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Sunday, March 16, 2014
Updated: March 19, 4:59 PM ET
Seed, site of opener puzzle Stanford

By Michelle Smith
espnW.com

STANFORD -- "Nerd City" lost a little of its swagger on Monday evening. But only a little.

A day that started with the enthusiastic release of the team's latest music video creation, "N-E-R-D-S, #NerdAnthem," finished with something of a thud as the Cardinal found out they would not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.

If that was the insult, the injury immediately followed when it was revealed that Stanford would be traveling to Ames, Iowa, for its first- and second-round games and facing a possible second-round match against No. 7 seed Iowa State on the Cyclones' home floor.

When Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer entered the media room Monday night after the brackets were revealed, one of the assembled reporters wished her a happy St. Patrick's Day.

"I am part Irish," VanDerveer said dryly, "but I don't feel lucky."

VanDerveer, not surprisingly, cared more about the injury than the insult in this scenario. Seeding isn't nearly as important to the Hall of Fame coach as placement in the bracket.

"A No. 1 seed didn't do us any good last year," VanDerveer said. "That's the committee's opinion, that's their prerogative. ... I was a little less surprised about that than the fact that we are going to a [host] site. All I hear from the NCAA is about the fans, the fans, the fans. Well, they just cut out 3,000 of ours."

VanDerveer said she had fans who told her they had purchased plane tickets to both Los Angeles and Seattle in the anticipation that Stanford would be sent to one of the West Coast sites. Tickets to Des Moines from the Bay Area were running more than $1,000 on Monday night.

Chiney Ogwumike
Chiney Ogwumike and Stanford open the tournament Saturday against 15th-seeded South Dakota.

"I told them not to count on anything," VanDerveer said. "If you've done this enough, you expect to be surprised. I think we would have helped the draw at UCLA or Seattle. So the people who are punished most are our fans."

Nobody knows better than Stanford that the Cardinal could have sealed their own fate -- a fifth straight No. 1 seed and a West Coast placement -- if they could have closed out the Pac-12 tournament title in Seattle last week.

But Stanford instead struggled offensively -- a persistent problem over the past few weeks since an 87-82 road loss at Washington on Feb. 9 -- and fell to eventual tournament champ Southern California 72-68.

It was the first time Stanford didn't reach the final of the Pac-12 tournament in its 13-year history. But after South Carolina was eliminated in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, it appeared the Cardinal -- who rank third in the NCAA RPI rankings -- would hang on to one of the top seeds.

Instead, the Gamecocks pulled down their first No. 1 seed in school history and will travel three time zones west to open NCAA play in Seattle. The Cardinal, meanwhile, head for the nation's heartland, looking to regroup and play well enough to earn the opportunity to come home to play at Maples Pavilion in the regional for a shot at a sixth Final Four trip in the past seven years.

"If everything goes according to plan, it will be us playing on our home court," Stanford All-American Chiney Ogwumike said. "You have to earn that privilege. And in order to win it, we have to play well."

VanDerveer concurred, down to the word.

"The seeding doesn't matter to me, honestly," VanDerveer said. "We have to play well. If this is a slap in the face or whatever ... let it be a chip on people's shoulders. That will be good for us."

VanDerveer said her team has regrouped since the conference-tournament loss to USC, "tweaked" some things on the offensive end and gotten a little healthier with the rest.

"We had a really good week of practice," VanDerveer said. "That loss got our team's and our coaches' attention, and we've been working hard to fix things. We do need more help for Chiney, and we need people doing what they are good at."

Ogwumike said that the players needed a wake-up call and they got it against USC.

"It makes you re-evaluate things," Ogwumike said. "I think it made it more real. If we don't change things, we could be done."

Stanford (29-3) opens the tournament Saturday against 15th-seeded South Dakota (19-13). The Coyotes defeated Denver 82-71 to win the Summit League championship and earn the program's first NCAA tournament bid.

Seventh-seeded Iowa State will take on No. 10 Florida State in the opposing game.

The Cardinal last faced Iowa State in the NCAA tournament in 2009 in Berkeley, winning 74-53 in the regional final to earn a spot in the Final Four. It's worth noting that Stanford was a No. 2 seed in that bracket as well.

"I'm very confident in this group. I'm excited to go to battle with this team," VanDerveer said. "We will play our best basketball of the year. That's our plan and we are sticking to it."