Suddenly everyone's an 'expert,' but it helps drive women's college basketball forward as pivotal final beckons | Opinion

Apr. 6—Suddenly, everyone is an expert.

It's kind of like holiday dinner with relatives offering life advice, welcome or not.

Some of it has merit. Some of it very much does not.

But everyone is engaged just the same — and in its own way, that's a good thing.

Because they care.

Between game days of the Women's Final Four on April 6, we had an interesting dynamic transpiring.

There's the reverberation from whether Connecticut's Aaliyah Edwards should have been called for an offensive foul in the last 10 seconds of the Huskies' national semifinal loss to Iowa on April 5, an instant classic of a clash.

Aaliyah Edwards was called for an offensive foul on this possession.

— ESPN (@espn) April 6, 2024

And then there's where that result leads: A showcase of a national championship game April 7 between the Hawkeyes and undefeated South Carolina.

Suddenly, everyone is an expert.

We have people nationwide who, not even three years ago, wouldn't have been caught anywhere near a debate over a moving screen in women's college basketball.

We have people nationwide dissecting this national title tilt amid such a pivotal moment in women's college basketball lore like they're on the ESPN broadcast courtside with Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo and Holly Rowe.

My only two cents on the offensive foul call, knowing my lane? If you're going to make that call in the final seconds of a tight Final Four encounter still hanging in the balance, you better be sure.

Others who know better than me were more adamant.

Edwards thought it was "pretty clean."

The Hawkeyes' Gabbie Marshall, who drew the contact, said it was a "great call."

ESPN studio analyst Andraya Carter flat-out stated the call "sucked."

"I don't even know if I can say this on TV, but that call sucked, SVP." — Andraya Carter

"Yeah, you can say it, and I agree." — Scott Van Pelt

— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) April 6, 2024

WNBA stars went back and forth on it, including Aces standout guard Kelsey Plum in disbelief over the call being made in that moment and not letting the game be decided essentially by a foul.

To call that on a game deciding play is so wrong WOW

— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) April 6, 2024

Postgame, as fans and members of the women's college basketball community exited Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — in lines waiting for stairs, elevators and escalators — they were engaged on the merits of the call.

And of course, a cavalcade of social-media hot take artists weighing in with opining across the spectrum, some desperate to be heard.

As wide-ranging as opinions were — whether it should have been called, whether the whistle should've been swallowed under the circumstances, it was all part of a grand conspiracy, etc. — it did lead back to one aspect that isn't all bad:

It means more of the mainstream is engaged in women's college basketball.

And that means the South Carolina-Iowa game April 7 will draw an astounding ratings number, one that may blow out of the water the record-setting 12.3 million viewers the Iowa-LSU regional final did.

Granted, especially in that aforementioned mainstream, this title game will revolve around a few primary storylines:

—Can Caitlin Clark lead Iowa to its first national championship, punctuating what's been described as we've discussed in this space previously as the most impactful career in women's college basketball lore?

Caitlin Clark effect evident for game, out of reverence to her, whether she's on court or not — Opinion

—Will South Carolina go wire-to-wire unbeaten, becoming the 10th Division I women's basketball team to accomplish the feat and first UConn in 2015-16, commendable after all Coach Dawn Staley's Gamecocks graduated from a year ago?

—With both of those in mind, what wins out: The best player, with complement? The deepest team?

There's only one way to find out.

But as we do, there is a lot to appreciate — storylines that may not necessarily scratch the surface in the mainstream.

South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao, for example, transferred to play for the Gamecocks this season from Oregon. During the off-day media availability April 6, a journalist relayed to Paopao how they had been speaking to one of her uncles. The uncle stated the Final Four run had a unifying impact on the family, which had been dealing with estrangement issues.

"Man, it means so much," Paopao said. "I've had family members come to games, but nothing like this. I got, like, 20 members here from all over the States. Just to know that my performance in basketball brings families together and just bringing people together from afar, it's an amazing feeling.

"I really appreciate their support and their love, and hopefully we can get a ring tomorrow and just share it amongst my families. It's just an amazing feeling to know that family is going to support me no matter what."

Clark held court for nearly a half-hour in her availability, speaking eloquently on a range of topics from her legacy to handling pressure to the girls and women's basketball caliber across her home state. Among her longest answers, though, were in praise of longtime teammate Kate Martin.

Mainstream observers may know Martin as one of the key complements for Iowa. What they may not know is how Martin got here, after an ACL tear as a freshman and in her sixth year in the program she's revered all her life. But more do now thanks in part to Clark.

"I think Kate would tell you that was the best thing to ever happen to her," Clark said of the ACL tear. "It gave her perspective on what basketball really is. It made her a better leader. She was a naturally born leader. But Kate is one of the best teammates I've ever had.

"Kate grew up with a poster of Iowa women's basketball glued to her ceiling. That's what she fell asleep looking at every single night. And she embodies that in every single thing that she does. She truly cares about and loves every person she's been teammates with. I know it will be special for her to take the court one more time in an Iowa jersey."

If you want feel-good narratives, you've got them.

If you want an Ohio connection while the Final Four is in Cleveland, you've got one on each team in South Carolina's Bree Hall (Huber Heights Wayne) and Marshall (Mount Notre Dame).

If you want a high game caliber, if the trajectory of this season has been indicative, chances are good you've got it.

If you want excitement about the women's game at this level and all others, you've got it at an all-time peak.

Suddenly, everyone is an expert.

And whether they may be or not, they're watching — on a stage in Cleveland, no less.

What an amazing sight this will be.

South Carolina vs. Iowa

What: Women's national championship game

When: 3 p.m., April 7

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse

Records: South Carolina 37-0, Iowa 34-4

TV: ESPN (Ryan Ruocco and Rebecca Lobo announcing)