A big difference in women's tournament
Picture for a minute the Marquette men's basketball team, a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Division I tournament, getting to play the first two rounds at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.
And then if they made the Sweet Sixteen, to play the next two rounds in, let's say the Milwaukee Bucks' Bradley Center?
In other words, a chance to get to the Final Four by winning four games without leaving their city?
The uproar would rival the Wisconsin legislature.
But that's exactly what the NCAA women's tournament has going this year. No. 11 seed Gonzaga knocked off No. 6 Iowa and No. 3 UCLA in the first and second rounds, playing on its own McCarthey Athletic Center floor. The victories earned the Zags a berth in the third round -- this time at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Poor Louisville. The No. 7 seed scored a nice 85-75 upset over No. 2 seed Xavier, on Xavier's home court. And the Cardinals' reward is a road game with Gonzaga.
I understand the rationale behind the home sites. Unlike the men's tournament -- where high ticket demand makes more-or-less strictly neutral floors an affordable luxury -- the women's tournament needs to place its games where fans are more likely to turn out in significant numbers.
So when the sites are determined (about 18 months in advance), they're top-heavy with perenially strong programs. Who then are even more unlikely to lose in the early rounds, for the most part robbing the tournament of one of the major attractions of the men's event: early-round shockers.
Would Marquette have beaten No. 3 Syracuse on the Orange's home floor? Or even No. 6 Xavier, in Cincinnati?
Or more to the point, would tiny No. 13 Morehead State have stood a chance playing No. 4 Louisville in the Cardinals' gym?
One of the women's region semifinals and finals being held in the same city is admittedly a quirk (this is the first time it's happened since the current format for scheduling -- including having the national championship game the day after the men's -- was adopted in 2003) but that only exaggerates the point about home-court advantage built into the system for the first two rounds.
By the way, Gonzaga is a first-second-round site next year too. They're mixing it up a bit, with schools like Fairfield and Bowling Green hosting games besides some of the regulars like Maryland.
Eleven of the last 15 national championships have been won by UConn or Tennessee. Maybe not much can be done to change that dominance and its resulting predictability. But at what point does the competitive tradeoff for home courts -- and indifference from the larger basketball world -- become not worth the extra ticket sales to the smaller universe of avid college women's basketball fans?
Only the NCAA can answer that.
-- Craig Swalboski