The NCAA women’s Final Four 2011 bracket looked familiar before Sunday night. Yet now that the Final Four has lost its only two No. 1 seeds, women’s basketball heads for one of its most unfamiliar finales in recent years. Not having Tennessee make it to the last weekend is one thing, but seeing Connecticut and Stanford go down in the semifinals is something else. As such, those who complained about how predictable this tournament was are bound to smile tonight over seeing Notre Dame vs Texas A&M.
The Irish and Aggies may be No. 2 seeds, but they might as well be No. 8 and No. 11 seeds in this bracket. Notre Dame was a long shot to beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight, while Texas A&M had to face Baylor for the fourth time in their regional final after having lost the first three meetings.
Yet the Irish and Aggies pulled off the closest thing to a big upset in the tournament, joining Connecticut and Stanford in Indianapolis. Since they were the odd teams out, however, they seemed assured of rolling over, so that a second straight UConn-Stanford finale would come.
The script was being followed perfectly in the first game, as Stanford led Texas A&M by 10 with several minutes left. From that point forward, everything fell into the kind of chaos that women’s basketball rarely sees anymore. Not only would the Final Four be denied a Stanford-UConn rematch, both powerhouses would be knocked out altogether.
As such, the bracket has formed both an ideal and nightmarish pairing at the end. They don’t have Connecticut and Stanford to drive up interest and ratings, yet they are guaranteed to have a new champion – which may be what the sport truly needs.
Even when UConn broke the UCLA men’s all-time winning streak, there were still complaints on how they were barely challenged, and how imbalanced the game had become. Despite finally falling to Stanford in December, it still appeared inevitable that the Huskies would breeze to a third straight crown. The only ones that seemed likely to stop them were the Cardinal, yet the Irish snuck up on them and everyone else instead.
Therefore, the finale will either have the Irish claim their first title in 10 years, or have the Aggies win their first in school history. They both beat two No. 1 seeds to get here, and proved that the gap between UConn, Stanford, Tennessee and everyone else isn’t that wide after all. With that, they have provided the best gift of all – a championship game where the winner is hard to predict.
This kind of new blood is especially refreshing after last night, when the men’s finalists crashed and burned under missed shots. At least one Final Four should end with high drama in 2011, as the stunning women’s finalists clash at 8:30 p.m. est on ESPN.
ESPN- “NCAA Basketball Tournament – 2011”
Seattle PI- “Aggies, Irish face off for national championship”