- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Not long after the confetti fell from the St. Pete Times Forum roof on championship night (rain fell from it during the semifinals, after the place sprung a few leaks), I thought back on all the factors that led to Tennessee having the last laugh yet again.
In the subsequent few weeks, I've pondered it more. Here's a look back at that and a couple of other things, plus a few notions about next year, when I'll surely spout my favorite "Meet Me in St. Louis" lines again as the Final Four returns to the great Gateway City.
Warning: Beat Tennessee at your own risk
Was it coincidence that the only two teams to have defeated coach Pat Summitt's crew during the regular season were the same teams the Orange Crush defeated at the Final Four? Only in the sense that it just happened to be the way the bracket fell.
But in terms of Tennessee "avenging" losses what a history there is with that. Unless you're Connecticut, you don't want to be facing Summitt in the NCAA tournament after beating her program in the regular season. It's akin to walking the plank.
I use that phrase as a tribute to the team's 2007-08 media guide, a pirate motif that depicted Summitt, her staff and players as treasure hunters searching for "pieces of eight." Indeed, they won the program's eighth NCAA title.
Tennessee is one of the very few schools that still does a "theme" media guide. Almost everybody used to do it -- and most of them were cheesier than a Cheetos factory -- but Tennessee still can pull this off annually because:
• Summitt can don costumes and pose with props while fully maintaining her dignity. Besides this season's buccaneer, a doctor, a gas station attendant and a boxer are my favorites.
• Media relations director Debby Jennings, the walking encyclopedia of the program who can tell you the shoe size of anyone who has ever worn orange-and-white sneakers, keeps coming up with these clever ideas and convincing Summitt to do them.
What's up for next season? Well, Tennessee could have done a planetary thing before the International Astronomical Union got all picky in 2006 and stripped Pluto of its status as the "ninth" planet.
But will Tennessee even be in the hunt for a national championship next season after losing all five starters? Hey, it's Tennessee. See next item.
The "Jeane Dixon Effect"
This term was coined during the life of the late astrologist and (ahem) psychic in regard to the practice of making much ado of correct predictions while ignoring wrong ones.
Several citizens of Orange Nation sent nice e-mails my way because I "picked" Tennessee to beat Stanford in the title game. In fact, had there been an election for some extraordinarily inconsequential Knoxville city government post the day after the title game, I might have even gotten a few write-in votes.
However, in the interest of not perpetuating the "Jean Dixon Effect," I should point out my pretournament list to make the Final Four was Tennessee, UConn North Carolina and Maryland. With the Huskies winning it all.
Once the Final Four was actually set with just two of those teams, my amazing "clairvoyance" continued with UConn selected to beat LSU in the title game. On my last possible chance to make a completely correct prediction, the title game, there was no way on earth I was going to pick against Summitt's program again.
I don't like doing predictions in any sport because they always give teams and a significant part of the fan base this idea that if you don't pick Team A, you are "against" that team. Or, conversely, that you are "for" Team B. In fact, of course, we're just guessing what we think might happen, like everybody else.
Ultimately, I guessed for Tennessee because it seemed the high-percentage pick. In the semis, with Tennessee facing LSU, you had five seniors (counting Candace Parker, even though she technically was a junior in eligibility) going against five seniors. Two SEC teams with high-quality SEC-level defense -- and that means something more than just "good" defense. It's the ability to make it extremely hard for a team to run its offense with any kind of consistency.
Against a younger team in Stanford that relied more on offensive execution, Tennessee genuinely did seem like the favorite because of that defense -- even before adding in Parker's greatness, the big-game performances of so-called role players that we've come to expect from Tennessee and the Summitt Factor.
Next season, as mentioned, Tennessee will be a very young team. And it's a real shame that Vicki Baugh -- who was having one of the most effective performances of her rookie year -- suffered a torn ACL in the title game.
But the Summitt Factor remains. Even if she was forced to coach five raccoons she found on her back porch, Summitt likely could at least make the Sweet 16.
Then again, word is raccoons steer well clear of that place now.
On the topic of "prophecies"
Several times before the semifinals, UConn guard Renee Montgomery kept reminding reporters that even though the Huskies had looked terrific in the tournament, they were still not as good a team as the one that had easily defeated Stanford back in November.
Montgomery obviously knew just how much UConn had lost in the injuries to Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas. She understood that even with all the talent the team still had, those players allowed for more firepower, more flexibility of roles, more top-notch depth and more options for coach Geno Auriemma.
With so much back (Maya Moore will actually get better, egad!) and a powerhouse recruiting class coming in, UConn is almost sure to be a unanimous preseason No. 1 next fall in both polls. Just what Auriemma loves.
Seriously. He will slyly joke about how "miserable" he is, but Auriemma is one of those coaches who doesn't shy away from being the clear "overdog." He wants to be the favorite. And there's no doubt next season, UConn will be.
Also Stanford -- despite losing superstar Candice Wiggins, who was Hannah Montana-popular in Tampa -- is going to be a contender for "Arch Madness Part II" with the Final Four back in St. Louis.
That's where, in 2001, UConn's Diana Taurasi had her only clunker NCAA tournament game, in the national semifinals. Obviously, she didn't do too badly rebounding from that. The Huskies and their fans could have significantly better memories, though, of St. Louis at this time next year.
Incidentally, my colleague Charlie Creme has ranked his top 64 teams for 2008-09. However, it is not true that, overcome in a mad, feverish frenzy, he then compiled Bracketology for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. OK, he might have thought about doing that, but
Meanwhile in "Flyover Country"
After the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 coaches were all peacocks as the league went 8-0. But in the second round, the Big 12 was wiped out almost as quickly as "Secret Talents of the Stars." (It lasted one episode before a merciful cancellation.)
The Big East, in fact, went 5-0 in its matchups with Big 12 teams in the second round.
Only Texas A&M and Oklahoma State advanced, with both of them eventually eliminated by SEC teams. Tennessee downed the Aggies 53-45 in the Elite Eight, while LSU knocked out the Cowgirls 67-52 in the Sweet 16.
Texas A&M had defeated Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament title game, and there's no arguing that by the end of the season they were the two best teams in the league.
Oklahoma returns everyone from a team that took a beating in national perception because more was expected than was delivered. The loss to No. 12 seed Missouri in the Big 12 tournament and the season-ending overtime defeat against Notre Dame might tag-team as Edgar Allan Poe-like memories for coach Sherri Coale all summer.
Still, the Sooners should be the favorites going into next season. But the on-court chemistry problems they had this past season -- starting with inconsistent guard play -- have to get fixed for them to avoid having the same type of season they had in 2007-08.
One last joke about "Clockgate"
Rutgers will have the proverbial "big shoes to fill" with Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon graduating, but Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn will return and be joined by five blue-chippers.
Oh, and in regard to shoes Nike recently announced it was naming a building at its world headquarters in Oregon after Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. But it has not been confirmed whether, in further tribute to Stringer, orange-colored speakers outside the building will continuously play the Styx song, "Too Much Time on My Hands."
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee won its eighth national title earlier this month. But will UConn come out on top in 2009?