- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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Editor's note: Charlie Creme will project the 2005 NCAA Tournament bracket each month throughout the season. Click here for a glance at this month's field of 64, and be sure to check out Creme's take on each team.
Parity. Equity. Balance. The hip buzzwords for what has transpired so far this season.
Everybody's using them and that's because we need some way to explain how Rutgers can beat Tennessee, Texas and LSU consecutively (with freshmen doing much of the damage) just two weeks after losing to Temple. Or how Connecticut has lost just one fewer game already this season than it did in the previous three seasons combined. Or how Old Dominion is good enough to beat those same Scarlet Knights, but not good enough to beat Delaware at home and is now barely a .500 club. Or how, by mid-January, there are no more unbeaten teams.
But here's the catch. While words such as parity might accurately describe the first half of the season, they also tend to insinuate a hint of surprise. But none of these results or "upsets" should come as a shock to anyone. Rather, "evolution" is the more accurate word to describe the state of women's basketball.
What's happening out there is simply the most visible proof of the women's game evolving. It has been going on under our noses; we just couldn't see it because of the blinding light emanating from Diana Taurasi's star.
Now that she has exited Storrs, it's a much clearer realization that the game has a whole lot more good teams and probably fewer great ones. It has been coming. With more television coverage (by the glory of the satellite dish I was able to watch four games at once on Sunday) and more coaches adhering to the Pat Summitt model of tough scheduling, fan interest has grown and recruiting has followed.
UConn and Tennessee are still getting great players, and come early April could be right there in Indianapolis. But if the first two and a half months of the season have proven anything, it's that the Final Four is far less of a given for the Huskies and Lady Vols.
Of course, the tournament has evolved right along with everything else and 2005 brings more changes. The predetermined site issue still exists, but it has been made smaller by the reduction in the number of first- and second-round host sites from 16 to eight. Because fewer schools will be playing hosts, this essentially provides for more truly "neutral" site games, which is where the committee seems to want to take this entire process one day.
While the change to naming the regions after their cities rather than geographical location (ie. Philadelphia Regional instead of East Regional) is largely a matter of bookkeeping, the concept of "floating" sub-regionals is not. Now, like the men, it's possible to be playing in the same city as another school during the first two rounds, but then head off to different regional sites. One survivor in Minneapolis might head to Philadelphia, whereas the other could be off to Tempe. It's all done in the name of flexibility, which is necessary with just eight cities hosting the opening rounds, especially to maximize attendance.
Eight predetermined sites instead of 16 works much better in the name of fairness, but it could make the committee's job (and mine for that matter) harder in trying to keep the maximum number of schools as close to home as possible. With fewer places to go, it's only logical that some might get squeezed out of their natural geographical area.
Now, let's get to what all this evolution stuff means to this bracket, the January attempt at putting these 64 teams together. The admission is clear: parity might be good for the game, but it's not good for the bracketologist. So many teams have similar profiles and, as we dabbled in earlier, don't look the same game to game. Getting a handle on this season and, most importantly, where it's going is as uncertain as ever. Anyone out there think this isn't more fun?
Usually the No. 1 seeds don't conjure up much debate outside of a very small handful of teams. This time around, however, a case could be made for any of the No. 2s to be top seeds. LSU and Duke have pretty solid cases, but Rutgers, Stanford, Michigan State, and even three-loss Tennessee, once again with the country's top schedule, merited serious consideration.
And if selecting the top seeds wasn't tough enough, try limiting the field to 64. At least 12 teams for which a legitimate case could be made didn't make my field this time around.
The one that's going to draw raised eyebrows is Vanderbilt, because the Commodores are ranked in both major polls, so let's just address that right here. Vandy was left out because, although it has a solid 13-3 record, that mark was obtained against a woeful schedule -- six teams outside the top-200 and only three wins against the top-100.
That's just proof that even in a season that has been difficult to make sense of, not everything is evolving.
A look at this month's field of 64:
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.