Trenton Region Breakdown: Watch out for Texas A&M, UConn
Marist finished the season 29-3 and proved it can play with the big schools
Texas A&M appears to be Rutgers Southwest, but with experienced leaders
Keep an eye on Vermont's Courtnay Pilypaitis, who dominated the America East
You'd be hard pressed to find another team that was as shortchanged as the four-time MAAC champion Red Foxes, who drew a No. 13 seed despite finishing the season 29-3. Only a handful of teams can claim a comparable or better record than that heading into the Big Dance. Auburn and Green Bay both finished with three losses. The Tigers got a No. 2 seed in Oklahoma City after steamrolling through the SEC, while the Phoenix --easily the class of the Horizon League this season -- were set back with a No. 11 seed in Raleigh for coming out of a comparatively weaker conference. The two-loss South Dakota State Jackrabbits are just below them at No. 7, and undefeated Connecticut is No. 1 overall.
Though, like Green Bay, Marist comes from a little-respected conference, the Red Foxes have proved they can play with the big schools. They've been a tough out in their past two tournament appearances -- they lost to LSU in the second round as a seventh-seed in 2008, and to eventual national champion Tennessee as a No. 13 seed in the third round in 2007. Fifth-seeded Virginia (their first-round opponent) has struggled against the stiff competition of the ACC, and fourth-seeded California (Marist's likely opponent in the second round, assuming the Bears play to their potential) has been an uneven performer all season.
On second thought, maybe the Red Foxes are better off under the radar.
The Cavaliers started off hot (at one point ranked 11th in the AP poll), but cooled off as soon as they entered ACC play. They went 8-6 in the conference, the last two losses coming on the road against unranked Georgia Tech and Duke, the top seed in the Berkeley region. That isn't to say that Virginia isn't a solid team. It boasts a prodigious scorer in junior guard Monica Wright (20.5 ppg) and has one of the country's better rebounders in 6-foot-3 senior center Aisha Mohammed, who hauls in 10.1 a game.
Bracket-buster: Texas A&M
Anybody who tells you that Connecticut has an easy road ahead obviously hasn't seen A&M this season. But that figures. The Aggies are a team you don't want to see. They are hard-nosed bunch that likes to extend possessions on offense and wear you down on defense with their unrelentingly physical play. In short, they are "Rutgers Southwest," and that alone should have the Huskies slightly worried.
Though they've mostly cruised this season, the Huskies got their closest game from the Scarlet Knights on March 2 in Piscataway, N.J., but UConn hung on for a 69-59 victory to keep its record unblemished. But where the Scarlet Knights are young and inexperienced, the Aggies are led by Takia Starks and Danielle Gant -- a couple of savvy senior guards who nearly carried the Aggies to an upset over the Lady Vols in last year's regional finals. (A last-second three did them in.) Don't be surprised if the Aggies give UConn a scare.
Home cooking: UConn
Beleaguered state lawmakers needn't worry about the Huskies sending the state budget deeper into the red by constantly refueling the team charter jet. Assuming they can hold home-court advantage in Storrs, they will only have to travel 200 or so miles southwest for the regional, or about the distance of an afternoon bus ride. Road trip, anyone?
Best player you've never heard of: Vermont junior Courtnay Pilypaitis
A 6-foot-1 guard, the Ottawa product leads the Catamounts in points (14.9 ppg), rebounds (7.4 rpg), assists (5.06 apg), 3-point accuracy (37.7 percent) and is generally regarded as the most dangerous player in the America East conference. Great as it would be to see Pilypaitis trade shots with Connecticut's Maya Moore, it's more likely that UConn's stymieing defense will keep Pilypaitis from going off.
Best matchup: No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Minnesota
After closing the season with losses in five of their last six games, the Gophers could very easily have been shut out of the tournament. But now that they're in, they'll be playing with house money. That doesn't bode well for the favored Domers, who will play host to the Gophers at the Joyce Center and will be facing a lot of pressure to play up to the outsized expectations that attended them at the season's outset.
The pick: UConn
It would be the surprise of the century if the undefeated Huskies didn't make it to St. Louis. But it wouldn't be the surprise of the last century. It was just 12 years ago that the Huskies entered the 1997 Elite Eight with a 33-0 record only to be bounced out by Tennessee. But if the Huskies can sustain the level of focus and intensity that has carried them through the season so far, best believe everyone else will be playing for second place.
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