Early returns: LSU, Tennessee favorites in Indy

Updated: March 30, 2005, 10:53 AM ET
ESPN.com

The women's Final Four is set. So who are the favorites? ESPN.com's experts weigh in.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: (1) LSU vs. (2) Baylor | (1) Tennessee vs. (1) Michigan State

(1) LSU vs. (2) BAYLOR
SKINNY PICK
Beth MowinsESPN's Beth Mowins
It will come down to on-ball pressure vs. offensive execution. Baylor's Chelsea Whitaker did a great job in the Elite Eight against UNC's Ivory Latta. Can she be just as disruptive against LSU's Temeka Johnson and prevent the Lady Tigers from running their sets?

On the other side, can Johnson and Scholanda Hoston apply enough ball pressure to make it tough for Baylor to feed the ball to its posts? I'm sticking with LSU. I think Whitaker might have played her best defensive game against Latta and that Johnson, who was a little out of control against Duke, learned from those problems and will not repeat them.
LSU
Mechelle VoepelESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
With apologies and all due respect to the other side of the bracket, I think these are the best two teams and the most riveting matchup in the whole tournament. Thus far, neither team's set of stars has had an off game in the tournament. There's a pretty good chance that it won't happen in Indianapolis, either. So it will be interesting to see if, in fact, the outcome of this Final Four matchup rests on which team's supporting cast plays better. More
Baylor
Kara LawsonESPN's Kara Lawson
This matchup is exciting and very even all the way down to the coaches. If you haven't seen Baylor's Abiola Wabara play defense, she's unbelievable, long and athletic and the type of player who could affect Seimone Augustus. Another great matchup will be LSU's 4s against Baylor's Sophia Young. The Lady Tigers sort of play that position by committee, and although they're unbelievable at the 1, 3 and 5 and Scholanda Hoston is a solid 2, their weakest spot in the starting five is the 4. That's critical, especially with the way Young is playing.

Baylor's Chelsea Whitaker needs to do a good job on Temeka Johnson at point guard, but Whitaker proved she can handle someone as athletic as UNC's Ivory Latta. Whitaker and Johnson are similar, both small but quick. Johnson's more of a cagey veteran, though, and LSU has the experience having been there before and knowing what to expect with all the distractions.
LSU
Nancy LiebermanESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Abiola Wabara has been Baylor's big defensive stopper, and she'll be assigned to guard LSU superstar Seimone Augustus. No matter how you play her, Augustus will get off her shots. She's too quick, her off-the-ball movement is too good and she comes off screens very well. Wabara will stick to Augustus and contest every shot, but the key is being able to apply consistent pressure without fouling. Wabara must defend and contest but not bail Augustus out by putting her on the foul line for easy points. She has missed just 16 free throws all season. More
Baylor
Graham HaysESPN.com's Graham Hays
Duke exposed some weaknesses in LSU's interior defense in the regional semifinal, and Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon are far more dangerous than Mistie Williams, Alison Bales and Chante Black.

But on the other end, who checks Seimone Augustus? Without a natural stopper for a wing like Augustus, the Lady Bears won't be able to make LSU's other scorers win or lose the game. At times against Duke, LSU displayed the same lack of offensive cohesion that doomed North Carolina against Baylor. For that reason, I think it will be a one- or two-possession game. But since (sorry, Geno) LSU has Seimone and Baylor doesn't, I'll pick the Lady Tigers to win.
LSU

(1) TENNESSEE vs. (2) MICHIGAN STATE
SKINNY PICK
Beth MowinsESPN's Beth Mowins
An SEC school is probably the worst team for Michigan State to face simply because SEC teams are familiar with the Spartans' matchup zone. Pat Summitt has seen a similar zone for years at Auburn. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose Cardinal lost to Michigan State on Tuesday, admitted that it takes time for players to get accustomed to what they're seeing in a zone they're not familiar with. Summitt's players, however, will be ready to go.

The key is whether Michigan State's zone can contain the interior quickness of Lady Vols Shyra Ely, Nicky Anosike and Tye'sha Fluker.

Michigan State's Kristin Haynie is another difference-maker who has shown herself to be on par with LSU's Temeka Johnson as the best point guards in the country. She has been awesome.
Tennessee
Nancy LiebermanESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Tennessee is more athletic than anybody Michigan State has seen in the tournament. The Spartans could struggle to keep up with Nicky Anosike's quickness and board with the 6-4 freshman center.

To counter Michigan State's zone, expect Tennessee to set a lot of flare screens on the perimeter and look to exploit openings at the foul line and take advantage of looks on each wing. That, of course, means the Lady Vols shooters need a good performance, which might be the biggest X-factor of all.

In the backcourt, who's going to stop Michigan State's Kristin Haynie? Loree Moore is going to get tired chasing her around, and the Spartans -- especially if 3-point threat Lindsay Bowen gets back on track after an off night Tuesday -- probably have the edge in guard play. More
Michigan State
Graham HaysESPN.com's Graham Hays
This semifinal has me in a bind. The Lady Vols are my pick to win it all, but I'm tired of doubting the Spartans. It's a game of mirror images, with do-everything Michigan State point guard Kristin Haynie battling Loree Moore, the heart and soul of Tennessee's offense. It's Lindsay Bowen vs. Shanna Zolman and Alexis Hornbuckle vs. Rene Haynes. And it's Tennessee's athletic bigs (Nicky Anosike and Shyra Ely) battling the power of Michigan State's post players (Liz Shimek and Kelli Roehrig). But it's also Pat Summitt and Tennessee's experience battling Joanne P. McCallie and Michigan State's championship naivete. And for that final reason, the Volunteers to come out on top.
Tennessee
Mechelle VoepelESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
Pat Summitt's crew is in the Final Four for the 16th time. Michigan State is in its first. Despite being a No. 1 seed, too, Michigan State comes into Indianapolis an underdog. The Spartans don't care, though. If anything, they're used to being underestimated a bit. They've already beaten one of the two "Evil Empires" this season in UConn (Dec 29); now the Orange Darth Vader awaits.

Michigan State doesn't have a superstar, but it does have great teamwork, fundamentals and its own kind of mojo. The Spartans escaped Southern California in the second round, pulled away in the second half against Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16 and held off a two-rally Stanford team in the Elite Eight.

Can Michigan State beat Tennessee? At the very least, the Spartans believe they can, and that's half the battle. Forced to pick, though, one has to go with Tennessee -- mainly because its athleticism in the post could be just too much for Michigan State to overcome.
Tennessee

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