What's the most the teams in Berkeley can hope for, and what's the way they wouldn't want the season to end?
Best case: Coach Joanne P. McCallie has a good time in her return to East Lansing, Mich. Not because she missed the weather, but because of Duke's dominance. Jasmine Thomas continues to prove she's figuring it out. Karima Christmas and Bridgette Mitchell build on their solid ACC tournament performances. The run continues through Stanford and into the Final Four but ends unceremoniously at the hands of UConn.
Worst case: The Blue Devils just don't make enough shots. The defense gets them through a relatively easy draw, but not by Stanford. Meanwhile, both Maryland and North Carolina reach the Final Four. Abby Waner's playing career ends, but the early exit frees her up to intern as an analyst for ESPNU's Elite Eight coverage.
(16) AUSTIN PEAY
Best case: The 16 Lady Govs fans who make the trip to Berkeley are extremely enthusiastic. They cheer wildly when Austin Peay takes the court, mock the Duke players in the same creative ways the Cameron Crazies give it to opponents and scream throughout player introductions. Then Duke wins the opening tip, Waner makes a layup and those fans aren't heard from again.
Worst case: Only six make the trip, and they aren't loud at all.
(8) MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Best case: Alysha Clark, the nation's leading scorer, becomes the darling of the tournament by beating three schools that have all been to the Final Four in the past four years. The Blue Raiders outlast Michigan State, stun Duke (and everyone else) and then topple Tennessee before running out of fairy dust against Stanford. Clark scores 25 points or more in each win. Chante Black's next philosophy paper tackles the subject, "How anyone got 25 on me."
Worst case: Playing on the road against a physical team proves too much for MTSU. The Blue Raiders haven't played an RPI top-50 team since Dec. 11, and it shows. Alas, not all is lost, as Clark is merely a junior.
(9) MICHIGAN STATE
Best case: Aisha Jefferson and Lauren Aitch push some people around, someone slips a mean pill into Allyssa DeHaan's chocolate milk and Kalisha Keane knocks down a few jumpers. It all adds up to an East Lansing sweep for the home team, and the Spartans reach the Sweet 16. The upset of Duke is especially gratifying for those who felt coach Joanne P. McCallie abandoned ship two years ago.
Worst case: Losers of three of their past four coming into the tournament, the stumbling continues. The Spartans were able to mask the injury to Brittney Thomas for a while, but eventually losing their point guard cannot be compensated. Michigan State loses out of the gate to Middle Tennessee, and DeHaan doesn't even drink chocolate milk.
Best case: Finally, the instruction Pat Summitt has been giving her young players all season sinks in. The light goes on, and they get it. Summitt is thrilled. Not only does her team reach the Sweet 16 yet again, but the Lady Vols also upset Duke to reach the regional final.
Worst case: The story stays the same. Too many turnovers, inconsistent point-guard play, poor shot selection and missed assignments on defense all add up to a second-round loss to Iowa State, marking the first time in 28 NCAA tournament appearances that Tennessee fails to reach the round of 16. Afterward, Summitt realizes it will take an entire offseason for her team to "get it." The rest of the tournament has an odd feel without Tennessee around. No word out of Knoxville as to whether Summitt actually watches UConn complete its unbeaten national championship season with a win over Maryland.
(12) BALL STATE
Best case: The Redbirds stay competitive with Tennessee for most of the game and get a mention by David Letterman.
Worst case: Tennessee plays its best first half of the season, and the game is out of reach at the break. Such a guilt trip has been laid on Ball State about being there that the Cardinals call Bowling Green and ask whether the Falcons want to play the second half instead.
(4) IOWA STATE
Best case: The Cyclones' patience and smarts are just what Tennessee doesn't want to see in the second round. Heather Ezell and Alison Lacey spread the floor, knock down shots and make the Lady Vols chase them. Iowa State keeps running right into the Sweet 16.
Worst case: Ezell reaggravates her hand injury and is ineffective. It makes East Tennessee State a little more competitive and ruins a Sweet 16 trip. Tennessee puts enough pressure on ISU and wins going away. The Cyclones let down a flock of fans who wanted to experience a world without the Lady Vols in the Sweet 16.
(13) EAST TENNESSEE STATE
Best case: Siarre Evans goes off, and the Lady Bucs make Iowa State sweat just a little. Ultimately, ETSU doesn't win, but the Lady Bucs keep the final score within a 10-point margin, improving on last year's 12-point loss to another Big 12 team, Oklahoma State.
Worst case: A team that likes to get up the floor quickly and is used to scoring allows the more skilled team to dictate the pace. The Lady Bucs spend the entire game telling the Iowa State players they are boring, but the Cyclones just point to the scoreboard.
Best case: The missing persons department of the FBI completes a successful investigation into finding Texas' game, which has been missing for weeks. Brittany Raven puts up a couple of double-doubles and Kathleen Nash makes a couple of 3-pointers early, and Longhorns fans can exhale. Texas plays its two best games in a month and reaches the Sweet 16.
Worst case: The Longhorns' request to play only Missouri in the NCAA tournament -- the Tigers are the only team Texas has beaten (twice) since Feb. 15 -- is denied. But the powers that be feel so badly for Texas that sharpshooter Erika Arriaran is granted an extra R in her name (because no one spells it correctly, anyway). It doesn't help; Mississippi State is more concerned about the D, and Texas can't find enough ways to score consistently. Mississippi State gets to play Ohio State in Columbus in the second round.
(11) MISSISSIPPI STATE
Best case: Coach Sharon Fanning sends two thank-you cards to the committee -- one for getting in and the other for the matchups. Her guards -- Alexis Rack and Armelie Lumanu -- play great two-way basketball all weekend, and Mississippi State is one of four SEC teams to reach the Sweet 16.
Worst case: The six-year absence from the tournament makes this a new experience, and the Lady Bulldogs play that way. Turnovers, missed shots and mental lapses all lead to a blown opportunity.
(3) OHIO STATE
Best case: Samantha Prahalis' game is unveiled to the world. She and Jantel Lavender become the tournament's ultimate little/big combination on their run to St. Louis. Head coach Jim Foster can't believe he allowed Prahalis the rope he did, but it paid off, no less. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is so impressed by Prahalis in the regional final that she makes Foster a trade proposal.
Worst case: Lavender picks up some early fouls against Texas, removing Ohio State's biggest advantage. Prahalis and Star Allen try to do too much. Ashlee Trebilcock doesn't do enough. The Buckeyes can't rebound enough to get their break going. Foster gets criticized for yet another early tournament exit.
(14) SACRED HEART
Best case: Ohio State sees 21 wins in a row and gets intimidated. Kaitlin Sowinski and Alisa Apo validate that with some early scores. The Pioneers hang with the Buckeyes until midway through the second half and take pride when a few boos are heard from the Columbus crowd.
Worst case: The Buckeyes think they are playing against a hospital and aren't intimidated at all. Lavender has a double-double by halftime, when the game effectively ends.
Best case: Doug Bruno is one coach who won't dwell on where he's sent. He's not thrilled with a game at San Diego State, but he's quick to move on. That attitude trickles to his players, who don't mind the sunshine or that fact that the Aztecs will run a little bit. The Blue Demons score and earn their first tourney win in three years.
Worst case: The players forget sunscreen, and their skin is raw by game time. They avoid contact at all costs. At halftime, DePaul has been outrebounded 18-3. The second half isn't much better. Bruno begs to play in Anchorage next year.
(10) SAN DIEGO STATE
Best case: Jene Morris and Coco Davis play lights-out defense in front of the home folks. DePaul's guards never stand a chance, and Stanford's don't look good. That keeps the Aztecs in the game with the Cardinal, but it's not quite enough. Paris Johnson blocks a couple of Jayne Appel's shots, and at one point, Stanford's All-American even gives a nod of approval.
Worst case: Host or not, the Aztecs haven't played in the tournament in 12 years, and it shows. They look nothing like the team that has lost only three games since the middle of January. DePaul's experience advantage is nearly tangible, and SDSU goes quietly.
Best case: In the first four games, no individual player dominates like Jayne Appel. Jeanette Pohlen handles the point solidly, and Kayla Pedersen loves this small forward thing. Everything is in sync, and Stanford lands in the Final Four against UConn again. In St. Louis, Appel outplays Tina Charles, but Stanford does not repeat its 2008 win.
Worst case: After not having been in a close game since mid-January, Stanford forgets what it's like. That comes back to haunt the Cardinal. Stanford's guards make a few mistakes in crunch time against Ohio State, and Jantel Lavender plays Appel to a standstill. The run ends after three games.
(15) UC SANTA BARBARA
Best case: The Stanford players are exhausted from exams and slept most of game day (Saturday). Appel yawns as she readies for the center jump. Jillian Harmon is seen nodding off while waiting to check in at the scorer's table. The Gauchos do everything right. Jenna Green even hums a lullaby to the Stanford players when they line up for a free throw. But Stanford is just too good. The wake-up call comes early enough.
Worst case: The Cardinal players are sick of studying and frothing at the mouth for some competitive basketball. This game is the most fun Stanford has had in a week, and the Gauchos don't stand a chance.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.