It is officially my favorite time of year. Spring is here, the weather is getting warmer, baseball is gearing up for the season with spring training games starting up, and madness can be found a plenty during the wonderful month of March.
Like a lot of folks, I filled out a tournament bracket for the NCAA’s big dance, and just like everyone who filled out a bracket, mine has been completely busted with the numerous upsets that took place over the weekend. I mean seriously, Oral Roberts, a 15-seed making the sweet 16? Show me the person who predicted that, and I’ll show you someone who filled their bracket out in pencil.
For many fans in Kentucky, it seemed the madness in March ended back in January, or maybe even before that. With Kentucky’s treacherous 9-16 season, and Louisville barely missing this year’s tournament, the Commonwealth’s two flagship basketball programs missed out on the big dance. We still had Bluegrass representation by way of Morehead State, but they were bounced from the first round of the tournament by the favorited West Virginia Mountaineers, who I picked to win the whole thing (thanks Syracuse).
Just because it seems we no longer have any home state teams left in this year’s tournament, the fun doesn’t have to stop. Like I said before, this year’s tournament has been Cinderella heavy, and it’s always fun to cheer for the underdog. But there’s also another tournament taking place this March, one that features both Kentucky and Louisville, to help fill-in the post-season hole we have in our hearts as college-basketball obsessed Kentuckians - the NCAA women’s tournament taking place down in San Antonio.
Much like the men’s tournament, this year’s women’s tournament is being held in one central location to help prevent the headache and possible exposure to the coronavirus traveling around the country can bring.
Kentucky’s women’s team entered this year’s tournament as a four seed after an 18-8 regular season and finishing sixth in a competitive SEC. They are led by 2019’s Freshman of the Year, two-time SEC Player of the Year, and 20 point per game scorer Rhyne Howard.
The Lady Wildcats have already knocked off 13th seeded Idaho State and are slated to play a tough Iowa team on Tuesday in the second round of the tournament. The Iowa squad features the nation’s top scorer Caitlin Clark, a freshman, who is averaging 26.5 points per game.
Jeff Walz’s Cardinals are no stranger to playing in March either. Since taking over in 2007, he’s led the Lady Cardinals to 12 tournament appearances, three final fours, and a pair of championship appearances. This year’s second-seeded squad is lead by senior guard Dana Evans, a 20 point per game scorer in her own right.
Louisville is scheduled to play 15th seeded Marist tonight (Monday), and barring any Oral Robert’s like miracle, will play the winner of this evening’s UCF and Northwestern matchup.
Unfortunately both Kentucky and Louisville are on the same side of the bracket, so there’s no chance of an all-Kentucky championship this year. But maybe the two sides could meet in the final four, and give us a show like their male counterparts did back in 2012, which saw Kentucky pull out the 69-61 victory on their way to the winning the national championship. Louisville would go on to win the championship the following year, but you won’t find that in the NCAA’s history books.
And yes, the women’s game isn’t as highly touted, talked about, or analyzed, but that’s at no fault of the players, their coaches, and fans. There is still good basketball to be found. You may not notice that, because like I said, there seems to be a discrepancy on the NCAA’s part in showcasing and highlighting the talents of these athletes.
For example, if you follow any of the major national sports networks, I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures circulating that compare the ad-hoc weight rooms installed for both the men’s and women’s teams in this year’s tournaments. The men have had a weight room installed that could rival most division one facilities. While on the other hand, the women were provided with a rack of dumbbells that looks like it was picked up from a Facebook marketplace seller on the NCAA’s way to San Antonio. Do better NCAA, you’re a multi-billion dollar organization.
If you haven’t given women’s basketball a chance because of preconceived ideas or prejudices, I would highly recommend that you reconsider. Whereas, the men’s side can overcome poor coaching through a player’s freakish athleticism, the women’s side is more tactical and fundamental, a treat for anybody who considers themselves a real fan of the game. After all, whether the game is played above the rim or below it, it’s still basketball, and this is still Kentucky.
Jarrod Mills is a staff writer for The Times-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.