Women’s NCAA Preview
by Tracy Granzyk
It’s all UConn in the Mideast as the undefeated No. 1 seed takes on St. Francis of Pennsylvania in the first round. The question here is not, ‘does the No. 16 seed have a chance?’ It’s more along the lines of, ‘does anyone have a chance against the Huskies?’ This is not to demean St. Francis’ earning their first-time NCAA Tournament bid. They just have the unfortunate luck of drawing the No. 16 seed in the Mideast, and having to play the eventual Tournament Champion. The Huskies, who have beaten their opponents by an average of 37 points this season, need to continue to play their excellent brand of basketball no matter who they encounter.
No. 2 seed Purdue has lost some big games during the latter part of the season, including the semifinal conference tournament game to unranked Indiana. I don’t see them as a factor for very long, if they can’t put it together for the big contests. Look for No. 3 seed Kansas State, who is taking their basketball very seriously, to challenge UConn in the regional final. They’ll have to get by a persistent No. 6 Arkansas team first, though. The Lady Razorbacks have been on a tear lately, upsetting South Carolina 79-61 in the SEC tournament, and losing to Vanderbilt by only three points, 81-78, in the SEC semifinals.
Winner: Who else? UConn!
The Midwest Regional is likely the toughest road to the Final Four. In the earliest controversy of the Women’s 2002 NCAA Tournament, SEC Champ Vanderbilt 27-6 was given the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, much to the chagrin of No. 2 seed Tennessee and Coach Pat Summit. You can rest assured trouble is in store for the bottom half of the bracket, as this demotion may be the impetus the Lady Vols needed to start playing some basketball.
As both SEC teams are paired in the Midwest they may meet yet again this season in order to advance to the Final Four.
Also slotted in the Midwest are a number of AP Top 25 teams: No. 3 seed/No. 11 Iowa State, No. 4 seed/No. 16 North Carolina, No. 5 seed/No. 19 Minnesota, No. 6 seed/No. 24 Florida. No. 8 Wisconsin faces off against No. 9 Arizona State, in what promises to be one of the most exciting first round match-ups. The PAC-10 champs who just up-ended Stanford for the conference title looked strong and were unrelenting against the Cardinals. The No. 10 Lobos and No. 12 UNLV can also win on any given day.
Can you say ‘stacked?’ This conference is a toss up! Logic says a 1-2 Vandy-Tennessee regional final with Tennessee avenging their sub-par season finish. But this is March Madness and logic does not always prevail.
No. 1 seed Oklahoma, Rulers of the Toughest Conference in Women’s Basketball carry a 27-3 record into their opening round versus a 16-14 Hartford team. The Sooners three losses were to ranked teams only, and included the likes of Connecticut, Iowa State and Texas. Hartford, coached by ex-UConn and WNBA standout Jennifer Rizzotti, will need a little bit of luck, in addition to hard work, to get past the Sooners. The Hawks are making their first NCAA appearance, having surprised their conference colleagues by stealing the America East Conference title.
No. 2 seed Stanford should be back to full strength with their leading scorer Lindsey Yamasaki back in the lineup. I don’t see much standing in their way to the West Regional final, as my No. 3 seed Buffs have been inconsistent when the game has been on the line. Look for No. 4 seed Texas Tech and No. 5 Boston College to meet in the second round and provide some good old basketball.
I’m predicting a 1-2 Oklahoma vs. Stanford regional final, with Stanford pulling off the upset.
No. 1 seed Duke who takes a 27-3 record to the dance may end up all wet just like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in one of the best scenes of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Who have the Blue Devils played this year? No one really, and when they did challenge the big dogs like Tennessee, and South Carolina they were chased off the porch. Their third loss came to Toledo – who? I think their record is similar to the dance floor at the high school reunion in “It’s A Wonderful Life” – not what it seems below the surface.
Look for an all-Texas, East Regional final. No. 2 Baylor, a very physical and seasoned Big 12 team should meet No. 4 seed and Big 12 rival, Texas for a trip to the Final Four. In fact, Baylor’s tough brand of round-ball should keep them in it for a while-maybe even meeting Stanford for a shot at the National Championship.