Duke women will enjoy comforts of home

Perfect ACC record nets reward

UConn, Vandy, Oklahoma also top seeds

Analysis

March 11, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Conspiracy theorists have whispered loudly for years that the Duke men's basketball team has been the recipient of largesse from the NCAA's tournament selection committee, in terms of seedings and the placement near the Durham, N.C., campus.

For this year's NCAA tournament, however, the women's committee topped whatever previous gifts the Duke men were handed in rewarding the Blue Devils women's team for a perfect Atlantic Coast Conference season.

Not only will Duke, the top seed in the East, get to play its first- and second-round games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the Blue Devils, who ran the ACC table by sweeping the regular season and winning the league tournament, also will play their regional games at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, just a few miles from campus in Raleigh, N.C.

And the Blue Devils were given what appears to be the easiest draw of the four top seeds (Connecticut, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma) with two relative tournament newcomers -- second seed Baylor and No. 3 seed South Carolina -- at the top of the draw that also includes No. 4 seed Texas, which has played inconsistently this season.

It was the second consecutive top seed for Duke (27-3), which lost in last year's West Regional semifinals to Southwest Missouri State.

The nine-member committee showed no reluctance to reward the power conferences, granting a record eight bids in the 64-team field to the Southeastern Conference, seven bids to the Big 12 and six to the Big Ten. Eighteen of the 33 at-large bids at the committee's disposal went to those three leagues.

In addition, the Big East received a record five bids, while the ACC got four, with league runner-up North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia joining Duke. Conference USA received three bids and the Pacific-10 got only two.

Two-time national champion Connecticut (33-0) enters the tournament as the overall top seed. The Huskies, who haven't lost since last year's national semifinal setback to eventual-winner Notre Dame, drew the No. 1 seed in the Mideast, and will begin their title drive Saturday against Northeast Conference champion St. Francis.

The Huskies will be joined in the Mideast by No. 2 seed Purdue, the Big Ten regular-season winner and last year's NCAA tourney runner-up; No. 3 seed Kansas State; and No. 4 seed Penn State, which lost in the Big Ten tournament final.

The committee awarded a top seed in the West to Oklahoma (27-3), which won both the Big 12's regular-season crown and tournament. The Sooners program was marked for extinction 12 years ago by the Oklahoma athletic department, but has risen steadily under former local high school coach Sherri Coale.

The other top seeds in the region are Pac-10 regular-season winner Stanford at No. 2, Colorado at No. 3 and Texas Tech at No. 4. If the seeds hold up, the regional in Boise, Idaho, will have a decidedly Big 12 presence.

The committee appeared to wrestle mightily with the question of whom to give the final No. 1 seed.

Tennessee, which has won six national titles, captured the SEC regular-season title but lost in the conference tournament semifinal. Meanwhile, SEC-rival Vanderbilt was the regular-season runner-up but won the tournament. The teams split in the regular season.

In the end, the committee made the Commodores (27-6) the top seed in the Midwest, and named Tennessee second in that region. But they did neither of them favors by placing them in the region with third-seed Iowa State, which will play host at the always-raucous Hilton Coliseum. North Carolina is the fourth seed.

Unlike the men's tournament that, in theory, is played on neutral floors, the women's tournament committee allows the top four seeds in each region to host subregionals, with first- and second-round games on their floors.

Next year, subregional sites will be awarded to schools who bid for them in advance, but teams still will be permitted to host first- and second-round games.

The four region winners will meet in San Antonio for the Final Four on March 29 and 31. Six schools (Bucknell, Hartford, Norfolk State, Oakland, Southern and Weber State) are making their first appearances in the tournament, while Tennessee and Louisiana Tech continued their streaks of appearing in all 21 NCAA tournaments.

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