"When we saw Stanford, I don't think we were expecting to be in that bracket," Cal senior guard Layshia Clarendon said via a release. "Seeing No. 2 come up was a shocker, but of course to be in Lubbock, Texas, is a little bit closer than going all the way across the country. That's not too bad. We're excited."
Yet in his analysis of the 2013 NCAA Tournament brackets published this evening, ESPN's Charlie Creme looked at the broader significance of top-seeded conference foes being placed in the same region with a focus on Cal and Stanford.
The Cardinal and the Golden Bears are the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Spokane Regional. This will certainly get plenty of attention. It was a situation that haunted my bracketing process for weeks. On its face, it's not a huge problem (although I bet most fans would disagree), but I am concerned with the inconsistency by which the rules of geography are applied in matters like this...Politicians lose elections with this kind of flip-flopping. The lack of consistency on this topic has become tough to swallow.
The biggest issue with this is that conference opponents have had plenty of time - years, if you want to think about it on a player-by-player basis - to prepare for one another, which creates a sort of skews the matchup relative to other opponents. For higher seeds, that familiarity can be particularly damaging: in the 2011 Baylor-Texas A&M series that Creme mentioned, Texas A&M lost the first three times to Baylor before getting it right in the Elite Eight on the way to the program's first national title. Plenty to gripe about there for Baylor.
Stanford could have a similar gripe as a top seed that could have to face not just any opponent but a rival for the right to make the Final Four. But you can probably count Cal in the "not a big problem" camp.
"We hope to make it that far, but if you don't beat Fresno State, you're not going anywhere," Clarendon said. "We're really going to focus on practice tomorrow, then the next day focus on our flight, traveling there, staying hydrated, knowing the scouting report. This team has done a great job all year of taking every single game one step at a time, one media timeout, one half at a time. We're not going to change who we are now; we're going to stay focused, and we hope to see Stanford as well."
While Creme's point about the inconsistent application of the principle of placing conference rivals in the same region is valid - and could probably be worked out less randomly than it has - this is ultimately not a bad deal for Cal at all. As norcalnick of California Golden Blogs has already written, "The Bears received as ideal a draw as they could reasonably have hoped for."
The road is not easy, but it's nonetheless their best shot at a Final Four appearance compared to the other brackets: sure the tradeoff of the privilege to avoid Baylor at least until New Orleans is a sub-regional in Lubbock, Texas with Texas Tech as a potential second round matchup and a potential Sweet 16 matchup with a Penn State team that has one of the most explosive backcourt duos in the nation. But they also know that they can beat Stanford if they meet them and as a two-seed, Lubbock in the Spokane region was the closest possible spot they could be.
And what competitor wouldn't want the opportunity to settle the score with the school's biggest rival?
In a milestone season, Cal would have to go farther than they've gone in program history just to bring about this meeting with Stanford with both a trip to the Final Four and the season series on the line. It's hardly sugarcoating things to say that it's more of an opportunity than a problem.
"When we saw Stanford, I don't think we were expecting to be in that bracket," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said in the release. "Seeing No. 2 come up was a shocker, but of course to be in Lubbock, Texas, is a little bit closer than going all the way across the country. That's not too bad. We're excited."
None of that should negate Creme's point about the general principle, but it's hardly a problem for Cal.
For more on the 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament, check out our tournament section.