Spokane's top-seeded Stanford heating up as tourney opens

Updated: March 19, 2008, 9:25 PM ET
ESPN.com

ESPN.com breaks down the four regionals. Check out the Greensboro, New Orleans and Oklahoma City analysis.

Graham Hays' 8 vs. 9 breakdown

Xavier(8) Nebraska vs. (9) Xavier (at College Park, Md., noon ET Sunday, ESPN2): Nebraska was slightly above average on the boards in the Big 12 but will have its hands full with Xavier's post duo of Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips. Strong shooting by Huskers guard Yvonne Turner, who was terrific from outside in conference play, would help on the offensive end.
Pick: Xavier

Beth Mowins' 7 vs. 10 breakdown

(7) UTEP vs (10) Western Kentucky (at Stanford, Calif., 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2): Hats off to a pair of mid-majors looking to make their mark in this season's tournament. This game is one of just two first-round affairs that does not include a school from a power conference (ODU vs. Liberty is the other). This game also takes place at the site of last year's stunning upset of Stanford on its home court. The winner probably will face the Cardinal in the second round and will look to match Florida State's Maples magic from last season.

The Miners are one of the feel-good stories of this year's Big Dance, winning a program-record 27 games to earn the team's first trip to the NCAA tournament. Even a surprising loss to SMU in the Conference USA tournament didn't dampen their spirits.

UTEP has a balanced attack with multiple weapons offensively. The first option is Jareica Hughes, one of the most underrated players in the country. She gets plenty of help from Natasha Lacy and 6-foot-5 Polish international Izabela Piekarska.

Western Kentucky will counter with one of America's top scorers in 6-3 forward Crystal Kelly. She pours in 22 points per game to go along with 10 rebounds. If she has her way in the paint, the Lady Toppers will be in great shape. Opening up the floor for Kelly is sharpshooter Kenzie Rich, who must keep defenses honest with her long-range attack.

This game will probably be decided on the glass, where Western Kentucky has a decided advantage. The Lady Toppers boast a plus-7 rebounding margin -- to the Miners' negative margin. If UTEP can't box out, the Miners will be bounced out early.

Charlie Creme's take

New MexicoWho's Hot: 12-seed New Mexico. Yes, all the upsets set up a much easier road in the Mountain West tournament for the Lobos, but they (unlike the high seeds) did survive to get here. Now they get to play at home in The Pit, one of the toughest environments for road teams in the game.

Stanford 2-seed Stanford. The Cardinal didn't lose and had very few games that were even close since those inexplicable upsets to UCLA and USC in the first week of January. The Pac-10 tournament became their own personal playground.

Baylor Who's Not: 3-seed Baylor. The Big 12 regular-season title was the Lady Bears' to lose. And they did. The Lady Bears had a chance to rectify that in the Big 12 tournament. And they didn't. Baylor blew a big first-half lead and eventually got bounced by Texas. This team wilted at the finish.

Possible matchup to watch for: Kristi Toliver vs. Candice Wiggins. If Maryland and Stanford clash in the regional final, two of the best players in the country would go head-to-head with a a Final Four berth on the line.

Possible upset: Pittsburgh over Baylor in the second round. Baylor might have peaked already, and Pittsburgh has a dangerous player in Shavonte Zellous.

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