What's the most the teams in Trenton can hope for, and what's the way they don't want the season to end?
Best case: The big three move their tremendous regular seasons into the tournament seamlessly. Maya Moore remains the silent assassin and confirms that she is the game's best overall player. Tina Charles satisfies everyone (even Geno Auriemma) with her post play. Renee Montgomery finishes her career as one of the most popular, respected and successful players in UConn history with the one thing she didn't have yet: a national title.
Worst case: A meteor lands in Storrs on March 26, just before the Huskies are to leave for Trenton. Transportation out of Connecticut is completely halted. UConn never makes it to New Jersey's capital and is forced to forfeit its regional semifinal game. The undefeated season is gone without the Huskies ever taking the floor.
Best case: Coach Sharon Dawley manages to get everyone on the bus, and the room service at the hotel in Storrs is really good. Because it's UConn on the other side, the Catamounts get their 15 minutes of fame on ESPN right from the opening tip.
Worst case: Those 15 minutes become 4:12 as Vermont doesn't even stay in the game through the first media timeout and ESPN is on to another game. The Huskies' Cassie Kerns plays more minutes than Maya Moore.
Best case: The Gators finally forget they beat Tennessee once upon a time and get on to winning some other basketball games. Well, in this case, get on to winning one basketball game, since UConn looms in Round 2. Sha Brooks puts on the best individual performance of the first round in the Trenton Regional, even inspiring the Huskies' faithful to stand up and cheer.
Worst case: Winter sticks around a little too long in Storrs, and every Gator, even sharpshooter Steffi Sorensen, is ice cold. They ask the tournament officials to let them play the second half against Temple in their warmups. The answer is no, and Florida just can't make enough shots to erase the Owls' early lead. After the game, the Gators stand at midcourt and tap their sneakers together three times, saying, "There's no place like Gainesville. There's no place like Gainesville."
Best case: The Owls, inspired by the opportunity to get coach Tonya Cardoza a game against Connecticut, where she spent 14 years as an assistant, play their best game of the season against Florida. Defense rules the day as former Temple coach Dawn Staley gives the Owls the perfect scouting report on how to slow down Brooks, even though her South Carolina team didn't in either of their meetings this season.
Worst case: Marshae Dotson outrebounds the entire Temple frontline, and Brooks runs wild in the second half. The Owls cannot keep up, and Brooks runs out the clock in a relatively easy win with a mini Curly Neal routine.
Best case: Monica Wright and Lyndra Littles become the dynamic duo of Los Angeles. The offense is just too much for Marist and Cal, making the cross-country flight to Trenton enjoyable even without the inflight meal and movie. Wright plays like Maya Moore's equal for one night and Aisha Mohammed outplays Tina Charles, much to the anger of Geno Auriemma, in the Sweet 16, and Virginia finds itself leading UConn with less than four minutes to go. Ultimately, the Huskies prevail, but the Cavaliers leave the entire nation overwhelmingly impressed.
Worst case: The inconsistency that plagued Virginia during the season's final month and a half shows up a number of times in the first-round game against Marist. Wright gets in foul trouble, Littles can't find her shot, the defense produces no easy baskets and Virginia spends 40 minutes of frustration losing to the Red Foxes.
Best case: Rachele Fitz scores on the inside, Julianne Viani controls the perimeter and Marist fans close their eyes and swear it's 2007 again. The Red Foxes return to the Sweet 16 and capture the country's imagination again just like they did two tournaments ago. But just like in 2007, Marist loses to the eventual national champion when Connecticut ends the Cinderella ride in the regional semifinals.
Worst case: Coach Brian Giorgis forgets to pack the Way-Back Machine for the trip to L.A., and 2009 ends up looking nothing like 2007. The Red Foxes spend the entire game chasing Virginia's better athletes and don't even have time to soak up the Southern California sun.
Best case: Alexis Gray-Lawson rediscovers her sense of accuracy, Ashley Walker scores at will inside and Natasha Vital becomes that extra weapon Cal has needed for a month. The Bears easily win two games in Los Angeles and bubble over with confidence once again. It's not enough to overcome UConn (that's always going to be too much to ask this year), but Cal is competitive, and what was becoming a disappointing season is rescued.
Worst case: The Galen Center becomes Joanne Boyle's personal Groundhog Day. Cal finds itself down a point to Fresno State in the first round with 0.03 seconds left. The Bears' coach draws up another brilliant play, but this time there is no controversy. Ashley Walker can't even get her hands on the ball, and the Bears are upset by the Bulldogs. At least it doesn't take 15 minutes to figure it out.
(13) FRESNO STATE
Best case: The Fresno State defense plays like a bulldog protecting a T-bone, Jaleesa Ross proves to be the best guard on the floor and coach Adrian Wiggins' crew does what it couldn't do in last season's season-opener -- knock off Cal.
Worst case: The team that lost to Pacific and and Idaho twice shows up, and by late in the first half, Boyle already has instructed one of her assistants to leave the bench and begin watching game tape on Virginia and Marist.
(6) ARIZONA STATE
Best case: Down at halftime to Georgia, the Sun Devils receive an inspirational speech worthy of Tony Robbins from recently injured top scorer Dymond Simon. Arizona State completely shuts down the Lady Bulldogs in the second half and wins easily. The momentum takes ASU all the way to the regional final where, just like in 2007, a Big East team, this time Connecticut, ends the Sun Devils' run.
Worst case: Despite its depth, Arizona State just can't overcome the Simon injury, losing its third straight game without her and leaving Duluth with the feeling of an unfulfilled season.
Best case: Georgia takes advantage of the one-hour bus ride and pulls off two stunners over Arizona State and Florida State. The games are reminiscent of the home wins earlier in the season over Vanderbilt and Auburn. In the process, gritty junior point guard Ashley Houts becomes the darling of the tournament.
Worst case: Houts spends more time with the trainer patching up floor burns and bloody scrapes than she does on the court, ASU's Sybil Dosty completely neutralizes Angel Robinson, coach Andy Landers starts to have flashbacks to the frustrating start of the season at the 10-minute mark of the second half and the selection committee gets 1,453 told-you-so e-mails from South Florida fans.
(3) FLORIDA STATE
Best case: The team that beat Duke, North Carolina and Texas A&M makes an encore appearance, and the Seminoles fly through the first three rounds, including another win over the Aggies. For a few days, folks in Tallahassee forget, or at least don't obsess, about all that vacated football wins talk. Unfortunately, the Seminoles can't vacate the Trenton Regional, and the inevitable loss to UConn ends a terrific run.
Worst case: Florida State struggles early in the opening round, and bad thoughts of those losses to Valparaiso and Washington emerge. The Seminoles survive North Carolina A&T, but the nightmares don't go away and the program's best seed ever becomes just a memory with a Monday departure.
(14) NORTH CAROLINA A&T
Best case: Amber Bland is anything but. Her play keeps the Aggies in the game with Florida State until the final minutes. ESPN2 switches all its viewers to a look at North Carolina A&T's upset bid. Alas, a game-tying shot attempt by MEAC player of the year Brittanie Taylor-James is off the mark, but the Aggies make an impression.
Worst case: Bland and Taylor-James go completely cold, and Florida State gets out so quickly that we don't even have a chance to see that graphic that tells us North Carolina A&T is a prominent historically black college in Greensboro, N.C., with an enrollment of 10,000 and once was at the forefront of the civil rights movement before the television audience is switched somewhere else.
(7) NOTRE DAME
Best case: The Notre Dame offense, as visibly pleasing as any in the game when running well, is clicking on all cylinders. The Irish carry the banner of the Big East through Minnesota, Texas A&M and Florida State to give the conference exclusivity in the Trenton Regional final. UConn is too much for Notre Dame once again, but the Irish make it further than they have since winning it all in 2001, the last time the Final Four was held in St. Louis.
Worst case: The Irish can't get their spacing right, they turn over the ball too much and Minnesota hangs around just long enough to pull the upset. Minutes before the final buzzer, frustrated Notre Dame fans, looking forward to incoming recruit and Naismith prep player of the year Skylar Diggins, already are chanting, "Diggins, Diggins."
Best case: Coach Pam Borton makes her team watch the game tape of the wins at Ohio State and Michigan State over and over until it finally sinks in how to beat a good team on the road. The art of repetition works, and Minnesota stuns Notre Dame.
Worst case: Turns out the tapes were mislabeled, and the players actually were watching the games at Northwestern and Wisconsin all week. No one catches the error until it's too late. The video coordinator is fired, and Minnesota is out in the first round.
(2) TEXAS A&M
Best case: Takia Starks plays like Spiderman, Danielle Gant is fearless on the baseline and Sydney Colson plays like the point guard coach Gary Blair has been waiting for all season. The Aggies march into Trenton, use a hypnotist to get them believing Connecticut is actually Oklahoma and pull the stunner of the decade. A&M beats the Huskies and gets to the Final Four, where every news conference runs over because Blair isn't done yet.
Worst case: The usually stingy Aggies defense can't contain all the back cuts and screens Notre Dame throws its way. Starks and Tanisha Smith just can't make a jumper, and the Irish defense sags further and further around Gant. Fifty-three points is nowhere near enough to beat Notre Dame.
Best case: The Purple Aces are reminded over and over that they are the only team in the tournament with a losing record, and it makes them mad. The inspiration pushes them to play competitively with Texas A&M
for 30 minutes.
Worst case: The Purple Aces are reminded over and over that they are the only team in the tournament with a losing record, and it makes them sad. The resignation makes them question whether they even want to come out of the locker room after halftime.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.