Hey, I like women’s college basketball. And I’m interested to see this show because, for the first time in a long while, Florida, behind sophomore coach Amanda Butler, is going to be part of it.
Follow me and we’ll chat about brackets. And hit the jump for some preview thoughts.
The overriding theme of women’s college basketball, which, in many ways, differentiates it from men’s college basketball, is the importance of having a single standout player. For Tennessee the last two years, that was Candace Parker; for LSU for a while, it was Seimone Augustus; for UConn, it was Diana Taurasi who got Geno Auriemma to say, “We have Diana, and they don’t.”
This year, there are probably three contenders for the crown of best women’s player in the land: Connecticut’s Maya Moore, Maryland’s Kristi Toliver, and Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris. Each has led her respective team to a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and each will have a chance to prove her mettle, I think, at a Final Four.
Let’s break down the bracket, region-by-region:
It’s nigh impossible to imagine Connecticut not roaring through this one. Their path to the Sweet Sixteen is clear, though Florida’s bigs could give them a little trouble. Texas A&M is probably the weakest 2 seed in the field; I wouldn’t be shocked to see a Connecticut-Florida State matchup in the Elite Eight. But there’s no way UConn doesn’t make it to St. Louis. That would require possibly the most titanic upset ever in women’s college basketball, because none of the teams in this region is even within shouting distance of the mean storm from Storrs. For upsets, look at Georgia, who will play in Duluth, and try to match the football Bulldogs’ thrashing of Arizona State from the fall, or Notre Dame, which should get Texas A&M in South Bend.
Duke is the controversial 1 seed this year, a down one for the ACC, and they pay for that reward with a harrowing road to the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four; the Blue Devils may have to go through Michigan State in East Lansing and Stanford in Berkeley to reach St. Louis. Duke and Stanford are the best two teams in the bracket, but Ohio State could make some noise, and Tennessee, which has gone from hot to cold like any young team does, is a great sleeper as the 5 seed. Still, Stanford, a veteran team that won’t have to leave California to punch their ticket to St. Louis, is my pick here, despite a dangerous potential second-round matchup against San Diego State in San Diego.
On Tobacco Road, it figures that the ACC would be the beast to beat, and Maryland is definitely that team. They’ll begin in College Park and shouldn’t be seriously challenged until an Elite Eight matchup with either Baylor or Louisville. Rebecca Lobo, who will be Twittering the Tournament, is high on Louisville, and rightfully so: The Cardinals have just two losses to teams not named Connecticut this year, and probably dropped to a 3 seed only because UConn laid a 75-36 skunking on them in the Big East Tournament finals. Baylor has senior leadership and scoring in their corner, but Louisville’s a good bit closer to Raleigh than Waco is. Either way, both teams should be ample challenge for Maryland, but Brenda Frese’s squad is Final Four-bound barring a poor night. For upsets, look at Louisville possibly getting LSU in Baton Rouge, or, in a far more likely prospect, the 5-12 and 4-13 matchups in Albuquerque, where it’s a stretch to think any team will have a crowd advantage.
Oklahoma City Regional
It’s in the Sooner State, but that doesn’t guarantee a trip to the Gateway Arch for Courtney Paris and Company. First, OU will probably have to topple Iowa in Iowa City, then get past a strong Pittsburgh team. And in Oklahoma City, either the athletic Auburn Tigers, who don’t boast much tournament experience, or the North Carolina Tar Heels, who do, will pose a threat to the Sooners. Still, I think Courtney Paris steps up her game in this, her final campaign for a national title, and propels Oklahoma to the Final Four. She’s capable of dominating inside, and if she runs the floor well and stays out of foul trouble, she’s the best interior player in the nation.
My Final Four, then, pits UConn and Stanford in one semifinal in a rematch of a Final Four tilt from 2008, and Maryland and Oklahoma in the other. This Connecticut team, unlike last year’s, should have no problems with Stanford, which won’t be able to rely on Candice Wiggins to shoot them out of trouble, and might be seeing a nightmarish mirror image in Maya Moore. And, though it’s tempting to think Paris overwhelms the Terrapins inside, Maryland’s dynamic Kristi Toliver should be able to impose her will on a young Oklahoma backcourt, and should meet UConn for the title.
At the end of this Tournament, though, Connecticut will be clipping the nets. Maryland’s strengths at point guard and inside are neutralized by UConn’s Renee Montgomery and Moore, respectively, and as long as Tina Charles has a decent tournament, the Huskies will almost assuredly conclude this season without a notch in the loss column.