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Posted: Tuesday March 17, 2009 4:04PM; Updated: Tuesday March 17, 2009 4:35PM
Kelli Anderson Kelli Anderson >
AT THE TOURNEY

Raleigh Region Breakdown: Toliver, hungry Maryland the pick

Story Highlights

For the first time since 2006, Maryland will go to the Final Four

Watch out for South Dakota State and athletic center Jennifer Warkenthien

The best matchup will be Maryland vs. Vanderbilt in the regional semifinal

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toliver.jpg
Maryland's Kristi Toliver has a knack for making last-minute game-winning shots.
AP

Underrated: South Dakota State

The Summit League champions have lost just two games this season, and one of them was to one-seed Maryland (the Jackrabbits led at the half before losing 68-56.) Otherwise the balanced, disciplined and versatile Jackrabbits have beaten everyone they've faced, including Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Gonzaga. With guards who can post up and posts who can hit the three -- six players have hit 20 or more threes this year, and as a team the Jacks make 8.2 threes a game -- the Jacks present a lot of matchup problems. "We're not a bunch of little engines that could that somehow had this miraculous season," said coach Aaron Johnston. "We have a bunch of really good players who play exceptionally well together."

Overrated: Kansas State

The Wildcats have some good players, including senior point guard Shalee Lehning, but their résumé suggests they could be ripe for an early exit. K-State came in fifth in the Big 12, but played a weak non-conference schedule, and its only conference road wins were over Texas Tech and Kansas. (The Wildcats have just one win against the four Big 12 teams ahead of them in the standings.) Compare that to a No. 5 across the bracket, Tennessee, who lost 10 games but played everyone. (Okay, not UConn.)

Bracket Buster: LSU

The Tigers are not what you call a statistical juggernaut. They don't outrebound opponents and they barely outscore them. Only two players, Allison Hightower and LaSondra Barrett, score in double figures, and no one averages even six rebounds a game. And they don't shoot well: as a team they hit 66 percent from the line and 29 percent from the arc. Yet this team of three upperclassmen and 10 freshmen and sophomores is finally finding its groove. Before losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament semifinals, the Tigers had strung together six wins, including victories over Tennessee and then-No. 9 Florida. With a chance to play as many as two games at the Maravich Center, LSU could be dangerous.

Home-Cooking: Maryland

The Terps host first and second-round games at the Comcast Center, and then have a chance to play in the ACC-hub of Raleigh, where they would be the lone ACC representative.

Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Jennifer Warkenthien, South Dakota State

The Summit League Player of the Year does is all for the Jackrabbits: the 6-foot senior leads the team in scoring (15.1), rebounding (8.6); blocks (41), steals (49) and assists (76), and plays forward while guarding the opponent's center.

Best Matchup: Maryland-Vanderbilt

There are a lot of reasons to anticipate this game, not the least of which is Vanderbilt coach's Melanie Balcomb's hard-to-predict game plan. A lot of teams play what they play no matter who they face. Not Vanderbilt. "I always think I have to figure out what the opponent's weakness is and exploit that," says Balcomb. Another reason to tune in: the not-on-the-stats-sheet talents of the team's respective senior stars. Maryland's Kristi Toliver is adept at launching buzzer-beating threes that break opponents hearts, while Vandy's Christina Wirth is a first-rate charge-taker who excels -- and delights -- in getting opponents into foul trouble.

The Pick: Maryland

Anchored by Toliver, fellow senior Marissa Coleman, junior Demauria Liles and fast-developing 6-4 freshman center Lynetta Kizer, the Terps have talent, leadership, momentum -- they've won 12 straight while securing the ACC regular-season and tournament titles -- and motivation. (Surely they're still a little chapped about losing to Stanford as a No. 1 seed last year.) With a win over Baylor in the regional final, they'll make it back to their first Final Four since winning it all in 2006.

 
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