Monday Musings: Women’s NCAA tourney final, Reds opening weekend, to tank or not to tank?

I was off the grid for most of the weekend, but catching up on all the sports action left me with a few thoughts to share.

  • First off, I have to say sportsmanship dominating the headlines from LSU’s win over Iowa in the women’s NCAA Tournament final is a shame if not an entirely surprising outcome.
  • Ratings have been on the rise since 2017 when UConn was knocked from its perch and the Final Four games moved to Friday night, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. ESPN also finally started showing every game in its entirety three years ago, a long over-due development that surely had to draw in more fans who were interested in watching their team (or at least something other than the Huskies massacring another team) but couldn’t always or at least easily do so before.
  • What new fans found is a more entertaining game (though I covered women’s basketball full-time from 2006-16 and thought it was fine before) because the NCAA’s efforts to improve freedom of movement were more successful on the women’s side than the men’s, where refs quickly went back to allowing too much off-ball contact and there are still far too many wrestling matches masquerading as basketball games.
  • That meant the women’s game more broadly benefited from the Steph Curry Effect encouraging offensive players to play more confidently and aggressively, shooting from anywhere and creating even more space to exploit. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is the epitome of that movement, but she also attracted more than a few detractors along her way to being named National Player of the Year because she frequently skirts the line between confidence and arrogance. Clark was playing with fire all year and finally got burned this weekend.
  • Waving at an open South Carolina player Friday night, dismissing her potential to shoot a 3, was over the line. Strutting and smirking after making a great play is one thing, but singling out an opponent for embarrassment is too much. I don’t follow pro wrestling, but the John Cena “You can’t see me” thing seems meant to be nothing but disrespectful, too.
  • So it is not hard to conclude Clark got what was coming to her Sunday afternoon when LSU star Angel Reese taunted her as the time was ticking down on the Tigers’ win.

  • To the victor go the spoils in each case, but you know what would be better than arguing over whether what either of them did was right or wrong? Well, pretty much anything. Like maybe where LSU ranks compared to recent national champions. Or Clark’s potential ability to get the Hawkeyes back to the final and over the finish line. Of course those stories are out there as well, but they weren’t the first ones I found when I opened up my news app, and I doubt they are the ones being shared the most on social media.
  • Is there a double standard for the women vs. the men as far as sportsmanship? It would be hard to argue otherwise. Since I started seeing people suggest that in January or February I have continuously thought the standard that should be accepted is not the one commonly applied to the men. If there is more reaction to Clark’s antics, that’s probably just an example of most people considering the men’s game a lost cause where the swagger level is so high it no longer even registers. Plus the women’s game has also for a long time benefited from being considered more about the game and less about the sideshow so you can’t have it both ways.
  • I missed both Reds games over the weekend, so hopefully me watching is not bad luck. The performance of the pitching staff on Opening Day had a certain, “Here we go again” feel with everyone in a Reds uniform struggling with the strike zone, but since then things have been more promising. Jonathan India, Jake Fraley and Tyler Stephenson are off to good starts, so imagine what it could look like if Jose Barrero and Will Benson got it going? (Or even got one hit…)
  • This is way off topic for Dayton Daily News readers and people who follow me for Ohio State football news, but it’s my blog so...: “Blackhawks take ‘lead’ in Connor Bedard sweepstakes as Blue Jackets win
  • I am a Blackhawks fan and I have to say I’m a little torn at this moment in time. As with the Reds, I don’t approve of tanking even if it sometimes works. I especially don’t approve when I don’t really think it’s necessary, as was the case with the Reds and Blackhawks in 2022. Yes, you can maximize your roster’s potential by being as bad as possible, but I don’t like throwing away seasons or creating more holes on your roster than you already have. For context the Reds and Blackhawks both turned average teams terrible by sending out players who can play now and even could still be good when some of their next wave of prospects reaches maturity. However the situations have some differences as the Reds would have had a harder time affording the starting pitchers they traded, so trading Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle was a necessity after the preseason trades because they needed to turn those guys into tangible prospects. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ goal really was specifically to be very bad to get to the top of this particular draft because Bedard is considered not just a great prospect but another Patrick Kane or Connor McDavid type true franchise player. But you know what? They already had a Patrick Kane, and I kinda wish he was still on the team… especially since getting Bedard is not guaranteed anyway.
  • So where am I torn? Well now that they are this far down the pike I actually find myself for the first time rooting for them to lose, but honestly I also kinda feel like if they don’t end up with the No. 1 pick it would be getting their just desserts.
  • Beyond that there is one fun little subplot between the Hawks and CBJ: The most likely “consolation prize” of this sweepstakes is Adam Fantilli, who just happens to be a star at Michigan. Could he be the next former Wolverine to don a Columbus sweater?

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