The first women’s NCAA basketball tournament allowed to employ the phrase “March Madness’ will culminate in the first women’s Final Four held in Minneapolis since 1995.
The first weekend of the women’s March Madness demonstrated that in at least one way, the women’s tourney is better than the men’s.
The Final Four will demonstrate another.
In the first weekend of women’s March Madness, the tourney broke an attendance record set almost two decades ago. If you watched on television, you saw packed arenas filled with loud fans.
That’s where the women’s tourney beats the men’s. The women play their first two rounds at home sites of highly-seeded teams, ensuring that diehard fans of quality programs will be able to attend.
The dirty secret of men’s March Madness is that the atmosphere at the games rarely matches the excitement caused by the bracket and the broadcasts.
Anyone who has attended the first two rounds of games at far-flung arenas has been shocked by the antiseptic nature of the atmosphere. Those games feel as if they are being played in a television studio.
The broadcasts will focus on the court and on the small pockets of invested fans, but fan bases are small and split and many of the fans in the stands don’t care about the game they are watching — they are there for one team.
The women’s tourney proved last weekend that playing true home games is the way to go, and that playing true home games doesn’t have to be seen as an unfair advantage. Six double-digit seeds won in the first round, on the road.
If the women used neutral sites, perhaps the best local story of the first weekend would have felt less dramatic. Lakeville North alum Lauren Jensen, a transfer from Iowa, lifted Creighton to a last-minute victory over Iowa at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That moment wouldn’t have felt quite the same in Boise or Orlando.
The women’s tourney will culminate in Target Center. The choice of our local WNBA and NBA arena over U.S. Bank Stadium is logical. Why hold your signature event in a stadium that could feature empty seats?
Target Center is also the correct aesthetic choice. The men play in stadiums because the NCAA can sell more tickets, but many of those tickets are lousy for basketball, as Timberwolves fans from the advent of the franchise can attest.
The women will benefit from the more intimate feel of Target Center, which should already be known as the home of the most successful sports franchise in Minnesota history, the four-time champion Lynx.
The women’s tourney holds another obvious advantage over the men’s: The women don’t feature players who are using college for one year to prepare for the NBA.
The one-and-done rule in men’s college basketball has led to a noticeable decline in the quality of play. The best women’s teams tend to build cohesiveness and get to market their best players for years before they move on to the WNBA.
If the women’s game has yet to attract your attention, this might be the ideal time to change your viewing habits.
Watch the women’s tourney this weekend and you’ll see Paige Bueckers, the best player produced by Minnesota since Lindsay Whalen, whose picture she used to keep on her wall. You’ll see her coach, Geno Auriemma, trying to return to Minneapolis, where his team beat Tennessee in the championship game in Target Center in 1995.
You’ll see Jensen and Creighton, and Dawn Plitzuweit’s remarkable South Dakota program, which features five Minnesotans. And Dawn Staley, one of America’s great coaches, trying to turn South Carolina into a UConn-like dynasty.
You’ll see local angles and history, and you’ll be supporting strong women in the wake of GOP senators launching racist attacks on Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, one of the most qualified Supreme Court candidates in American history.
The winners of this weekend’s regionals will advance to Minneapolis. This would be a good time to study up for Minnesota’s next great event.