Seattle basketball fans got a treat in late-December with Seattle University holding the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic at KeyArena, which featured 2011 NCAA Tournament teams Gonzaga and Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, the game was not televised and a 4:30 p.m. PST start hampered attendance numbers leading an exciting game between two of the nation's Top 25 teams to go virtually unnoticed at a near-empty KeyArena.
Such is life in women's basketball.
But as the #2 seed Notre Dame in the Dayton region of the NCAA tournament which begins Saturday for the women, Notre Dame might have a chance to make it to the Final Four after playing what coach Muffet McGraw called their best game of the season against Gonzaga.
UConn at Notre Dame: What the Fighting Irish's Best Win Means Against The Huskies - Swish Appeal
"I think it's huge," said McGraw. "Right now, I think that's the best win on our tournament resume. Because I know that they're a NCAA tournament team, so it's nice to have beaten a team that I know is going to be in the NCAA tournament and to play 'em on the road I think makes it even better."
While neither team played particularly well, what makes Notre Dame impressive is their balance - although star guard Skylar Diggins gets the majority of the attention, they get defensive and scoring contributions from across the roster. That capacity to overcame bad games by individuals - Diggins struggled against Gonzaga to the tune of eight turnovers - is what makes this unit particularly potent in a tournament setting as described in a bracket preview at SBN's Swish Appeal.
Women's NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: Notre Dame Could Frustrate Tennessee, Win Dayton - Swish Appeal
Potentially most entertaining game: #3 Miami vs. #2 Notre Dame
Notre Dame has the best defense in this bracket allowing only 0.78 points per possession while Miami isn't far behind at 0.82. Both like to feast off of opponents' turnovers and while Miami typically likes to move a bit faster, Notre Dame is an extremely disciplined team that can score efficiently at a high pace with a +11% effective field goal percentage differential.
However, Notre Dame will inevitably have to get by the top-seeded Tennessee Lady Vols, who come in as SEC Champions and a Sagarin ranking of 4. And as David Hooper of SBN's Rocky Top Talk described, Tennessee has among the most athletic and versatile rosters in addition to depth that allowed them to cruise through the SEC.
Women's NCAA Tournament: Looking over the Dayton Region - Rocky Top Talk
The upside is that Tennessee matches up well with Ohio State, and the ridiculous depth of the team should allow them to keep the pace and energy level of the game very high. The winner of the Notre Dame / whoever game won't have much time to prepare for Tennessee, and so long as the Lady Vols don't dig an early hole, they should be able to mix and match lineups until they find the combinations that work best. Both games have the potential to be very exciting, but Tennessee should be favored in each.
But the advantage that Notre Dame might have is their ability to mix defensive schemes and force opponents into turnovers - it's what Notre Dame did to Gonzaga at KeyArena, breaking out a 1-3-1 zone that Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said he had never seen to that point in the film.
Not that Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is a slouch, but Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has a well-tuned unit that could surprise some people.
Predictions from Swish Appeal:
#1 Tennessee def. #16 Stetson
#8 Marquette def. #9 Texas (statistically, Texas was not stronger than any team in this field, outside of Stetson)
#12 BGSU def. #5 Georgia Tech
#4 Ohio State def. #13 UCF (I just don't have the heart to pick this upset, but it's one of the stronger possible upsets)
#6 Oklahoma def. #11 James Madison (I have faith that Oklahoma can limit turnovers against JMU)
#3 Miami def. #14 Gardner-Webb
#10 Temple def. #7 Arizona State (ASU was the worst 3-point shooting team in my beloved Pac-10)
#2 Notre Dame def. #15 Utah
Tennessee def. Marquette
BGSU def. Ohio State (This is as much about tournament pool strategery as lack of faith in case OSU loses to UCF)
Miami def. Oklahoma
Notre Dame def. Temple
Tennessee def. BGSU (a great run for Prochaska & Co. and a chance for draft scouts to see her against top tier comp)
Notre Dame def. Miami
Notre Dame def. Tennessee (This could definitely go either way - the Lady Vols have improved dramatically)
For more on the bracket, check out our Women’s NCAA Tournament StoryStream. For everything women’s NCAA hoops, stop by SBN's Swish Appeal. To fill out your own bracket and join Swish Appeal's writers in a bracket challenge, check out the Yahoo Women's Basketball Tournament Pick'Em.