Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Mississippi State could pull the upset
Before the women's NCAA tournament opens Saturday, ESPN.com breaks down the four regionals. Check out the Oklahoma City, Raleigh and Trenton analysis, too.
Graham Hays' upset watch
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Ball State (ESPN2/ESPN360, 9 p.m. ET Sunday): After winning the MAC tournament to cap a strong 25-8 season, Ball State can't be dismissed, but a No. 12 seed seems generous for a team that lost to Illinois State by 23, to Indiana by 16 and to Louisville by 31. Granted, those losses were early and the Cardinals did beat Richmond and play Temple close. And they do have two players averaging better than four assists per game with positive assist-to-turnover ratios, so there's hope for getting the ball to a bunch of shooters against a Tennessee defense that, to be fair, does not have stellar numbers defending the long ball. But even without Vicki Baugh, the Lady Vols appear to have too much inside with Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer. Pick: Tennessee
No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Mississippi State (ESPN2/ESPN360, noon ET Saturday): First one to 55 wins? That seems strange to say with a favorite averaging better than 70 points and an underdog not far behind at 68 points per game, but these teams give up field goals about as often as oysters give up pearls. If the teams do get above 60, there are going to be a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of free throws. If they're thinking upset, the Lady Bulldogs will have to slow the Big 12's second-most accurate (behind Kansas) and second-most prolific (behind Iowa State) 3-point shooting team. In three games against Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt -- the three best outside shooting teams in the SEC -- the Lady Bulldogs limited their opponents to 11-of-36 shooting from behind the arc and came away with a win against Vanderbilt and a close loss against Auburn. Pick: Mississippi State
Other games: No. 13 East Tennessee State gave Vanderbilt and Wake Forest games, and likewise will represent a significant style contrast when it plays fourth-seeded Iowa State (ESPN2/ESPN360, 7 p.m. ET Sunday). It would be surprising to see the Cyclones wilt under the Buccaneers' pressure after fighting the Big 12 battles and coming away with an even assist-to-turnover ratio, but that might be where the game is decided.
Mechelle Voepel's breakdown
(8) Middle Tennessee vs. (9) Michigan State (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, noon ET Sunday): The Spartans have the advantage of being on their home court in East Lansing, Mich., but they did not have a strong finish coming into this tournament. They lost three of their last four games, including getting upset by Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament.
Michigan State might have a difficult time not looking ahead to a potential second-round game against Duke and former Spartans coach Joanne P. McCallie. Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee is a dangerous foe and is led by scoring sensation Alysha Clark. The Blue Raiders have lost just one game since mid-December, falling Feb. 21 at Florida Atlantic. Middle Tennessee has made waves in past NCAA tournaments, upsetting North Carolina in 2004 and NC State in 2005.
• C Jayne Appel, Stanford: The Pac-10 Player of the Year, she averages 14.8 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game and has 96 assists and 61 blocks. She heads the group of outstanding centers in this region.
• C Chante Black, Duke: An All-ACC pick, she was also the league's defensive player of the year. Her numbers: 14.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 66 blocks.
• C Jantel Lavender, Ohio State: She was the Big Ten's player of the year for a second season in a row and is averaging 21.1 ppg and 10.9 rpg.
Three under the radar
• F Alysha Clark, Middle Tennessee: Among the top 10 scoring performances in 2008-09, she has three: 50, 45 and 40 points. Her 50-point game is the best in Division I this season.
• G Alison Lacey, Iowa State: The Cyclones' second-leading scorer (10.6 ppg), she leads the team in assists (114) and averaged 4.9 rebounds.
• G/F Armelie Lumanu, Mississippi State: One of three players from the Congo on the Lady Bulldogs' roster, she's averaging 10.8 points and has 115 assists.
Charlie Creme's take
Who's hot: No. 2 seed Stanford. The Cardinal just steamrolled the rest of the Pac-10 after the Jan. 18 loss to Cal. This edition of Stanford actually finished with a better conference mark than the Candice Wiggins-led Final Four club. Jayne Appel has been impossible to guard on the low block.
Who's not: No. 6 seed Texas. The Longhorns have won only twice since Feb. 15, and both wins came against Missouri. The offense has disappeared. Perhaps getting out of the Big 12 will help.
Possible matchup to watch: Alysha Clark vs. Chante Black. Should Middle Tennessee survive Michigan State and Clark get through Allyssa DeHaan, the nation's leading scorer will match up with one of the nation's best post defenders in Duke's Black. If Clark can't get free to score a bunch against the Blue Devils, the Blue Raiders won't have a chance.
Possible upset: No. 10 San Diego State over No. 7 DePaul (ESPN2/ESPN360.com, 8 p.m. ET Saturday) in the first round. With sophomore Paris Johnson emerging as one of the country's best frontcourt players and San Diego State taking advantage of staying at home, where it hasn't lost all season, the Aztecs could bounce the Blue Demons, who would lose in the opening round for the second consecutive year.