Thursday, March 27
Updated: March 28, 11:12 PM ET
Defense is key in march toward Atlanta
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
Mideast | Midwest | East | West
The NCAA Tournament field was cut to 16 teams Tuesday as the second round wrapped up.
All eight of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds remain. All the third seeds, however, have been eliminated, while 11th-seeded Notre Dame became the lowest seeded team to advance to the Sweet 16.
Defense is the one common thread among most of the teams that are still alive. Connecticut, Tennessee, Duke, Colorado, Villanova and Notre Dame are all known as great defensive teams. The Blue Devils have held their last 13 foes to an average of 52 points. Villanova, UConn and Duke rank second, third and fourth, respectively, in the nation in scoring defense.
And there's no doubt in my mind that the four teams that reach Atlanta will get there by dominating the glass and playing tough defense.
In the meantime, here's a look at how we expect each of this weekend's Sweet 16 games to shape up (click on region name for in depth, game-by-game analysis):
Mideast Region: Knoxville, Tenn.
(2) Villanova (27-5) vs. (6) Colorado (24-7)
When: Noon ET Saturday, ESPN
After all these years, coach Harry Perretta and Villanova are finally getting the attention they deserve. But Colorado and coach Ceal Barry always come up with great defensive games, and had a hot hand in its first two games, sinking 21 3-pointers. The Wildcats are playing with tremendous confidence right now, and the key for Colorado is ball pressure and getting in position early on defense.
(1) Tennessee (30-4) vs. (4) Penn State (26-8)
When: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN
The Lady Vols are playing great, vintage Tennessee basketball right now, and along with Texas, have been one of the tournament's most impressive teams among the high seeds. Of course, Penn State has its bonafide star in junior Kelly Mazzante, who led the nation in scoring last season and ranks among the best scorers in 2003. She is everything as advertised and then some.
Midwest Region: Albuquerque, N.M.
(1) Duke (33-1) vs. (5) Georgia (21-9)
When: 9 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN
Duke is well-coached, very confident and versatile. And one of the best things about Duke this season? The Blue Devils have some depth. Last year you couldn't use "Duke" and "deep" in the same sentence. But Georgia is one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, and coach Andy Landers has done another amazing job, guiding the Lady Bulldogs to another Sweet 16 appearance despite numerous injuries and personnel issues.
(2) Texas Tech (28-5) vs. (6) New Mexico (24-8)
When: 11:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2
The Lady Raiders are good, experienced, and shoot, rebound and run the floor well. Jia Perkins, who had 23 points last time out, is silky smooth, a great slasher and excellent in attacking you and breaking down your defense. But no one's counting out New Mexico. This is a hot team (13 3-pointers in the upset of third-seeded Mississippi State) that's riding a lot of momentum and has some of the best fans in the nation cheering it on.
East Region: Dayton, Ohio
(1) Connecticut (33-1) vs. (5) Boston College (22-8)
When: Noon ET Sunday, ESPN
Boston College's road to the round of 16 has been fantastic, but the Eagles get a tough draw here. It would probably be easier for them to have to play someone else rather than face UConn again. That's not to say Boston College doesn't have what it takes to pull off another upset. But it's always tough mentally to face a team you haven't had any recent success against. And Geno Auriemma knew about Amber Jacobs long before she hit buzzer-beaters to win two straight games.
(2) Purdue (28-5) vs. (11) Notre Dame (21-10)
When: 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2
Everyone was quick to point out that this is a rematch of the 2001 NCAA title game, but these are completely different teams. Ruth Riley, Niele Ivey, Katie Douglas and Camille Cooper are long gone. The big question now is who will emerge as the next big star in this budding rivalry? So far, Notre Dame's leading scorer is 2-for-26 from the field, but Purdue's Shereka Wright has been impressive from all over the floor. And keep in mind that of the six teams seeded 11th or lower that have reached the Sweet 16, none have ever advanced to the Elite Eight.
West Region: Stanford, Calif.
(1) LSU (29-3) vs. (5) Louisiana Tech (31-2)
When: 7 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2
Both these teams are very talented and extremely athletic, the programs are well respected, and this should be one of the best games to watch in the Sweet 16. The big X-factor for LSU is whether junior point guard Temeka Johnson will play after suffering those two broken facial bones in the second round. If she does, Louisiana Tech's 29-game winning streak (longest in the nation) could be jeopardy.
(2) Texas (27-5) vs. (6) Minnesota (25-5)
When: 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2
The individual matchups in this game -- Jamie Carey vs. Lindsay Whalen, Stacy Stephens vs. Janel McCarville and Heather Schreiber vs. Corrin Von Wald -- might make for some of the best moments in the tournament. And this could be Jody Conradt's best Texas team in a decade. Still, Minnesota has more depth than most teams in the country, and will look to topple Texas and Stacy Stephens, who should be a Kodak All-American this season.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.