Women's NCAA Bracket Preview

The Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament has undergone some financially driven changes, and some measure of parity has gripped the sport on the court. Clay Kallam breaks it all down.

In the women's bracket, it's not about wins and losses - it's about writing big checks.

Well, actually, it's about small checks too, which are the ones that come into the NCAA to offset the cost of running the women's tournament. At last look, the women's tournament was losing in excess of $5 million a year, and ticket sales are the biggest source of potential income.

Up until just a few years ago, the NCAA awarded its 16 four-team first-round subregionals to the top 16 seeds in the tournament. Sure it gave those teams a tremendous homecourt advantage, but it also guaranteed that every site would have a home team. (The regionals, which often don't have a home team, never sell out, and often don't even break the 10,000 mark in attendance.)

But even though the 16 hosts were at home, there still weren't enough tickets being sold, and administrators said one reason was that they didn't have enough time to market to local corporations and potential sponsors because they only found out they were hosting a week before the event. And even some teams that were very good on the court played to an audience cleverly disguised as cupholders, so there was impetus for change.

The NCAA then, in its infinite wisdom, decided to move to what are euphemistically known as predetermined sites -- predetermined, that is, by who has the most money. Schools bid on the right to host, and those who bid the highest get the subregional games. It's very simple, and very straightforward, except for one minor little detail: If you spend enough money to host, you get to play at home no matter what your seed (assuming you get in the tournament).

This year, the system was tweaked again, and now there are only eight sites, each hosting two four-team pods that may or may not be in the same regional bracket. But those eight schools all purchased the right to host with cold, hard cash, which means that such niceties as being a number one seed don't matter much at all. In fact, Maryland, which will struggle to be a four seed, will have a homecourt advantage in the first two rounds, which is more than Stanford or LSU will be able to claim.

There are, of course, still a couple advantages to being a top seed: You most likely won't have to travel very far, and you will have an easier path to the finals (if the selection committee has done its job properly). But those teams playing at a home have a much bigger advantage, and a much easier road to the regionals -- which, thankfully, are played at neutral sites.

One seeds

It hasn't really been clear all year which are the top four teams, but Tennessee's upset (well, maybe it was an upset) of LSU added to the turmoil. You would think both Tennessee and LSU will get No. 1 seeds, though it doesn't make much difference to the Volunteers - they're hosting, so give them two wins and a trip to the Sweet 16 right now. North Carolina is another strong candidate after whipping Duke three times this season, but the Tar Heels also purchased the homecourt advantage in the first two rounds, and thus really don't care what number is by their name.

Michigan State, Rutgers and Stanford also are candidates for a top seed, and my guess is that Michigan State will join Tennessee, LSU and North Carolina.

Two seeds

If we assume that Rutgers and Stanford both drop to two, then there are two other prime seedings available. (Really, there's not much difference between one and two - maybe the third seed is a lot better than the fourth if form holds that long, but usually it doesn't fall out that way.) The winner of the Big 12 tournament (as long as it isn't Kansas State) is a very good candidate, and so is UConn (which hosts no matter what the seed). Duke and Ohio State have an outside shot, but the committee is more likely to reward a tournament champ (which by definition finished strong) than a team that came up short in its conference.

Three seeds

Let's say Duke and Ohio State drop here, to be joined by the loser in the Big XII championship game. Notre Dame is also a pretty good fit, with that nice RPI (seven). Under the old system, all of the teams mentioned so far would be hosting, but in the brave new world of women's basketball, one of these teams is going to undertake some serious travel -- and my pick to take to the air is Notre Dame. Seattle is a pretty dismal site for a regional, what with Washington going into the tank this season, so anything that might look like it will boost attendance will be tried. Which means Irish eyes will be smiling from all that high-quality caffeine.

Four seeds

Now it gets complicated. There are plenty of good teams out there, but deciding between a fourth and a fifth is going to take a very sharp knife. Expect Maryland, since it has to host, to get a boost by the committee into this slot (it looks a lot better if the fourth seed plays the fifth seed at home rather than the fourth seed playing in the fifth seed's gym). Minnesota will probably get the same treatment, but the Golden Gophers are more deserving (read 'more consistent'). Temple's late-season run was fashioned on the backs of a lot of RPI patsies, but the Owls have Dawn Staley and a tourney championship. Teams like Georgia, Florida State and even Virginia might be better, but they must battle the third Big 12 team (most likely Texas Tech) for this spot.

Five through seven

The problem with these seeds is that there's seldom anything definitive. The case for a number one is pretty clear, with big wins and key losses, but the teams in this range are all over the map. TCU beat Michigan State early and DePaul late, but in between lost to Louisville and Marquette. Boston College was very good before Jessalyn Deveny got hurt, and then was pretty mediocre -- until the Eagles upset UConn. And what do you do with Utah, which got left out last year for no good reason? Does the committee rectify its mistake by giving the Utes a bump up, or do they hammer Elaine Elliott again because she's dared to speak out against a system that blatantly favors BCS schools? The truth is none of them are going to win it all anyway, though several are capable of pulling off the big upset.

Eight through 12

These are nervous people. Arizona has an RPI of 43 but staggered late. Purdue has a pretty good RPI too (47), but 12 losses are a lot. And then there's Gonzaga, 27-3 and victim to a rain of Santa Clara threes on the Broncos' home court in the WCC finals. The Zags' RPI is 48 and they have just one quality win (Utah at home). If Gonzaga goes in, which BCS middle-of-the-pack hopeful stays home? And do Old Dominion and Delaware from the Colonial Average Assocation (12th in conference RPI) both get in? What about Oregon (51 in RPI but a nice finish)? Mississippi (the SEC is tough, but are the Rebels really better than Louisville or Rice)?

There may be prognosticators brave enough to rush in and write things down that will later be used against them, but I'm not one of them at this point. You would do just as well using that old deck of tarot cards, and probably have more fun.

I will say this, though: Look for a BCS school to bump a mid-major amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth -- though it would have been a major upset if either had managed even a single win.

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. His coverage of the women's tournament will be featured there and at our NCAA portal.

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