Potholes Await Top Seeds
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It's no surprise that Connecticut, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament, has the easiest route to the national championship. The Huskies (32-1) won't have to leave the East Coast to win their sixth title. Aside from Connecticut, though, no team has a more hospitable route than Maryland. Even though the Terrapins have to go out west, the competition isn't nearly as tough in their region as the two others.
Of course, neither Connecticut nor Maryland has a carefree path to the Final Four. The Huskies, who haven't been to a Final Four since 2004 when they won their third consecutive title, could face second-seeded Rutgers in the region final. The Scarlet Knights, last year's national runner-up, were the only team to beat U-Conn. this season.
Maryland could have to overcome travel fatigue and a motivated Stanford team that undoubtedly felt snubbed by the committee. The second-seeded Cardinal (30-3), which hasn't reached a Final Four since 1997, had victories over Tennessee and Rutgers, but its one bad weekend in Los Angeles -- during which it lost consecutive games to UCLA and Southern Cal in early January -- cost it a number one seed.
North Carolina (30-2), the top seed in the New Orleans region, can't be happy about a potential regional final involving No. 2 seed LSU (27-5) in the Big Easy. The Lady Tigers have been to the last four Final Fours but come up short of the national title each time.
Defending champion Tennessee (30-2) may have to go through two Big 12 teams to reach the Final Four: fourth-seeded Oklahoma and second-seeded Texas A&M. The Aggies (26-7) are one of the hottest teams in the tournament. They have won 13 of their last 14 including the Big 12 tournament championship. The Big 12 was the top-rated conference this season.
The Big 12 and the Big East placed the most teams in the tournament, each sending eight. The ACC was next with six. The SEC sent five. One SEC team, Auburn, which will play sixth-seeded George Washington in the first round, was a surprise inclusion in the field. The Tigers have struggled since the academic suspension of junior point guard Whitney Boddie. The Colonials beat Auburn earlier this year.
Auburn wasn't the only team to lose a significant player late in the season. Kansas State, which won the Big 12 regular season title, is a fifth seed in the New Orleans region. The Wildcats are without their leading scorer Kimberly Dietz who has a knee injury.
Nine teams are making their first trip, among them Cornell, Cleveland State and Fresno. Cornell is led by Jeomi Maduka, the Ivy League player of the year. Maduka, a two-sport athlete, competed in the NCAA indoor track and field championships last weekend, placing eighth in the long jump to earn all-American honors, before flying to New York to help the Big Red earn its first trip to tournament. Cornell plays Connecticut in the first round.
Cleveland State won just four games two years ago. But this guard-oriented team -- only three players are taller than 6 feet and none are taller than 6-2 -- won the Horizon League tournament to earn its first bid. The 15th-seeded Vikings play Stanford in the first round.
Fresno State has made headlines recently because of its gender discrimination case of former coach Stacy Johnson-Klein. The 14th-seeded Bulldogs started the season 0-6 but have won 20 of the last 22 games. They play third-seeded Baylor in the first round.