Friday, April 5, 2024

Women's Final Four

From Cleveland tonight:

(1) S. Carolina (36-0) v. (11) N. Carolina St. (31-6) (6 PM Central on ESPN)
(2) Iowa (33-4) v. (10) Connecticut (33-5) (8 PM Central on ESPN)

To me, this feels like the biggest weekend for women's sports I can remember.  South Carolina could go undefeated.  Caitlin Clark could win the National Championship.  UConn could finally be back on top.  Or NCSU could shock the world.  Any of these outcomes will feel historic.

We don't have Ken Pom for women's basketball.  But using the point spreads and over/under lines from Vegas we get the following predictions:

South Carolina is favored by 11 1/2 points with an over/under of 139 1/2.  That gives a score like:

S. Carolina 76 - 64 N. Carolina St.

Iowa is favored by 3 1/2 points with an over/under of 162 1/2.  That gives a score like:

Iowa 83 - 80 Connecticut


  1. Here are the NCAA women's finals since the last UConn dynasty, which began in 2013:

    2013 (New Orleans): Connecticut 93, Louisville 60
    2014 (Nashville, Tenn.): Connecticut 79, Notre Dame 58
    2015 (Tampa, Fla.): Connecticut 63, Notre Dame 53
    2016 (Indianapolis, Ind.): Connecticut 82, Syracuse 51
    2017 (Dallas): S. Carolina 67, Mississippi St. 55
    2018 (Columbus, O.): Notre Dame 61, Mississippi St. 58
    2019 (Tampa, Fla.): Baylor 82, Notre Dame 81
    2020: No tournament
    2021 (San Antonio, Tex.): Stanford 54, Arizona 53
    2022 (Minneapolis, Minn.): S. Carolina 64, Connecticut 49
    2023 (Dallas): Louisiana St. 102, Iowa 85

  2. Here are the men's finals over the same period:

    2013 (Atlanta): Louisville 82, Michigan 76
    2014 (Arlington, Tex.): Connecticut 60, Kentucky 54
    2015 (Indianapolis, Ind.): Duke 68, Wisconsin 63
    2016 (Houston): Villanova 77, N. Carolina 74
    2017 (Glendale, Ariz.): N. Carolina 71, Gonzaga 65
    2018 (San Antonio, Tex.): Villanova 79, Michigan 62
    2019 (Minneapolis, Minn.): Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 (OT)
    2020: No tournament
    2021 (Indianapolis, Ind.): Baylor 86, Gonzaga 70
    2022 (New Orleans): Kansas 72, N. Carolina 69
    2023 (Houston): Connecticut 76, San Diego St. 59

  3. No team from the Big Ten has won the Men's Basketball Championship since Michigan State in 2000. No team from the Big Ten has won the Women's Basketball Championship since Purdue in 1999.

  4. North Carolina State leads the all-time rivalry with South Carolina, 20 to 12. But since Dawn Staley began coaching the Gamecocks, they are 4-2 against the Wolfpack.

  5. S. Carolina 9 - 12 N. Carolina St. (3:15 left in 1st quarter)

  6. S. Carolina 16 - 16 N. Carolina St. (end of 1st quarter)

    The Gamecocks remind me a lot of UK's undefeated men's team in 2015 -- they are big and strong and they play a patient, defense-oriented game. So far, NCSU has hanging with them, but I'm not yet convinced the Wolfpack have enough offensive firepower to keep pace. Iowa, on the other hand, would be a real headache for the Gamecocks, as they were last year.

  7. S. Carolina 26 - 24 N. Carolina St. (4:42 left in 2d quarter)

    Kamilla Cardoso, the 6' 7" center for the Gamecocks, is 6-6 from the field. But South Carolina has committed 10 turnovers, and that's helping to keep NCSU in the game. So far, the Wolfpack are only 2-8 from 3-point range. If they could hit a few, they could really put pressure on SC.

  8. S. Carolina 30 - 25 N. Carolina St. (1:39 left in 2d quarter)

    Cardoso was dominating this game, with 16 points and 7 rebounds on 7-9 shooting from the field. But she just went down with an ankle injury, and she has hobbled off to the locker room. On Monday, LSU was never the same after Angel Reese hurt her ankle. Will the same type of injury cause similar problems for the Gamecocks?

  9. S. Carolina 32 - 31 N. Carolina St. (halftime)

    The Wolfpack went on a little 6-2 run to end the half after Cardoso left. If she doesn't come back at full strength, the Gamecocks are going to have their hands full.

  10. Cardoso comes out for the second half and appears to be walking normally. It looks like it was her knee that was hurting, rather than her ankle.

  11. S. Carolina 48 - 36 N. Carolina St. (6:28 left in 3d quarter)

    Cardoso is moving well. She now has 20 points and 9 rebounds and is 9-11 from the field. But the Gamecocks also made some three-pointers, and that has helped them open a big lead. They are outrebounding the Wolfpack 28-18.

  12. S. Carolina 61 - 37 N. Carolina St. (end of 3 quarter)

    The Gamecocks blow the game open with a 29-6 third quarter. Whatever adjustments SC made in the locker room have completely stifled the NCSU attack, and the Gamecocks made five three-pointers in that quarter. Cardoso can probably rest for the remainder of the game.

  13. S. Carolina 78 - 59 N. Carolina St. (Final)

    Very impressive performance, but NCSU went 6-23 from three-point range. They didn't have the firepower to threaten SC. Iowa or UConn may have that firepower.

  14. I said that SC reminded me of UK's 2015 team, and NCSU tonight was exactly the type of team I always wanted that 2015 team to draw -- a team that lives off of effort but doesn't have the individual or team offense necessary to break down a good defense. The 2015 Cats were beaten by the best offense in the country, just like last year's undefeated Gamecock team lost to Caitlin Clark and Iowa. So I don't think the Gamecocks are home free just yet. But NCSU was a great matchup for them.

  15. Here are the starters for the main event:

    Aaliyah Edwards, F (6' 3") (Senior) (Kingston, Ontario, CANADA)
    Ashlynn Shade, G (5' 10") (Freshman) (Noblesville, Ind.)
    KK Arnold, G (5' 9") (Freshman) (Germantown, Wis.)
    Paige Bueckers, G (6' 0") (Redshirt Junior) (Hopkins, Minn.)
    Nika Muhl, G (5' 11") (Senior) (Zagreb, CROATIA)

    Hannah Stuelke, F (6' 2") (Sophomore) (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
    Sydney Affolter, G (5' 11") (Junior) (Chicago)
    Caitlin Clark, G (6' 0") (Senior) (W. Des Moines, Iowa)
    Gabbie Marshall, G (5' 9") (Fifth Year) (Cincinnati)
    Kate Martin, G (6' 0") (Grad Student) (Edwardsville, Ill.)

    I count eight Midwesterners in the starting lineups. Very impressive showing from the Midwest.

  16. Iowa 7 - 13 Connecticut (4:59 left in 1st quarter)

    UConn is 5-8 from the field so far, including 2-2 from three-point range. The Hawkeyes are 1-5 from three-point range, and 2-3 from two-point range. Clark has 2 points; Bueckers also has 2.

  17. Iowa 14 - 19 Connecticut (end of 1st quarter)

    Geno Auriemma is earning his reputation as a legend so far. His defense has completely stifled Iowa. Nika Muhl is face-guarding Clark all over the floor, and Clark is only 1-2 from two-point range and 0-3 from three-point range. She has 2 points and 2 assists, and that won't get it done for Iowa. The Huskies have also stopped Iowa's transition game, in part by forcing seven turnovers.

    On the other end, Iowa is sagging off of Nika Muhl, much like it sagged off of Hailey Van Lith. But Muhl punished the Hawkeyes, hitting 2 of 3 from 3-point range. Very impressive from UConn so far.

  18. In between the quarters, ESPN interviews Geno Auriemma, who says that they are trying to push Clark toward spots on the floor where she doesn't want to go. I would love to know how the UConn coaches analyzed Clark and where they want her to be on the floor.

    1. This is getting ahead of ourselves here, but my favorite Dawn Staley moment of the tournament--and I love Dawn Staley--was immediately following the final when she praised her assistant coach by name for staying up all night to scout Iowa and then presenting what he learned in language her players could understand and use. I don't know that I've ever heard a head coach in any sport ever be as generous with praise for an assistant.

  19. One thing that's interesting is that sometimes, when you play a famous athlete like Clark, the strategy is to let the star have their points and stop everyone else. That's not UConn's strategy. They are determined to stop Clark at all costs, even if that means giving up open shots to everyone else.

    1. Dawn Staley made this change after one quarter in the championship.

  20. Iowa 16 - 25 Connecticut (6:47 left in 2d quarter)

    This is a master class from the Huskies. They are overplaying every passing lane and attacking every pass. They won't let Iowa make even the most basic entry pass. Usually, a good offensive team like Iowa can take advantage of aggressive defenses by finding the open player and hitting backdoor passes. But Iowa is struggling with the physical Huskies, much like the UK men did when they went down to South Carolina earlier this season. Iowa has 10 turnovers, and the Hawkeyes are 2-11 from 3-point range. (Clark is 0-4 from 3, and Marshall is 0-2).

  21. Iowa 18 - 28 Connecticut (3:56 left in 2d quarter)

    Muhl has picked up a second foul. Now in men's basketball, she would probably go to the bench. But in this game, she is still guarding Clark one-on-one. It seems to me that Clark should be driving to the basket over and over, since Muhl can't pick up another foul. She did that once, and scored, but she's going to have to do it more often.

  22. Iowa 26 - 32 Connecticut (Halftime)

    Iowa makes up some ground, but Bueckers gets a bucket at the buzzer to give UConn a six point lead. Here's the bottom line: Clark is 3-5 from 2-point range, and 0-6 from 3-point range. She has 6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers. That's not enough for Iowa. If UConn can successfully stop Clark with one defender -- Nika Muhl -- then Iowa probably can't win. Either Clark figures out a way to beat Muhl or their season is probably to be over.

  23. In the 1979 Men's Final, Larry Bird went 7-21 from the field, and 5-8 from the line. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Indiana State only scored 64 points. That's what this game looks like so far.

  24. Iowa 37 - 41 Connecticut (4:59 left in 3d quarter)

    Hawkeyes showing some more energy on offense, and not making so many turnovers. Clark now has 9 points after hitting a 3. But UConn still looks very formidable.

  25. Iowa 45 - 45 Connecticut (3:07 left in the 3d)

    On the men's side, we're all used to the idea of Big 10 teams playing heroically against the SEC and then being very passive against East Coast team. And that's how Iowa has been so far in this game. But Clark finally got loose and made a 4-point play, and the Hawkeyes just harassed Buckers into a turnover. Geno calls time, and the Iowa folk are in full cry.

    Clark: 3-5 from 2, 2-9 from 3, 1-1 from the line: 13 points
    Bueckers: 4-9 from 2, 2-5 from 3: 14 points

  26. Iowa 47 - 47 Connecticut (2:17 left in 3d)

    Nika Muhl crashed to the ground and limped off. Then Kate Martin got smacked in the face and she had to leave. But Muhl has come back. This is getting very serious right now. One big issue for UConn is that they apparently have only six girls who play, and KK Arnold (who has 12 points) just picked up her fourth foul.

  27. Iowa 51 - 51 Connecticut (end of 3d quarter)

    It's all to play for now. Iowa is still only 6-20 from 3-point range, but they did put up 25 points in that quarter, and they are outrebounding UConn 31 to 24. Clark still has 13 points, but Stuelke has 19 points to carry the Hawkeyes.

  28. Super 70s Sports tweets: "This game is a back alley brawl and I'm here for it." Hard to argue with that.

  29. Iowa 60 - 57 Connecticut (7:14 left)

    Clark starting to do Clark stuff now. She makes a three. Then she gets fouled and makes two FT's. Then she makes a mid-range jumper. Now she has 20 points and Iowa leads, but UConn isn't going away thanks to two huge jumpers from Ice Brady.

  30. Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, the Vandy Boys pick up their first SEC road win of the year, beating the defending National Champions 8 to 6 in a long and exhausting struggle. The Vandy Boys are now 7-4 in SEC play.

  31. Iowa 66 - 57 Connecticut (5:42 left)

    Huge sequence for Clark. With Iowa up 60-57, she intercepts a pass and hits Stuelke for a layup. That sparked a run and UConn calls time.

  32. Iowa 68 - 64 Connecticut (2:38 left)

    Bueckers makes a huge three to help UConn get back into the game. UConn now trapping Clark to make her give up the ball. Clark has 20 points. Bueckers has 17. This is still very much up for grabs.

  33. Martin gets open in the lane and makes runner to put Iowa up 70-64 with 2 minutes left. Edwards comes back with a layup. 70 - 66 with 1:40 left.

  34. Clark misses a layup. Edwards rebound for UConn. Bueckers misses a corner three. Gets her own rebound, but then throws the ball away. Iowa leads 70 to 66 with 1:02 left.

  35. UConn steals the ball at half court. On the scramble at the other end, Muhl hits a three-pointer, and Iowa's lead is only 70 to 69 with 39 seconds left. The Hawkeyes call time.

  36. Clark held the ball until there were 8 seconds left on the shot clock. She then whipped a pass to Stuelke, who started to stumble. Stuelke tried to throw a pass to Martin in the corner, but UConn stole the ball. The Huskies call time with 10.8 seconds left.

    Iowa 70 - 69 UConn (10.8 seconds left)

  37. With 3.9 seconds left, Edwards is called for an ILLEGAL SCREEN on Gabby Marshall, who was trying to chase Bueckers. Iowa gets the ball back. What an amazing call.

    Iowa 70 - 69 UConn (3.9 seconds left)

  38. Clark is fouled with 3.1 seconds left. She makes the first FT. She misses the second FT, but Affolter grabbed the rebound and is tied up. Iowa has the possession arrow, so THE HAWKEYES GET THE BALL BACK WITH 1.1 SECONDS LEFT.

  39. Iowa 71 - 69 Connecticut (1.1 seconds left)

    Clark, inbounding the ball, bounces it off Buecker's back. The ball rolls out of bounds, and now there is 0.8 seconds left.

  40. Iowa 71 - 69 Connecticut (Final)

    With 0.8 seconds to go, Clark threw the ball in to Martin, who hurled it up into the air as time ran out.

  41. That was a great and deserved win for Iowa. But I will say this: I watch a lot of college basketball, and I don't remember ever seeing an illegal screen called in that situation.

  42. Final comment here: UConn clearly set an illegal screen on that last play. The folks complaining about the play are not wrong when they say that foul is almost never called in that situation. On the other hand, if that foul had not been called last night, Paige Bueckers -- an All-American -- would have had a wide-open jump shot to win the game. That seems like a big deal. Personally, I think the rules are the rules all the time, and I've never understood the logic of not calling penalties at the end of the game.