The brackets for the women's NCAA Tournament were announced Monday, with the usual head scratching and complaining over snubs and seed assignments, though nothing like the acrimony that met the men's announcement Sunday. The big news is Tennessee only getting a 2 seed.
I will now make my annual confession that I haven't followed women's college basketball as closely this year as I would have liked to, although this year I haven't followed the men's season terribly closely either.
But before you dismiss the unique naif perspective I'll be bringing to these proceedings, remember that last year I picked the women's Tournament winner, something I haven't done on the men's side in so long I can't remember the last time.
You just can't get this kind of expert analysis at most publications.
For reasons that have since escaped me, I tabbed Baylor to win it all. I was so confident in the pick, I had to be reminded of it by a reader afterward. I'll study a little and make another pick this year.
I think it's going to be North Carolina, because while I don't know much about women's college hoops this year, I know Ivory Latta and the Tar Heels. But they're in a monster bracket, so we'll see.
The best news I've heard about the women's Tournament is that the excellent Doris Burke, usually relegated to pointless sideline-reporter duty at Tournament time, will be the lead game analyst for ESPN.
She'll be teamed with Sean McDonough -- that's a great team -- in Norfolk, Va., in the first round Sunday and next Tuesday, then will be with Mike Patrick in the Bridgeport Regional and the Final Four in Boston.
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World Baseball Classic soldiers on [PERMALINK]
It's getting hard to pay attention to the World Baseball Classic, isn't it?
A nation with its nose buried in NCAA Tournament office pools barely blinked at the United States losing to South Korea 7-3 in a modestly attended game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim Monday, one day after the U.S. beat Japan 4-3 on the back of an egregious umpiring error.
The U.S. doesn't play again until Thursday evening, when it takes on Mexico. In the first round, the Mexicans beat the Canadians, who beat the Americans. So a win by Mexico, which would eliminate the U.S., is certainly possible.
The good news for the Americans is that Dontrelle Willis won't be pitching. He has been the starter in both games the USA has lost, and terrible in both, giving up eight runs on 10 hits and six walks in five and two-thirds innings, with four strikeouts.
In Pool 2, the Puerto Rico side of the bracket, all four teams are 1-1, beautifully setting up a pair of elimination games, Venezuela vs. the Dominican Republic Tuesday night and Cuba vs. Puerto Rico Wednesday night. The winners advance to San Diego next week.
Attendance has been solid at 19,000-seat Hiram Bithorn Stadium, but inconsistent in Anaheim. The Japan-U.S. game drew 32,896 Sunday, and Mexico vs. Korea the same day had a crowd of 42,979. But Monday's U.S.-Korea game only drew 21,288.
By the way, a reader who says she has been to Olympic baseball games in Los Angeles and Atlanta as well as "countless" major league games all over the country wrote me to say that that Korea-Mexico game Sunday night was "the most fun you could have in a ballpark."
"The place was rocking," she wrote. "Pandemonium on every pitch and such cheering that my ears are still humming. Half the stadium was Korean and the other half Mexican (and the five of us Anglos). Flags waving, faces painted, giant sombreros and Korean headbands, trilingual announcers and endless, raucous noise. No acrimony, just joy and exuberance."
Sounds pretty cool.
Anyway, the timing of the World Baseball Classic hurts it domestically. It isn't that it coincides with spring training. That's a good thing for fan interest even if the major league clubs don't like it because it disrupts their preparation. It's the competition with the run-up to, and next week the fantastic first weekend of, the basketball tournament.
Baseball has been talking up the solid TV ratings, but keep in mind we're talking about ESPN2 ratings. They've been good in that context, but nothing special compared with events on ESPN or the broadcast networks.
Then again, the WBC is not being staged for the benefit of American baseball fans. We're already in the tent. The idea is to sell the game overseas.
I have no idea how that's going. All of the countries that need a little more baseball with their breakfast -- your various and sundry Italys, South Africas and Netherlandses -- were eliminated quickly, their colorful collection of players quietly going home.
To Florida and Arizona.
Clearly, the World Baseball Classic has been a hit among Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans and Venezuelans, which is a little like saying the World Coal Classic is really opening up markets in Newcastle. Tokyo seemed lukewarm. Germany? Spain? Norway? Madagascar? You tell me.
But commissioner Bud Selig and his lieutenant, Bob DuPuy, as well as union chief Don Fehr, have proclaimed themselves happy, and well they should be. They've got a pretty good event on their hands.
It needs some tweaks, and some tweaks are coming. There's talk of moving the first two rounds back a bit so the players will be better prepared, though that will hurt domestic interest by putting the WBC right into the teeth of the NCAA Tournament schedule, and then having the semifinals and final game during the All-Star break.
Not that baseball ever listens to me -- the designated hitter has to go! -- but I would advise more games in small ballparks in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Florida and fewer in cavernous stadiums in Tokyo, Phoenix and Southern California.
But however it goes, the WBC will almost certainly be back in some form by 2010.
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Attendance update and correction [PERMALINK]
We've been tracking World Baseball Classic attendance around here, for no particular reason but with an eye toward MLB president Bob DuPuy's statement early on that the WBC was "on pace to draw 800,000 fans" after the first day.
DuPuy's statement was overly optimistic, but I made a mathematical error Friday in assessing the attendance that made it look like the potential final figure was smaller than it really was.
I wrote that, with four games to go in the first round, if every game the rest of the way sold out, the Classic would draw about 758,000. I must have forgotten to carry a one somewhere. The actual figure was roughly 858,000. Nice going, King! Only lost 100,000 people.
Now the first round is over and seven of the 12 games in Round 2 have been played. The three games in Anaheim have drawn an average of 32,388, which is 71.9 percent of capacity in the 45,050-seat park. The four games in San Juan have drawn an average of 14,846 in the 19,000-seater, 78.1 percent of capacity.
The Puerto Rico-Cuba game will sell out in San Juan. Venezuela vs. the Dominican Republic drew 10,645 in the first round. More at stake here, but I wouldn't bet on a sellout.
In Anaheim the remaining games are Japan-Mexico, Korea-Japan and U.S.-Mexico. I confess I don't know how to handicap the crowds there. Drawing 42,979, Mexico-Korea got twice the crowd U.S.-Korea did, with U.S.-Japan right in the middle, at 32,896. I have no idea if the U.S.-Korea crowd was the smallest because of less interest or because it was played on a Monday.
I'll guess at crowds in the 25,000 range for the two non-U.S. games and 40,000 for U.S.-Mexico, but that could be exactly backward.
The maximum possible attendance now -- really, I double-checked my math -- is about 794,000. My guess at the final tally is 725,000. I'm figuring crowds around 40,000 a game for the semis and finals, which might be optimistic during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Even crowds around 30,000 would put the classic in the 700,000 range, which wouldn't be quite as boffo as 800,000, but would still be a pretty impressive draw for a first-time event.
Previous column: Stop all Tournament whining!
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