Oklahoma City Regional breakdown
Ripe for seconds, Tennessee got the luck of the draw
Posted: Tuesday March 18, 2008 2:45PM; Updated: Friday March 21, 2008 9:13AM
Underrated: Oklahoma. Most prognosticators have already written off the Sooners after a soul-crushing, three-game losing streak. Not me. I like that the players will have had 12 days to stew over the program's worst defeat in years, a first-round loss to Missouri in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. What's changed? "Fresh air. Clear heads. Deep breaths," says Oklahoma coach Sheri Coale. "A chance to look at what we are and what we've done, what we're capable of and what the possibilities are -- and what's missing and how to find it and how to put it back together." Remember, this is a team that beat No. 2-seeded Texas A&M by 12 points last month, and lost to Tennessee by three in November. They still have the nation's most dominant offensive player (Courtney Paris) and a coach who has won big in the postseason.
Overrated: Purdue. Can a ninth seed be overrated? Absolutely. Purdue has averaged two fewer points (59.1) than their opponents (61.2) this season. Everything went right for the Boilermakers last week when they took the Big Ten tournament with wins over a weak trio: Indiana, Iowa and Illinois. Even more ridiculous is that Purdue will play its opening-round game at (drum roll, please) Purdue's Mackey Arena.
Bracket Buster: Syracuse. The 'Cuse competed fiercely in the nation's toughest conference, including wins over ranked Big East foes West Virginia and DePaul. But the game that stands out came Jan. 15 when Syracuse led UConn at halftime, 36-32. It was the first time all season Connecticut trailed at the break (UConn ended up winning, 65-59). The Orange have balanced scoring (four players in double figures) and strong guard play with freshman Erica Morrow and junior college transfer Chandrea Jones. Red-hot Texas A&M awaits them in the second round but don't lose hope, Boeheim Nation. The Aggies had just one victory over a top 20 opponent (a 62-60 squeaker over Auburn) prior to last month.
Home cooking: Oklahoma. If the Sooners can get past No.13 Illinois State and the winner of Notre Dame-SMU (we admit that's not an easy road), they'll get what amounts to a home game against top-seeded Tennessee at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. As mentioned earlier, Purdue should send a big thank you note to the selection committee.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Kristi Cirone, 5-8 guard, Illinois State. She may be least-known of the nine finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which is awarded to the nation's best point guard, but Oklahoma better not sleep on her. Cirone, a 5-foot-8 junior guard, led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0) and was the MVP of the MVC (Missouri Valley Conference). She was second in her league in scoring (16.6 points), steals (2.6 spg.), and she also hits threes (61-of-154).
Best matchup: Duke vs. Texas A&M. People forget Duke beat Maryland and Rutgers this season. I'm not one of those people. If the seeds hold, take Duke in what should be a great game.
The pick: Tennessee. I'd love to pick against the chalk but the committee has gift-wrapped the regional for the defending champions. Oklahoma presents a tricky test in the regional semifinals -- assuming they survive a plucky Illinois State team. As does No. 2 Texas A&M or No. 3 Duke in a potential regional final. But, let's face it, this is a great draw for the Lady Vols. Cue up Rocky Top. It's onto Tampa for Tennessee.