Terps' hold on top seed slips

Tennessee's upset of LSU in SEC final could stop UM from getting No. 1 nod


The Maryland women's basketball team's ascendancy is not in question. The team's grip on a No. 1 seed, however, is.

Once considered a given, the Terps' grasp on one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament does not appear to be as firm as once thought after Tennessee upended LSU in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday night.

Maryland, which moved up to No. 3 from No. 4 in the Associated Press poll after LSU's loss, must wait six days to find out whether a 28-4 record, victories over No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Duke in the past 27 days, and an appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final is enough to convince the women's selection committee that the Terps deserve a top seed.

While asserting that Maryland has accomplished enough to earn such an honor, coach Brenda Frese said the issue is beyond the team's control.

"The committee is obviously going to have to get into the room and make some tough decisions," she said. "From our end, we know that whatever unfolds, it's just a number. We obviously know that we just have to go out and, come NCAA tournament time, play our best basketball. I'm really not that concerned about what seed we get.

"Obviously, I feel like we've justified getting a 1 seed, but whatever seed they give us, I'm confident that we're going to come out and play great basketball."

Before Sunday night, a general consensus had emerged that the four teams that would get No. 1 seeds were North Carolina (29-1), LSU (27-3), Duke (26-3) and Maryland.

North Carolina, Duke and Maryland hail from the ACC, which is rated as the toughest in the nation. No conference has ever had three No. 1 seeds in NCAA tournament play - Division I men's or women's.

Tennessee (28-4) was thought to have dropped to a No. 2 - and possibly a No. 3 - after losing to two unranked teams in Kentucky and Florida this season.

But the Lady Vols' upset of the Tigers would seem to vault Tennessee back into consideration for a No. 1 seed. Factor in the Lady Vols' No. 2 placement in the NCAA's most recent RPI and an 80-75 victory over the Terps on Nov. 26, and Tennessee would appear to have the edge.

Maryland is No. 9 in the NCAA's RPI report behind teams such as Duke (No. 3 RPI), Connecticut (No. 4), LSU (No. 5), Oklahoma (No. 6), Rutgers (No. 7) and Ohio State (No. 8).

ESPN broadcaster Beth Mowins was torn when she was asked whether Maryland or Tennessee should get the No. 1 seed.

"When people look at the teams that beat [the Terps], they were teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country," she said of the losses to the Lady Vols, North Carolina and Duke twice. "I think the wins against Duke and North Carolina are going to look really good. ... The one advantage that Maryland has is what are your quality losses and what are your `bad' losses, and [Tennessee has] lost twice to unranked teams."

In the next breath, Mowins said, "The only problem that Tennessee presents for Maryland is that head-to-head [win], and I think that weighs big. It's just a matter of if the committee talks about when that occurred in the season. I'm a big fan of if somebody beats you head-to-head, then you've got to give them the credit because they did it on the floor."

The Lady Vols aren't the only threat either. Regular-season champions Ohio State (Big Ten), Rutgers (Big East) and Oklahoma (Big 12) all went undefeated in conference play and are favorites to win their respective tournaments.

The Terps, however, have the support of one unlikely backer.

"Maryland is worthy of [a No. 1 seed]," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said after her team defeated the Terps, 91-80, in the ACC tournament final Sunday. "You look at their losses - one to us and [two] to Duke and then early they lost to Tennessee. They are a great team. They are young. They are going to be tough for a long time."


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