By: Jeffrey Newholm
At the conclusion of last year, I assured our readers that the era of husky dominance had sunset with the departure of the big three. Well, considering the Huskies still haven’t lost a game in years, and signed Geno Auriemma to a five year contract extension, it seems, to paraphrase Igor from Young Frankenstein, “well I guess I was wrong”. But fear not, lady’s hoops fans, as the Huskies have shown some chinks in the armor this year and it’s not quite a sure thing they cut down the nets in Dallas. Rather than preview bracket by bracket like last year, I’ll instead examine potential opponents that have a legitimate chance of denying the Huskies the five-peat and knocking off the team’s “core four” of players.
Elite Eight: Maryland
Uconn has a very strong track record of winning the first three playoff games, none of which should be a challenge this year with the regionals in Bridgeport this year. But probably standing in their way in the Elite Eight is a, frankly, rather underseeded Maryland team that has all the makings of being the Husky’s main rival over the next five years. This year, however, with the game being basically played at home, and this being a very well balanced Husky team, I think the Terps aren’t quite ready to knock off the game’s queens. The 2017-2018 season, however, could make for a fascinating meeting should the teams meet in the final weekend.
Many have speculated that Baylor could potentially knock off Uconn, considering they played the Huskies very close at the beginning of the season. Well, first of all the Huskies have improved a lot since then, and tend to round into form when the calendar turns to March and April. And secondly, having watched 11 years of basketball, I go by something called the “eye test”. While it’s perhaps not the most scientific, I nevertheless think the Bears flunk it. Let me put it this way: when the Huskies run up and down the floor, a team actually seems to be making progress towards a goal. When I watch Baylor, all I see is a team that’s very athletically gifted, but uses their gifts to belittle inferior opponents, to the point of winning a game by over 100. Sadly, as Kim Mulkey has found out the last three years, such a formula is a pretty good recipe all right-a recipe for losing in the regionals.
The Bulldogs would be making their first Final Four appearance ever, and would have very little chance of winning against a team that, as I can testify from personal experience, goes through Final Four warm-ups like a warmup. In the long run, however, this could be an intriguing matchup of styles between the Husky’s rhythmic, fast-pace style of play versus the Bulldog’s physical grind-it out style of play. It furthermore seems the Bulldogs are steadily making progress as a program, while South Carolina is in danger of plateauing. Adding even greater intrigue is the steady improvement of the American Conference, which could force the huskies to adapt to a more physical style of play.
The “other” Huskies would, like the Bulldogs, almost certainly not be able to win a game. However, Dallas would be an intriguing showcase for Kelsey Plum, now the game’s all-time leading scorer. Even more interesting is how Plum could benefit the lowly San Anotonio Stars. In a player where a point guard can make a big difference, the Stars could very quickly go from a rather poor team to a very strong contender.
Of all possible playoff match-ups, this one has the most intrigue. These two teams have met in five out of the last six Final Fours, with Notre Dame somehow still not winning a title since 2001. The problem with this year’s team seems to be a lack of chemistry-the team has lots of talent, but the pieces don’t seem to fit together very well. However, I see Notre Dame being perhaps being the team to finally end the Huskies almost absurd 107 game winning streak-a feat that almost everyone can agree would be good for the game by the time the ’17-’18 season starts, under the direction of Muffet Mcgraw, a very hard-working coach.
The Gamecocks are a reasonably talented team, and gave the Huskies a very good fight in the much-ballyhooed game 100. However, I fear that, this year anyways, that since the two teams play the same style of ball, and the Huskies, as I would argue off of my “eye test”, play a more fluid style of fast-break ball, I think this would not be a very favorable matchup for the Gamecocks. However, if coach Dawn Staley stays true to her vision of her preferred style of play, I think future match-ups with Uconn could prove more favorable.
While it’s not absolutely sure the Huskies will complete the “drive for five” this April, it seems to be a pretty good bet. However, I think I see a fascinating future for the game in the grand scheme of things. I see the women’s game being returned to a previous state-a double dynasty. In the past, of course, it was the Huskies and Vols before the tragic passing of Pat Summitt. But with the Uconn and Notre Dame programs both in very strong shape in the long run, and both programs having strong community support, power could again be housed in two houses filled with bitterness and rancor for each other. And you know what I think that makes for? A pretty fun sport, that’s what.