Louisville shocks tourney field, UConn moves into UPS top spot before showdown with Irish
While a UConn-Notre Dame pairing on one half of the Final Four bracket surprised no one, Louisville crashing the New Orleans party to take on California is a much different story.
The 16th-ranked Cardinals, whose counterparts on the men's side were the top overall seed in their tournament and also advanced to national semifinals, took a significantly different route - one that AP voters, the NCAA tournament committee and the UPS Team Performance Index never saw coming.
Louisville comes into the Big Easy ranked 27th in the UPS Index, and is just the second No. 5 seed to ever advance to the Final Four. No school seeded worse than fourth has ever won a national semifinal, but as daunting as history may be, it's not putting a damper on the Cardinals' hopes.
"We ruined the entire party," coach Jeff Walz said Tuesday night after his team beat perennial power Tennessee 86-78 in the regional final . "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody. It's a journey and we're going to continue."
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges six major statistics covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance: effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency, miscues and winning percentage.
From there, the data is normalized and an overall index is created for all 341 NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of inside-the-lines excellence and overall balance.
While taking down the second-seeded Volunteers may have raised some eyebrows, Louisville was actually ranked one spot ahead of Tennessee in the UPS Index. The real shocker came two days earlier when the Cardinals toppled Baylor, which had been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and the index, as well as being the top overall seed in the tournament.
"Hate it or love it, the underdogs are on top," said Monique Reid, who hit the clinching free throws to beat the Bears on Sunday night. "It's crazy. Nobody believed in us, but we believed in ourselves. The world's going to know our name now."
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb certainly does, although there's no way she could have seen the mayhem that erupted in the adjacent bracket coming.
The Golden Bears, who eked by Georgia with a 65-62 overtime win Monday night, are ranked 13th in the index. Outside of Stanford, they are the first West Coast school to advance to the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988.
"I knew this was possible," Gottlieb said. "I believed more in this group than anyone ever and this is still better than my wildest dreams. ... So many things go into it and then you have to get a little lucky and then things have to go right, so I'm really conscious of this as special."
Regardless of any historical anomalies that Louisville or Cal may represent in getting to New Orleans, whichever school advances will have its work cut out to ultimately take home the big prize.
Save for Baylor, Notre Dame and Connecticut have been the two schools that have most dominated the landscape of women's college basketball over the past few years, and the matchup is as tasty as it is familiar: It will mark the third straight year the teams will meet in the national semifinals.
"We're enjoying the moment right now," Skylar Diggins said after her team advanced with an 87-76 win over Duke, knowing full well the storyline of the week would be yet another clash between basketball titans. "We'll talk about that later."
Of the Huskies' four losses this season, three have come at the hands of the Big East-rival Fighting Irish - one in overtime, one by one point and one by two. Overall, the Notre Dame has won seven of the last eight meetings, an unprecedented run of success against coach Geno Auriemma's powerhouse in Storrs.
That domination is reflected in the UPS Index, as UConn took over the top spot with Baylor's loss, and Notre Dame held steady at No. 3.
The key to the Huskies' ranking continues to be their incredible offensive efficiency. Their offensive microindex of 160.3 is the highest of any school in any category, made possible by an effective field goal percentage of 56.2 percent. That is the highest percentage over a full season since Auriemma's 2008-09 team - which, coincidentally enough, beat Louisville in the national title game - shot 56.9 percent.
In contrast, Cal shoots 45.6 percent, the lowest of the Final Four teams.
While no slouch itself offensively, Notre Dame leads the nation in the miscues category - not surprising given the heady play and senior leadership of its floor general, All-American point guard Diggins.
Yet as much as the numbers may point in the favor of the winner of UConn-Notre Dame cutting down the nets at the New Orleans Arena on Tuesday night, Louisville's run through the bracket is yet another example of the madness that has become synonymous with NCAA tournament play.
Walz is hoping his team continues to reinforce that reputation.
"I just kept telling them we're playing with house money, people. I mean, if we win, hey, it's one more to chalk up. If we lose, everybody's going to say, `I told you so.'"