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So, yeah, many of the conference tournaments have started, but I honestly didn’t think I’d have to worry about the first rounds…

“DOH!” says the Ohio Valley. Murray State straight up stuns #1 Tennessee-Martin. How big an upset? The Pacers are 11-16 (7-9) and the Skyhawks are 21-8 (14-2). The Skyhawks just played Murray State to close out the season and beat them by 21. SIEU must be thinkin’ “We don’t screw up, we get into the NCAA.” Of course, Belmont might be thinkin’ the exact same thing.

Fly, Eagles, fly: FGCU leads mid-major rankings into the postseason

If mid-major teams often play with the freedom of nothing to lose in the NCAA tournament, perhaps it’s because they already survived the part of the season when there was everything to lose. With NCAA at-large bids rarely a certainty, a season’s worth of good work can vanish within a few bad minutes in a conference tournament. But with automatic bids soon up for grabs, here is a final look at the rankings.

Wow, being a Clemson Tiger these days must be disheartening. 0-for in conference play.

You stay (Boyle), you go (Butts). This could be a busy list.

Oh, this could get ugly right quick: FIU women’s basketball coach suspended after alleged sexual misconduct

Crap: Theriot Will not Return for HuskersTheriot’s career had great moments, but also disappointment

The Nebraska women’s basketball team returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis this week for the Big Ten Conference Tournament, site of one of the great moments in the career of Rachel Theriot.

In 2014, Theriot helped lead the Huskers to the Big Ten Tournament championship, the program’s first title in their new league. Theriot was tournament MVP.

Theriot won’t be able to play in Thursday’s game against Rutgers. The senior point guard had surgery on her foot on Monday. That ends a career filled with lots of great games, but also disappointment, as her junior and senior seasons were each cut short because of injury.

So, I’m pleased that coach Dave Magarity is part of the WBCA’s “COY Region/Nominee” process. But, I’d like to mention that Army (26-2, 17-1) has had a (rather recent) tradition of winning. Bucknell, now 23-6, (17-1), not so much…

“It feels good to get a piece of a championship,” said fourth-year Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell. “This team has been through so much, and for it to result in a banner in the rafters is very rewarding. I’ve been told Army is one of the better teams in the history of the Patriot League, so for us to match them at 17-1 is an incredible accomplishment.”

Bucknell’s run through the league schedule started with an eight-game winning streak, including a victory over Army West Point. The Bison’s lone loss came to the Black Knights and has been followed by their current nine-game winning streak that they will take into the postseason. The streak is tied for the longest in program history.

Woot! to the NCAA’s “Team of the Week:”

Fresh off of claiming the school’s third Conference USA regular season title in program history (2008, 2012 and 2016), the UTEP Miners continue to impress as the calendar turns to March. UTEP clinched the title on Feb. 27 when they outlasted Charlotte, 94-91, in double overtime in front of a roaring 4,012 fans at the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP, 25-2 overall and 16-1 in Conference USA play, matched school and league records for single-season Conference USA victories this year. The Miners also concluded the home portion of their schedule at a flawless 16-0, marking the second undefeated home campaign (14-0) in program history.

Speaking of the Miners: UTEP star Turner overcomes struggle and thrives

Growing up in the hardscrabble parts of Dallas, Turner spent some nights on a floor in an apartment with six of her siblings, some at houses of various coaches looking out for her. Some days she ate better than others. Those days, she didn’t pass out in a gym. Some days she did pass out in the gym. Going to practice hungry was common.

Turner learned the rules of the street.

“I saw shootings, killings,” Turner said. “You hear shots and you get down on the ground, protect yourself. I saw lots of drugs, weed, cocaine, prostitution. Not a lot of girls I went to school with went on to college. I wanted to break that cycle; I didn’t want that to be my story.”

But there’s another part to this: Turner isn’t running from anything.

Speaking of players overcoming:

This year has not been what anyone expects of Iowa State, least of all the Cyclones themselves. This is a proud and distinguished program that’s used to the postseason; Iowa State has gone to the NCAA tournament 16 of the past 19 seasons, including the past nine years in a row.

But the Cyclones finished the regular season Tuesday at 13-16 overall after an 82-57 loss to West Virginia.

So why did it still seem like such an uplifting night in Ames, Iowa?

Because Iowa State guard Seanna Johnson was back on the court, after a very emotionally difficult past 10 days in what’s been a challenging season for the Cyclones. Johnson had missed the previous two games while at home in Minnesota with her family after her father, Curtis Johnson, suffered a stroke on Feb. 20.

Speaking of really good players: Courtney Williams worked hard to become one of game’s top players

You’ve heard the story before, countless times. It’s about the high school standout who comes to college and becomes perplexed and frustrated that what once came pretty easily had become challenging.

Common as the scenario is, it’s still a major hurdle to clear for every player who encounters it. But if she does, it’s a process she never forgets.

South Florida senior guard Courtney Williams can attest to this. She has become one of the top players in college, and is looking forward to a professional career. But she had to go through that “what I am doing wrong?” phase at one point, too.

Ladies, start your engines! UConn ready to raise the bar even higher in postseason

The undefeated Huskies are like a standout Broadway troupe that has been doing the same show for a while. They have all their lines memorized and know every mark they must hit. So how, when you’ve been essentially nailing it again and again, do you still find another gear?

That’s really the “secret” of championship teams, isn’t it? Even when they appear to be at their best, there’s somewhere else to climb.

“Back in the day, we used to say, there’s regular-season Shea Ralph, and there’s tournament Shea,” Auriemma said of the former Huskies star and current UConn assistant coach who was the most outstanding player of the 2000 Women’s Final Four. “And those are two different things. And we like to think that our team is the same way.

Ya-da-UConn “undefeated” Ya-da-UConn “national champions” Ya-da… NOT UConn?      Johnson County women’s basketball team shooting for perfect season: Defending NJCAA Division II champs are 30-0 entering postseason

The Johnson County Community College women’s basketball program earned its bona fides long ago and its second national championship last season. The Cavaliers are accustomed to winning.

So when coach Ben Conrad says: “It is surprising we haven’t gotten beat. That’s not normal,” it’s apparent something is up.

JCCC begins postseason play Tuesday with a 30-0 record, the first time the Cavaliers have finished the regular season undefeated. All but two of those wins have come by double digits. Most of those double-digit wins have been margins rarely seen outside of video games.

Looking ahead, Charlie says: NCAA’s final reveal holds small clues for Selection Monday

Mechelle, who’s been writing up a storm, notes: Bubble teams look to make big noise during Championship Week

In the five major conferences — which accounted for five automatic and 27 at-large NCAA berths last year — there are some bubble guppies and bubble sharks. The guppies don’t have much NCAA tournament history, while the sharks do — but as the “bubble” part of their description suggests, both are in precarious positions in regard to this year’s tournament.

Let’s take a quick look around the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC as they get set to face off for conference supremacy and automatic tickets to the Big Dance.

Check out the ‘Around the Rim’: Championship Week Preview podcast with Chiney and LaChina

During the first half, the two are joined by Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach Lin Dunn to discuss if UConn’s recent slow starts should be concerning, SMU coach Rhonda Rompola’s retirement and her comments on “players’ entitlement” and front-runners for the national coach of the year award.

In the second half of the show, the duo chat with espnW’s bracketology expert Charlie Creme who breaks down the significance of the upcoming conference tournaments and sheds light on which teams could make a case for a tournament bid this weekend.

Connecticut’s WNBA Team Is More (and Less) Tied to UConn Than You Might Think

…as UConn continues its skyward trajectory under head coach Geno Auriemma, the Sun look toward the 2016 season — the WNBA’s 20th — facing an uphill climb, and a clear goal to strengthen its place in the state’s women’s basketball market after a run of disappointing seasons.

The best way to do that? Win.

“For us, it’s going to come down to: how do we legitimize ourselves?” said Chris Sienko, the Sun’s vice president and general manager. “People know who we are. We’ve done great things. We have to win a championship. I think that’s when people start putting us in the same conversation with UConn.”

Hello, Prez! Atlanta Dream names Theresa Wenzel new president

WATN? Jessica Davenport: A Global Basketball Journey Close To Home

One Last Time: Q&A with WNBA star, Olympian and author Tamika Catchings

In her new book, “Catch A Star: Shining through Adversity to Become a Champion,” co-written by Ken Petersen, she details her life as the daughter of professional basketball player Harvey Catchings, how she adapted to her hearing impairment as a child, how she sought refuge in sports and how the joys and sorrows molded her into the person she is today. At the recent USA Basketball national team training camp in Storrs, Connecticut, Catchings spoke to espnW about the book and why she wrote it.

Thanks for the story, Sally: Going on offense vs. Down syndrome: Most people saw limits for Frankie Antonelli. Parents Frank and Debbie saw potential.

They had counted with an unthinking confidence on having healthy kids, maybe even a team roster’s worth. She played basketball at North Carolina State before becoming a sportscaster, and he hit .400 for the Columbia University baseball team before making a career in elite sports management, and they hoped to add some quality little strivers to the general population. Their first child was an easy birth, and they were so confident of their second that she played nine holes of golf the day he was born. Then he came out scrunched up with the cord around his neck, and holes in his heart.

The doctors spoke in dead-end terms, even the ones who tried to be positive. Though it was 1997 and not the Victorian Age, one said, “Don’t let anybody tell you to institutionalize him.” Statistics showed most Down syndrome children would not see 50.

He won’t develop properly, they said, or play games like other children. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words can’t and won’t,” Debbie says. Defeatist words. They seemed to apply as much to her, as to him. You can’t have a career with a disabled child. You won’t be able to work.

But the Antonellis were athletes, and athletes don’t deal in can’t and won’t. They deal in can, and will.

Eighteen years later, Frankie Antonelli is a junior in high school with sparkling eyes, and a well-defined V shape from fitness training. “Hi, I’m Frankie, I’m a celebrity,” he says, wise-guy-like as he introduces himself to a reporter. With a motor-speech impediment that doesn’t dull his meaning, he proceeds to argue with some spirit that he’s the best basketball player in the Antonelli Driveway Series.

Video: Coordinator of Pac-12 women’s basketball officiating Violet Palmer reflects on a pioneering career

Congrats to Brenda VanLengen, winner of the 2016 WBCA Mel Greenberg Media Award.

On a dabnabbit, but congrats note, WHB fave Jim Massie is closing up shop at the Columbus Dispatch. Hopefully he’s at the top of the Mel list next year.

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but I’d rather there be some facts to back it up (and maybe some action steps?).

Sally Jenkins — who has, in the past, sent over some kind words to the blog (and may now want to retract them) — offers up her piece Women’s basketball needs to work to earn an audience and it’s full of finger pointing, but little substance.

1) Why is Jenkins perpetuating the myth that women’s basketball was “elegant” and suddenly has become physical. Which Lady Vols games was she watching? As Coach Summitt says, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.” Oh, now, I’m not saying the game can’t get overly physical (btw, not a uniquely female issue), BUT let’s not pretend there was a “golden age” of non-physical women’s basketball — unless you REALLY want to go back to the “golden age” of no dribbling.

2) It’s “scandalous” that scoring has dropped by 8pts and shooting percentages have dropped? What’s scandalous is there’s no attempt to identify the WHY of that. Maybe women just can’t shoot. Maybe it’s AAU’s fault. Or High School coaches’ fault. Or maybe women are now coached to play both sides of the ball….you know, it’s called DEFENSE? (BTW, if you do some research, you’ll see there are similar issues on the men’s side.)

3) Oooo, this is an oldie but goodie: It’s the OFFICIALS’ fault! What is new is that Jenkins is upset they DON’T call enough fouls. Instead of the usual old saw — blaming the referees for turning the game into a “whistle fest embarrassment” — she blames the officials for not calling physical play enough.  (Hmmm.. who MAKES the rules that the officials have to enforce? And who coaches AROUND the rules the officials have to enforce?) Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, huh, Patty, Dee and Maj? (And if anyone thinks every other league is totally satisfied with their officiating, they obviously haven’t been paying attention.)

I’ve written extensively about NCAA officiating (and even offered some action steps) — speaking with the officials, coordinators, coaches and such — for Women’s Basketball Magazine and the WBCA’s Coaching Women’s Basketball. I’ve had long, thoughtful conversations with the folks at the center of the issues and, if I may say so, produced long, thoughtful and informative pieces about the profession and its challenges. But I don’t really think “non-officals” care.

My overall takeaway? It’s easier to point fingers than actually DO something. There was a push a while back on the NCAA side — led on the women’s side by the since departed Mary Struckhoff. But it’s really up to the Conferences (meaning athletic directors and coaches). But, they like their fiefdoms and don’t want anyone telling them how they should or shouldn’t spend their money. So, what’s the path of least resistance for fans, coaches, players and writers? Blame the officials — ’cause they’re not allowed to talk back.

4) New math alert: apparently the women’s game has “healthy ratings and rights fees” and plays in “sold out arenas of close to 20,000” and the only reason it’s not raking in the moola like the men’s tournament is “mismanagement.” I know it’s too much to ask for some facts to back those statements up like, you know: what were the ratings v. the men’s, what are the fees, how much does it cost to run the tournament, fly and house and feed the teams and such….

But “sold out arenas”? What tournament is she watching? ’cause this is what Trey wrote post-2013 FF: “When Connecticut and Louisville met for the women’s crown Tuesday night in the New Orleans Arena, there were 17,500 fans, short of capacity.” So, let’s say a total of 35,000 fans. In comparison, the attendance at the 2013 men’s final in Georgia was 74,326. Which comes to a total of  148,652.

As for the overall tournament, it’s kind of a challenge to find any page listing the total attendance numbers (wonder why), but: here’s the women’s Round 1&2 attendance. And here’s the NCAA’s spin: “Attendance at the men’s basketball tournament reached nearly 430,000 fans and the women’s tournament has seen a significant increase over last year.”

Which means: The per session average of 4,850 fans was also a 20 percent increase from last year’s per session attendance average during the first- and second-rounds.” Last year, the total attendance was (I think, if I’m reading this right) 203,788. The average attendance, 4852. It would appear the the “golden years” of women’s basketball attendance were 1999-2004. I’m guessing there was SOMEthing about those years that made them good for women’s basketball, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Yes, that was the sarcasm plane flying by.)

So, when Sally throws around the term “mismanagement,” what I want to know is: Who’s mismanaging what? And why? What has caused attendance to drop, not build? Is it the economy? Is the fan base aging? Disenchanted? Is it because the media world is shrinking and that has snuffed out coverage? Is it athletic directors and the choices the have to/want to make?

The NCAA offered grants to schools and conferences to support their efforts to build their audiences. Some took them up on the offers — many did not. And I’m going to lay even money that most programs couldn’t be bothered to look at the “best practices” those grants produced. WHY they wouldn’t learn from others is for you to ponder.

The NCAA has altered it’s bidding process for hosting tournament games, and still schools/conferences don’t want to host — guess why.

So, if Val is laying out the following “next steps”  (according to Jenkins – h/t FOWHB Joan)…

  • Upgrading officiating
  • Bring business mind-set to ticket sales and television
  • Exploring (“dramatic”) rule changes to make the game more exciting and faster-paced (no mention of what those are)
  • Explore putting the men’s and women’s FF in the same city at different arenas

…let’s talk turkey, and not fling mud. Let’s please start with some facts. And a whole heap of will. And money. The research is out there — but who is going to make the changes happen?

And just ’cause I can, let me offer my  “BAD IDEA” feedback to “same city, different arenas” so it can be tabled and energy can be spent on things we CAN control:

A) It will reduce the number of writers covering the game, because media outlets will cut costs. I’m sure ESPN will say, “Mechelle, you have to cover the men’s tournament as well.” And you know what happens when women’s writers are forced to cover the men’s game….

B) It’s not the same fan base. I, as a women’s fan, have no desire to tromp the same streets as a bunk of over-imbibed Louisville or Kentucky fans who can’t have an intelligent discussion about the similarities and differences between Chiney and Kaleena’s games.

C) Let’s limit the numbers of host cities, much? How many have 20,000+ arenas? And, am I remembering correctly that CBS covers the men’s tournament? So, does that mean they’ll have to fight with ESPN for the good broadcasting spots, or will they share equipment (hah)?

It’s interesting to review my earlier (flashback, 2008) suggestions:

Finally, there’s simply a lot of basic, un-sexy, ground level work to be done to promote the women’s game and grow it to the next level of fandom. Some first steps?

  • Energetic Coaches who understand building an audience is part of their job
  • Better Quality Sports Information Directors who pro-actively cultivate media coverage and find creative ways to get the word out about their sport
  • Athletic Programs that take advantage of the NCAA Marketing materials that are available. The NCAA has done a lot of the work for you — but it does you no good if you don’t use it. (And kudos to the NCAA for their marketing grant program)
  • As Geno notes, ask/beg/make ESPN do a better job of promoting the game. Yah, yah, they’ve expanded their coverage to the full tourney. And yah, they had those great Monday match ups — but promos, highlights, news items and ESPN Classics broadcasts are weak. And I’m not even going to discuss the quality of some of the play-by-play and color commentary people….
  • How about a stronger cross-promotion with the WNBA? Moving the draft to the Final Four weekend was a huge success. What are other (NCAA legal) ways to connect the two worlds/fan bases?

The “Three to Watch” campaign is exactly what I meant about cross-promotion. And the draft was broadcast! The other stuff — what do you think? Have we made any progress? (Gottlieb anyone?)

Finally, a followup on the courage of Griner and Augustus and Tully: If you don’t think homophobia – internalized and external – hinders the growth of our game, you’re a fool. Simply put – haters and homophobes are gonna hate. They think everyone involved with women’s basketball is gay – coaches, players, fans – so what’s the big dealio?

Stand up and say, “So the F*CK what! I will not tolerate hate speech. I will not tolerate bigots. I will be an ally. I will speak up. I will speak out. I will challenge my fan base, my administration, my team, myself to build a more inclusive world.”

Heck, even if that doesn’t grow the women’s basketball game, it’ll make the world a better place.

And isn’t that what we want?

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*as long as it doesn’t involve me* *and except for the fact that real people are hurting*

Sally Jenkins tweets: The forced retirement of #Ladyvols Debby Jennings is a dirty rotten piece of business. Office politics wins over professionalism.

Mechelle writes: Jennings retires after 35 years – Associate athletic director is latest longtime employee to leave Lady Vols

For those of us who cover women’s basketball, she’s an institution and the standard-bearer for a professionally run sports information department. Who can even count how many thousands of interviews she has set up, game notes she has written and edited, industry-leading media guides she has produced, awards she has won and young people she has mentored.

Which is why her “retirement” — announced in three paragraphs by Tennessee on Wednesday — is such a frustrating statement about downsizing, power moves and the lack of loyalty that characterize so much of the corporate-America aspect of college athletics.

Jennings did not comment Wednesday, but a source close to the situation told me that Jennings did not want to retire. At 57, she’s still as in love as ever with her job, and just as passionate about publicizing the accomplishments of Tennessee student-athletes. But the on-going merger of the school’s men’s and women’s athletic departments has resulted in Tennessee purging some of its longest-tenured employees. No matter how good they are at their jobs.

I’m guessing that many ex-university (female) employees are having flashback to when they were wiped out in the 80’s when the NCAA forced the elimination of the AIAW.

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(make sure you scroll down for the article – the WaPo header in my browsers looks a hot mess) Baylor’s Kim Mulkey dropped the ball on protecting game’s integrity

Just a week after winning a title, Mulkey accepted penalties for an assortment of recruiting violations, most prominently with her 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner. Make no mistake: Baylor’s 40-0 season was less the result of improprieties than of Mulkey’s tireless work, strategic expertise and a vivid, charismatic personality that her players want to follow.

But that’s why the list of petty abuses she committed is so aggravating. Mulkey is positioned as the new standard bearer and bright coaching star of women’s basketball — a role she clearly wants, judging by her glittering outfits — but she just dipped the flag in the mud.

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From Sally Jenkins: Pat Summitt, Tennessee women’s basketball coach, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease

Full disclosure: It is the measure of Summitt’s large-heartedness that she could call any of a half-dozen people her closest friend. This writer has only one: her. “I would rather drive stakes through my own hands than write this story,” I said.

Sally also did a Q&A with Tennessee women’s basketball assistants Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood

At Sports Illustrated: Ex-Lady Vol Marciniak on Summitt’s diagnosis, her future and more

Fortune Magazine’s Patricia Sellers: Tough love: Behind Pat Summitt’s leadership coaching success

ESPN Blog: Tyler Summitt stands tall for his mother

Washington Post’s Jenna McGregor: Pats Summitt’s Back-up Team

Dan Fleser: Tabor Spani: Pat Summitt, Lady Vols still thinking national title
…and Pat Summitt: UT assistants ‘have my back’ Summitt hints action plan discussed
…and Mayo Clinic tests troubled Summitt
…and Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia – Lady Vols basketball coach has no plans to step down

From VolunteerTV.com: Vol fans stand in support of Pat Summitt and Join ‘We’ve got your back Pat’ by clicking here.

John Adams from GoVolsxtra.com writes: When it’s time, Lady Vols will be left Summitt strong

From the Tennessean’s David Climer: Pat Summitt won’t take diagnosis lying down

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