Experts' first impressions of the bracket
Now that we know the field of 64, what do the experts think about the bracket? Here are some of the first impressions our panel -- ESPN's Beth Mowins, as well as ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel, Charlie Creme and Graham Hays -- came up with after their first glance at the bracket:
After getting an introduction to Boston during the regular season, with the arrival of new conference member Boston College, the ACC has good reason to think three of its schools might make return trips to the Final Four. But after a glance at the bracket, it seems Maryland, the only one of the conference's juggernauts which didn't get a No. 1 seed, actually has the easiest road. It's all relative, but Ohio State, Baylor and Arizona State, the Albuquerque region's other top seeds, don't seem to match up with the strength at the top of the bracket in the other three regions.
North Carolina's draw, which puts any World Cup "group of death" to shame, will get plenty of attention, but fellow No. 1 seed Duke has its own set of arguably unfair obstacles. So forgive the people in Duke's athletic department if they don't plan vacations in Connecticut anytime soon. The Blue Devils' women's soccer team entered postseason play as a No. 3 seed, only to have to travel to New Haven, Conn., where they lost a second-round game against host Yale. Now the women's basketball team is rewarded for its top seed with a potential regional final against local favorite Connecticut in Bridgeport. It seems safe to say Duke wasn't the lowest-rated No. 1 seed on the committee's S-curve, so why force the Blue Devils to potentially play a road game with the Final Four on the line?
The brutal Cleveland bracket is evidence enough that the women's game has more parity at the top of the bracket than it knows what to do with, but the gulf between the upper and middle class is still vast. Indiana State and Western Kentucky failed to procure at-large spots despite impressive regular-season credentials in mid-major conferences, and it appears even Bowling Green (28-2 and ranked in the Top 25) would have been left out had it not won the automatic bid out of the MAC. After upset wins from Middle Tennessee St. and Liberty last season, the tide seemed to be turning. But seeing bubble teams like Notre Dame, Washington, Iowa and Louisville seeded in the traditional 8-10 range confirms little has actually changed.
It's impossible to pass over a potential North Carolina-Tennessee (or North Carolina-Rutgers) showdown as the most attractive regional final, but LSU-Oklahoma would rank a close second. LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Oklahoma's Courtney Paris are the two best centers in the country, and a battle for supremacy would be a post struggle unlike many the women's game has ever seen.
In addition to Boston College-Notre Dame in Albuquerque, one of the best first-round games is Temple vs. Hartford in Bridgeport.
Guard play is extremely critical during the tournament, but how about point-guard coaching? Both Temple coach Dawn Staley and Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti took their teams to Final Fours as players. It will be very interesting to see how they read the game as coaches. This head-to-head matchup might be the best first-round storyline. But remember, the America East is 1-15 all-time in NCAA Tournament play. Those are tough odds for Rizzotti's Hawks.
In the second round, some of the tournament favorites could end up playing on their opponents' home court -- or fairly close to it: North Carolina vs. Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee vs. Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., NC State vs. DePaul in Chicago, and Rutgers vs. Texas A&M in Trenton, N.J.
That last one is a big game to watch. The Aggies have incredible quickness and speed up and down the floor. And if Rutgers has any trouble scoring like it did in the Big East tournament, it could spell upset.
The regional final I can't wait to see would be Oklahoma vs. LSU. I would love to see Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Paris knock each other around in the paint.
Biggest shocker goes to Tennessee. I had the Lady Vols as a No. 1 seed in my bracket. For them to have dropped to the eighth overall team on the S-curve is unfathomable.
ASU didn't deserve a 4-seed, not when UCLA got a No. 5. The Bruins beat ASU in both their meetings this season, including in the Pac-10 tournament. Villanova, which got left out, also has a legitimate gripe. The Wildcats beat Notre Dame head-to-head and finished the regular season higher in the Big East standings than the Irish.
The main issue that I have is with North Carolina, the clear No. 1 overall seed, being put in a situation where it might be playing a second-round game on the road (Vanderbilt in Nashville). What's the reward? That wouldn't have been a difficult situation to alleviate. Vanderbilt should have been with Duke or moved a seed line to a No. 7 to avoid this. And I don't want to hear from the committee that it didn't want to move anyone unless it had to -- because I'm nearly certain for New Mexico to get an 11, the Lobos had to be moved down to accommodate their need to be in the Albuquerque region.
Without a doubt, Cleveland is the toughest region. An argument could be made that North Carolina got stuck with the toughest 2-seed in Tennessee and the toughest 3 in Rutgers. Also, Purdue is probably not the weakest No. 4 seed. Just comparing the Boilermakers to Michigan State, Purdue has to have been higher on the committee's S-curve.
Best potential regional final? Everyone is going to point to Duke vs. UConn or North Carolina vs. Tennessee, but I'm going with Maryland vs. Ohio State. It's two programs greatly improved over a couple of years ago and only getting better.
Some seeds that didn't quite add up? New Mexico struggled a little bit at the end, but not so bad as to warrant an 11. And while South Florida belongs in the field, I'm not buying the Bulls as a ninth seed. Maybe USF was moved a seed line to accommodate the bracket, but this is more of an 11 than a nine.
The biggest snub by far is Western Kentucky. The Sun Belt was the ninth-rated conference and Western Kentucky dominated it in the regular season. This was a top-20 RPI team. The Lady Toppers only had one big win, but did schedule up a bit with Louisiana Tech (win), Arizona State, Vanderbilt, and Louisville -- all tournament teams. The Lady Toppers at least made the effort the committee asked for.
Cal's inclusion is the biggest surprise. The Golden Bears don't belong in this tournament. This is worse than Air Force's inclusion in the men's draw.
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