Women's panel goes against tradition

UConn isn't a top seed, Tennessee sent on road in year of seeding surprises

College Basketball

March 15, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

For those who say the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee is too much a slave to the traditions of the game, the panel said, "Hah," and tossed history out the window, in relative terms, in yesterday's tournament seedings.

The nine-member panel, for instance, decided to deny a top seed to the two-time defending champion Connecticut Huskies, sent the Tennessee Lady Vols out of their comfort zone for the first time ever, and gave a back of the hand to Stanford, the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament champion, by giving the Cardinal a lowly No. 6 seed.

In the biggest shocker, the committee gave the Big East a whopping eight bids, one more than the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences, the traditional women's basketball power leagues.

Cheryl Marra, the chair of the committee, said the instrument through which the changes were wrought was the parity that enabled a record six different teams to spend time at No. 1 in the polls this season.

"One of the things is clear this year and one of the things that was difficult was the parity we had," said Marra, the senior women's administrator at Wisconsin. "That's something that we've been excited with in women's basketball, but also made it [selecting the 64-team bracket] much more challenging."

Indeed, the committee appeared to wrestle with seven schools for the four No. 1 seeds before deciding on Tennessee (26-3), Duke (27-3), Penn State (25-5) and Texas (28-4) at the top of the four regions, Midwest, Mideast, East and West, respectively.

The committee, however, gave three of the teams challenges. The Lady Vols, who join Louisiana Tech as the only schools to play in all 23 women's tournaments, will not have a home game for the first time in history, playing their first two games in Tallahassee, Fla., and the regional in Norman, Okla.

In addition, the committee set up a scenario by which Tennessee, which ran through the SEC unbeaten in the regular season but lost in the league tournament, may have to get through fifth-seeded Florida and second seed Vanderbilt, which won the SEC tournament.

"When I didn't see an SEC opponent in the first bracket, I thought we'd have at least two, and that's exactly what we're looking at," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt told ESPN. "We anticipated that we'd have at least six SEC teams in the bracket."

Penn State, which won the Big Ten regular season but lost in the tournament to Purdue, will have to beat Virginia Tech on its home floor to get to the regional, then likely beat Connecticut in Hartford to get to the Final Four.

Texas, meanwhile, will have to go to Seattle to win a return trip to the national semifinals. Only Duke, the lone top four seed to win its conference regular season and tournament, will have a relatively cushy road to the Final Four, played this year in New Orleans.

Purdue (27-3), Kansas State (24-5) and Connecticut (25-4) were apparently under consideration for No. 1 seeds, but fell to second seeds for a variety of reasons, mostly because of losses to the four top seeds.

The Huskies, who began the year atop the polls as a heavy favorite to win a third straight title behind Player of the Year favorite Diana Taurasi, instead lost in the Big East semifinals, though their consolation is that they can reach the Final Four without leaving the state.

For Connecticut's failures in the regular season and conference tournament, the Big East, whose coaches have long complained about a lack of national respect, appeared to hit the jackpot, getting eight teams into the tournament.

"What stood out to the committee this year was that the Big East had seven teams less than 30 in the RPI [Rating Percentage Index]," said Marra. "That was significant. Clearly, they had done what they needed to do to position themselves coming into this and had made a great run throughout the year."

Five schools - Eastern Michigan, Marist, Lipscomb, Colgate and Loyola Marymount - will make their first appearances, while Virginia saw its run of 20 straight tournament visits come to an end.

Besides Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and North Carolina State also made the tournament from the Atlantic Coast Conference, with the Terps and the Wolfpack landing as bubble teams.

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