Breaking down the Sweet 16
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Georgetown (ESPN/ESPN3.com, noon ET Sunday)
There's no denying Connecticut's role as the favorite in a third meeting with Georgetown -- an overwhelming favorite. In three prior trips with Maya Moore, the Huskies have yet to win a Sweet 16 game by fewer than 13 points. At the same time, Connecticut outscored Georgetown by "just" 26 points in the first two meetings (combined). That's "just" because there are 19 teams that lost a single game to the Huskies by 26 or more points this season.
Familiarity, with the opponent and the setting, makes for some compelling points of focus for Sunday.
• Turnovers: Diving back into the earlier meetings, Georgetown had more points off turnovers than Connecticut in each game, scoring 20 points on 26 turnovers on Feb. 26 at home and 16 points on 21 turnovers March 6 in the Big East tournament. Only five other teams did that even once against the Huskies this season, a list that includes Baylor and Stanford. The bad news from a Georgetown perspective, of course, is that the Huskies still won those games and had comfortable leads by halftime in both cases. But at the very least, the Hoyas need to again knock their opponent out of offensive rhythm to have any chance at making it a game over the final 10 minutes.
• Stage fright and sidekicks: This really goes hand in hand with the last category, but will the moment get to either side? That might seem an odd question in the case of the two-time defending champions, but this is the first NCAA tournament game away from the comforts of home for Connecticut freshmen starters Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. Then again, given all the attention heaped on the Huskies during their winning streak and in and around big games against Baylor, Stanford and other high-profile teams, a Sunday afternoon Sweet 16 game in Philadelphia isn't exactly putting Hartley or Dolson -- both of whom need to score consistently alongside Maya Moore for their team to win four more games this season -- on unfamiliar or especially daunting footing.
For the Hoyas, who will be familiar with their opponent and the city but entirely unfamiliar with the round, Sugar Rodgers has to have a big game or all other discussion points are moot. But if she does get some outside shots to fall, the onus is on Tia Magee, Monica McNutt and Rubylee Wright to come up with something more than their collective 10-of-62 shooting in the first two games against the Huskies.
No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 3 DePaul (ESPN2, ESPN3.com, 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday)
It's difficult to put a lot of stock in Duke's apparent campaign to label itself the overlooked underdog in Philadelphia -- media voters and coaches both ranked the Blue Devils ahead of all but five of the 300-plus Division I basketball schools in the final Top 25 polls, and the selection committee made them a 2-seed, behind only four teams with fewer losses. There are programs that would pay good money for that kind of disrespect. But in a region that includes three Big East teams playing in a Big East city, it's an understandable ploy. The better battle of the overlooked will be between Duke's offense and DePaul's defense. Both units live in the shadow of a higher-profile counterpart.
• 3-point shooting: Part of what made Duke an attractive preseason pick to reach the Final Four was the returning talent on hand in Durham, but any shot of getting to Indianapolis will also depend on something the team didn't have last season. The Blue Devils hit a total of 12 3-pointers in wins against Tennessee-Martin and Marist in the first two rounds, two more than they hit in four NCAA tournament games last season. But at 32.4 percent shooting from behind the arc in those games -- on their home court -- they didn't get there in entirely convincing fashion. Duke is a better shooting team -- Jasmine Thomas is shooting better than ever before and freshmen Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston (who picked Duke over DePaul in the recruiting process) are efficient from the 3-point line -- but will the 3 be a reliable tool in Philadelphia?
On the other side, DePaul is coming off two of its worst 3-point shooting performances of the season, making just three in the first round against Navy and missing 21 in the second round against Penn State . That's an issue for a team that ranked in the top 50 nationally in both 3-pointers per game and 3-point accuracy.
• Neutrality: The nice thing about playing your first two NCAA tournament games at home is, well, you get to play at home. But now Duke, and particularly its flotilla of freshmen off the bench, has to leave the comforts of Cameron for the first time. The Blue Devils met that challenge on a neutral court at the ACC tournament (albeit one close to home), but prior to that, blowout losses on the road against Connecticut and Maryland jumped off the page. Of course, Duke isn't the only team in the game with something to prove away from home. DePaul pulled out a postseason road win in the NCAA's second round against Penn State, but the Blue Demons are shooting just 37 percent from the floor in eight road/neutral games against teams that made the NCAA tournament (38 percent last weekend).
No. 1 seed Baylor vs. No. 5 Green Bay (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday)
The Phoenix now have won 25 games in a row, defeating the Big Ten's regular-season champion, Michigan State, in the NCAA second round. Baylor is the Big 12's champ and the only other team besides UConn to spend time ranked No. 1 in the polls the last two years. So could Baylor be Green Bay's next big conquest?
Baylor has a weapon that neither Michigan State, nor any other team, really, has with 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner, who averages 22.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 4.5 bpg. In Baylor's NCAA tournament victories over Prairie View and West Virginia, she had a combined 47 points, 12 rebounds and 14 blocked shots.
When she is in foul trouble, as she was a bit in the first half against West Virginia, Baylor's offense can struggle adjusting to her not being there. So Green Bay will certainly try to go at her and attempt to get her into foul trouble -- but she hasn't fouled out of a game all season.
Baylor is able to surround Griner with excellent rebounders like forward Destiny Williams (7.1 rpg) and guard Melissa Jones (7.0). That means Griner doesn't have to take chances on rebounds that could get her into foul trouble. Everything Baylor does is designed to maximize Griner's time on the court and her skills, which keep expanding.
But while Baylor has a unique weapon, a big part of Green Bay's strength is how often the Phoenix can have five players on the floor who are almost equally effective as scoring threats. Kayla Tetschlag (13.9 ppg), Julie Wojta (13.8), and Celeste Hoewisch (13.4) lead the way, with Wojta (127 assists) and Hannah Quilling (119) the top playmakers.
The Phoenix suffered their only loss at Marquette (63-60) in December. Seeing how well Marquette played Dayton No. 1 seed Tennessee in the NCAA second round was further proof that wasn't at all a bad loss by the Phoenix. Green Bay is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history, but the Phoenix are definitely not out of their element.
No. 2 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 6 Georgia (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday)
A&M's Gary Blair and Georgia's Andy Landers have been coaching since around the time James Naismith first hung up peach baskets. OK, maybe not that long; they started in the 1970s, when the AIAW was still governing women's sports.
Dallas is Blair's hometown, and he began by coaching high school girls' basketball there. Landers has been Georgia's women's coach since 1979.
The two went head to head in the SEC during Blair's time at Arkansas from 1993-2003, so they are very familiar with each other. Landers has taken Georgia to the Final Four five times, and Blair went once with Arkansas.
Texas A&M, which was upset by Gonzaga in the second round last year, had no problems in defeating McNeese State and Rutgers to move into the Sweet 16. Georgia, the sixth seed, had a controversial finish in its 61-59 second-round upset over No. 3 Florida State. Jasmine James got a putback of teammate Porsha Phillips' miss and then hit a free throw for the winning points. But the Seminoles thought they heard a whistle before Phillips' shot. Coach Sue Semrau protested to the officials, but to no avail.
So it was Georgia that moved on, and now the Bulldogs have to tangle with an Aggies attack led by senior Danielle Adams (22.7 ppg). Tyra White (13.7) and Sydney Carter (10.3) also average in double-figure scoring for Texas A&M.
Senior Sydney Colson is the Aggies' chief playmaker, with 202 assists to 88 turnovers this season. She also averages 7.8 points and anchors the stifling perimeter defense along with Carter.
They will be preoccupied with trying to contain James, a sophomore guard who leads Georgia with 12.3 points per game. Texas A&M is known for its defense, but the Aggies have become a much better offensive team in recent years. This season, they average 78.6 ppg, while Georgia is at 64.4. So you can figure out what kind of contest the Bulldogs want this to be. They hope to slow it down and make it more a defensive battle. Georgia (23-10) lost its last three games of the regular season, so making a Sweet 16 run definitely puts the Bulldogs' season in a much better light.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com. Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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