Sunday, March 13, 2005
Updated: March 14, 11:38 AM ET
ESPN.com experts: Bracket breakdown
The field of 64 is set. Let the observations begin.
Here's how ESPN.com's experts break down the bracket, and which teams they predict to reach the Final Four:
Mechelle Voepel: A lot of people will probably be shocked that LSU, not Tennessee, was seeded No. 1 in the Chattanooga Regional. No one expected that decision from the Selection Committee, but the move will be applauded by women's basketball fans. In the past, LSU has gotten the short end of the stick in seeding and placement. Not this time.
Also, the Selection Committee sent a real message to some of the "little guys." Chattanooga (Southern Conference), Delaware (CAA), Gonzaga (West Coast) and Southwest Missouri State (Missouri Valley) were each seeded No. 1 in their respective conference tournaments. All four were also upset in their tourneys and, despite some respectable profiles, were not given at-large berths. The message: Win your conference tournament.
Charlie Creme: The biggest things that immediately jump out is that Temple, a No. 6 seed, deserved a higher one. Oklahoma and Purdue, both of which were huge bubble teams, not only got invited but also received bids that were higher than expected (the Sooners are a No. 8 seed; Boilermakers are ninth). Stanford in Kansas City and Baylor in Tempe are a little confusing. Still, the biggest surprise was Villanova getting left out. Almost every number on the Wildcats' résumé favors or is equal when comparing Villanova to OU or Purdue. Plus, the 'Cats finished the season stronger than the other two. And for any of you who still believe the top 25 polls factor into the seedings, forget it. Otherwise, how do you explain Stanford as a No. 2 seed.
Stacey Dales-Schuman: Stanford obviously could have deserved a No. 1 and did deserve it in my book based on the way the Cardinal have played all season.
The ACC was the big winner, sending seven teams to the NCAA field. But Conference USA should also be commended for sending four teams to the Big Dance. In general, C-USA teams love to score points and are very fun to watch. It's also an athletic conference, and people will get the chance to see these teams -- DePaul, Louisville, TCU and Houston -- run up and down the court and shoot the ball a lot. Fans -- and WNBA scouts -- will also get to see a group of talented players that doesn't normally play on TV that often.
Nancy Lieberman: Kudos to the Big Ten. The top half of the conference has been outstanding this season and was rewarded with four of the top 16 seeds. Those teams went out and played a great schedule -- and beat people. And it's a good bet that the strength of the conference really helped Purdue -- one of the field's biggest bubble teams -- get an at-large invitation.
On Chattanooga Regional
Stacey Dales-Schuman: What happens in the bottom half of this region depends on the health of Texas guard Nina Norman, who recently suffered a fractured left pinkie. Norman's expected to play, and while that means more to Texas, it also could impact Duke. The Longhorns will need Norman if they're going to beat Georgia in a potential second-round matchup, which already topped Texas once this season. In that game, Georgia's quick guards completely outplayed their Texas counterparts; Norman was held scoreless and Jamie Carey mustered just five points. The 'Horns must get a better performance out of those two to avenge the loss. So how does it affect Duke? The Blue Devils, which could face either Texas or Georgia in the Sweet 16, have struggled this season against athletic teams. Texas is playing its best ball of the season and certainly is athletic. But Georgia takes that advantage to another level.
On Tempe Regional
Stacey Dales-Schuman: This is the toughest region to predict which team will advance through. Top-seeded North Carolina and No. 2 seed Baylor are two of the most athletic teams in the nation. If seeds hold and they clash in the Elite Eight, it could be one of the best games we've ever seen in the NCAA Tournament. The inside matchups would be tremendous.
Mechelle Voepel: Baylor, the Big 12 regular-season and conference tournament champion, probably deserved something better than a trip to Seattle in the Tempe Regional. It would have made more sense for the Selection Committee to put the Lady Bears in the Kansas City Regional and keep Stanford, another No. 2, in the West in Tempe.
As Dales-Schuman mentioned, UNC-Baylor could be an incredible matchup. They are the quickest, most athletic teams in the country. Both also have incredibly disruptive defenses, and it'll come down to whichever team can best execute its offense.
Nancy Lieberman: This is a situation where rules don't benefit everybody. Per NCAA rules, host teams must play at that site. But while Texas and Texas Tech have the luxury of staying "home" in Dallas, Baylor gets shipped all the way to Seattle, which obviously is not ideal.
On Philadelphia Regional
Mechelle Voepel: This is the most unpredictable region at first glance because the top four seeds are all very strong. It wouldn't be surprising to see any of those four make it out of the region. Also, the potential Tennessee-Ohio State Elite Eight matchup definitely raises eyebrows. For years, Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols were the bane of Jim Foster's existence while he was at Vanderbilt. He has switched programs and conferences, but these two could clash again with a lot on the line.
It's also very interesting that Rutgers will play in Storrs, Conn., in the first round. Following the controversy between UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer after the Big East final, the Scarlet Knights will no doubt play the early rounds to a very chilly crowd.
A potential second-round game between Rutgers and Temple could also decide which program gets to "return home" to the regionals.
Nancy Lieberman: Who isn't going to enjoy the chance to see Pat Summitt and Tennessee go up against former Lady Vol star Kellie (Jolly) Harper, who's now the coach of Western Carolina? Harper helped Tennessee win three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98.
Also, an intriguing first-round matchup is sixth-seeded Temple vs. No. 11 seed Louisiana Tech. The Owls could send the Lady Techsters home early.
Stacey Dales-Schuman: If seeds hold, Ohio State could potentially wind up playing Maryland in the second round -- in College Park, Md. That would be an incredible advantage for the Terps, who drew an ACC-record 17,000-plus fans to Comcast Center for a late-season game against Duke. Ohio State is 10-3 on the road this season, but playing in that sort of environment in the NCAA Tournament would be tough.
Also, Rutgers has the potential to meet two teams it has already lost to this season (Temple in the second round and Ohio State in the Sweet 16). That's to Rutgers' advantage. It's easier to play an opponent you've lost to earlier in the season because it only adds extra motivation. It also helps because you're more familiar with the opponent.
On Kansas City Regional
Beth Mowins: Connecticut has a very favorable bracket and has a great chance to reach Indianapolis. The Huskies are playing well now and have a strong inside presence and, if the seeds hold, might have the advantage over Stanford. The Cardinal have not seen this caliber of competition since December.
Factor in Geno Auriemma's ability to find ways to beat teams and UConn's motivation to get another shot at Michigan State -- which beat the Huskies at home earlier this season -- and UConn is poised for a deep run. The Huskies always seem to excel in the tournament, where they tend to raise the level of their game.
UConn also has experience on its side, as well as five high school All-Americans. Stanford is loaded, too, and has history, but not big-time recent success. Michigan State also lacks postseason experience of this nature.
Mechelle Voepel: Stanford is no doubt feeling underestimated by the Selection Committee for the second year in a row. The Cardinal probably felt deserving of a No. 1 seed, and at least expected to remain in the West Region.
Nancy Lieberman: Stanford has had a great season and will likely do great things in the NCAA Tournament. But the Cardinal didn't deserve a No. 1 seed. They did not play a tough enough nonconference schedule, and that hurt them tremendously in the eyes of the Selection Committee.
Another great first-round matchup takes place here, with seventh-seeded Iowa State vs. No. 10 seed Utah. The Utes are one of the country's best defensive teams. The Cyclones like to get a lot of shots up, while Utah likes to take them away.
Final Four prediction?
Charlie Creme: LSU, Baylor, Tennessee and Michigan State.
Stacey Dales-Schuman: Ivory Latta's one of my favorite players, and UNC is talented. But I'm going with Baylor, Michigan State, LSU and Tennessee.
Nancy Lieberman: LSU, Baylor, Tennessee and Michigan State.
Beth Mowins: Connecticut, LSU, Tennessee, Notre Dame.
Mechelle Voepel: LSU, Baylor, Ohio State and Stanford.