LSU, Oklahoma are the early favorites

Updated: March 15, 2006, 11:06 AM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

A look at how the San Antonio Regional shapes up heading into the first round:

Who is the most underrated player?

LIEBERMAN'S FIVE BEST
PLAYERS IN SAN ANTONIO
Seimone Augustus, LSU
Sylvia Fowles, LSU
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma
Khara Smith, DePaul
Candice Wiggins, Stanford

No one seems to know about her. But Tasha Williams, Louisiana Tech's senior point guard, earned Western Athletic Conference tournament MVP honors after shooting a tourney-record 68 percent from the field. And if that's not enough to pique your interest, consider that a number of WNBA scouts are taking a look at her as a sleeper pick in April's draft. Over the years, Louisiana Tech has produced a number of outstanding guards -- including one who led Baylor to the NCAA title last year -- and that alone speaks volumes about the kind of talent Williams possesses. She has a nice shot but also got to the foul line more than 200 times this season.

What is the best first-round game?

Sixth-seeded Florida State vs. Williams' No. 11 Lady Techsters -- who are one of only two teams to reach every NCAA Tournament in the event's 25-year history -- is a great matchup. The Seminoles set a school record for conference wins, and keep in mind those 10 victories came in the ACC, the nation's toughest conference. Coach Sue Semrau has done a great job, and her team has played particularly well on the road.

What first-round game is most likely to end in an upset?

Tenth-seeded Iowa played really well down the stretch to get itself into the tournament and could knock out No. 7 seed BYU. The Hawkeyes' speedy Crystal Smith, a lefty point guard, is another player most of the country is unfamiliar with. But she can shoot and penetrate and is Iowa's first scoring option. Her 46-point effort is the best single-game tally in college basketball this year.

Other than the No. 1 seed, what team is most likely to win the regional?

Oklahoma is the obvious pick. Yes, the Sooners have Courtney Paris, but they also have more inside-outside depth than people give them credit for. They go eight players deep, and when they sub out Leah Rush at the four they replace her with Ashley Paris. Where's the significant drop off there? Oklahoma's zone is also tough, Britney Brown does a solid job at the point and coach Sherri Coale has the ability to come up big in big games.

Which teams will meet in the regional final?

LSU is more athletic and is my pick to advance to the Final Four. But even with Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles on board, the Lady Tigers could struggle to advance past OU and Courtney Paris. The key to this matchup would be Oklahoma's Erin Higgins, who can really spread the opponent's defense if she hits her outside shots. The Sooners like to see Paris post up on Higgins' side of the floor, with Higgins ready for the open shot from the corner.

This is where the defense of LSU's Scholanda Hoston comes in. She's one of the best defenders in the nation, holding several talented players -- such as Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter, South Florida's Jessica Dickson and Tennessee's Shanna Zolman -- well below their averages.

Incidentally, while we're all drooling at the prospect of Paris taking on Fowles in the paint, OU's Rush likely would get that defensive assignment so Paris doesn't have to run up and down the floor with Fowles.

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.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.