Commentary

Dallas Regional primer

Originally Published: March 17, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Three observations

1. Destination: Big D: For only the second time, Dallas will be host to a women's NCAA tournament basketball regional. This one, though, could be quite a blockbuster if the seeds hold into the final.

The only other time Dallas had an NCAA women's regional was in 2007, when North Carolina defeated Purdue to advance to the Final Four. That was in Reunion Arena, which exists now only as a memory, having been demolished in 2009. Reunion was the home of the Southwest Conference tournament for years -- Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes once scored 53 points there -- and it also hosted the Big 12 women for three tournaments.

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezBrittney Griner averages 4.5 bpg, 22.6 ppg and 7.8 rpg, shooting 54 percent from the field.

This year, the regional semis and final will be in American Airlines Center, which could draw a very nice-sized crowd if top-seeded Baylor meets No. 2 seed Texas A&M to battle for a trip to the Final Four.

Before any of that, this quarter of the bracket could have two of the better-attended subregionals -- at Baylor and in Shreveport, La. -- and one of the worst -- Wichita, Kan. That site would have loved to have Kansas State (two hours away) or Oklahoma (three hours) to be able to sell tickets. Instead, the closest of the four schools assigned there is Arkansas-Little Rock, a seven-hour drive away.

The Trojans are in the field as the Sun Belt tournament champions. But league rival Middle Tennessee also made it in as an at-large, and will be the No. 11 seed going against No. 6 Georgia in the first round (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday).

The Blue Raiders are still grieving the death of junior guard Tina Stewart, who was stabbed to death March 2. Coach Rick Insell said this week that his team has been able to practice better after the players went home to spend time with their families following their opening-round loss in the Sun Belt tournament.

2. Buckeye-free zone: No. 4 seed Michigan State has to be glad to see Big Ten rival Ohio State on the other side of the bracket, in the Dayton Regional. The Buckeyes handed the Spartans three of their five losses this season.

The other two defeats were at Iowa, by two points, and at Baylor, by 26, on Nov. 19. That game was three days after the Lady Bears had been edged by one point at Connecticut, so it really wasn't a great time to be facing them. Michigan State could have to play Baylor again, this time in the Sweet 16.

3. SEC loyalty? It's a down year for one of women's basketball's traditionally great leagues, as just four SEC teams made it into the NCAA field. Sixth-seeded Georgia will at least be in familiar territory for the opening rounds: at rival Auburn. The Tigers, meanwhile went to the WNIT. Should seeds hold at this subregional, will any Auburn fans come out to cheer for Georgia against No. 3 seed Florida State?

The Seminoles made the Elite Eight last season, where their run was halted by the stone wall of UConn. To get at least that far this season, Florida State would likely have to get past second-seeded Texas A&M in the regional semifinals. First, Florida State must escape SEC territory in the early rounds.

Three players to watch

Brittney Griner: How can you take your eyes off of her, right? Baylor's 6-foot-8 sophomore is one of the most intriguing players in the entire tournament. And there are some specific things to look for: her ability to pass out of double-teams, her footwork, her improved strength, her expanded set of post moves. But also, watch to see her try harder to block shots while still keeping the ball in play to give her team a chance to gain possession.

Kalisha Keane: Michigan State's 6-1 senior forward from Canada did a little bit of everything for the Spartans her whole career. But this has been her best season, as she averaged 15.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in leading Michigan State to the Big Ten regular-season title. She had an outstanding game at Baylor in November, with 28 points and eight rebounds. So if Michigan State meets Baylor in the regional semis, Keane will likely not be intimidated by the Lady Bears' Griner-lead defense.

Adrienne Johnson: The 6-0 senior forward was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year this season, averaging 22.0 points and 9.5 rebounds for Louisiana Tech. During league play, she averaged 38.4 minutes per game for the regular-season champions. Tech fell on a buzzer-beater to Fresno State in the WAC tourney title game, in which Johnson had 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field.

No. 8 Houston versus No. 9 West Virginia

A year ago, West Virginia had a No. 3 seed but was upset by No. 11 San Diego State in the second round. The Mountaineers looked for a while this season as if they were going to push for that high a seed again, as they won their first 16 games before falling at Marquette on Jan. 11. They came back to win their next three, but then things started to slide. Since Jan. 25, West Virginia has gone 4-8 and has to feel pretty fortunate just to be in the NCAA field.

Meanwhile, the Cougars -- led by two-time league player of the year Courtney Thomas -- ran the table in Conference USA regular-season play. But it took overtime for Houston to beat Tulane in the finale, and then the Green Wave upset the Cougars in the league tournament.

Still, Houston got an at-large berth into the field in the first season for Todd Buchanan, who was C-USA's coach of the year. Taylor leads four players who average in double figures scoring against the Liz Repella-led Mountaineers, who would prefer to make this a defensive battle.

Possible Cinderella

Since Wisconsin-Green Bay is a No. 5 seed that could have been a No. 4, maybe it's not right to say the slipper could fit the Phoenix -- because they're too good to be considered Cinderellas. However the Horizon League champions, whose only loss was Dec. 12 at Marquette, certainly feel they have something to prove and might make a run to the Sweet 16.

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.