Why Do I Think Tennessee Will Win?

By Jeff Lippman - April 08, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - I really don't understand how Tennessee does it.

Top-seeded and a top-ranked team all year, the owners of seven national titles somehow manage to find ways to fancy themselves underdogs every year.

Last year against Rutgers, the darlings of the postseason, the media tabbed the Scarlet Knights the juicy pick. And now, once again, Tennessee finds themselves up against a very chic Stanford team.

Well, the Lady Vols won last year, proving the truism that trends always fade, and this year, I think they are going to do the exact same thing.

In actuality, I can explain why I feel the Cardinal could walk away with their first title since 1992 more aptly than I could tell you why the Lady Vols will make good on their back-to-back bid. Call it a hunch.

Stanford has the inside-outside game working like a Swiss timepiece and is even getting contributions from unexpected places. The Cardinal boast the tournament's best leader - leader, not player - in Candice Wiggins and should own the paint with Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen defending a hurt Candace Parker.

While the Lady Vols struggled against LSU, needing a miracle from Alexis Hornbuckle, who until that point had a stat sheet that resembled binary code, Stanford left no doubt in their toppling of mighty UConn.

Oh yeah, and there's the fact that the Cardinal beat the Lady Vols once already this season back on Dec. 22 in Palo Alto.

Stanford is a better story, too. With the ever-jubilent and just-happy-to-be-here attitude of Wiggins coupled with the fact that this is the first team from the West Coast to even reach a Final Four since the Cardinal did it back in 1997, the trees have captured the nation's attention. Beating UConn as badly and as convincingly as they did always helps.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is the big bad wolf. They are the banner program in women's basketball. Most program wins, most national titles, a legend for a head coach and perhaps the best player to ever suit up on a college court all pertain to the Knoxville school. What's one more title for a team who already has two more than anyone else?

But that's just it, isn't it? Tennessee has the experience. They've been here before. They have a mystique about them. Just look at the way they beat LSU.

The Lady Tigers deserved to win that basketball game but it seems that God's favorite song is "Rocky Top," and His will put the ball in Hornbuckle's hands under the basket as time ran out on LSU's hopes.

To hell with reason, Tennessee is functioning with a higher power.

And I know what you're thinking. For someone who considers himself knowledgeable in the sport, that's a pretty lame assessment as to why Tennessee will win its record eighth national title.

But the fact remains that I honestly cannot tell you why or how I think the Lady Vols will pull it out.

Maybe Parker shakes off the rust from the dislocated shoulder that forced her to shoot just 6-of-27 from the field Sunday and drops 30 tonight. Maybe Shannon Bobbitt finds her range and goes off from deep. Maybe seniors Nicky Anosike and Hornbuckle figure out how to break out of a slump that caused them to go a combined 3-of-15 in their second-to-last game as collegians.

Maybe I'm wrong. Fortunately for Stanford, that's why they play the games.

But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, Pat Summitt and Candace Parker, I've learned to never take that combination for granted.

Yes, Stanford is the trendy pick and I'd certainly find joy in watching Wiggins celebrate with tears running down her face as the streamers and confetti shower the St. Pete Times Forum indicating another fantastic end to a great season.

Somewhere, deep down, a nagging feeling just won't let me pick the Cardinal. I can't go against history and especially when it's Tennessee we're talking about.

No team has ever managed to beat Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt in the same NCAA Tournament, let alone in consecutive Final Four games to win the national title. Needless to say, Tara Vanderveer has a daunting task ahead of her. Already a Hall of Famer, if she gets the job done she'll never have to pay for a latte at a Northern California Starbucks again.

Momentum is on Stanford's side, but history is with the defending champs. And if history tells us anything, especially in the case of the Lady Vols, it is the better predictor.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 05:16 PM on April 08, 2008

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