Commentary

A last look at the biggest questions

NCAA tournament bracket will be unveiled on ESPN/WatchESPN at 7 ET Monday

Originally Published: March 16, 2014
By Charlie Creme | espnW.com

This has been the most difficult year in recent memory to forecast the women's NCAA tournament field. And from lingering questions about which teams should be No. 1 seeds to an extremely cluttered bubble, questions still exist even less than 24 hours before the bracket is unveiled (ESPN and WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Let's address some of them one final time:

Why Stanford for the final No. 1 seed?

The Cardinal stumbled twice in the season's final month, to Washington in the regular season and against Southern California in the Pac-12 semifinals, and the losses have led to some argument that Stanford should fall off the top line. Who then would claim the No. 1 seed? Louisville, South Carolina and Baylor are the contenders. Louisville seems the most popular choice, although just as many critics seem to be questioning the Cardinals' credentials to be a No. 2 seed.

The evidence in favor of Louisville: Its only losses are to Connecticut (three times) and Kentucky. The Cardinals have beaten everyone else, whereas Stanford has the two Pac-12 losses. The problem: Though Louisville beat "everyone else," the schedule doesn't amount to anything close to the competition Stanford has beaten.

Stanford has 12 top-50 wins. Only Notre Dame and Tennessee have more. Stanford's schedule was more difficult, whether we're talking nonconference or conference. In fact, Stanford's four best nonconference wins (Tennessee, Purdue, Gonzaga and Texas) are better than any victory Louisville had all season up to this point. Even if one is using the eye test to evaluate Louisville, there's too much disparity in what each team has accomplished.

South Carolina (regular season) and Baylor (Big 12 tourney) both have conference championships on their résumés. Both are impressive. But neither had a nonconference season, be it in strength of schedule or results, becoming of a No. 1 seed.

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Bill Shettle/Cal Sport MediaThe 34-0 Huskies are expected to be the top seed in either the Lincoln or Louisville region.

Where does UConn go?

This will be the biggest reveal on Monday night since this question has been pondered and debated since January. The answer is far from simple. If the committee follows its recent trends of going strictly geographically in its team placement, the Huskies will be the top seed in the Louisville Regional.

If the committee wants the best bracket possible, UConn will play in the Lincoln Regional. It would be more balanced and truly doesn't change much in terms of the travel economics. Though I had UConn in Louisville since January and February, my confidence has grown that the committee will opt for UConn in Lincoln and the better bracket scenario.

Which team should be the final No. 2 seed?

While this isn't as prominent a discussion as which team should be the final No. 1, it's still interesting. Duke is the choice here, but barely over West Virginia. The Blue Devils' résumé is far superior, but much of that was built with some players, most notably Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones, who are now sidelined due to injury. However, by playing well in the ACC tournament, Duke took steps toward validating that résumé and gets the nod.

The Mountaineers had a great season, but a nonconference schedule that ranks in the 250s hurts.

Before West Virginia fans fly off the handle about the Mountaineers being a No. 3 seed instead of a No. 2, consider this: West Virginia is likely to have to play a potential second-round road game no matter what. It could be in Baton Rouge. It could be in Iowa City. Regardless, it's probably going to happen. However, as a No. 2 seed, the Mountaineers likely would land in the Stanford Regional, far from home. As a No. 3, they will more likely take a much shorter trip to South Bend. Which would you prefer?

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Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY SportsCoach Sherri Coale's Oklahoma Sooners are among eight teams on the bubble vying for the last few at-large berths.

How tight is the bubble?

The simple answer is as tight as it has been in recent memory. Eight teams are in position for those last four spots: Oklahoma, Florida State, Florida, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, South Florida, South Dakota State and Bowling Green.

Each team's wins against tournament-caliber competition might determine who gets an at-large berth even more than how a team fared late in the season or what its RPI is. The committee sent a message to that effect last season. Kansas had lost seven of its last 11 games, with three of those wins against a bad TCU team. The Jayhawks had an RPI of 57, but they beat three top-50 teams.

Failing to raise its level of success hurt Minnesota. Chattanooga is the Gophers' best win. South Florida, despite playing well down the stretch, had no top-50 wins. Bowling Green and South Dakota State each lost in their conference tournament semifinals. Failing to reach the championship games is a black eye.

The others have flaws too. All bubble teams do. Florida does not have a desirable RPI. Vanderbilt finished poorly (the Commodores seem to be the closest analogy to last year's Kansas team). Oklahoma was up and down all season and had just 18 wins. Florida State's finish was suspect and the Seminoles have only two top-50 wins.

There's a formula for mid-majors such as Bowling Green or South Dakota State: Despite a weak overall schedule, did they play anyone of note and, more importantly, did they get a win over a big dog? The Jackrabbits did that by beating Penn State this season, and that win gives them a fighting chance. The Falcons did not and including them on the list of "First Four Out" reflects that.

It's not easy finding the differences here. No. 65 won't be much different than No. 64. Any of these teams making the field would not surprise.

Charlie Creme | email

Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.

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