What's the most the teams in Kansas City can hope for, and what's the way they don't want the season to end?
Best case: The guards stay healthy and effective throughout. Nnemkadi Ogwumike is a difference-maker. Jayne Appel dominates. The Cardinal cruise through the field, crashing smack into UConn in the title game again. The result is essentially the same as it was in December, but it's hard to argue with three straight appearances in the Final Four.
Worst case: The ever affable and popular Appel is bouncing her way across campus on her way to Maples for the start of the tournament when she tweaks her tender ankle. Tara VanDerveer, who had been leaning heavily on her starters, lets her star senior rest most of the first two games, but the ankle is never quite the same, and neither is Stanford. Texas A&M picks off the Cardinal in the Elite Eight, and that last shot at UConn never comes.
(16) UC RIVERSIDE
Best case: Appel does more sitting than playing. Ogwumike agrees to play with only one hand. Kayla Pedersen agrees to only run backward when she doesn't have the ball. Even then, UC Riverside's chances are gone within 10 minutes, and the Highlanders lose by 22.
Worst case: Stanford isn't that nice. UC Riverside's chances were gone the second Trey Wingo announced their team on the selection show. The Highlanders lose by 42.
Best case: Jaime Printy plays unafraid in her first tournament. The freshman keeps firing jumpers, and they are falling. Kachine Alexander and Kamille Wahlin take care of everything slightly closer to the rim. The Hawkeyes don't do anything special on defense; they don't have to, as Rutgers is very accommodating with plenty of misses. Stanford isn't so helpful, though, and a young Iowa team can be satisfied with a 1-1 tournament mark.
Worst case: The Stanford fans are all arriving during the Iowa-Rutgers game, leaving the doors open at Maples. The resulting wind-tunnel effect turns Printy's jumpers into Phil Niekro knuckleballs. The Hawkeyes are doomed without their biggest weapon. They long for the days of 12-point first-round losses to Georgia Tech in Iowa City.
Best case: Rutgers once again proves that the rugged nature of its regular-season schedule pays off in March. The Scarlet Knights dissect Iowa like a fetal pig in 10th-grade biology. Slowly but surely (Rutgers will never score enough to do it quickly), they punish the Hawkeyes, 50-32, in the most unwatchable game of the tournament. Things get so bad in the second half that ESPN warns parents out of every commercial break that the following may not be suitable for children. The Knights don't beat Stanford, but they still make it their kind of game.
Worst case: The emotion of playing Iowa is too much for Stringer, and she doesn't yell at anyone the entire first half. Sounds good, right? Wrong. The players are so unnerved by the departure from the norm they don't know how to react. A stunned group of Scarlet Knights scores just 12 points in the first 20 minutes (a low number even for them) and trail 30-12 at the break. The deficit proves too much, and even Stringer snaps out of it at halftime.
Best case: The long layoff, playing in Tempe and nonconference opponents all make the Lady Dawgs feel as though they are starting over again. Georgia didn't lose a nonconference game all season, and that string continues through the first two rounds. Ashley Houts is healthy and downright giddy as the Lady Bulldogs cruise past Tulane and Oklahoma State and the trigger-happy Andrea Riley. The season ends at the hands of Stanford, but that doesn't stop Andy Landers from asking Tara VanDerveer for asylum in the Pac-10.
Worst case: Georgia feels better and it's nice to be out west for a bit, but that doesn't change how the Lady Dawgs are playing. Tulane jumps on them early, making it clear that 5-7 finish was no fluke. The Green Wave make quick work of Georgia, and no one at Stanford will even take Landers' call.
Best case: Tulane's Chassity Brown produces the two best games in Tempe, and the Green Wave reach the Sweet 16. The team puts President Obama on hold when Drew Brees calls to congratulate them.
Worst case: The Green Wave see double and can't figure out which basket to shoot at when the Miller twins show up in Tempe to cheer on their alma mater.
(4) OKLAHOMA STATE
Best case: With Tegan Cunningham picking up the mantle of leadership, the Cowgirls easily move past Andrea Riley's one-game suspension. She returns in Round 2 and picks up where she left off. Oklahoma State makes its second Sweet 16 in three years but now must figure out what to do without Riley next year.
Worst case: Riley's arm is so used to constant motion that with just one day off, atrophy starts to set in. It takes her too long to get the arm loose Monday, and the Cowgirls get bounced in the second round. Now WNBA coaches must figure what do to with Andrea Riley this summer.
Best case: Shanara Hollinquest and Jenaya Wade-Fray each score 20 points, and the postseason-experienced Lady Mocs stun Riley-less Oklahoma State. Chattanooga takes a big run at Georgia two days later but ultimately falls just short of true Cinderella status.
Worst case: Riley or no, the Cowgirls are just too physical for the Lady Mocs. Hollinquest still gets her 20 points but gets banged around a bunch to do it.
Best case: The Commodores regain the consistency that had eluded them toward the end of the season. Jence Rhoads makes all the right decisions at the point, Merideth Marsh goes crazy from behind the arc and Vandy reaches the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row, doing it against the school that coach Melanie Balcomb left to go to Vanderbilt.
Worst case: Vanderbilt sets the tone and grabs a big early lead against Xavier. The lead stays fairly large until midway through the second half when the Musketeers begin to come back. Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips begin to score in bunches. The nightmare of last year's blown lead to Maryland races back into everyone's mind. The Commodores can't hold off the thoughts -- or Xavier -- and it happens again as a chance for a big upset gets away.
Best case: Doug Bruno coaches his tail off. Sam Quigley plays her tail off. Keisha Hampton battles her tail off. DePaul pulls two huge upsets over Vandy and Xavier. Even after they've happened, no one can explain how -- not even Bruno.
Worst case: The Blue Demons score a bunch, but Vanderbilt scores plenty more. It's pretty easy to explain. What's not, though, is how Bruno's voice can sound that hoarse all the time yet never seem to disappear entirely.
Best case: With her knee feeling better than it has in more than a year, Harris goes from really good to dominant in the tournament. No one can touch her or the Musketeers in Cincinnati. The roll Xavier is on goes through Texas A&M, setting up a terrific frontcourt battle with Stanford. The Cardinal prevail, barely, but the performance clearly establishes Xavier as a top-5 team next season.
Worst case: The plodding performances near the end of the Atlantic 10 season were no accident. Something was missing then, and it is missing here. Vanderbilt's resourcefulness and scoring acumen more than compensate for the height differential, and Xavier loses a second-round game on its home court.
(14) EAST TENNESSEE STATE
Best case: The Lady Bucs run and score enough to make Xavier uncomfortable in the first half. By the second, though, Special Jennings has the pace under control and Phillips and Harris are dominating the paint.
Worst case: By the second half, TaRonda Wiles and Siarre Evans are so frustrated with Xavier's height that they ask the officials if one can sit on the other's shoulders.
Best case: Not wanting to see their playing careers together come to an end, Courtney Vandersloot and Heather Bowman take advantage of the relatively short trip to Seattle and dice up North Carolina in the spotlight game of the first round. The Zags aren't done. Thousands of brackets across the country bust when they take out Texas A&M, a team that beat them earlier this season in Las Vegas. Gonzaga isn't done until reaching the Elite Eight. Kids in College Station and Chapel Hill get soap in their mouths if they say "Vandersloot."
Worst case: Seattle just isn't as much fun a second year in a row and Gonzaga plays like it. Bowman has trouble with Carolina's size and Vandersloot is harassed into more turnovers than usual by UNC's backcourt. Bowman's career ends in a one-and-done and in tears. Parents in College Station and Chapel Hill just think "Vandersloot" is the new ride at the local water park.
(10) NORTH CAROLINA
Best case: The Tar Heels are given new life. Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid convince their teammates to play with more conviction and accountability. They convince themselves that they'll take better care of the ball and take better shots. Both ideas work. North Carolina rallies against the doubters and delivers their two best games of the year in Seattle.
Worst case: No one is convinced of anything. The chemistry and passion level remain the same, and it looks even worse 3,000 miles from campus. The Tar Heels are no match for a smart, efficient and determined Gonzaga team. The soul-searching in Chapel Hill begins Sunday morning.
(2) TEXAS A&M
Best case: Danielle Adams continues her terrific play from the Big 12 tournament. Gary Blair's two Syds (Carter and Colston) run the team and the break. Tyra White and Tanisha Smith slash and cut, finding space wherever it might be. Blair wanted to avoid UConn as long as he could. His wish was granted, but the Huskies prove to be too much in the title game.
Worst case: A&M never finds a consistent stroke from 3-point range. White and Smith aren't scoring as easily as they should. Carter and Colston are erratic in taking care of the ball. But the Aggies overcome all of that until they meet Stanford in the Elite Eight. All of those things are magnified, and Adams gets eaten up by the Cardinal's size. Blair's wish is granted. In fact, he avoids the Huskies altogether.
(15) PORTLAND STATE
Best case: Texas A&M takes the court still confused by being in Seattle. The Vikings are elated just to be playing still. That combination of confusion and joy translates into three minutes of the most scintillating basketball in the history of Portland State. After Blair calls his first timeout, the Aggies realize where they are and why. PSU is done.
Worst case: The Aggies are focused coming off the plane and they are fully caffeinated. Warm-ups aren't even fun for the Vikings, who feel as though they are down 15 before the starting lineups are even introduced.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.