NCAA Women's Preview

Clay Kallam, national women's basketball expert, breaks down the road to the Final Four in the Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The anguished cries from Gonzaga, Delaware and Iowa may in fact be justified, but the hard truth is that it's a lot less important who gets in than who advances - and none of those three was a legitimate threat to get to the Sweet 16, much less the Final Four.

With that in mind, we'll postpone discussion of why the committee chose Mississippi (?) over any of the worthies mentioned above until after we look at the how the brackets made life easier, or harder, for the handful of potential national champions.

The favorites at this point are LSU and Tennessee, and there's no question LSU has an easier road to Indianapolis. After disposing of Stetson in the first round, the Tigers will get the winner of Arizona and Oklahoma, two teams that were borderline entrants. I didn't think Arizona would get in at all, considering how poorly the Wildcats played down the stretch, and a number nine seed was a gift for a team that was 42 in RPI. Oklahoma's RPI (46) was even worse, and the Sooners lost to Tulsa and Nebraska this season.

That puts LSU in the Sweet 16, where form says either Penn State (with 10 losses) or DePaul (10-point losers to seventh seed TCU) will emerge. Neither has the weapons to compete with the Tigers, and even Duke and Texas, the second and third seeds in the Chattanooga bracket, aren't all that special. Duke lost to North Carolina three times, and without point guard Lindsay Harding, have no quickness in the backcourt - and in addition, leading scorer Monique Currie has a stress fracture in her foot and can barely practice. The only reason Texas is seeded third is because the Longhorns bought it by hosting in Dallas; otherwise, that loss to Kansas State would have dropped them to a fifth or sixth seed. This, after all, is a team that lost to UCLA.

In other words, LSU's road to Indy is paved with patsies, and if the Tigers play up to their potential, they should roll to the Final Four. On the other hand, those who view the NCAA tournament as a vast conspiracy to make sure Tennessee takes its national reputation to the Final Four every year might have to think again. Though the Volunteers get the first two games at home (thus erasing any chance of an upset at the hands of New Mexico in the second round), the Philadelphia Regional will be fraught with peril.

The biggest potential land mine is Rutgers, which could conceivably overwhelm Tennessee's backcourt with quickness and speed - though that assume the Scarlet Knights get by Dawn Staley's Temple Owls. Rutgers should pass that test, as Temple has played no one of note for a long time, but the Owls are not to be taken lightly by anyone. And that doesn't even take into account the two seed, Ohio State, which has 6-foot-5 wunderkind Jessica Davenport in the paint. The Buckeyes are very, very good, and if Davenport goes off, there may not be a player in the country who can slow her down.

The next four favorites - North Carolina, Michigan State, Stanford and Baylor - all could have received No. 1 seeds, but it's really irrelevant. If the seeds hold, they will meet in the regional finals, and at that point, one and two makes no difference.

North Carolina is known for its erratic play (the Heels managed to lose to Middle Tennessee State in the first round last year), and could find trouble in either George Washington (nine) or Mississippi (eight) in game two. Then comes the survivor of the Notre Dame-Arizona State pod, and either of those teams is more than capable of knocking off North Carolina. The Irish are known for the pain they inflict on higher seeds in the Big Polka, and Arizona State's unusual, and highly effective, defensive style can cause big problems for anyone.

And speaking of defense, shot-block queen Sandora Irvin can keep TCU in almost any game, and she could negate the inside power of Baylor's Steffanie Blackmon and Sophia Young. Most likely, the second seeded Bears will survive, but even if they do, Janel McCarville and Minnesota will greet them in the Sweet 16 in Tempe.

Still, Baylor is the more likely to make it all the way through to regional final, and once there, could easily rise up and beat North Carolina or Notre Dame or whoever emerges from the top part of this bracket.

The last two contenders are Stanford and Michigan State, and the second-seeded Cardinal have a much tougher row to hoe. Santa Clara should be no problem in game one in Fresno, but Utah and Iowa State are both very capable teams - and the Utes have something to prove after being snubbed by the committee last year. They play great defense, have a couple of stars and could surprise both seven seed Iowa State and Stanford.

Let's assume, though, that the Cardinal move on to Kansas City, where they will face, barring an unexpected collapse, Connecticut. UConn isn't a great team this year, which has caused many to write the Huskies off, but they're still very good. They play great defense, and Stanford doesn't have the weapons (a quick backcourt, a dominant post) to attack their weaknesses. It would be no shock at all if Geno got to the Elite Eight, frustrating Auriemma-haters everywhere, where he will most likely run into balanced Michigan State.

The Spartans have size (Kelli Roehrig), power (Liz Shimek) and guards (Kristen Haynie and Lindsay Bowen) plus the advantage of playing in the very tough Big 10. Neither UConn nor Stanford appears to have enough to get by Michigan State, though of course at this level, one hot (or cold) hand can change everything.

One thing that won't change, apparently, is the Selection Committee's bias towards BCS schools. Arizona and Purdue (45th in RPI) combined for 23 losses, while Gonzaga and Delaware combined for eight. Sure, they didn't play in as tough a league, but is that their fault? Should the Zags and Blue Hens be penalized because of their conference opponents?

And it's not as if the big schools will be selling a lot of tickets. Both are in Knoxville, which doesn't need any help attendance-wise, and neither will get past the first round.

The one BCS school that has a legitimate gripe might be Iowa (44th in RPI, one higher than Purdue), but the Hawkeyes lost to the Boilermakers and were 5-6 down the stretch. The killer was a loss to Wisconsin Feb. 6, and the final nail was the defeat at the hands of Penn State in the Big 10 tournament.

On the other hand, Lousiana Tech should be grateful that the committee members have fond memories of the Techsters' days of glory, because this year's version lost to Boise State (a powerful 200th in RPI). Equally excited should be Mississippi (55th in RPI), which lost ten games, including five of the last ten. Losses to Kentucky, Mississippi State and SMU aren't exactly resume-builders.

The final question mark goes by Oregon's name, as the Ducks were 49th in RPI and lost to Arkansas and Washington. But full disclosure requires that I reveal that I coached Oregon point guard Corrie Mizusawa in high school, which may explain why I'm not that upset about the Ducks getting a 10th seed.

As mentioned above, however, all of this talk means little, because the teams that were on the bubble are there for a reason, and the reason is that they're not all that good. If any of those that did get in advance to the Sweet 16, it would be an upset of major proportions, and the majority will lose in the first round. By the time we get to Indianapolis, the pretenders will have been weeded out, and if any survivor is lower than a four seed, it will be a serious shock - and it's a certainty that it won't be any of the teams who had to sweat it out on Sunday, wondering if they were going to get in at all.



Clay Kallam is one of the nation's foremost experts on women's basketball. His longtime website, Full Court Press (www.Fullcourt.com) is joining the Scout.com Network.

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