Which teams will reach Indianapolis?
In less than three weeks, the women's NCAA tournament will culminate with the Final Four in Indianapolis. Which teams will be there to decide the 2010-11 championship?
Mechelle Voepel's Final Four picks
Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor
Connecticut: I feel like I could lift the exact same thing I wrote last year -- UConn's alleged "weaknesses" haven't manifested themselves -- and plug it in again. The Huskies' consistency frequently leaves us in that déjà vu position. Yes, depth could be a problem, but it didn't stop the Huskies from compiling a 32-1 record entering the NCAA tournament. Hard to see anyone in the Philadelphia Regional beating them -- especially since the No. 2 seed, Duke, lost to UConn by 36 points in the regular season. Admittedly, that was at UConn, but that's still quite an enormous turnaround the Blue Devils will need if they meet again.
Tennessee: This season, the SEC wasn't what it usually has been. So Tennessee did not have quite the degree of difficulty in winning the league regular-season and tournament titles that perhaps would have made for a little better NCAA preparation. That said, as always, Tennessee played a difficult nonconference slate and has gotten healthier in key positions as the season has progressed, specifically in the interior, where coach Pat Summitt can feel more confident than she did early on. Speaking of confidence, this team doesn't lack that when it comes to shooting the ball. If Tennessee can keep up that confidence, rely on its impressive depth, and play the kind of defense that Summitt is known for, it should get through the Dayton Regional.
Stanford: There was hope, or perhaps wishful thinking, that the Pac-10 could provide more challenges for the Cardinal this season. But it really didn't happen, evidenced by the fact that the league got just three teams into the NCAA field. The Cardinal, like UConn, have appeared in the Final Four the past three years, but Stanford is still seeking its first NCAA title in 19 years. Senior point guard Jeanette Pohlen, so instrumental in helping Stanford upset UConn to end the Huskies' 90-game winning streak in December, continued her strong play in the Pac-10. The Cardinal may have to get past league foe UCLA a fourth time, plus they could face an Elite Eight rematch with Xavier. Stanford's been-there, done-that experience should be the difference in getting to Indy.
Baylor: In the last Final Four in Indiana's capital city, a lot of green-and-gold fans made the trek to see the coronation of one of the Big 12's former doormats. In the six years since its first national title, Baylor has expanded its recruiting prowess and returned to another Final Four, losing in the semis to UConn last year in San Antonio. The Lady Bears were very young then, slightly less so this season. Still, they have freshman point guard Odyssey Sims running the show, and a group of talented sophomores led by sensation Brittney Griner. Baylor has one of the best defensive teams in the country, and Griner has become a bigger offensive weapon. Expect that Baylor will get past rival Texas A&M one more time to make another Final Four visit.
Graham Hays' Final Four picks
Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor
Connecticut: The development of Stefanie Dolson, along with good play all season from fellow freshman Bria Hartley, gives Connecticut much more offensive balance than might have been expected after losing Tina Charles, Kalana Greene and others after last season. It's much more than just the Maya Moore show. Not that it wouldn't suffice.
Tennessee: There will be NCAA staffers in Indianapolis with less Final Four experience than the trio of Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen and Nnemkadi Ogwumike, while new additions Chiney Ogwumike and Toni Kokenis make the Cardinal, already perhaps the nation's biggest team across the board, even more athletic.
Stanford: It's not an easy draw -- not with the prospect of playing Ohio State so close to Columbus, Ohio, in the Sweet 16 and Notre Dame in a regional final. But it's not as tough as stopping a team that plays defense and rebounds like Tennessee does, yet still has the 3-point shooters and streaky scorers to put up 90 points on a given night.
Baylor: As long as Melissa Jones is on the court and is some approximation of her healthy self, Baylor has the perfect linking piece to allow Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims to play with abandon. The addition of Destiny Williams makes the Bears that much better, adding some of the rebounding they lost with Morghan Medlock's departure.
Charlie Creme's Final Four picks
Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, Baylor
Connecticut: This isn't the automatic pick it has been the past few seasons, but the Huskies are still the favorite as the top overall seed. They aren't deep, but still have the best player in Maya Moore, have the most experience and know what it is to win on the big stage like no one else. Duke would seem to be the team most in the way and UConn trounced the Blue Devils in late January.
Notre Dame: Teams that finish are the teams that win in March. The Irish finish and score as well as just about any team in the country. They have a number of places to turn for those points as well. This could be the true coming-out party for Skylar Diggins.
Stanford: The Final Four is as common in Palo Alto as it is in Storrs these days. The Cardinal are full of veterans who know exactly what the road is. Ironically, a trip to Indianapolis might mean another Elite Eight meeting with Xavier, a team that was within a whisker of knocking Stanford out a year ago.
Baylor: Having Brittney Griner gives the Lady Bears a big advantage, and it's hard to imagine anyone in the Dallas Regional until the Elite Eight being able to contend with Griner at all. After that it comes down to the rest of Baylor's team and that's a pretty good group too.
MORE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- No. 9 Baylor extends home win streak to 66
- UNC hands No. 10 South Carolina 1st loss
- No. 1 UConn wallops No. 2 Duke yet again
- No. 3 Lady Vols bury Tenn. St., move to 10-0