Commentary

Irish to get another shot at Tennessee

Updated: March 28, 2008, 11:44 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

A look at how Sunday's regional semifinals in Oklahoma City stack up:

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Texas A&M (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET)

The Blue Devils are used to being in this territory, figuratively speaking, of the Sweet 16. But from a geographical standpoint, this is more familiar to Texas A&M. The Aggies played in Oklahoma City last year in the Big 12 tournament. And the bitterly disappointed Oklahoma fans who will come to these regional games despite the Sooners not being involved will cheer for the Big 12 team that is present.

[+] EnlargeAbby Waner and Wanisha Smith
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonAbby Waner has struggled with her shot all season, but if she gets into a comfort zone and hits a few bombs, it will feed Duke's confidence.

Both Texas A&M and Duke have played their best in the past month or so. The Aggies won the program's first Big 12 tournament and are now playing the type of defense they need to. Duke made it to the ACC tournament final, upsetting Maryland in the semis, and are in an "underdog role" -- at least in terms of seeding -- for the first time in the NCAA tournament since the 2005 regional final, when the Blue Devils were a No. 2 to LSU's No. 1.

Strengths: Texas A&M's defense is very pesky, quick and physical. The Aggies are strongest at guard and on the wing. Duke has an advantage inside, especially from a scoring standpoint, with Chante Black.

Key matchup: How will the Blue Devils guard Danielle Gant? She can take a lot of attention, and if you try to stifle her, that still leaves a lot of quickness on the perimeter for the Aggies that Duke has to contain.

Backcourt/frontcourt edge: Texas A&M gets the advantage in the backcourt. A'Quonesia Franklin has been a terrific point guard for the Aggies, Takia Starks can be a deadly shooter and, Gant and Morenike Atunrase are versatile wing players.

The frontcourt edge belongs to Duke. The Blue Devils are deeper and more skilled offensively inside with Black, Carrem Gay and Joy Cheek.

X factors: Atunrase was formerly a starter, but surgery just before the season moved her to the bench. She has found a comfort level there, but don't be fooled -- she will play a starter's minutes and have a starter's impact. As for Duke, Abby Waner has struggled with her shot all season, but if she suddenly gets into a comfort zone and hits a few bombs, that will really help the Blue Devils' overall confidence.

No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Tennessee (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET)

The Irish know they are big underdogs. Most observers likely would say that next to Old Dominion against UConn, this is the most "predictable" victory in the Sweet 16.

[+] EnlargeShannon Bobbitt
AP Photo/Michael Conroy Shannon Bobbitt will team with Alexis Hornbuckle to try and give Tennessee the backcourt edge vs. Notre Dame's Charel Allen and Ashley Barlow.
But is it? Well, the Irish are going to be tested in trying to stop Tennessee's inside game. They did go against an All-American center in Courtney Paris in their second-round triumph over Oklahoma, but that game came down to guard play. Tennessee is significantly better on the perimeter than the Sooners.

And it goes without saying that the national champions have a huge experience edge in this matchup. What Notre Dame can draw on, though, is that it has already played Tennessee -- an 87-63 loss at home in January -- and the Irish are a team that in past NCAA tournament games has come up big, especially defensively.

Strengths: It starts with Candace Parker for Tennessee, but she wasn't the leading scorer when the teams met in South Bend, Ind. That was Angie Bjorklund, who hit seven 3-pointers in that game. Offensively, Tennessee will be very hard for Notre Dame to slow down.

Key matchup: How will Notre Dame keep Nicky Anosike off the boards? When she is playing well, she really makes it difficult for teams to limit Tennessee's second chances.

Backcourt/frontcourt edge: As good as Charel Allen and Ashley Barlow were in the first two rounds for Notre Dame, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt are defending national champions.

Parker gives Tennessee the advantage inside, but as mentioned, Anosike can be a very big factor, too. The Irish are young inside, led by sophomore Erica Williamson and freshman Becca Bruszewski. It's unfortunate for Notre Dame that standout freshman Devereaux Peters suffered an ACL injury in February because she would be a big help against Tennessee.

X factors: Can the Irish have any success controlling the tempo in this game? Notre Dame can't run with Tennessee. But if the Irish can keep the game at a more deliberate pace, they have a better chance of staying in it and frustrating Tennessee.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.