Column: Can Brittney Griner save the WNBA?

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The hours spent pouring over the brackets were probably a waste because no one knows just how good Gonzaga is, or whether Kansas really does have its act together.

That’s the beauty of the NCAA men’s tournament, where this year there are more questions than ever about which schools are pretenders and which are contenders. Even the wise guys in Vegas don’t really seem to know, with seven teams _ including Kansas and Gonzaga all listed at 12-1 or better to win the national title.

There’s no such debate on the women’s side. Brittney Griner and her Baylor teammates are pretty much locks to be cutting down the nets in New Orleans on a second straight national title.

Critics will say that’s part of what is wrong with women’s basketball on the college level. Schools like Tennessee, Connecticut and now Baylor can reign for years if they manage to land the right player.

Basketball purists who enjoy the women’s game _ and, yes, they’re out there _ will argue that’s just fine. They’ve had the privilege for the last four years of watching the most dominant player in college, the first woman, perhaps, who can sell tickets just by showing up.

You’ve seen her on the highlight shows, where she gets an uncommon amount of attention for the simple reason that she can dunk. That separates her from almost every female player before her, but it sells the 6-foot-8 Griner short.

Just ask one of her admirers.

“It’s not like she’s just catching and laying it or dunking every time,” LeBron James said. “She’s shooting turnaround jumpers. She’s drop-stepping over her left shoulder, right shoulder, shooting jumpers. She’s got a fade away jumper. And she’s dunking the ball too. She’s great.”

That’s what makes a lot of people in the WNBA salivate when they hear Griner’s name. It’s a foregone conclusion she’ll be the No. 1 pick of the Phoenix Mercury in the draft on April 15.

More importantly, she could be the one player who can get non-believers to tune in. And that would be welcome news for a league that, approaching its 17th season, still struggles to win eyeballs.

“Somebody like Brittney we haven’t seen,” said Mercury vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale. “Certainly she’s going to change the dynamic of the game.”

Already the league has changed is rules in anticipation of her arrival. No one came out and said that a new 3-second rule for clogging the lane on defense was instituted for the upcoming season with Griner in mind, but after playing 16 years without it, the timing certainly is suspicious, at best.

The Mercury will surely use the No. 1 pick on Griner, though Drysdale is quick to say the team has not formally said who it is taking. She would join Diana Taurasi, on a Phoenix team that would immediately be a title favorite.

Right now, though, there’s still a little more college work to be done. Baylor opens defense of its title Sunday night at home against Prairie View, and the competition will get tougher as the tournament goes on.

When you’re 72-1 over the last two seasons, though, it doesn’t matter who you play. Especially not when your center can score from anywhere within 15 feet, isn’t afraid to dish out assists to teammates, and has averaged 5.1 blocks a game over her career.

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