Commentary

Oh, the possibilities

Bracket could set up lots of appetizing matches -- including UConn-Tennessee

Originally Published: March 15, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

One of my best pals and I once admitted to each other that we too often have imaginary conversations in our minds about things that haven't happened and might never happen. It was such a relief to know somebody else wasted as much time with this as I did.

For instance, let's say somebody is doing stuff that bugs you, and you decide, "I've gotta say something." So you rehearse in your head what you're going to say, then what he/she might say, then what you'll say back …

[+] EnlargeGeno Auriemma & Pat Summitt
AP Photo/Wade PayneWith the way the bracket lines up, Geno Auriemma's Huskies and Pat Summitt's Lady Vols could clash (for the first time since Jan. 6, 2007) in the Final Four.

So you go over and over this fantasy confrontation in your head, then finally approach the person … and he/she says, "Sorry about that. I won't do it anymore."

And … that's it. You've spent all these hours essentially debating yourself, and then in reality it's over in five seconds.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when it comes to scrutinizing the NCAA tournament brackets every year. You can spend a lot of time wondering whether Team X will beat Team Z as you're taking your shower in the morning or walking your dog or pretending to do other work. And then Team X gets upset by Team W and never meets Team Z. So all that debate was for naught.

But that's OK. Running all the possibilities -- even the ridiculous ones -- through your head about the bracket is a big part of the fun.

Now, does that mean when we have to go on record as "predicting" results -- uggh -- that most of us are going to take all kinds of risks and go with long shots? Nope, I'm not. There's a good reason everybody who's seeded No. 1 is where they are.

However, the speculation about matchups and potential matchups will fuel the next three weeks.

Wanna start with UConn in the Dayton Regional? Why not? The Huskies begin in Norfolk, Va., instead of the much-predicted Pittsburgh, but that's not a bad trip for the UConn nation. It's the second season in a row for that sub-regional's host, Old Dominion, to not make the NCAA field after 17 consecutive years getting in.

UConn will open with Southern, and the point there will be for no one to get hurt. Then the Huskies will face either James Madison, the Colonial Athletic Association's representative that is very used to playing in Norfolk, or Temple, coached by longtime UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza.

Then perhaps the Huskies will face Cardoza's former college coach, Virginia's Debbie Ryan, if the Cavaliers can potentially get past Iowa State on the Cyclones' home court. If Iowa State makes the Sweet 16, the Huskies can avenge their long-ago loss to the Cyclones in the 1999 regional semifinals.

That season, UConn had lost freshman point guard Sue Bird early on to an ACL injury. And while those '99 Huskies had a lot of talent, they didn't have a good floor leader. And an experienced Iowa State team took advantage of that because it did have that kind of leader in point guard Stacy Frese.

Should UConn advance to the Dayton final, if seeds hold either Ohio State or Florida State will await. Most people thought the Seminoles played the Huskies pretty well when they met in December, even if UConn still won by 19 points.

And Ohio State is intriguing. The Buckeyes scrambled to beat Iowa for the Big Ten tourney title, but you keep wondering if eventually it's going to be coach Jim Foster's year to make the Final Four again like he did in 1993 while at Vanderbilt.

Maybe next year when Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis are back again … but it's hard to see it happening this year.

The potential of a UConn-Tennessee national semifinal in San Antonio once again, just like in 2002, has seemed inevitable. I say the "potential" of that matchup -- meaning that it has appeared likely for a while now that the committee would find a way to make sure they were in the same half of the bracket.

Memphis Regional

Tennessee, the Memphis Regional's No. 1, has been as much under the radar as is possible. That's generally not something you'd expect for that program, which has rarely faced an attention deficit. But so much focus has been on things like UConn's undefeated season and the perfect run of Nebraska up until the Big 12 tournament that the Orange Crush sort of just went about their business the past few months.

[+] EnlargeAndrea Riley
AP Photo/Denny MedleyOne of the most athletic players in the country, Andrea Riley must sit out Oklahoma State's opener against Chattanooga.

Nothing too dramatic happened. Coach Pat Summitt already had her milestone 1,000th victory last year, when the team had its ultra-rare "crummy" season, enduring an NCAA first-round loss -- the first for a program that had never before failed to reach the Sweet 16 -- to Ball State.

Such slumming was ancient history in Knoxville this season. Save losses at Stanford in December and at Georgia in January, Tennessee has won everything.

There have been some close calls, such as escapes from South Carolina and Mississippi by five and three points, respectively. There was Summitt's "disrespecting the game of basketball" dressing-down of her players after Tennessee left Kelley Cain at home to take care of class work and then won at last-place Alabama by just seven points.

But for the most part, Tennessee comes into this NCAA tournament very confident. There could be a Sweet 16 matchup with Baylor, which will bring back memories of those teams' controversial finish in the 2004 regional semifinal.

Baylor had moments in the Big 12 tourney quarterfinals against Oklahoma when it looked like the team we expected at the start of the season. Tennessee beat Baylor back in November in Knoxville, going to a zone defense to counter freshman center Brittney Griner. She has obviously improved since then, but Tennessee is also better.

Then in the lower half of the Memphis bracket, we have the possibility of that matchup we've been wondering about for a while: Texas coach Gail Goestenkors against her former program Duke, led by Joanne P. McCallie.

That's if Texas gets past San Diego State and West Virginia/Lamar on the Longhorns' home court in the early rounds. Goestenkors wasn't very happy about how the Longhorns played at the Big 12 tourney in their 13-point loss to Texas A&M, a team she hasn't defeated since coming to Texas.

The Longhorns are using Ashleigh Fontenette at point guard, which is not her natural position, and have been turning over the ball at an alarming rate. Goestenkors acknowledged she's concerned about Texas' guard play entering the NCAA tournament, and who knows how early or how much that will be exploited?

However, if that Duke-Texas matchup comes about, the truth is that it's hard to know what to expect from the Horns. There were times this season they were the hottest team in the Big 12, and times they didn't close out games very well.

And while No. 3 seed West Virginia might have the misfortune of having to face Texas in Austin, the Mountaineers can take some confidence in knowing that four of their losses this season were to teams -- UConn (twice), Notre Dame, Ohio State -- that are in the top two seed lines in the NCAA tournament.

Sacramento Regional

It's sad that a city that's hosting a women's hoops regional lost its WNBA team after this past season. Because this could be a terrific regional, and you would have liked to see that enthusiasm carry over to the WNBA in the summertime.

But the Monarchs disbanded. The good news for the Sacto region was getting, as expected, Stanford as a No. 1. The Cardinal could be joined by some pretty high-brow company.

Two of the potentially tougher second-round matches are in the Sacto quarter of the bracket: Vanderbilt vs. Xavier and Oklahoma State vs. Georgia.

Andrea Riley and the Cowgirls are in an odd position in their first-round game, as is their opponent, Chattanooga, in trying to scout Oklahoma State. Riley can't play as she's sitting out a one-game suspension from the NCAA that was imposed after an altercation with LSU's Erica White in 2008. That was a long time ago, and the penalty has been hanging over her head for quite a while since Oklahoma State didn't make the NCAA field last year.

The Cowgirls saw some good things from other players in the Big 12 tournament, especially from Tegan Cunningham. But consider that Riley scored 112 points and took 104 shots over the course of three games in the league tourney.

Taking Riley out of the mix and still calling this team Oklahoma State is a little like taking the Scarlett O'Hara character out and still calling the movie "Gone With the Wind."

But now's the time for the rest of the Cowgirls to, as they say, stand up and be counted. One can only imagine how weird it will feel for Riley to sit on the bench and watch.

Meanwhile, C. Vivian Stringer a little earlier this season indicated that if she was forced to watch the NCAA tournament, there would be no chance she'd accept the WNIT consolation prize for Rutgers.

Whether she really meant that or was just letting off steam, we don't know. Because Rutgers -- in what was supposed to be Epiphanny Prince's senior season before she bypassed it to play professionally -- is in the NCAA field and will face Stringer's former school, Iowa, in the first round in what will be an emotional meeting for her. When Rutgers played at Iowa in the 2005-06 season, Stringer acknowledged it was stressful because she didn't really want to beat the Hawkeyes.

By the way, it sure was great Monday to see Iowa athletic director Gary Barta decide he couldn't wait one more day to fire Todd Lickliter as men's hoops coach. Hey, why not make crystal-clear how little you think about your women's basketball program?

Barta said there was no timetable on hiring a new men's coach, so it's kind of hard to figure out why the change needed to be announced on the same day that the Iowa women -- who've had an astonishing turnaround this season after dealing with injuries -- received their NCAA bid.

In addition, Iowa's senior associate AD, Jane Meyer, is the chair of the NCAA women's selection committee, so Monday was kind of a big day for her, too. Really, this firing couldn't hold off until Tuesday?

Sitting atop the region is Stanford, which has to like its location but certainly has concerns about its potential final matchup. No. 2 seed Texas A&M is on a hot streak, and unlike past Aggies teams, this one has real and diverse offensive firepower.

Stanford's guard play has been a worry all season because of injuries, and A&M's backcourt, with Tanisha Smith, Tyra White, Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson, is a fright for anybody. Smith and White are big and strong and can shoot; Carter and Colson are very good floor leaders who also can burn teams with their scoring.

Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen and Ros Gold-Onwude would have their hands full in such a matchup, but that's also where the Cardinal's Kayla Pedersen might have to prove just how strong a perimeter defender she can be.

Kansas City Regional

This is where local organizers are going to wish, hope and pray that No. 1 seed Nebraska and No. 3 Oklahoma make the final and bring in their fans. The last time a regional final was in Kansas City, in 2005, it was between Michigan State and Stanford and did not draw well in Municipal Auditorium.

If the Huskers and Sooners can get to K.C. -- where they just visited for the Big 12 tournament -- this time it will be at the almost-new Sprint Center, where the league men's tourney was held.

Oklahoma is an early-round host, which helps. The Sooners will be looking to make their third Final Four appearance.

Nebraska saw its perfect season end with a loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament semis, but it's not as if the Huskers are suddenly no longer the team that went undefeated in the regular season.

However, the Huskers must beware of suffering a fate like the 2007 Duke team that didn't lose its first game until the ACC tourney semis … but then was upset in the Sweet 16 by Rutgers.

The region's No. 4 seed, Kentucky, which made the SEC final for the first time since 1982 and has had a surprisingly strong season, could be the Huskers' Sweet 16 opponent. That's if Nebraska isn't tripped up by UCLA or NC State, who meet in the first round in a battle between former Tennessee players Nikki Caldwell and Kellie Harper, the coaches for the Bruins and Wolfpack.

Caldwell also coached at Tennessee, and that's a matchup Summitt will watch with pride. Harper was in the tough position of having to replace the iconic figure of Kay Yow at NC State, and making the ACC tourney final and getting into the NCAA tournament in her first season in Raleigh is about as good a start as she could have hoped for.

But the No. 2 seed in the Kansas City Regional should not be overlooked. The perception of Notre Dame is probably skewed because the Irish lost three times to mighty UConn. But nobody else had to play the Huskies three times.

Notre Dame's only other losses came back-to-back at St. John's and Georgetown, but the Irish didn't have injured senior Lindsay Schrader (ankle) in those two games.

So now … let your brain twist and turn and churn for the next few days and come up with different scenarios that might or might not happen this NCAA tournament. There's plenty of time to get worked up over all of it.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

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