Bracket busts committee's old rules

The Baltimore Sun

If there were any thoughts that the NCAA women's basketball committee would take the easy way out in bracketing the 64-team tournament field, it dispelled them immediately and kept on dispelling them throughout the seeding process.

Right off the bat, the committee elected to take advantage of a change in its principles by putting Big East rivals Connecticut and Rutgers together at the top of the Greensboro Regional. Meanwhile, the panel elected to place North Carolina, the top seed in the New Orleans Regional, in with No. 2 seed LSU, which could play four games in its home state before going to the Final Four on April 6 in Tampa, Fla.

Then, the committee passed over Stanford, the Pacific-10 regular season and tournament champion, as a top seed in the Spokane Regional, awarding that instead to Maryland, the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season runner-up.

Until this year, the committee's rules mandated that the top three teams from any conference were to be parceled out into separate regions. With that change in place, the panel awarded the Huskies (32-1) the top overall seed in the tournament. Then, following its S-curve formula, which is designed to pair the top No. 1 seed with the lowest No. 2 seed, the committee seeded Rutgers (24-6), which handed Connecticut its lone loss, on the No. 2 line.

Judy Southard, the committee chair and a senior women's administrator at LSU, said the panel struggled with the prospect of moving Rutgers along the No. 2 seed line but decided to keep the Scarlet Knights where they had been seeded.

The Tar Heels (30-2), who won the ACC regular season and tournament, were awarded the second No. 1 seed but were shipped to New Orleans, where they could meet LSU (27-5), which had been thought to be in consideration for a No. 1 seed. North Carolina should meet few obstructions before a potential regional final meeting with the Tigers, who are going for a fifth consecutive Final Four appearance.

The committee appeared to give Maryland (30-3) a fairly easy draw to the Final Four, save for a cross-country trip to Spokane. The Terps, whose two most recent Final Four appearances, in 1989 and 2006, when they won the title, came from the West, should meet little resistance before they would face the Cardinal (30-3).

Defending champion Tennessee (30-2), the top seed in Oklahoma City, might receive a tough challenge in the regional semifinal against fourth seed Oklahoma (21-8), which would ostensibly be playing a home game. The Lady Vols, who won the Southeastern Conference tournament, are the only team to receive a bid to all 27 NCAA women's tournaments and lead all teams with seven national titles.

The Big East and Big 12 led all conferences with eight bids each, while the ACC received six invitations and the SEC got five bids. Of the 33 at-large bids awarded, 28 of them went to the so-called power conferences (the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC).

Two of the five at-large bids that went to non-power conferences went to Wyoming (24-6) and Temple (21-12), two of the lowest-seeded teams to receive at-large bids. They joined Florida State (18-13) and Auburn (20-11) as 11th seeds. The Seminoles, who were a surprise entry, were the only at-large team to win fewer than 20 games.

Meanwhile, Boston College, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan State and Middle Tennessee State narrowly missed tournament bids. Cornell, Cleveland State, East Tennessee State, Fresno State, Miami (Ohio), Murray State, Texas-San Antonio, Texas El-Paso and Wyoming are making their first tournament appearances.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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