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Thoughts on the Dayton region from the airport

Laura Myers | Friday, March 18, 2011

It is obscenely early in the morning and I’m sitting at the Cleveland airport, drinking coffee and waiting for a plane to whisk me away to sunny, exotic Utah. I’m also thinking about the Dayton region of the tournament. Some of those thoughts:

– One thing jumps out right away when you look at the Dayton region through a Notre Dame lens, and that thing is Oklahoma. In the Sweet Sixteen.

The first two rounds don’t look too troublesome for an Irish team that makes a habit of routing almost any team not named Connecticut. The only problem might come from the fact that Notre Dame’s first opponent, No. 15-seed Utah, is hosting the games. But the Irish have more than shown the ability to win on the road over inferior opponents this season (see 79-43 at Providence, 94-43 at Valpo, 82-50 at Pitt, etc).

Oklahoma is a No. 6-seed and might not make it past No. 3-seed Miami. If the Sooners do make it out of Charlottesville, though, it could set up a re-match of last year’s Sweet Sixteen in which Oklahoma topped the Irish, 77-72, in overtime.

The star of that game was Oklahoma senior Nyeshia Stevenson. Without Stevenson this season, the Sooners haven’t had nearly the same success. Miami, on the other hand, is a force on defense. It’s more likely the Irish will be playing the Hurricanes in the Sweet Sixteen.

– I like the idea of Notre Dame playing Miami. Reminds me of the last time I sat in the Cleveland airport, on the way to sunny, exotic El Paso. That joke doesn’t get old.

– I’ve read several blogs that propose MAC champ Bowling Green, a 12-seed in the Dayton region, to be this year’s Cinderella. I like that idea for one reason: I went to high school with Jen Uhl, a senior forward on that team, and love to brag about kids I graduated with who do cool things.

I also dislike that idea for one reason: If Bowling Green takes out No. 4-seed Ohio State, the Buckeyes won’t get a crack at Tennessee. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem, because the Buckeyes are hosting the first two rounds. But the Toledo-based Falcons will probably have a good showing as well.

– Regardless of who makes it to Dayton out of Columbus, it’s reasonable to assume No. 1-seed Tennessee will survive its first two rounds in Knoxville. Pat Summit’s Volunteers have been especially dangerous this year; they’ve scored more than 100 points in three games this season.

Ohio State would probably give the Vols a better Sweet Sixteen game than would Bowling Green, and might at least tire them out a little before the Elite Eight. Ohio State has a geography advantage here, too: Dayton is roughly 45 minutes from the Buckeyes’ campus in Columbus.

– Of course, college basketball fans will be rooting against Notre Dame in the event of a Tennessee-Notre Dame Elite Eight match. The Irish have faced Connecticut three times this season; the Volunteers haven’t faced the Huskies since 2007 due to increasing tensions in the rivalry. That match would indeed be thrilling, with Tennessee hot at just the right time and Connecticut composed almost completely of human players, and both coaches finalists for the Naismith coaching award. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.

– A lot of people have picked all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four, and it’s easy to see why; all four teams have had excellent years, and during Monday’s selection show ESPN even showed a graphic of their parity: Stanford beat Connecticut beat Baylor beat Tennessee beat Stanford. Whew. But rarely do all four No. 1’s make the Final Four.

My original thesis was that Tennessee was the most vulnerable, perfect for Notre Dame to slip into Indianapolis. There’s about an hour left until my plane starts to board, and I might need all that time to find a weakness. Against Kentucky in the SEC championship on March 6, the Vols hit 16 3-pointers. In slight exaggeration, I think that’s how many Notre Dame has made this season.

Tennessee starts three forwards, a center and a guard. I’m through trying to find weaknesses; I’m just excited to see Becca Bruszewski, Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters play the game of their lives.

Time to board. Check back later for more details on the Utah match-up, which begins tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.