Drama of women's draw: 4th top seed

Ohio State gets it, but Connecticut, Oklahoma, Tennessee had strong cases

Huskies, Sooners get consolation prizes

Analysis

March 14, 2006|By MILTON KENT | MILTON KENT,SUN REPORTER

At ESPN's prompting, the NCAA's women's basketball committee took an extra 26 hours to decide which 64 teams to invite to the tournament, and, from the looks of the top of the bracket, it desperately needed the extra time.

The committee apparently went round and round over the top of the seed lines, in what appears to be the most difficult selection process in the 25-year history of the tournament.

"Deciding at least the first three lines this year was a great challenge for the committee," said Joni Comstock, the chair of the 10-member committee. "Ultimately, it took us a very long time to deliberate and make those final decisions about who should receive the No. 1 seeds."

In the end, the committee went predictable, with North Carolina (29-1), Duke (26-3) and LSU (27-3) receiving top seeds. All three of those teams spent some time at the top of the Associated Press and coaches polls this season.

Ohio State (28-2) won the fourth No. 1 seed over a pool that appeared to include Maryland, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Tennessee.

The Buckeyes, who have won 19 straight, captured the Big Ten's regular-season and tournament titles, but finished behind Connecticut (29-4) and Oklahoma (29-4) in the most recent Rating Percentage Index and had weaker schedule strengths than either.

In addition, Tennessee, which won the Southeastern Conference tournament and finished just behind LSU in the regular-season race, appeared to trump them all as the first choice for the fourth top seed.

The Lady Vols (28-4), who have a record six national titles, were 11-0 in nonconference against the RPI top 50, including an 80-75 win over Maryland in November.

However, Comstock, athletic director at American University, said Tennessee's losses, including two in recent weeks to Kentucky and Florida, kept it off the first seed line and into a regional with the Tar Heels, the tournament's top overall seed.

"In looking at everything, we felt that as close as it was, Tennessee this year was a two seed," Comstock said.

Maryland, though ranked No. 3 in the most recent Associated Press poll, likely was not seriously in contention for a No. 1 seed, largely because of the weakness of its nonconference schedule, Comstock said.

The Terps (28-4), who finished tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season race and lost to North Carolina in the tournament final, played only two nonconference games against teams ranked in the top 50 in the most recent RPI released by the NCAA last week.

The committee did, however, do nice things for the Sooners, who swept the Big 12 regular season and tournament, placing them in San Antonio for a regional. It did an even bigger favor to the Huskies, who won the Big East tournament, by putting them in a regional in Bridgeport, Conn., just an hour's drive from the Storrs campus.

"It wasn't giving some sort of preference to them [the Huskies], but it really was the way that it fell as we went through our seeding and bracketing process," said Comstock.

The ACC and Big East led the way with seven bids each, while the SEC and Pacific-10 received six invitations apiece. Of the 33 at-large bids awarded, George Washington of the Atlantic 10 was the only school outside of seven leagues to get one.

Eight schools - Army, California-Riverside, Florida Atlantic, Northern Arizona, Sacred Heart, South Florida, Southeast Missouri State and Tulsa - will be making their first appearances.

Texas Christian and New Mexico were the last at-large teams to receive bids, knocking out Kansas State of the Big 12 and Villanova of the Big East. Indiana State of the Missouri Valley and Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt won their conference's regular-season races but were eliminated in their conference tournaments and did not receive at-large bids.

The announcement of the bracket was pushed back from 5 p.m. Sunday, where it had been for years, to 7 o'clock last night at the request of ESPN, which carries the tournament from start to finish, reportedly to minimize overlap with the men's tournament.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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