Yes, it's seriously a NCAA Women's Tournament preview

I make no secret that I am something of a women's basketball fan. Part of this is that I can find something to enjoy at every level of basketball. Part of this is because I went to UConn (though I did pay some nonzero amount of attention to the women's Final Fours in the Taurasi era). Part of this is because at the end of the day, I'm a sucker for the names on the front of the jersey, and the conflict and drama of single-elimination tournament basketball.

I'm not above making jokes about the women's game - misogyny is hilarious! - and I understand why many don't watch it. It's a game played almost entirely below the rim, and, apart from UConn and perhaps two other teams, there simply aren't enough great basketball players to make the quality of play eye-poppingly attractive. I won't try to convert you. Either you can enjoy it or you can't.

Those two paragraphs are my way of welcoming you to TheUConnBlog's First Annual NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Preview. We would have done one for the men's tournament but...well, you know.

The women's game in 2010, for those of you who haven't followed zealously all year, is an odd combination of every suburban high school boys basketball game you've ever been to (skill-wise) and 1960's men's college basketball (competition-wise).

What that means: there are two teams (UConn, Stanford) that are likely to win the NCAA Tournament, four others (Tennessee, Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas A&M) who could knock off either of those two teams, and then a whole bunch of riff raff who will could make a Final Four run, but would have to catch one of these six teams on an off day.

Expect lots of chalk up to the Elite Eight; last year's tournament, featuring final eight with two six seeds, a four seed, just three #1 seeds and a #3 seed in the national title game, was about as wacky as it gets. (The 2008 tournament matched up the top two seeds in all four regional finals).

UConn and Stanford are decent bets to blow everybody out on their way to a meeting in the national title game April 6 in San Antonio. However, on the way, there will be some interesting stories among the 62 teams who will face off for the right to be blown out. Learn about them in our super-sized region-by-region guide, after the jump:


DAYTON REGION

Pairings

At Norfolk, Va. (Sunday & Tuesday)
[1] UConn (33-0) vs. [16] Southern (23-8), 12:15 p.m.
[8] Temple (24-8) vs. [9] James Madison (26-6), 2:40 p.m.

At Ames, Iowa (Sunday & Tuesday)
[5] Virginia (21-9) vs. [12] UW-Green Bay (27-4), 7:20 p.m.
[4] Iowa State (23-7) vs. [13] Lehigh (29-4), 9:45 p.m.

At Tallahassee, Florida (Saturday & Monday)
[6] St. John's (24-6) vs. [11] Princeton (26-2), 2:45 p.m.
[3] Florida State (26-5) vs. [14] Louisiana Tech (23-8), 12:20 p.m.

At Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Sunday & Tuesday)
[7] Mississippi State (19-12) vs. [10] Middle Tennessee (25-5), 2:25 p.m.
[2] Ohio State (30-4) vs. [15] St. Francis (PA) (17-14), noon

Favorite: James Madison. The Dukes are led by oh who am I kidding.

[1] UConn is going to roll everyone in this region (with the possible exception of Ohio State) by 15 or more points. Maya Moore is the best player in America. Tina Charles is the most dominant center UConn has ever had, which is saying something. Next year (when Charles graduates), it will be more interesting to follow the Huskies in their quest to break the UCLA men's record of 88 (it would come in game 11 next year if they keep winning).

This year, it's going to take a collapse of epic proportions for UConn to lose to anyone besides Stanford or Tennessee. If you were seeded in the Dayton Region and you had dreams of advancing to San Antonio, we're sorry. You deserved better than the 30-point beating that will be inflicted on you by Geno's juggernaut.

Darkhorse: [2] THE Ohio State

Since everyone besides UConn in this region is a darkhorse, here you go. Ohio State might be the best possible matchup if you wanted to knock out the Huskies before the Final Four.

The Buckeyes have an excellent center, 6-4 Jantel Lavender (21.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg). If she can match up with Charles, that makes UConn 20% easier to defend. (Scientists have not yet determined what 20% of infinity is, though.) Any team that beats UConn will have to be able to score on the Huskies magnificent defense (i.e. hit their outside shots). Samantha Prahalis, a 5-7 guard, scores 16 points per game, and Brittany Johnson and Sarah Schulze each make more than 40 percent of their 3's.

Plus, the regionals are in Dayton, which I understand is a city in the same state as tOSU.

Upset Potential: [11] Princeton over [6] St. John's

There aren't a lot of chances for double-digit seeds to win (outside of Middle Tennessee State, for reasons detailed below) in this region, and I don't expect this to happen. Nevertheless, the Tigers under coach Courtney Banghart (the New Jersey Collegiate Women's Basketball Coach Unfortunate Name Champion now that Phyllis Mangina was let go at Seton Hall) are 26-2, with their only losses to UCLA and Rutgers.

As a team, Princeton shoots 36.7 percent from 3, so they'll need to be money from deep to upset the upstart Red Storm (who played UConn as close as anyone else during this 72-game streak, losing 66-52 in Gampel in February).

OVER RATED CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP: [4] Iowa State

The Cyclones beat no one out of conference (their best OOC win was over in-state rival Iowa) and lost to Drake. They went 11-5 in the Big 12 (losing to sub-.500 Kansas State), but lost in the conference quarterfinals.

Absurd Blowout Alert: [16] Southern U.

The all-time UConn NCAA Tournament blowout record was set in 2001, when UConn beat Long Island 101-29 in the first round. Geno will name his score Sunday...we'll see if he's feeling cheeky.

Best Player: Moore/Charles, UConn

No wonder the Huskies are so good.

Player to watch: Alysha Clark, Middle Tennessee

She's the nation's leading scorer (28.6 per game, a full two points ahead of UConn's Delaware's Elena Delle Donne) and her 40-point efforts to lead MTSU to the Sun Belt title have made the Blue Raiders a popular upset pick in the first round.

Best game, first-round: Mississippi State-Middle Tennessee

Best potential game, later rounds: Florida State-Ohio State, Sweet 16

Et ceterae: The NCAA really wants to see Geno's Kodak moment with Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, a longtime assistant at UConn. Last year, Cardoza's first, Temple was also placed in the 8-9 game in UConn's pod; but the matchup didn't materialize, as Temple lost to Florida ... Iowa State is one of two teams to beat UConn prior to the Elite Eight since 1993, defeating UConn in the 1999 Sweet 16; Stanford in 2005 was the other ... Louisiana Tech was once a national power, winning the 1982 title and making the first 25 tournaments despite their unfortunately generic nickname, the "Lady Techsters".

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MEMPHIS REGION

Pairings

At Knoxville, Tenn. (Saturday & Monday)
[1] Tennessee (30-2) vs. [16] Austin Peay (15-17), 12:15 p.m.
[8] Dayton (24-7) vs. [9] TCU (22-8), 2:40 p.m.

At Berkeley, Calif. (Saturday & Monday)
[5] Georgetown (25-6) vs. [12] Marist (26-7), 8:20 p.m.
[4] Baylor (23-9) vs. [13] Fresno State (27-6), 10:45 p.m.

At Austin, Texas (Sunday & Tuesday)
[3] West Virginia (28-5) vs. [14] Lamar (26-7), 9:35 p.m.
[6] Texas (22-10) vs. [11] San Diego State (21-10), 7:10 p.m.

At Durham, N.C. (Saturday & Monday)
[7] LSU (20-9) vs. [10] Hartford (27-4), 12:05 p.m.
[2] Duke (27-5) vs. [15] Hampton (20-11), 2:30 p.m.

Favorite: [1] Tennessee

Unlike her sisters who were put on trial in Massachusetts in the 1690's, Pat Summit is exceptionally hard to get rid of. Tennessee, of course, is the one program who can claim a greater history than UConn; her eight championships are two ahead of Geno's (for now.) After winning back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 on the shoulders of Candace Parker-Landlord, Tennessee struggled with a brand-new lineup in 2009. That resulted in a #5 seed (UT's lowest-ever) and a first-round shock loss to #12 Ball State (UT's first-ever first-round loss).

The Lady Vols are back with something of a vengeance this year. Five starters are in double figures (led by Angie Bjorklund, 14.8 ppg), and UT is excellent on the glass, outrebounding opponents 43-33. Glory Johnson and Kelly Cain each grab more than seven per game.

Tennessee's SEC schedule was a little weak, and they were handled by Stanford in mid-December. But they're pretty clearly the team to beat here. A win would set up the much-anticipated first meeting of UConn and Tennessee since Summit canceled their series (essentially because she felt UConn used underhanded tactics to get Maya Moore).

Darkhorse: [3] West Virginia

The Mountaineers are having their best season ever, finishing second in the Big East and reaching the Big East final. WVU are the fourth-best scoring defense in the country, and has the size and speed to match up with Tennessee should they get to the regional final. They aren't a great shooting team, however (40 percent as a team).

Upset Potential: [12] Marist over [5] Georgetown

The Red Foxes have the upset pedigree, advancing to the 2007 Sweet 16 as a #12 seed. My favorite Marist women's basketball player ever, Julianne Viani, is gone, but Rachele Fitz (18.0 ppg) and Erica Allenspach (42.4% from 3) should be able to keep it close against a surprisingly good Georgetown team that has struggled away from home (all six of their losses have come away from Washington D.C.).

OVER RATED CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP: [4] Baylor

You've probably heard of Brittney Griner, the 6-8 freshman best-known either for dunking or for punching the hell out of her problems. But Baylor's going to need good guard play to make it deep into the tournament and, unfortunately, their best one, Melissa Jones (10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.9 apg) has only played 17 games due to a stress fracture in her leg. Can Griner put a team on her back as a freshman? I'm skeptical.

Best Player: Bjorklund, Tennessee

Player to watch: Jaleesa Ross, Fresno State

Fresno State has come from nowhere (including a nasty coaching scandal) to make the NCAA Tournament, and if they can beat Baylor, it'll probably be because of Ross, the 5-8 junior guard who shoots 42 percent from 3 and averages 18 points per game.

Best game, first-round: Texas-San Diego State

This would have been LSU-Hartford, but Hartford lost star Erica Beverly to an ACL injury in the America East tournament, slightly setting back coach Jen Rizzotti's quest to take Geno Auriemma's job whenever he gives up the reins.

Best potential game, later rounds: Tennessee-West Virginia

Bracket Unfairness Alert: West Virginia could play its second-round game against Texas in the Longhorns' arena. This is due to the bizarre NCAA policy of predetermining the 16 first- and second-round sites before the season, and then placing the hosts in those sites (assuming they make the tournament) regardless of where they're seeded.

Et ceterae: LSU's Allison Hightower is one of those players who has seemingly been around forever; she killed UConn in the 2007 Elite Eight in Fresno. This year, she's scoring 18.5 points per game for a middling LSU team that never recovered from the exodus of talent (including WNBA All-Star and Tina Charles-dominator Sylvia Fowles) that occurred after the 2008 national semifinalist ... Dayton is making their first NCAA Tournament appearance ... Dayton's opponent, TCU, has an All-Name candidate, Mountain West player of the year Helena Sverrisdottir.

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KANSAS CITY REGION

Pairings

At Minneapolis, Minn. (Sunday & Tuesday)
[1] Nebraska (30-1) vs. [16] Northern Iowa (17-15), 7:05 p.m.
[8] UCLA (24-8) vs. [9] North Carolina State (20-13), 9:30 p.m.

At Louisville, Ky. (Saturday & Monday)
[5] Michigan State (22-9) vs. [12] Bowling Green (27-6), 12;10 p.m.
[4] Kentucky (25-7) vs. [13] Liberty (27-5), 2:35 p.m.

At Norman, Okla. (Sunday & Tuesday)
[3] Oklahoma (23-10) vs. [14] South Dakota State (22-10), 9:40 p.m.
[6] Georgia Tech (23-9) vs. [11] Arkansas-LR (26-6), 7:15 p.m.

At South Bend, Ind. (Sunday & Tuesday)
[7] Wisconsin (21-10) vs. [10] Vermont (26-6), 12:20 p.m.
[2] Notre Dame (27-5) vs. [15] Cleveland State (19-13), 2:45 p.m.

Favorite: [1] Nebraska

Nebraska made it through the Big 12 unbeaten (until a loss to Texas A&M in the conference semifinals, ending their hopes of an unbeaten-vs.-unbeaten matchup against UConn), but they didn't play anyone played just three tournament teams out of conference (No. 7 LSU, No. 10 Vermont, No. 11 Arkansas-Little Rock). The Big 12 schedule was rugged, though, and maybe I'm spoiled by seeing UConn schedule Texas, Florida State, Oklahoma, Duke, Stanford and North Carolina out of conference. They're good - and post Kelsey Griffin is excellent and worthy of the Big 12 player of the year award - but if you had to bet on a #1 seed to go down, it would be the Huskers.

Darkhorse: [6] Georgia Tech

Way back in November 2008, when UConn's current streak was one loss in a row, the Huskies opened their season against a young Georgia Tech team. The Yellow Jackets had it tied at halftime before UConn broke it open late. Most of that team is still around, and this is an aggressive, fast team that could make some noise. Junior guard Alex Montgomery and Aussie forward Brigitte Ardossi both score in double figures, but the awful-shooting Jackets will need to win with defense (they average 10 steals per game and allow teams to shoot just 38.6 percent).

Upset Potential: [10] Vermont over [7] Wisconsin

Vermont impressed me as a 16-seed against UConn last year with their intensity and their spark plug, Courtnay Pilypatis (14.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg). They crushed everyone in the America East (except for a couple close losses to a Hartford team that was ranked in the top 25 until they lost Beverly in the final game), beat Dayton and bubble team Boston College, and lost by five at Oklahoma State.

OVER RATED CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP: [4] Kentucky

Maybe you can tell, but I'm not a huge fan of the SEC. Here's another team that played nobody out of conference and played reasonably well in-league (5-4 against the six SEC tournament teams). Nevertheless, I'd be surprised to see the Wildcats advance to the second weekend.

Best Player: Griffin, Nebraska

Player to watch: Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame

The freshman guard, the Irish's leading scorer, is a huge reason why Notre Dame is 27-2 against non-UConn teams. They'll lean on her if they want a chance to beat potentially two Big 12 teams (Oklahoma, Nebraska) in the regional in Kansas City.

Best game, first-round: Michigan State-Bowling Green

Best potential game, later rounds: Oklahoma-Notre Dame

UConn Fan-Approved Coach Alert: That would be Sherri Coale of Oklahoma. UConn fans love her because Geno loves her, and she is the anti-Summit in just about every way.

The Sooners finally broke through to the Final Four in Courtney Paris' senior season last year, only to be unceremoniously upset by Louisville. Without Paris, the Sooners are still an elite team (and they lead the nation in superstar siblings, featuring Carlee Roethlisberger and Abi Olajuwon), but they don't have anyone as dominant as Paris (or her sister) this time around.

Et ceterae: North Carolina State is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, when they were coached by late Hall of Famer Kay Yow ... Liberty became one of the first true Cinderellas in the women's tournament, advancing to the 2005 Sweet 16 as a #13 seed, upsetting then-national powerhouse Penn State ... South Dakota State has only been D-I for a few years, but have dominated the Summit League; last year, they lost just four games and nearly knocked off Baylor in the second round.


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SACRAMENTO REGION

Pairings

At Palo Alto, Calif. (Saturday & Monday)
[1] Stanford (31-1) vs. [16] UC-Riverside (17-15), 10:40 p.m.
[8] Iowa (19-13) vs. [9] Rutgers (19-14), 8:15 p.m.

At Tempe, Ariz. (Saturday & Monday)
[5] Georgia (23-8) vs. [12] Tulane (26-6), 10:35 p.m.
[4] Oklahoma State (23-10) vs. [13] UT-Chattanooga (24-8), 8:10 p.m.

At Cincinnati, Ohio (Sunday & Tuesday)
[3] Xavier (27-3) vs. [14] East Tennessee State (23-8), 2:35 p.m.
[6] Vanderbilt (22-10) vs. [11] DePaul (21-11), 12:10 p.m.

At Seattle, Wash. (Saturday & Monday)
[7] Gonzaga (27-4) vs. [10] North Carolina (19-11), 10:30 p.m.
[2] Texas A&M (25-7) vs. [15] Portland State (18-14), 8:05 p.m.

Favorite: Stanford

No one's come closer to beating UConn than Stanford; the Cardinal led UConn at halftime in Hartford last December before the Huskies rolled to a 20-point lead in the second half. Stanford also started the streak when, led by Candace "Wiggity-Wiggity" Wiggins' 25 points, they beat the Huskies in the 2008 Final Four.

The Kayla Pedersen-Jayne Appel tandem in the post is outstanding, and 6-2 forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the Cardinal's leading scorer, is exceptionally efficient, making 63.5 percent of her shots. Jeanette Pohlen runs the show, and guards Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and J.J. Hones are no slouches either.

Darkhorse: Xavier

There was a time when mid-majors (Louisiana Tech, Stephen F. Austin, UCSB) could be national powers. That was a time before major schools realized that a really good women's team could at least bring in a little money. The Musketeers are kind of a throwback to those days; they're 27-3, having mostly dominated the A-10 behind Ta'Shia and April Phillips (no relation).

Upset Potential: [13] Chattanooga over [4] Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State will be missing its superstar, Andrea "Beep Beep" Riley, for an NCAA Tournament-only suspension she suffered two years ago, when she swiped at an opposing player. She's available if the Cowgirls (seriously) win, but getting to the second round could be a problem without her nearly 27 points per game.

OVER RATED CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP: [9] Rutgers

OK, to be honest, most of these teams appear to be seeded fairly well. I just wanted to take some gratuitous, oh-how-the-mighty-have-fallen swipes at the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers made the national title game in 2007, had UConn on the ropes in the Elite Eight in 2008,  and brought in the nation's best recruiting class for last season.

Then it all kind of fell apart. I won't go into the whole story - the Newark Star-Ledger's story is excellent on the matter - but basically, karma is finally catching up with the Scarlet Knights for playing such a cynical, ugly, unwatchable style of basketball. Everyone point and laugh at Rutgers.

Best Player: Ogwumike, Stanford

Player to watch: Danielle Adams, Texas A&M

The 6-1 junior has only started 10 games and only averages 23 minutes per, but she's the leading scorer on a very balanced A&M squad that won the Big 12 tournament, defeating three top-6 NCAA Tournament seeds in the process (including Nebraska).

Best game, first-round: Gonzaga-North Carolina, DePaul-Vanderbilt (tie)

Best potential game, later rounds: Stanford-Texas A&M

Parallels to the men's game alert: Yeah, Gonzaga's good on the women's side, too. Must be something in the water in Spokane. Guard Courtney Vandersloot (2007 Washington State HS player of the year) is the top scorer on a Zags team that will have a shot to upset A&M in Seattle.

Et ceterae: Stanford is the only team to ever lose to a #16 seed, which they did in 1998 after losing their two best players to ACL injuries in their conference tournament ... North Carolina was ranked in the top 10, and then they played UConn and lost by 40. They finished just 6-8 in the ACC but received an at-large anyway ... Tulane is in the tournament for the first time since 2003; prior to that, the Green Wave had made nine consecutive tournaments, never advancing past the second round.

 

Got all that?

If you made it this far, God bless you. Enjoy the games.

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