money. So if they don't meet ticket expectations, that's their problem. But there were some schools that bid for this season -- and would have been good draws -- but were not awarded sites.

Pre-determined sites made things easier to plan for television and cut some costs. Obviously it's not the first time that TV had a big effect on the structure/practices of a sport. (Some of us will forever mourn the death of daytime World Series games.)

Nor is it the first time it happened specifically in women's basketball. Remember the 9 a.m. tipoff time for the first semifinal of the 1992 Women's Final Four in Los Angeles? That was forced because of the CBS-televised back-to-back, Saturday-Sunday schedule -- where Saturday's games had to be "out of the way'' before the men started their semifinals.
Any time you take a major piece away, a puzzle is not going to fit the same. Tennessee has a lot to overcome in losing Moore.

Pat Summitt has significant talent at guard. I think the playmaking aspect of Moore's game might be the least difficult part for the rest of the team to absorb.

None of the Tennessee players has a "good'' assist-to-turnover ratio, Moore included. As a team, Tennessee has 241 assists to 305 turnovers. Look at the other top 10 to 12 teams, and those who are similar are Texas, Louisiana Tech and North Carolina.

It's safe to say that the style of play for all those teams -- and the great athletic ability they all have -- has a good deal to do with the amount of turnovers. Sure, you'd like to have all the speed, skills and aggressive play-making without the turnovers, but you can't always have everything.

Plus, the defensive skills at guard that these teams have makes up for turnovers. And, of course, they have some very good one-on-one players.

Also, certainly in the case of Tennessee, there isn't one person who is the playmaker.

However, defensively Moore definitely was Tennessee's leader, and that's going to be the most difficult thing for the other players to replicate. She averaged 5.5 rebounds and led the way with 48 steals. Then there's all the tips she gets, the way she cuts off passing lanes, the energy and intelligence she brings to defense.

So it's an unfortunate challenge that Summitt and her team faces -- but that's a program more equipped than most to handle it. Connecticut made the Final Four in 2001 despite losing two outstanding players to injury.

It's very hard to overcome these things, though, because you don't just have to replace statistics when you lose a key player.

You're replacing personality and responsibility. You're altering chemistry. Players care deeply about each other, and even if it's pounded into their heads -- "Stop worrying about her, you just go play'' -- they have to emotionally overcome real grief about what fate has taken away from their teammate and how they don't have her on floor for support anymore.

I never fail to be amazed, though, at how well kids deal with this. Players, especially at the top programs, tend to be more talented and versatile -- and tough-minded -- than even the biggest fans of the game fully realize.

Fans and observers will say, "How is Tennessee going to get past this?'' but the players will say, "OK, now I need to take care of that.''

Beard not to blame
Finally, there is another aspect of the Moore injury to address. Some people have blamed this on Duke's Alana Beard, who committed the foul on Moore on the drive to the basket where she was injured. This is not fair, nor is it an accurate perception of what happened.

Look, everyone who follows this sport is devastated by these ACL injuries. And fans have a very strong emotional attachment to the players in women's basketball -- they are not just a bodies in a uniform.

Fans know players' birthdays, and how many siblings they have, where their parents sit at games, what movies they like. I don't think it's too corny to say fans come to love these kids, and they're even more upset over the emotional and physical pain an injured player has to go through than they are about what effect it has on the team's chances of winning games.

So "blaming'' someone or something is almost human nature ... but this was not anyone's fault.

In watching the tape over and over, it appears to me that Moore hurt her knee as she planted it before the layup. Beard gets in front of Moore and goes to make a swipe at the ball. But Moore's knee already looks awkward before Beard is even involved in the play.

If you only saw the play once at full speed, it might have appeared Beard "threw'' Moore down. But viewing it over again, in slow motion, it appears Moore had lost stability in her left leg before Beard went for the ball.

Beard seems to pull her own arm back quickly as Moore is going down, but I think she was going for the ball and not intending to pull on Moore. The reason Moore looks so awkward and twists around as she falls is that she had to take all the weight off her left leg because it was already hurt.

I realize some might view the tape and feel differently. But I don't believe Beard did anything she wouldn't normally do on any breakaway layup attempt.

Beard has been in two Final Fours and played high-level international competition. She's a senior who understands how the game is played. She would never intentionally hurt anyone for any reason at any time in a game.

As for the criticism by some of the Tennessee medical staff for allowing Moore to return to the game ... these are professionals making a judgment call. Mistakes happen. They would never have done anything intentionally to risk Moore's health. Tennessee will assuredly reevaluate and examine everything that happened.

But throwing around blame, guilt and harsh words is not the right response to this. The right response is to wish Loree Moore all the best in recovery.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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