Category archive: Tennessee Lady Volunteers

Summitt makes Final Four appearance

March, 31, 2012
03/31/12
6:12
PM ET

DENVER -- Amid all of the hoopla that is NCAA Final Four weekend -- the bands, the practices, Tourney Town, hoops fans wearing newly made Peyton Manning Broncos jerseys -- there will be one moment that will be long remembered for years to come.

And it was a moment that came even before the first tip-off.

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Geno Auriemma/Pat Summitt
AP Photo/Eric GayGeno Auriemma and Pat Summitt shared a brief moment during UConn's practice Saturday at the Women's Final Four.

A woman wearing a bright chartreuse jacket made her way out onto the Pepsi Center floor. Not too long after she arrived, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma made his way to the woman, and the crowd noticed.

It was Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who was here to show support for forward Glory Johnson during Saturday's State Farm All-America Team ceremony. Auriemma and Summitt, two college basketball coaching legends simply sharing a moment for the whole arena to see. Before long, fans moved in, asking Summitt for autographs; other admirers yelled from afar.

"We love you, Pat!"

"Come back next year, Coach!"

And that's what made the scene that much more powerful: the unknown. Will Summitt return for 2012-13 after revealing before the start of this season that she was diagnosed with early onset dementia?

Many will speculate her future for weeks to come. On Saturday, at least, the women's college basketball world simply appreciated Summitt was where she belonged.

Check back later Tuesday night for our full bracket. But for now, here are the main changes after Tuesday's Sun Belt championship game:

NOTABLE

• Middle Tennessee lost in the Sun Belt final to Arkansas-Little Rock but stays in the field.

• As a result, North Carolina falls out of the field.

• Middle Tennessee slips to the No. 10 seed line, Princeton rises to the No. 9 line and UALR enters as a No. 14 seed.

LAST FOUR IN

Temple
Iowa State
Michigan State
Texas

FIRST FOUR OUT

North Carolina
Southern California
Michigan
James Madison

NEXT FOUR OUT

Oklahoma State
Kansas
Wake Forest
Arizona State

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

Big East (8)
SEC (8)
Big Ten (6)
Big 12 (6)
ACC (5)
Atlantic 10 (3)
Pac-12 (2)
WCC (2)
Sun Belt (2)

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS

Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt)
BYU (WCC)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)
Dayton (Atlantic 10)
Marist (MAAC)
Maryland (ACC)
Princeton (Ivy)
Purdue (Big Ten)
Tennessee-Martin (OVC)
Tennessee (SEC)
Samford (Southern)
South Dakota State (Summit)

Tennessee's Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen talk about winning another SEC tournament title for coach Pat Summitt.

Tennessee's Vicki Baugh talks about how she and her fellow seniors have played in recent weeks, plus the team's greater commitment to defense, and how that helped in winning the SEC tournament title.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell talks about her pride in the Lady Tigers making the SEC title game and their hopes for the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee associate coach Holly Warlick talks about what Pat Summitt continues to mean to the team, and how Summitt cut down the net Sunday after the SEC title game.

Chelsea Gray, Lynetta Kizer and Stefanie YderstromGetty ImagesTeams from the ACC -- Duke, Maryland and Miami -- have a hold on three of the No. 2 seeds.

Championship Week has arrived. For some, it is the best 11 days of the college basketball season. For others, conference tournaments are a way to kill time until the magic of March known as the NCAA tournament gets started.

But this year, even in the big conferences in which so many teams have already secured bids, the games still have huge meaning. The ACC, Big Ten and SEC tournaments, among others, open Thursday, and for some teams the ramifications are obvious. For others, the value isn't as evident, but these outcomes are no less important.

ACC

Virginia and North Carolina both must win their opening-round games to feel secure, but the Tar Heels could also really use a quarterfinal upset of Georgia Tech. UNC's résumé is OK, but there are bad parts: a lower RPI and some alarming margins of defeat. The Heels' status in the field is largely built on the limited competition for the final few spots, so beating a Top 25 team like the Yellow Jackets could go a long way.

But the ACC tournament will do more than decide the fate of teams on the bubble; it could actually have a lasting effect on how the NCAA tournament plays out. Here's why: Duke and Miami both figure to be at least No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and if chalk holds this week, they would meet in the ACC final. If when the time comes the Blue Devils and Hurricanes are both 2-seeds, whichever one (and remember, Maryland is in the mix to win the ACC, too) wins the ACC tournament is also likely to be higher on the selection board (right now, Duke is five, and Miami is six).

With so many host schools (Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, DePaul, LSU and Iowa State) as potential No. 7 or No. 10 seeds, and Maryland (another host) also being projected as a No. 2, there might be only one spot for another No. 2 seed not to be playing a potential second-round game on the road (Nos. 7, 10, 2 and 15 seeds are in the same subregional). So whichever team fairs better in the ACC will be given higher consideration to avoid that road situation. For example, in the most recent Bracketology posted Monday, Duke was higher-ranked on the selection board and therefore -- with only one subregional in that 7, 10, 2, 15 segment unoccupied by a host -- was given that one slot of two truly neutral opening games. Miami, because the Canes came in behind Duke in the ACC standings and on the selection board, got saddled with a potential second-round game against Vanderbilt in Nashville. If the Hurricanes win the ACC tournament, they would leapfrog Duke and get that higher consideration.

So you see, even though both are obviously in the field, and both are No. 2 seeds, triumphing this weekend could make a huge difference in how difficult a team's path is in the NCAA tournament. Not all same seeds are necessarily created equal.

Big Ten

The weekend in Indianapolis is big for a few teams, but for different reasons. Michigan needs to right the ship. Beating Illinois is a must. Beating Ohio State would really help create some safety for the Wolverines if there are some upsets in some smaller leagues (CAA, Horizon, Sun Belt).

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, also need a little bit of a run, probably to the Big Ten final, just to show the committee that what once made them a 23-3 team isn't gone. The blowout losses at Penn State and Nebraska last week have likely left some doubt, and Ohio State's seed will hinge on erasing it.

Penn State is the conference champ but might need to win the tournament title as well to be a No. 3 seed. With anything short of reaching the final, the Lady Lions are probably staring at a No. 4 and the potential burden of playing a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16.

SEC

Tennessee and Kentucky are the two best candidates for the final No. 2 seed at this point. Given how evenly the résumés stack up, the better team in Nashville will win out. A meeting in the final would be the rubber match and would be the easiest way to solve any question as to which should be seeded higher. Of course, Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas will have plenty to say about preventing that matchup, while improving their seed position for the NCAA tournament at the same time.

Arkansas and South Carolina might have the most to gain. Florida also can't afford a stumble against Auburn, and while a quarterfinal loss to Kentucky wouldn't hurt the Gators' chances to make the field, a win would seal the deal.

Arkansas Women's basketball celebratesAP Photo/Wade PayneThe Razorbacks beat Tennessee after losing 18 consecutive games against the Lady Vols.

Few things in the women's game get more attention or elicit greater response than a Tennessee loss (these days it probably ranks between a Connecticut loss and a Brittney Griner dunk). The Lady Vols did it again on Thursday, 72-71 in overtime, and at home for an unprecedented third time in a season. This time, Arkansas did the trick, avenging a 31-point loss and snapping an 18-game losing streak to Tennessee.

While the earth might have moved in Knoxville, the foundation of the bracket didn't move much. For those who don't find orange and white ensembles becoming, this isn't going to sit well … but the Lady Vols are still a No. 2 seed. Forget "what have you done for me lately?" We've come to live in an in-the-moment world, where "what have you done for me in the last 10 minutes?" is the mindset. That's why the idea of Tennessee dropping will likely be met with some grumbles, many of which will be expressed in 140 characters or less.

But the bracket is a bigger picture, not a 10-minutes-ago concept. Yes, Tennessee lost to Arkansas and, theoretically, that should cost them. In fact, two and a half weeks ago when Vanderbilt beat the Lady Vols, they did pay. Tennessee was a No. 3 seed in that week's bracket. However, it's not always that simple.

Remember, the bracket needs four seeds on each line. So if Tennessee drops down, someone has to slide up as a replacement. Who is that someone?

Ohio State? The Buckeyes also lost this week, just like Tennessee. In fact, they were dominated at Penn State. And beating a sub-.500 Minnesota (a team Ohio State had earlier lost to) on Thursday doesn't erase that.

Texas A&M? The Aggies also lost this week. A&M can be excused for losing to Baylor on Feb. 11 and still had an argument to be a No. 2 seed -- right up until losing at Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Kentucky? The Wildcats could have a case with 10 top-50 RPI wins (to Tennessee's 11) and five victories against the top 25 in the Sagarin ratings (the same as Tennessee). Kentucky seems to have recovered after that three-game losing streak, but that is just it. The Wildcats aren't that far removed from losing three in a row, and while head-to-head doesn't mean everything, nor is it weighted more heavily than anything else in the process, it is hard to ignore the 91-54 teeth-kicking the Lady Vols gave Kentucky just a week and a half ago.

Delaware? Great season for the Blue Hens, but the overall résumé just isn't there to warrant a No. 2 seed. With possible apologies to James Madison, the argument can be made that Delaware hasn't won a truly big game since late November or early December. Not to mention history tells us, like it or not, that a mid-major won't climb that high. Call it unfair, and that might be an argument for a different column, but it just hasn't happened.

Penn State? The Lady Lions probably have the best case of any of the above teams. They have nine top-50 RPI wins, are hot with six straight victories and will at least share a conference title.

What works against Penn State is that only one of those top-50 wins also came against someone in the top 25 (the most recent Ohio State win), and six of those nine came within the Big Ten. Yes, six of Tennessee's 11 top-50 victories came in the SEC, but (and let the tweets and emails fly) the SEC has a deeper, better group of teams than the Big Ten. Entering the week, the Lady Lions were barely a top-25 RPI team themselves. While that is not the end-all, be-all, either, it is another factor. The strength of schedule and number of quality wins against that schedule still don't quite match that of the Lady Vols. Penn State as the team to supplant Tennessee as a No. 2 seed is reasonable, but Thursday, the Lady Lions still fall a bit short.

There's no surprise among the No. 1 seeds, which would be Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford. But which teams join Maryland as a No. 2? ESPN.com's Charlie Creme gives us a brief Bracketology update, with a full field of 64 coming Jan. 9.

Baylor's Odyssey Sims talks about how defense and following the game plan helped the top-ranked Lady Bears win Sunday at No. 7 Tennessee.

Sixteen teams are perfect in the women's NCAA tournament so far. But in the Women's Tournament Challenge, there are no perfect brackets.

Only one bracket correctly picked the Sweet 16, and that was after going 31-for-32 (the only incorrect game was Marquette over Texas) in the first round.

Two users got each first-round pick correct and then missed just one game in the second round.

The most popular result for the Sweet 16 was a bracket that had 10 of the 16 teams in the regional semifinals correct. Brackets with 26 of 32 teams correct were the most popular result after the first round.

A look at each region:

Spokane

• Just 0.65 percent of entries had Xavier to win the national championship.

• Meanwhile, 66.4 percent of brackets had Louisville meeting Xavier in the second round, but only 13 percent believed Louisville would win the matchup, while 3.3 percent of users have Louisville in the Elite Eight and 0.3 percent have it in the Final Four.

• UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional, was predicted by 76 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 34.5 percent to make the Elite Eight and 4.5 percent to win its region. Only 9.3 percent of users had Gonzaga making it this far, and only 1.8 percent have the team in the Final Four. While 31.3 percent overall predicted the matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, 26.7 percent had Gonzaga winning.

• One percent of entries had Louisville and Gonzaga playing against each other in the third round, and 63.1 percent of those predictors had Louisville winning.

• Just 0.5 percent of entries predicted that Stanford, UNC, Louisville and Gonzaga would make the Sweet 16.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Stanford vs. Gonzaga: 2.4 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.7 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• Stanford vs. Louisville: 2.6 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 93.1 percent of those entries predicting Stanford wins
• UNC vs. Gonzaga: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 66.6 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins
• UNC vs. Louisville: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 75.5 percent of those entries predicting UNC wins

Philadelphia

• 19.1 percent of entries predicted that UConn, Georgetown, Duke and DePaul would make the Sweet 16 out of this region.

• 98.6 percent of brackets had UConn in the Sweet 16, 96.3 percent in the Elite Eight and 89.6 percent in the Final Four. 51.5 percent of brackets have UConn winning it all.

What does that mean? Not good things for Georgetown: 29 percent had Georgetown advancing to the Sweet 16, but only 0.6 percent have the Hoyas making it any further. 28.7 percent of entries predicted this matchup against UConn, but only 1.5 percent have Georgetown ousting the No. 1 seed. Only 73 brackets predicted Georgetown as national champion.

• 68.6 percent of entries predicted Duke facing off against DePaul in the Sweet 16, and fans stuck with the No. 2 seed at a clip of 76.1 percent. Only 6.5 percent have Duke making the Final Four. DePaul was predicted by 72.2 percent of brackets to make the Sweet 16, 18.6 percent to make the Elite Eight and 1.2 percent to make the Final Four. It is the lowest No. 3 seed in that regard (all the other No. 3 seeds received at least 3.3 percent). But DePaul was the only No. 3 seed to survive.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• UConn vs. Duke: 72.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 92.6 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• UConn vs. DePaul: 18 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 94.9 percent of those entries predicting UConn wins
• Georgetown vs. Duke: 0.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73 percent of those entries predicting Duke wins
• Georgetown vs. DePaul: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.2 percent of those entries predicting DePaul wins

Dayton

• 23.9 percent of entries had Tennessee, OSU, ND and OU in the Sweet 16.

Oklahoma was the biggest surprise, selected by only 35.8 percent of entries to make the Sweet 16. 87.9 percent of entries had the second-round Oklahoma versus Miami matchup, but only 39.2 percent had Oklahoma with the upset. And 3.7 percent of users predicted Miami to make the Final Four; the upset disrupted 17.5 percent of brackets who had the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight.

• Users predicted that it would be a no-brainer that Tennessee would advance to this point: 96.6 percent of users had Tennessee going at least two rounds. Now, Tennessee faces Ohio State in the Sweet 16, a common matchup selected by 72.4 percent of users. 88.1 percent have Tennessee advancing from that matchup and a total of 86.6 percent of brackets have the Lady Vols in the Elite Eight. 65.7 percent have Tennessee in the Final Four. Ohio State makes the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets and the Final Four in 4.3 percent.

• Despite the early-round confidence in Tennessee, it is the least-selected No. 1 seed to make the Final Four (Stanford: 79.5 percent; UConn: 89.6 percent; Baylor: 78.3 percent).

• Only 33.1 percent of entries predicted a Notre Dame-Oklahoma matchup; 76.3 percent of those users have Notre Dame advancing and 70 percent out of all brackets have the Irish in the Elite Eight. 21.9 percent have Notre Dame in the Final Four, the most of any of the No. 2 seeds by a large margin. Oklahoma was predicted to make it to the Elite Eight in only 9.7 percent of brackets, while 2.1 percent believed it could make the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Tennessee vs. Notre Dame: 61.9 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 73.1 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: 8.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 81.8 percent of those entries predicting Tennessee wins
• OSU vs. Notre Dame: 6.5 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 63.8 percent of those entries predicting Notre Dame wins
• OSU vs. Oklahoma: 1.1 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 65.3 percent of those entries predicting Ohio State wins

Dallas

• Just 6 percent of entries predicted that Baylor, Green Bay, Georgia and Texas A&M would all make the Sweet 16.

• Michigan State was heavily favored to advance over Green Bay, according to our users, who had MSU in 61.9 percent of brackets and Green Bay in only 34.3 percent of brackets. 4.3 percent of brackets had MSU making the Elite Eight and 2.1 percent had it in the Final Four.

• 33.8 percent of entries had Baylor versus Green Bay in the Sweet 16. Almost all of them, 92 percent, have Baylor advancing to the Elite Eight. Overall, 91.1 percent of the brackets have Baylor in the Elite Eight and 78.3 percent have the Lady Bears in the Final Four. Green Bay is predicted by only 1.8 percent of brackets to make the Final Four.

• 21.6 percent of brackets had No. 6 seed Georgia in the Sweet 16, and 17.3 percent of all brackets had it facing Texas A&M in the next round. 82.7 percent of those predicting the matchup have Texas A&M advancing, but that is no surprise, as 63 percent of all users have A&M in the Elite Eight and 11.6 percent have it in the Final Four. Just 0.5 percent have Georgia in the Final Four.

Potential Elite Eight matchups:
• Baylor vs. Georgia: 4.3 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 91.7 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Baylor vs. Texas A&M: 58.7 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 83.9 percent of those entries predicting Baylor wins
• Green Bay vs. Texas A&M: 1.8 percent of entries predicted the matchup, with 56.1 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins
• Green Bay vs. Georgia: 0.2 percent of entries predicted the matchup with 64.4 percent of those entries predicting Green Bay wins

Most popular championship game matchups

• 31.1 percent have UConn versus Stanford in the final, with 70 percent of those entries with UConn winning
• 35.3 percent have UConn versus Baylor in the finals, with 66.9 percent of those entries with UConn winning

Least popular

• Two entries had Georgetown facing off against Gonzaga in the final
• Five entries had Oklahoma facing off against Gonzaga in the final

You have to figure this was shaping up as an epic bad day for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Her good friend, Bruce Pearl, was fired as coach of the Vols' men's program. And no matter what you think of Pearl and everything that has gone on with him in Knoxville, his support for and comradeship with Summitt was very real.

It had to have pained her for this to happen, but Summitt had her own business at hand to deal with Monday. Marquette, looking like a much better foe than a No. 8 seed, decided to take it right at the Dayton No. 1 seed Lady Vols.

And for a while, it looked like the Golden Eagles just might be able to pull what would have been one of the bigger upsets ever in the women's NCAA tournament. Not because Marquette isn't a strong team; the Golden Eagles proved they were. But because Tennessee has been impossible to beat at home in Thompson-Boling Arena in NCAA tournament games.

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Sarina Simmons
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe Lady Vols play Ohio State in the Sweet 16 Saturday on ESPN.

That record remained intact, but not until after the Orange Nation probably needed to munch on a Tums or two.

"We get everyone's best shot, so we knew that the guard play was really good," Summitt said after Tennessee held on for a 79-70 second-round victory to advance to the Dayton Regional semifinals. "They've got size inside. I think their guard play was probably a little bit better than ours, especially in that first half. That's when we tried to pick things up."

Marquette senior Angel Robinson had a superb game, with 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds. She was undoubtedly responsible for Tennessee's defenders, including SEC player of the year Shekinna Stricklen, getting an earful from Summitt at the break.

"I just didn't think that we had that high energy and intensity and competitive drive," Summitt said. "That's where I really challenged Shekinna and the whole team. I thought they responded after halftime."

The SEC, which got only four teams in the NCAA field this year, was not as strong as it normally is. And Tennessee did not get any challenge from first-round foe Stetson. But it was a very different situation Monday as Marquette made this quite an entertaining game.

Freshman Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 18 points, while Glory Johnson added 16 and Stricklen had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Alicia Manning contributed 11 points off the bench for Tennessee.

But the Lady Vols forced only 10 turnovers -- Robinson's ball-handling prowess was part of that -- and that impacted Tennessee's ability to defend.

Tennessee will need to have a stronger defensive effort in the regional semifinals in facing No. 4 seed Ohio State and Jantel Lavender, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the Buckeyes' 67-60 win Monday over Georgia Tech.

"Our defense and our board play have got to be a lot better if we want to be a championship team," Summitt said. "I think this team will hear that every day we go to practice from here on out. We still could get so much better, and we will."

About this time two years ago, Tennessee's players were in disbelief. But right away, they started the process of "never-gonna-happen-again."

After their loss as a No. 5 seed to 12th-seeded Ball State in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols went right back to practice. Coach Pat Summitt did not want it to feel "punitive" for a season that was so uncharacteristic for Tennessee that it seemed surreal. Instead, she wanted it to be instructive.

With most of those players who experienced that low point now juniors and seniors, Tennessee is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The No. 1 seed in the Dayton Regional could have named the score in its first-round matchup with No. 16 Stetson. That is how it usually is with the Lady Vols as the NCAA tournament gets under way.

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Glory Johnson
Don McPeak/US PresswireGlory Johnson had 14 points and 10 rebounds. All 13 Lady Vols scored in the win.

But clearly this group isn't so far past the Ball State loss that Saturday's 99-34 victory was unappreciated by the Lady Vols. Summitt isn't going to let them do that. When Tennessee had a couple of disappointing days in practice leading up to the tournament, Summitt reminded the players what was at stake and how quickly any team's chances could evaporate.

"Once we got their attention and discussed all of the possibilities of what we were trying to embrace and having that leadership," Summitt said on the eve of the tournament, "I think that gave a quick turnaround in the attitude and the direction they wanted to go in. It works a whole lot better when they have leadership and make other people accountable. We've been pretty good at that all year, we just had a couple of lapses."

Tennessee didn't have any of those against Stetson. The Hatters earned the Atlantic Sun automatic bid by winning their league tournament, which included hitting a 55-foot buzzer-beating shot in a semifinal victory.

Stetson would have needed to swish several 55-footers to have a chance against Tennessee. As it was, hitting a 5-footer was a chore for the Hatters, who shot 18.2 percent (12-of-66) from the field against Tennessee.

The Lady Vols spread out minutes and points, with every player scoring, led by Shekinna Stricklen's 15 points. Tennessee shot 55.7 percent from the field and dominated rebounding 56-27.

"I think the real key to it is the maturity," Summitt said of the team she has now, and how it has aged well. "We couldn't fast-forward that process."