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By Nancy Lieberman
Special to

Two days have passed since the bracket was unveiled, but one of the hottest topics hasn't changed: The East is by far the toughest region in this year's bracket.

So what does the East's top seed have to do to make it all the way to the Final Four? Let's take a quick look at top-seeded Penn State.

1. What has impressed you most about Penn State so far this season?
That's easy: The Lady Lions' schedule. And the fact they went 9-4 against the RPI's Top 25.

There wasn't a weak opponent in Penn State's nonconference slate. Just how strong was it? Seven of the Lady Lions' first eight opponents of the season -- including Texas, LSU, Kansas State, Baylor and Louisiana Tech -- also reached the NCAA Tournament.

And that's the way coach Rene Portland wanted it. After losing in the Sweet 16 in the Mideast each of the past two seasons -- to Tennessee last year and to UConn in 2002 -- Portland wanted the Lady Lions to look forward, not backward, and to set high standards for what was to come. Yes, they had made it to the Sweet 16, but what was next? From day one, she wanted their mind set focused on reaching that next level.

"I wanted some sort of urgency," Portland explained to me during the Big Ten tournament. "Instead of waiting for what we didn't do, they had to think about opening up with LSU."

Can you say, "battle-tested"?

2. What has surprised you most about Penn State?
A few things. First of all, a lot of people think this team is all about Kelly Mazzante. But the Lady Lions really do feature a nice inside-outside balance that's often underrated.

Also, Jess Strom's fitness level at the beginning of the season was eye-opening. Strom says she "lost the bag of chips." She also lost about 30 pounds, and it has made a difference. Always a talented point guard, Strom is even better now. In the past she had a knack for getting the ball to the right people, but now she's moving better, playing more efficiently and has just done such a remarkable job.

3. What is Penn State's biggest strength and weakness?

Kelly Mazzante
Kelly Mazzante has better range than anybody in the country, even Diana Taurasi.
The Lady Lions have an incredible ability to score. A lot of that has to do with Mazzante, a gifted shooter who has the best range of anybody in the country (yes, even UConn's Diana Taurasi). Mazzante is sometimes criticized for taking too many shots (she's taken 543 shots, almost 200 more than anybody else on the team, and averages 18.1 attempts per game). But I don't care how many she gets off, and that's because she hits them at the right time. There's a reason she ranks third in NCAA history with 350 3-pointers.

And like Strom, Mazzante also worked on her body over the offseason. She knew she'd be a target for defenses again this season, and she worked hard in the weight room.

Penn State is also runs very good screens, and Mazzante's ability to move without the ball is an integral part of the offense, too. These players know how to get open, and that's also true for Tanisha Wright, a great slasher who can put the ball on the floor or pull up.

Wright, whose style of play is reminiscent of a Nykesha Sales, is a strength at both ends. I always look at how players do in big games, and Wright's résumé is remarkable -- though she averages 14.5 points on the season, Wright averaged 17.2 points against top-10 teams. And yet, she's also a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

And while we mentioned Strom above, you can't leave out Jess Brungo. The 6-foot-1 senior forward is very versatile and a good defender for her size.

Penn State's one negative might be its lack of depth. The Lady Lions are very starter heavy, although that typically isn't a factor at this point of the season.

4. Who's the wild card for Penn State that we might not have heard much about?
To really be successful this season, Penn State had to have an inside game. And that's where Reicina Russell comes in. The 6-6 freshman center already has broken the rookie record for blocked shots, and has swatted away 78 shots this season.

5. What does Penn State need to do to win the NCAA title?
The Lady Lions' need to keep shooting the basketball -- and those shots need to fall. This season, they've attempted 135 more 3-pointers than their opponents. And when those shots fall, it's hard to keep up.

Penn State needs to continue to play aggressive offensively, and of course, they need to believe they can win and emerge from the bracket's toughest region.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at

1 Penn State
2 Connecticut
3 Houston
4 North Carolina
5 Notre Dame
6 Colorado
7 Auburn
8 Virginia Tech
9 Iowa
10 North Carolina State
11 UC Santa Barbara
12 Southwest Missouri State
13 Middle Tennessee
14 UW-Green Bay
15 Penn
16 Hampton
1 Duke
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5 Louisiana Tech
6 Ohio State
7 Minnesota
8 Old Dominion
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14 Eastern Michigan
15 Valparaiso
16 Northwestern State
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14 Liberty
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16 Southern
1 Tennessee
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16 Colgate