Pittsburgh is yet another subregional where the host school failed to make the field. For local draw, they'll have to depend on a smattering of fans from tiny St. Francis College driving in from nearby Loretto, Pennsylvania, day-trippers following Ohio State across the border, and die-hards willing to trek in from Mississippi and Tennessee to cheer on their teams.
Those who come will be treated to a David-and-Goliath match-up between 15th-seeded unknown, St. Francis, the automatic qualifier from the Northeast Conference, and Ohio State, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion, who has been ranked among the Top 25 teams in the nation all season. The game tips off on Sunday, March 21, at 12:06 Eastern.
While that game seems unlikely to be a nail-biter, the other side of the card, tipping off right after the first at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, has the makings of one of the most exciting match-ups of the early rounds, as Alexis Rack and the seventh-seeded Bull Dogs of Mississippi State take on Alysha Clark and the 10th-seeded Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee. Both those teams have been nationally ranked at various times during the season, both feature stars whose names may be called in the upcoming WNBA draft, and both boast a proud tradition of women's basketball greatness.
The winners of each of the opening round games will meet on Tuesday, March 23, to battle for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 in the Dayton Regional, where the 500-pound gorilla of the tournament, UConn, is likely to be standing in the way.
How appropriate that history in the making starts in this historic port down the road from Americas first settlement.
The Huskies' quest to become the first team in women's basketball to go consecutive seasons without a loss begins Sunday, March 21, when UConn, the top seed in the Dayton Region and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament, starts its tournament run against 16th-seeded Southern University, the automatic qualifier from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, at the Constant Center. Tip-off is at 12:16 p.m. Eastern for a game that should be nothing but Husky highlights, and if the last two years are any indication, anything other than UConn hoisting the tournament trophy in two weeks would be stunning.
First, the Huskies (33-0) must check off Southern in a game where Tina Charles and Maya Moore are likely to get plenty of rest. Tuesdays subregional final will pit UConn (lets go out on a limb and say theyll be the Round One winner) against either No. 8-seed Temple (24-8) or No. 9-seeded James Madison (26-6). Those teams play their first-round game in Norfolk on Sunday, at approximately 2:30 p.m. Eastern, in a likely slugfest that should be the precise opposite of the UConn-Southern mismatch.
The first rule of Bracketville regardless of gender is to survive and advance. Theres no need to predict the winner of this three-game Seattle pod, which will be contested at Bank of America Arena (formerly Hec Edmundson Pavilion) on the University of Washington campus, or how they will fare when they make it through to the Sweet 16 in next week's Sacramento Regional. Its enough for now to examine Saturdays two opening-round encounters.
Unlike so many of the other subregionals scattered across the country -- where teams won the bid to host, then forget to punch their tickets for the Dance itself -- even though Seattle itself isn't hosting, the teams seated there are unlikely to be playing to an empty arena. That's because the Selection Committee was able to seat at least two schools from the surrounding area in the Seattle pod, where they're likely to attract a following.
In the opening act (and under-card, at least in terms of entertainment value), tipping off on Saturday, March 20, at 8:06 p.m. Eastern, 5:06 Pacific Daylight Time, the second-seeded Texas Aggies will likely trounce 15th-seeded Portland State, from right down the the interstate.
But in the main event for area fans (and likely the more interesting of the two games), seventh-seeded Gonzaga from nearby Spokane will take on the 10th-seeded (can you believe it?) Tar Heels of North Carolina, who were not the team this season that they once were. That match-up gets underway at 10:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 local, right after the Texas A&M-Portland State rout, and will likely give the locals a lot to cheer about.
When the bids were sent in way back when, the assumption was that Cal would be hosting this subregional but the baby Bears were just too young and inconsistent to impress the committee enough to earn an NCAA bid.
That means that only Fresno States fervent supporters (and there are lot of them in the San Francisco Bay Area) have a chance to make an impact on the potential sea of empty seats in Berkeley, as Baylor, Georgetown and Marist will stir very few pulses in Northern California.
That's a shame, because there will be plenty to watch in the Berkeley subregional. Let's take a look.
Another interesting clash between a mid-major and a high-major highlights the opening-round session this Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida. When the ball is tipped at the Donald Tucker Center, the womens basketball community will see if an Ivy League giant can rise above its neighborhood and ambush an opponent from a power conference.
As is the case with match-ups such as Middle Tennessee-Mississippi State, Gonzaga-North Carolina, Wisconsin-Vermont, and several others, this clash between Princeton and St. Johns will offer ESPN2 viewers a compelling first-round confrontation (Saturday, March 20, 12:21 p.m. Eastern). Saturdays lid-lifter between the 11th-seeded Princeton Tigers and the sixth-seeded Red Storm will fascinate observers of womens hoops because it will say a lot about the landscape of the sport. Can Princeton (26-2, 14-0 Ivy; RPI: 45, Strength of Schedule: 236; 0-2 vs. RPI top 25; 0-2 vs. top 50; 3-2 vs. top 100) overcome the limitations of its league RPI 17 and win an intersectional game on a neutral floor against a resident of the Big East Conference, which has an overall RPI of 3? Can the dominant Ivy League champions who defeated Harvard by three games to take the Ivys' regular-season championship and with it the automatic NCAA bid take down the same team that tied mighty Notre Dame in the Big East standings? So many of these games exist in the round of 64, and they will generate the bulk of the weekends story lines before the big hitters likely have their say at the regionals and the Final Four in San Antonio.
Duke will host an NCAA tournament game on Saturday for the first time since 2004, which coincidentally is the last time the Blue Devils won the ACC tournament. Duke, the No. 2-seed in the Memphis bracket, is expected to advance out of Durham and move on to the Sweet 16 in Memphis, but there are still a number of intriguing subplots.
Hampton's David Six went from being in charge of intramurals in 2009 to interim head coach in 2010 to earning a
three-year contract thanks to the job he did with the Lady Pirates this season. LSU's Allison Hightower is a threat to go off for 30 or more points at any time, but she'll need a lot of help from her supporting cast if LSU is going to
advance. Hartford was one of the toughest defensive teams in the country before starting post Erica Beverly went down a couple of games ago with a season-ending injury. Can the Hawks regain their composure and find a way to eke out two wins against opponents with more talent and greater depth?
Finally, the Devils were upset in the second round last year on Michigan State's home floor. Will the comforts of
home and a sure-to-be boisterous crowd get them back to the Sweet Sixteen this year?
Last year Tennessee, seeded fifth, traveled to Bowling Green, where they lost in the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament, dropping a 55-71 near-rout to 12th-seeded Ball State. It was the first time in NCAA Women's Tournament history that a defending champ had ever been eliminated in the first round, as well as the first time in the Tennessee programs distinguished history that the Lady Vols had ever failed to make the "Sweet 16." The loss capped off a frustrating season for a team built around seven freshmen.
This year's edition of the Lady Vols is determined that it won't happen again, and the safe money says they're right.
At 30-2, Tennessee has been near the top of the national rankings all season. The Vols are seeded first in the Memphis Regional, and will play the 16th-seeded Austin Peay (15-17), the dark horse winner of the Ohio Valley Conference's automatic bid, on Sunday, March 20, at 12:16 p.m. Eastern, on the Lady Vols' home court in Knoxville.
The other game in the Knoxville pod is likely to be much closer, as No. 8-seed, Dayton (24-7) takes on ninth-seeded TCU (22-8) on Saturday, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. Those two teams are so evenly matched that the game is almost too close to call, but neither team presents much of a threat to the Vols, who have dropped only two games this season -- one at No. 2 Stanford in December (52-67), and the other, a squeaker, on an off night at Georgia (50-53).
Still, with the wisdom that only another year of maturity can bring, Tennessee sophomore center Kelley Cain acknowledged that no team should ever be taken for granted, but she said the Volunteers are focused going into the Tournament. And with that in mind, let's hone in on these match-ups.
Two power conference runners-up will take on a pair of traditional mid-major powers in NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament opening rounds at Louisville.
The opener will feature fifth-seeded Michigan State (22-9), the Big Tens second-place team in the regular season, against 12th-seeded Bowling Green (27-6), the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament champion, at 12:11 p.m. EDT Saturday. Fourth-seeded Kentucky (25-7), runner-up in the Southeastern Conference, will meet 13th-seeded Liberty (27-5), the Big South Tournament champion, in the second game of the day.
The first-round winners will play in the second round in Louisville Monday. That survivor will advance to a possible date with top-seeded Nebraska (30-1) in the Kansas City Regional, which is set for March 28-30.
But before looking ahead, all must first get past the first-round encounters in Freedom Hall. Heres a closer look at the Louisville first-round matchups: