Like Wright brothers years ago, OU, others flying high
You know how some teams have "honorary coaches" at games? I've decided to have "honorary columnists" join me as we look ahead to the weekend's NCAA Tournament tip-offs.
Considering the women's Final Four is in Ohio, the toughest-looking regional is in Dayton and the overall No. 1 seed is a school in North Carolina it should be obvious who the "honorary columnists" are.
Please welcome the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur!
OK, so they aren't actually alive and haven't been for a long time but, folks, that is what Ouija boards are for! Admittedly, it takes a while to have discussions this way, spelling out stuff like L-O-U-I-S-I-A-N-A L-A-F-A-Y-E-T-T-E and C-H-A-T-T-A-N-O-O-G-A and G-O-E-S-T-E-N-K-O-R-S with the planchette.
So it was quite a long process to get this column written, but here is my tour of the bracket with Orville and Wilbur, as we try to decide who is "flying high," who "might not get off the ground" and who just needs a little "wind beneath their wings."
First off, the Wrights admit they have a favorite team: Duke. Why is that?
"Alison Bales," Orville said of the Blue Devils' center. "We just love seeing somebody else from Dayton make it big in North Carolina."
Wilbur added, "Alison's mother, Dr. Mary McCarthy, is the director of trauma services at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. We can relate to that, too. Most people don't know this, but one of our parents was a mathematical whiz who used to build household gadgets and make toys for us. So growing up, we always had someone to help us with equations and talk to about invention ideas. I think we had the smartest mother in Dayton."
The Wright brothers, as tightly knit as siblings as two stitches in a sweater, also have a fondness for Duke because of the Blue Devils' sister act: guards Emily and Abby Waner. For the same reason, the Wrights are fans of Oklahoma, which is in the Dayton Regional.
Courtney Courtney Paris Paris -- hey, she has 58 double-doubles in a row -- and twin Ashley lead an OU team that's definitely in the "flying high" category. The Sooners have won eight games in a row, three of them in Oklahoma City last week as they earned their second consecutive Big 12 tournament title. Coach Sherri Coale took over at OU in 1996-97, when the Big 12 began. Her program has won more Big 12 tournaments than any other school (four).
In the first round, the Sooners meet Southeast Missouri State, meaning the top two rebounders in Division I face off: SEMO's Lachelle Lyles (17.2 per game) and Courtney Paris (16.2).
Thanks to Oklahoma sports information director Chris Freet for sending out this fact: The only other meeting between two players on the NCAA's top 20 all-time list for season rebounding average was in February 1983. That was Mississippi Valley State's Darlene Jones (15.7) and Delta State's Deborah Temple (15.6).
Paris had 539 rebounds last season, the best single-season total in NCAA history. This year, Lyles has 517, while Paris has 485.
"Our motto when we started the airplane stuff at our bicycle shop in Dayton was, 'If at first you don't succeed ' well, you know the rest," Orville said. "So we're keen on rebounding. That's what wins championships. Pat Summitt says so."
Staying in the Dayton Regional, the Wrights send a shout out to another Daytonian, Brandie Hoskins. Unfortunately, she won't be playing for Ohio State, having ruptured her Achilles tendon in February.
The Buckeyes are in the "need some wind beneath their wings" category. The loss of Hoskins obviously hurt, and Ohio State looked shaky in the Big Ten tournament, where it lost the title game to Purdue.
If seeds hold, Ohio State will face one of the high fliers in the second round, Middle Tennessee, which goes into the NCAA Tournament having won 26 games in a row. The Blue Raiders' last loss was Nov. 26 at Tennessee.
And we know what happened to Ohio State in the second round last season, courtesy of Boston College.
"Remind me," Wilbur said. "After all, I'm going to be 140 years old in April. I sometimes forget things."
Orville said, "Yeah, you wouldn't believe how many times he gets 'confused' now about which one of us actually took that first flight in 1903. So I just get out my North Carolina quarter, point to the etching of the famous photo and say, 'That's you standing, and that's me flying.' See, I won the coin toss that day to go first. Then we ended up on the back of a coin! Hah!"
Wilbur: "My little brother can be somewhat of a punk. I let him win the coin toss."
Orville: "As if!"
Well, what happened was Ohio State was upset by BC, which meant the Albuquerque Regional was devoid of its No. 1 seed and its No. 4, Arizona State, which lost to No. 5 Utah. And the Utes almost made the Final Four, but lost to Maryland in overtime in the regional final.
Which brings us to Maryland, the defending NCAA champion. The Terps just might be ready to turn on the jets. Yes, they have five losses, but four of those are to Duke and North Carolina. The other is to Georgia Tech, which is making its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Some Terp-watchers are worried that things haven't completely clicked yet but, again, look who has beaten them. Further, what matters most is if they click now.
Then there's Dayton No. 1 seed Tennessee
"We know lift," Wilbur said. "Candace Parker gets lift."
And Parker has had a lot of time to sit on that four-point performance against LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals. Look out, No. 16 seed Drake.
Now, about the Dallas Regional No. 1 North Carolina is on the "flying high" list. The Tar Heels won their third consecutive ACC tournament title and open with Prairie View. If the NCAA had any compassion, it would let coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke suit up for Prairie View.
"Besides," Orville said, "it would be fun to see her jawing with Ivory Latta."
Wilbur added, "And I bet we can count on Ivory for a great one-liner -- off the record, of course -- about Devanei Hampton's two-toned hair if the Heels play Cal in the second round."
The Tar Heels should be fans of the Wright brothers, considering Orville and Wilbur made history near Kill Devil Hills, N.C. But the Heels don't have to think about trying to kill the Blue Devils, figuratively speaking that is, unless they meet in the national championship game.
"Can you even imagine if it comes to that?" Wilbur said.
In the Dallas Regional, No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Texas A&M all hope that it doesn't. Like the Heels, the Boilermakers are "flying high." They come off a Big Ten tournament title, and if seeds hold will meet Georgia Tech -- coached by Purdue all-time scoring leader MaChelle Joseph -- in the second round. Joseph's tenure as assistant coach at her alma mater didn't end so pleasantly, to say the least, a decade ago.
Texas A&M shared the Big 12 regular-season title with Oklahoma, then fell to "little engine that could" Iowa State in the league tournament. The Cyclones' best NCAA Tournament showing was the 1999 Elite Eight, and they could meet the team that beat them then, Georgia, in the second round this season.
Texas A&M could go against George Washington in the second round, with the Colonials eager to show they're much more the team that won 19 games in a row than the one that was upset by Saint Joseph's by two points in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Now, jumping to the other side of the big bracket, we look at the Fresno Regional. If Orville and Wilbur hadn't gotten this airplane thing right, can you imagine how long it would take No. 7 Old Dominion and No. 10 Florida State to get to their first-round game at Stanford?
Potentially one of the most compelling Fresno Regional second-round games could be fourth-seeded NC State vs. No. 5 Baylor, in Raleigh. Coach Kim Mulkey's name should be "flying" around like crazy with all the big job openings.
The Wright Brothers are also fans of NC State because well, isn't everybody pulling for the Wolfpack and coach Kay Yow? Same for No. 3 seed LSU, which will try to laser-focus on basketball, basketball, basketball and only basketball.
Top-seeded UConn lost the Big East tournament final to Rutgers, and five minutes later there were at least 4,397 working theories posted on the Internet by Huskies fans about "What's wrong with UConn?"
Orville said, "Not much. Come on! Winning the Big East tourney title meant a lot more to Rutgers than losing it did to UConn. The Huskies were probably thinking, 'Yeah, whatever. Like we need another Big East trophy.' "
Finally, we're to the Greensboro Regional and the Wright Brothers' favorite, Duke.
"I think it's funny that 'Holy Cross' meets the 'Devils' in the first round," Wilbur said. "Any chance the Crusaders ask for a pregame exorcism of the RBC Center in Raleigh?"
There are other Devils in this regional, also, those of the "Sun" variety. No. 3 Arizona State starts its tourney journey at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. It has been an emotional season for the Sun Devils, who've helped senior forward Aubree Johnson through the loss of her younger brother, Jordan, last November. He died at age 15 in his sleep of an enlarged heart while he and his family were in the Virgin Islands watching Aubree and the Sun Devils play.
Johnson has switched her jersey number from 32 to 5, the number Jordan had worn in high school. In a story Wednesday by Arizona Republic reporter Jose E. Garcia, mother Cyndie Johnson explained that her son had picked No. 5 to honor both of his older sisters by adding together the numbers on each of their jerseys: 32 (equals 5) and 41 (equals 5).
Johnson scored 27 points, her career-high, in her final home game this season, a victory over Oregon State.
"OK, now Wilbur and I are both getting choked up," Orville said. "Go Sun Devils!"
The Nos. 2 and 4 seeds in this regional make the "flying high" list: No. 2 Vanderbilt won the SEC tournament and No. 4 Rutgers, as mentioned, topped UConn for the Big East title.
The Scarlet Knights lost Cappie Pondexter to graduation and had a lot of injuries to cope with this season, along with having to rely a lot on freshmen. Things have come together well for Rutgers.
Same for Vandy, which lost for the 1,000,000th and 1,000,001st time to rival Tennessee during the regular season but didn't have to face the Orange Crush in the SEC tourney. LSU knocked out Tennessee in the semifinals, the last good thing that has happened for the Bayou Bengals.
And with that, we've come to the end of our little flight over the bracket. Turns out we didn't pick any team to "not get off the ground." Orville and Wilbur said they just couldn't do that. They never think that way.
"We'll probably watch the games on TV until the regional semis start here in Dayton," Wilbur said. "We've got great seats for those games at UD Arena."
Orville said, "Actually, we'd have great seats anywhere we went. We're ghosts. We can sit wherever we want. Except on the rim. That's pretty much illegal in the afterlife."
OK, guys, thanks for your help on the column and everything else you did. I'm headed out to North Carolina for the start of the tournament, and I'm sure glad I don't have to bus it.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
MORE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- UConn's Tuck gets extra year of eligibility
- Mercury trounce Sparks for 16th straight win
- NCAA settles concussion suit with $70M fund
- Diggins sets Shock season scoring record