Talk of UM as No. 1 seed rooted in fertile ground

The Baltimore Sun

About a week ago, conventional wisdom held that Maryland, coming off its loss to Duke in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament, would likely not get a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced tonight despite its 30-3 record.

However, without having played in the past week, the No. 5 Terps might be back in top-seed contention, though getting that seed might come with a trip out West.

Since Maryland lost to Duke, 74-63, on March 8, two teams expected to contend for a No. 1 seed, Rutgers and LSU, lost in their respective conference tournaments, leaving the women's basketball committee with a tough decision for what appears to be the final top seed.

"Over the course of the year we've seen a great deal of balance between those seven or eight teams that arguably would be on the 1 and 2 line," said committee chairwoman Judy Southard, an administrator at LSU.

"As you move closer to the end of the season, these things all begin to kind of sort themselves out, and certainly some things that begin to transpire make the separation between how you determine the 1 seeds and the 2 seeds a lot clearer."

Connecticut (32-1), Tennessee (30-2) and North Carolina (30-2) appear to have locked up top seeds. Each won either its conference regular-season or tournament titles, or both, and appear bound for regionals in Greensboro, N.C., New Orleans and Oklahoma City, respectively.

The Terps appear to be in a pool with three other teams -- Stanford (30-3), LSU (27-5) and Rutgers (24-6) -- in contention for the final No. 1 seed, but Maryland and Stanford have the most compelling arguments.

Maryland, one of five teams to win 30 games, appears to have the best qualifications for a top seed based on numbers alone. They are ranked fifth in the most recent CollegeRPI.com standings, with a No. 8 strength of schedule ranking.

Maryland was 12-3 in games against the RPI top 50, and the ACC had the third-strongest RPI ranking, behind the Big 12 and the Big East. However, a potential stumbling block for the Terps, who have been No. 2 seeds the past two seasons, is that they didn't win the ACC regular-season or tournament titles.

Stanford brings solid credentials as the Pacific-10 regular-season and tournament champion. The Cardinal ranks sixth in the RPI and went 9-1 against the RPI top 50, with one of those wins coming against Tennessee, the school atop the RPI rankings.

However, two of Stanford's losses came to teams ranked outside the top 50 -- Southern California and UCLA, a team Maryland defeated on the road. In addition, Stanford's strength of schedule is only 26th, and the Pac-10 was sixth in conference RPI rankings. The committee might elect to split the difference between Maryland and Stanford by putting them in the Spokane, Wash., regional as the top two seeds.

There is also a vein of thought that the committee, taking advantage of a change in a rule that previously separated the first three teams in a conference and in the interest of boosting attendance in Greensboro, could pair North Carolina and Maryland there.

The two teams only met once this season, a 97-86 double-overtime win for North Carolina in late January, and Maryland brought more than 1,000 fans to the ACC tournament, also played in Greensboro.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

SELECTION SHOW

The 64-team NCAA women's tournament field will be announced tonight at 7 on ESPN.

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