Your tournament pool just got easier: Pencil LSU (29-2) in the Final Four immediately. Duke (28-4) and Texas (21-8) are the only teams in the Chattanooga Regional with any shot at beating the top-ranked Lady Tigers but neither team engenders much confidence.
Duke's best player (forward Monique Currie) has stress fractures in her left foot and the Blue Devils are coming off an 21-point smackdown by North Carolina in the ACC Tournament title game. Plus, they have no senior starters.
The case for Texas is equally flawed. The Longhorns smashed Tennessee (74-59) and Baylor (69-55) but lost to UCLA and Iowa State. They've played better of late (winning eight-of-nine) and if they get by Georgia, they should prevail over Duke in a terrific regional semifinal game. Problem is, they'll expend far more energy in that game than LSU will with either Penn State or an overrated DePaul team.
Something tells me Michigan State (28-3), which jumped over Stanford for a No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Region, is going to get picked off before the Final Four. Take a look at the region: Stanford (seeded No. 2, despite being atop the latest AP poll), UConn (No. 3), Kansas State (No. 4) and Vanderbilt (No. 5). That's pretty tough. As good of the Spartans have been since late January -- they've won 12 in a row including the Big Ten title -- I'm not sure they'll escape the regional final. Of course, it's hard to get excited about either Stanford or UConn. The Cardinal fattened up on a weak Pac-10 conference and lost to the only top-10 team they played (Tennessee) this year. In their defense, fifth-year senior guard Susan King Borchardt (a big-time perimeter player) did not play in the game. My initial thought is that UConn beats Stanford in a very close contest. But can I see UConn making the Final Four after Michigan State beat the Huskies by 16 back in December? Well, they've won seven of their past eight, including wins over Notre Dame and Rutgers. The one thing I really like about Michigan State is its composure: The Spartans' road wins include Notre Dame, UConn and Minnesota. Clearly, I'm undecided here.
I love Baylor (Lynn Parkes, the Chair of the Division I Women's Basketball Committee, said the Bears were the first No. 2 or the fifth team) but the selection committee did it no favors. To get to the Final Four it'll have to beat a probable lineup of TCU, Minnesota and No.1-seeded North Carolina. That's asking a lot.
All in all, Pat Summitt should be happy to be in the Philadelphia Region. Maybe Texas Tech will give the Lady Vols a scare in the regional semis, though I doubt it. Rutgers and Ohio State (Temple is a lively longshot here) present challenges but it says here the Lady Vols will join LSU in Indianapolis without much of scare.
Best first round matchup
No. 6 Temple vs. No. 11 Louisiana Tech, Storrs, Conn. Temple coach Dawn Staley for Sportsman of the Year. Don't laugh. Less than six months after leading the U.S. to Olympic gold in Athens as a player, Staley the coach led the Owls to a 28-3 record including 24 straight wins. Two of Temple's three loses were to LSU and Tennessee -- and the Owls lost by just four to the Lady Vols. Junior center Candice Dupree (16.3 points) is a serious force in the frontcourt and Temple is likely to be angered at its too-low No. 6 seed. The Lady Techsters lost to a terrific Rice team in the finals of the WAC Tournament, star senior guard Erica Taylor admitted the team collectively had no legs following a double-overtime win in the semifinals against Fresno State. After a week's rest, this is going to be a great game. I give Temple a very slight edge.
Honorable mention: No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 16 Western Carolina, Knoxville, Tenn. If only for the diehard orange fans. Summitt matches wits with Kellie (nee Jolly) Harper, the former Lady Vol point guard who played on three Tennessee championship teams (1996-98).
Players to watch
Chattanooga Region Tameka Johnson, G, LSU and Ivory Latta, G, North Carolina. Yes, Seimone Augustus is the best player in the nation, but Johnson makes Pokey Chapman's team go. She's second in the nation with 7.5 assists per game, and should be smarting after last year's Final Four game when her turnover in the final seconds led to Tennessee's victory. If Latta is on her game, then the front line of Camille Little, La'Tangela Atkinson and Erlana Larkins is going to feast on opponents. These could be the two fastest guards in the country.
Tempe Region Sophia Young, F, Baylor. The 6-foot-1 junior and her fellow monster in the post (6-2 senior Steffanie Blackmon) average 33.7 points and 17.6 rebounds between them. The Bears are second in the nation in 3-point shooting (42.5 percent), and if long-distance gunner Emily Niemann (54-of-109 from 3-point land) is on, teams have to play Young and Blackmon honest. Then it's over.
Philadelphia Region Jessica Davenport, C, Ohio State. Against Michigan State, Davenport had a 19-point, 13-rebound, 12-block effort. Uh, nice game, Wilt. The 6-5 sophomore has had seven double-doubles in her past 10 games. It would be great fun watching Vivian Stringer's matchup defense take Davenport on in the regional semis
Kansas City Region Barbara Turner, UConn. Turner was the X-factor for UConn over the past two years because when Diana Taurasi needed a second scorer to bail her out, it was Turner to the rescue. She's a nearly impossible matchup when she's at her best because she's equally adept on the inside and the perimeter. Plagued by injuries, she's been inconsistent this year. But she was just named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament. Stay tuned.
Gonzaga. It's always easy to Monday-morning quarterback the Sunday-night committee but this omission irks me. While the Bulldogs (27-3) were upset by Santa Clara in the finals of the West Coast Conference, they were the No. 23 team in the Coaches' poll as late as two weeks ago, and went 14-0 in their conference. Gonzaga was ranked No. 36 in the final regular-season Jeff Sagarin/CBN Women's College Basketball ratings. To me, they deserve the bid over Louisville (22-8), which played an average schedule and had one impressive win (over No. 25 TCU) and Virginia Tech (17-11), which will get spanked in the opening round by DePaul.