Friday, April 18, 2014

Separate Leagues, Separate Awards

A week or so ago, Sports Illustrated posted a question on social media, the responses to which were included in the letters section of this week's issue.  The question is fairly simple and straightforward, but it's a very dumb question all the same: Should MLB get rid of the separate awards for the AL and NL and instead only present one Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and MVP per season?

My answer to that question is a resounding "No!"  I know the question was posed solely as a topic for discussion/debate, but that debate should be a short one.  For starters, they're not going to change it.  There's going to remain separate awards for the American League and National League.  And there should be.

The argument that one guy made as to why there should only be one award is because they only have one MVP, etc., in each of the other sports.  Well, that may be true, but each of the other sports has always operated as one league with two separate conferences.  Major League Baseball has always been two completely separate leagues.  Interconference matchups have always been the norm in the NFL, NHL and NBA (in the latter two, you face every other team at least twice each season).  In Baseball, interleague play, like it or not, has become an accepted part of the schedule.  But it's also only existed since 1997.  That's not even 20 years.

Before the existence of interleague play, when teams from the AL and NL never faced each other except for the All*Star Game and World Series, having separate awards for the two leagues made complete sense.  It wouldn't have been fair to compare players from one league against the other when they were facing completely different opponents.  Some would argue that since there's now interleague play, that distinction no longer needs to be made.  Well, interleague play has been integrated into the schedule, but it's not a big enough part of the schedule to render AL vs. AL or NL vs. NL games insignificant.

Furthermore, the NFL, NBA and NHL maintain only one set of league statistics.  It's the NFL rushing leader, the NBA scoring leader, etc.  In Major League Baseball, they still keep separate league leaders for both the American and National Leagues.  Sure, it's easy enough to figure out the Major League leader in a given category, but they still deem how you do within your league more important.

Part of the reason for that is the sample size.  In the NFL, they play four interconference games.  That's 25 percent of the schedule.  In the NBA, it's 30, which amounts to 36.6 percent of the schedule.  In the NHL, there are more teams in the Eastern Conference, so the amount of crossover games varies.  It's either 28 or 32 depending on which conference you're in.  For the Eastern Conference teams, that's 34.1 percent of the schedule.  In the West, it's 39 percent. 

Major League Baseball, of course, has a season that's twice as long as the others.  They have that brutal grind of 162 games in 180 days.  Of those 162 games, only 20 are interleague.  Or, 12.3 percent of the season.  You can't discount the fact that for almost 90 percent of the season, the two leagues are completely independent of each other.  You play 142 games against only half of the available competition, yet you're going to be compared against that other half when it comes to awards season?  How's that fair?

Then there's the elephant in the room anytime there's any discussion about Major League Baseball and interleague play.  I'm, of course, talking about the DH.  Baseball's the only sport where they play by different rules.  And the DH makes it impossible to compare the American League with the National League statistically.  National League pitchers have to hit, but they also don't have to face a DH.  That's why offensive numbers are generally higher in the AL.  That's also one of the reasons interleague play is so much fun.

When they first started the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards, they did only have one for the two leagues combined.  That only lasted a couple years before they separated the awards, which they have been ever since.  And there's no rush on anyone's part to change it back. 

It seems silly to even think about having one award for the two leagues.  There's no difference between AFC football and NFC football, and a hockey game is a hockey game, regardless if it's Kings-Blackhawks or Rangers-Bruins.  That's why it makes sense to only have one set of awards in each of those sports.  The same can't be said about Major League Baseball.  A Yankee game and a Met game are very different.  And those differences are very abundant.  You know whether you're watching the American League or the National League.  Until that's not the case anymore, there's no reason not to have separate awards for the two leagues. 

Discussion over.  It ain't changin'.  If you want to make the case for a "Player of the Year" award, then I might be willing to listen.  But when it comes to whether or not there should be two different MVPs each year, that's not a debate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Starting Wednesday, we get to see the NHL's new playoff format in action.  For the first time since they moved away from the strict division-based playoff structure 20 years ago, they went back to a format that's mostly division-based this season.  As a result, there's a set bracket for the first time since 1993. 

But setting up the playoffs this way has plenty of flaws, and they've already been exposed.  For starters, Tampa Bay and Montreal were the third- and fourth-best teams in the East on points, yet they finished second and third in their own division, which means they're playing in the first round and one will get knocked out.  Meanwhile, the Rangers (fifth overall) have home ice for their series against the Flyers (sixth overall), and one of them will definitely advance.  It's also impossible to have the top two teams in the same division meet in the conference finals.  This is especially a problem out West, where Anaheim and San Jose are arguably the two best teams.

This is the system we've got for at least the next three seasons, though, so we might as well embrace it.  Making predictions, though, as usual, is a tough proposition.  It's a little easier in the East, where it'll be a surprise to see a team that doesn't wear black and gold in the Final, but there are any of six teams in the Western Conference capable of playing for the Cup, and four of those six could win the whole thing.

Bruins vs. Red Wings: They're making a big deal about the fact that these two haven't met in the playoffs since 1957, but seeing as Detroit was in the Western Conference for so long (and still should be), it's not really that surprising.  The Red Wings switch conferences, going to the easier one, and barely make the playoffs.  Detroit did keep its streak going, though, so I'll give them that.  But the Red Wings are a flawed team that will be exposed by the President's Cup-winning Bruins.  Boston's simply too good and too deep.  Bruins in five.

Lightning vs. Canadiens: I will give the new format this: the four 2 vs. 3 series all have the makings of being incredibly entertaining.  None more so than Tampa Bay-Montreal.  These two are very evenly matched, and it's a shame one of them has to go home in the first round.  The Lighting set themselves up nicely to make a run, just like they did three years ago.  And their having home ice for Game 7 could prove to be the key to the series.  It's also incredible to think that there are seven Canadian teams in the league, yet Montreal was the only one to take the playoffs.  This series is a coin flip, but I want to see a Bruins-Canadiens series in round two.  Canadiens in six.

Penguins vs. Blue Jackets: Columbus did an outstanding job to make the playoffs in its first year as an Eastern Conference team, and I have a feeling the Blue Jackets are only going to get better as the years go on.  The Penguins, meanwhile, want to make up for last year's embarrassing sweep in the Conference Final.  Pittsburgh's not as good as last year, but still ran away with the Metropolitan Division.  Last year, I made the mistake of underestimating the Islanders and assumed the Penguins would cruise right by them.  I'm not going to do the same with Columbus this year.  Pittsburgh will win, but it won't be easy.  Penguins in six.

Rangers vs. Flyers: These two rivals do not like each other, and it's the first time they're meeting in the playoffs since 1997 (it's also very weird to know the Rangers can't play their annual playoff series against Washington this season).  Every time they play, it's a battle, and I expect a best-of-seven playoff series to be no different.  The Rangers have a knack of making any series they play in go seven, so there's no reason to expect this series won't go the distance.  Where the Rangers' X-factor will once again prove to be the difference.  Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the NHL.  And at the end of playoff series, he shows everyone why.  Rangers in seven.

Avalanche vs. Wild: Patrick Roy probably sealed up the Adams Award once Colorado clinched the Central Division.  Especially since the Blues and Blackhawks are probably both better teams.  Anyway, playoff hockey returns to Denver for the first time in four years (this is a team that finished last last season, by the way).  Both of these teams are on the rise, and Minnesota's the most dangerous of the four wild card teams.  I can easily see the Wild winning this series.  Ultimately, though, I think Colorado will pull it out.  Avalanche in six.

Blues vs. Blackhawks: Prediction: the winner of this series beats the Avalanche in the second round.  St. Louis is in a tailspin.  After battling Anaheim for the top seed in the West for much of the season, they ended up not even winning the Central.  And their prize for a season-ending five-game losing streak is a matchup with the defending champion Blackhawks.  These are probably the two most evenly-matched teams meeting in the first round.  Chicago is playoff-tested.  That's obviously going to be a big factor in this series.  So, the question now becomes: Can the Blues rebound from their horrible finish and avoid a first-round playoff exit?  Well, that's what they got Ryan Miller for, isn't it?  If they lose, that trade becomes a waste.  St. Louis is the best team in the Central Division.  A first-round playoff loss would be an incredible disappointment.  Blues in seven.

Ducks vs. Stars: Dallas gets out of the Pacific Division and finally returns to the playoffs...only to face a Pacific Division team (then another if they win).  It was a great job by Lindy Ruff to get Dallas into the field, but they've got the toughest draw of anybody.  Anaheim is the most complete team and they're built to make a run at the Cup.  Unfortunately for the Stars, this is just the opening act for the Ducks.  Dallas is good, but also incredibly overmatched.  Ducks in four.

Sharks vs. Kings: For the first time, all three California teams are good in the same season.  Is this finally the year for the Sharks, or will they have their annual playoff letdown?  You know one of these years, San Jose is finally going to finish the job and get to the Final.  Meanwhile, the Kings were the 8-seed in the West two years ago and won the Cup, then went to the Conference Final last year as the 5-seed.  So, they clearly don't need home ice to make a run in the playoffs.  But you also have to wonder how long that can last.  I see a very competitive, highly entertaining series here.  It's a coin toss.  Watching all seven games on NBCSN will be fun.  Sharks in seven.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Upon Further Review

In my first game of the year, I got my first replay review.  I'm, of course, talking about last night's Yankees-Red Sox game at the Stadium.  In the fourth inning, Francisco Cervelli was called out at first on what would've been an inning-ending double play, but Joe Girardi challenged, the call was overturned, and the Yankees scored what ended up being the winning run in a 3-2 victory.

The reversal didn't set well with Red Sox manager John Farrell, who was immediately ejected for arguing the call, which is one of the replay rules that was established.  I'm not sure if Farrell's interpreting the rules incorrectly or simply still upset about the blown replay review on Saturday, but his argument that there wasn't "clear, undisputable evidence" is simply wrong.  (Although, if you ask the Red Sox fan who wrote this piece for Sports Illustrated, he wasn't wrong.)  He saw the same replay I did.  The ball's clearly not in Napoli's glove yet when Cervelli's foot hit the bag.  I'll tell you what, here's what we saw on the video board.  You make the call:


Farrell's comments were all the rage today, leading to a full-scale discussion about the pros and cons of the replay system, which has been in use for a grand total of two weeks.  Tony La Russa is in charge of replay for Major League Baseball and he's just shrugged off any criticism of the process so far.  As La Russa pointed out, it's "premature" to question the integrity of the system.  After all, Baseball has had instant replay for two weeks after going without it for 185 years.  With such a drastic change, there were bound to be some hiccups.

Going into Monday, there had been 185 games played in the Majors this season.  In those 185 games, 84 calls were reviewed.  Of those 84, only 28 were reversed.  That's a success rate of 33 percent, or slightly lower than the success rate of NFL coaches (and the NFL has had replay for years).  More than anything, the use of replay has proven that the umpires actually get the call right most of the time.  But sometimes they do get it wrong.  That's the point of using replay in the first place.

Unfortunately, that's not what you hear about.  You only hear about the controversial stuff.  You only hear about John Farrell getting ejected because he thought he got screwed (the fact that this happened in a nationally-televised Sunday night game probably didn't help).  Or the game on Saturday between the same two teams, where the umpires had replay at their disposal yet somehow managed to still get the call wrong even after using it.  MLB even acknowledged that the umpires screwed up that one.

Or the play at first base in the Washington-Atlanta game on Saturday night.  That was our second Nationals-Braves replay moment this season.  In Washington's home opener on April 4, Ian Desmond hit what was ruled an inside-the-park home run on the field, then changed to a ground rule double after the review.  Atlanta ended up winning the game 2-1, and Nationals manager Matt Williams wasn't happy afterwards.  Once again, though, the play was correctly overturned.  See for yourself:
 
 
Criticism is always going to be louder than support.  That's just the way things go in our society.  The funny thing is these critics are the same people that were yelling the loudest that MLB needed to adopt replay.  Well, you can't have it both ways!  Either you're a fan of replay or you aren't.  You can't change that opinion just because a call went against your team.
 
Replay has come to Baseball and it's here to stay.  The system isn't perfect.  Nobody expected it to be.  But it has achieved its purpose.  They're getting calls right, and by doing so, the right teams are winning games.  Isn't that what everyone wanted in the first place?


Friday, April 11, 2014

No Worry About Rio

All of the talk about the 2016 Olympics so far has been centered around the fact that the IOC is upset about construction delays.  So much so that they're "monitoring the situation."  There have also been some people that have suggested the IOC is considering moving the Games.  That suggestion isn't just premature.  It's stupid.  Rest assured, the 2016 Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro as planned.

There are plenty of reasons why the idea of moving an Olympics only two years out doesn't make any sense.  For starters, where would you move them?  They choose Olympic host cities seven years in advance for a reason.  If they were to take the Games away from Rio, what city would possibly be able to organize and fund an Olympics on such short notice?  And I'm not just talking about having available facilities, which is enough of a problem.  I'm talking about all the logistics of scheduling, accommodations, security, etc.  It takes a lot more than two years to prepare for an Olympics.  That's why moving the Rio Games now would be virtually impossible.  Even London, which staged those incredible 2012 Games, probably wouldn't be able to do it...and that's the most likely option for a replacement.

Not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars that has already been spent.  There are already a number of Brazilians who are unhappy with the costs of both the Olympics and the World Cup.  Imagine if the Olympics were to be taken away and all that spending truly became wasteful?  Plus, you'd have all these unfinished venues in and around Rio that would just be sitting there.  No chance to repurpose them for their post-Games use if they're never used in the first place.

This same thing happened in advance of the 2004 Athens Games.  There were similar concerns about construction delays and organizational problems.  They even fired the head of the organizing committee.  Well you know what?  Everything worked out OK, and the Games did return home.  Athens has had some major problems since and is still paying for the 2004 Olympics a decade later, but that's a separate issue.

The thing the Brazilians really have to worry about is the World Cup.  It's there where we've hit crunch time, and the potential of unfinished stadiums in some of the 12 World Cup host cities are definitely much more of a concern.  And a more pressing one.  From what it seems, though, all of the World Cup construction now seems to be on or close to schedule, so there shouldn't be any incomplete stadiums once the World Cup begins.

Of course, the final of the World Cup will be held at Rio's world-famous Maracana.  Maracana had to be renovated for both events, and the World Cup is two years before the Olympics.  Which one do you think they're worried about first?  Maracana will host the Opening Ceremony.  But they can't begin to turn it into an Olympic venue until the World Cup is over.

And maybe that's the root of all these delays.  Maybe the Brazilians want to make sure the World Cup goes off without a hitch before they turn their focus to the Olympics.  Let's not forget, this might be the sixth-largest country in the world, but it's still hosting the two biggest sporting events on the planet little more than two years apart.  The second of which comes with the added pressure of being the first South American country ever to host the Olympics.  They're both huge undertakings.  Brazil has the resources to do both.  If they didn't think they could, they never would've applied to host the Olympics.

We're still more than two years away from Rio.  I'm sure the stadiums will be finished and whatever problems there are will get fixed with plenty of time to spare.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that by the time Pele lights the cauldron, we'll have forgot all about this.  And that Rio will deliver a truly glorious Games.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not Employees=No Union

Ever since that Chicago judge ruled last week that Northwestern football players were allowed to form a union, the reaction has been pretty universal.  There isn't a single person out there who thinks this is a good idea.  And it kind of makes me wonder why the judge let it move forward in the first place, especially since it's almost certainly going to get tossed on appeal.

Northwestern has already filed the appeal, and the players are set to vote by April 25.  One player who'll be voting "No" is starting quarterback Trevor Siemian.  That's pretty telling.  It's an obvious sign that the players are far from unanimous in their feelings.  Siemian's interview was pretty telling in a number of respects.  He acknowledged that college football players actually have it pretty good and that whatever concerns the players had should've been brought to the head coach and athletic director first.

Not surprisingly, the NCAA is vehemently opposed to this.  NCAA President Mark Emmert said during his Final Four press conference that this would "blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics."  He even called the idea "ridiculous" and "grossly inappropriate."  And, you know what, he isn't wrong.  The NCAA has problems.  Emmert is the first to admit that.  But this definitely isn't the answer.

There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea, and I've thought this ever since the players first announced their intention to unionize.  For starters, it would only apply to private universities like Northwestern.  So, football players at Ohio State and Texas and Florida State and all the other state-funded universities can't do the same.  If unions are supposed to look out for the rights of everyone, how is that fair?

Likewise, who's covering things like insurance, union dues, etc.?  I bet these players only saw the benefit of union backing without taking those costs into account.  And why would they?  That's a bigger picture item.  No one ever looks at the big picture when it comes to these things.  Once that reality hits, I'm sure the Northwestern players will be singing a different tune.

But here's the biggest reason why I think the Northwestern football team shouldn't be allowed to unionize.  And it's perhaps the most obvious reason out there.  They aren't employees!  I know what the ruling said.  I don't buy it.  Do they draw a salary from the university?  No.  And if you don't draw a salary, you're not an employee.  It's my understanding that labor unions represent employees.  Well, if you're not an employee, how can you be represented by a labor union?

The players, as well as the judge who ruled in their favor, would argue that the players are employees.  Well, I define being an employee as getting a salary.  A scholarship is not a salary.  And that scholarship, by the way, provides them with the opportunity to attend one of America's most prestigious academic institutions for free for four years.  In return, the football players agree to represent that university on the field, which also means putting in the required time that being on said team entails.  That's an agreement thousands of college athletes voluntarily make every year, without expecting anything else in return.  Yet it's not enough for the Northwestern football team.  Or, let me rephrase, certain members of the Northwestern football team.

I'm not anti-union.  Unions aren't a bad thing.  But they can be if they aren't used right.  And that's what we're seeing here.  This is an attempt to get attention.  Congratulations.  It worked.  Letting this vote go through and actually letting the players unionize, though.  That would be a tremendous mistake.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

One-and-Dones vs. Veteran Leadership

I don't know of a single person who thinks this one-and-done thing is good for college basketball.  But, like it or not, this is the era we're living in, and John Calipari has become the master of it.  Kentucky has basically an entirely new team every year, and they've been to three Final Fours and won a national title in the past four seasons.  The Wildcats almost did it again this year, riding five freshmen all the way to the title game.  Although, it turns out there was something that could stop them.  Make that someone.  UConn senior point guard Shabazz Napier.

If there's a guy who deserved a National Championship as much as Shabazz Napier, I don't know who that is.  UConn won the national title when he was a freshmen.  Then they found out they were ineligible for the 2013 Tournament because of a poor academic record.  Then Jim Calhoun retired.  Then the Big East blew up and UConn was left without a home.  He had so many opportunities to leave.  Yet he stayed.  And he was rewarded with a National Championship in his final collegiate game.

As incredible as some of these players that use college as simply a way to kill time before they're allowed to enter the NBA are, their teams aren't usually the ones playing on Monday night.  There are a few exceptions.  Anthony Davis and Kentucky won the title two years ago, and, of course, there was Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse a decade ago, before the One-and-Done Era began.  But more often than not, it's the teams that actually have senior leaders that end up hoisting the trophy.

Take the last five National Champions.  In 2009, North Carolina was led by senior Tyler Hansbrough.  Duke won the title in 2010.  Their best player?  Arguably it might've been freshman Andre Dawkins.  But who were their leaders?  Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, upperclassmen all.  That 2011 UConn team when Shabazz was a freshman?  That's the year Kemba Walker was a senior, as well as the year he decided he was going to win the National Championship.  Kentucky's freshmen won in 2012, but last season it was Louisville, with senior point guard Peyton Siva and junior Russ Smith leading the way.

Nobody would've blamed Russ Smith if he had declared for the NBA Draft.  He had nothing left to prove at Louisville.  But he came back, won American Player of the Year, and was a consensus First Team All-American.  The consensus National Player of the Year was another senior.  Doug McDermott.  McDermott easily would've been a high NBA draft pick last year.  But he wanted to play in the Big East.  Well, he didn't just play in the Big East.  He led Creighton to the Big East title game and a No. 3 seed. 

Creighton never would've been a No. 3 seed without Doug McDermott.  Wisconsin made it to the Final Four.  Their leading scorers were Frank Kaminsky (junior) and Ben Brust (senior).  Florida was No. 1 most of the season.  With seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguette and Patric Young.  Are you beginning to sense a theme here?

The other trend that we've seen during the One-and-Done Era is one that I don't think is going to go away anytime soon.  The Cinderella Final Four runs by the likes of Butler and VCU and Wichita State, and, to a lesser extent, runs like the one Dayton made this year are generally made by senior-laden, experienced teams.  Same thing with your Mercers and your Florida Gulf Coasts.  There's a reason for that.  They're still upsets, but they aren't necessarily surprises.  And until the big guys stop relying so much on freshmen, you're going to continue seeing high seeds lose in the first round in March.

Everyone knows that Duke is a better team than Mercer.  But there's no denying the value of veteran leadership.  Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis are all dynamic players who were fun to watch during their college cameos.  But what do their (presumably) only NCAA Tournament appearances have in common?  They all ended early.  And their teams all lost to teams that have been together longer.

Until there's a rules change that puts an end to the One-and-Done Era, we can expect more of the same.  The big-name programs are still going to get the highly-touted recruits who are only going to college because they can't go to the NBA yet.  Those stars will be as amazing as advertised, plenty of people will want to watch them, and they'll win plenty of games on talent alone.  But when they get to March, they won't be sticking around long. 

When it comes to winning a National Championship, experience matters.  Just ask Shabazz Napier.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Revised Final Four Picks

How'd you do on your bracket?  I was doing so well.  Then Louisville lost in the Sweet 16 and two of my other three Final Four teams bowed out in the Elite Eight.  As a result, I only got one of the four right...and that would be the one team everybody had, No. 1 overall seed Florida.  But at least I still have my National Champion.

It's not like any of the other three teams in Dallas don't belong there, though.  Let's start with Kentucky.  This isn't an 8-seed.  This is the team that was the preseason No. 1.  And the Wildcats had by far the toughest road.  They had to beat three of last year's Final Four teams (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan), in a row, to get to the Final Four.  In fact, should Kentucky beat Wisconsin, they'll have played five consecutive NCAA Tournament games against five of the other seven Final Four teams from the last two years.

Meanwhile, for the Wildcats' opponent, this is the culmination of a decade where they've been among the elite teams in college basketball.  Yet, for all that success, this is Wisconsin's first Final Four under Bo Ryan.  They're almost the forgotten team of the Big Ten, so it's nice to see them as the only one standing.  The Big Ten, of course, had a chance to become just the second conference in history to land three teams in the Final Four in the same season.  But with Michigan and Michigan State both going down on Sunday, the Badgers will be carrying the banner for the Big Ten in Dallas.  And it's very well earned.

Then there's UConn.  As soon as they won their second round game to advance to the Garden, I knew this team was going to the Final Four.  UConn playing a Regional at Madison Square Garden was almost unfair.  I was at the Michigan State game, and the Garden was at least 70 percent blue.  But it was more than that.  UConn isn't just comfortable at the Garden.  They think of it as almost a second home.  And since they're (sadly) not in the Big East anymore, they're never going to have the chance to win something significant at the Garden again.  They weren't going home empty-handed.  I also had a feeling Shabazz Napier was going to go all Kemba Walker on poor Iowa State and Michigan State, and it turns out that's exactly what happened.

However, the Final Four isn't at Madison Square Garden.  UConn made history as the first No. 7 seed to make the Final Four in a 64-team tournament, but they're no match for Florida.  Yes, the Huskies were the last team to beat the Gators.  But that's why I don't think they're going to win.  Florida's a much better team now than they were in early December, and they don't forget that loss.  They're not gonna lose to UConn again, especially with the season on the line.

I think we're going to have an all-SEC final, which is quite a feat for a conference that only put three teams in the tournament.  Florida's the best team, and Kentucky's playing the best.  That's going to be a great game between Kentucky and Wisconsin, but the Wildcats are simply too talented.  I'd be very surprised if they didn't win that semi.  But they won't beat Florida in the final.  Sure, they almost beat them in the SEC Championship Game.  This is different, though.  Florida's simply too good.  Even for Kentucky.  I stand by my pick for the National Champion.

On the women's side, my bracket's in much better shape.  Granted, it wasn't hard to pick UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford.  But Maryland knocked out Louisville on the Cardinals' home floor in the Elite Eight, so I ended up with three instead of four.

All season, people have been looking forward to that UConn-Notre Dame National Championship Game, and we're one game away from the showdown between the two undefeateds.  But that's no longer the certainty it once seemed.  Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa tore her ACL against Baylor in the regional final, making the Fighting Irish susceptible to an upset from a very good Maryland team that pulled off upsets of both Tennessee and Louisville (on the Cardinals' home floor) in the regional.  They only played once in the regular season...and Maryland gave Notre Dame its closest game of anybody.  Maryland's definitely capable of pulling off another upset, but I think Notre Dame will still find a way to get it done.  Even without Achonwa.

The other semi pits the other team in pursuit of perfection against a team that always plays it well.  Stanford is very similar to UConn, which is why they prove to be such a tough matchup for the Huskies.  And Stanford's the one opponent that actually has a post player that can matchup against Breana Stewart.  Chiney Ogumwike is capable of winning a game by herself.  Not against UConn, but against other teams.  If they were playing anyone else, I'd like Stanford's chances much better.  Unfortunately, they drew UConn.  The Huskies are undefeated for a reason.

So, we'll get our dream final.  UConn vs. Notre Dame.  Of course, they were in the same conference until this year, so this is simply the renewal of their great rivalry.  And two undefeated teams playing for the National Championship seems almost too good to be true.  Notre Dame is eager to avenge that loss to UConn in last year's Final Four, but this is where the loss of Achonwa is really going to hurt.  If she were healthy, Notre Dame would have a tough time, but would be much more capable of pulling off the upset.  But without her, UConn is simply going to dominate inside.  The Huskies are the better team.  And they'll once again do something that should be hard, yet has become commonplace for them...go undefeated and win the National Championship.  (Also, one interesting note: this is the third time UConn is in both Final Fours, and the women won the national title both previous times, including the unprecedented double championship in 2004.)