Commentary: More surprises on women’s side

BY JEFF PAWOLA | MARCH 25, 2009 7:30 AM

In a tournament that has seen as many first-round upsets as the previous two years combined — eight — the women’s basketball NCAA affair has provided reasons for the casual sports fan to start paying more attention to women’s basketball.

For too long, the excuse has been that there is not enough parity in women’s hoops. After the battle inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 9 Georgia Tech, it’s a shame more Iowa Citians did not come out to watch. Despite the Sooners’ 19-point victory, the game was a lot closer than the 69-50 final score, and the game was tied 29-29 at the half.

Across the board, women’s basketball has put on a better product this season than in years past. I would even argue that this year’s women’s tournament is more exciting than the men’s. Of course, talking about excitement in the NCAA Tournament almost explicitly means talking about upsets.

Looking at the men’s bracket — only two teams outside of the top four seeds are in the Sweet 16 — No. 12 Arizona and No. 5 Purdue. With that, is anybody really surprised, with No. 12 Arizona taking out No. 13 Cleveland State and No. 5 Purdue outlasting No. 4 Washington in order to advance into second weekend?

Even in the first round, the men’s teams may have had more lower seeds with victories than the women with 10, but again, the only real surprise was No. 13 Cleveland State over No. 4 Wake Forest. I’ll even stretch as far as No. 11 Dayton over No. 6 West Virginia to be slightly shocking.

Looking at the women’s side, it’s not the total number of upsets that have taken place, rather, the overall effect of the upsets on the women’s game. You can begin with the shocker of the tournament, No. 12 Ball State taking out the two-time defending champion and No. 5 Tennessee in the first round, 71-55, on March 22.

Even the casual fan knows that the Lady Volunteers have never lost before the Sweet 16 in program history. Ball State’s upset, despite losing to No. 4 Iowa State Tuesday night, almost surpasses every men’s tournament upset in recent memory. It’s even comparable with the magical Final Four run George Mason made as an 11 seed in the 2006 men’s tournament.

Then, in the second round, only one bracket has advanced the top four seeds into the Sweet 16, compared with the men’s side with two. The biggest upset in the second round took place Tuesday when No. 9 Michigan State took out No. 1 Duke, 63-49, the first No. 1 seed of either tourney to fall.
Prior to that, it was another pair of ACC teams going down on March 23 — No. 6 Arizona State defeated No. 3 Florida State 63-58, and No. 6 Purdue took out former NCAA champion and No. 3 North Carolina, 85-70.

So if you’re attention span for women’s basketball is slim to nothing at all, you should at least increase your attentiveness to a comparable level with the NHL, where you only watch during the playoffs.

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