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Midwest Region Preview
Posted: Thursday November 08, 2001 9:55 AM
Updated: Saturday November 10, 2001 9:03 AM
By Ron Chimelis, Special to CNNSI.com
|Teams That Will Make The NCAA Tournament|
|Baylor (Big 12)
||Cincinnati (Conference USA)
|Colorado (Big 12)
||Drake (Missouri Valley Conference)
|Iowa (Big 10)
||Iowa State (Big 12)
| Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Horizon)
|Michigan (Big 10)
|Oklahoma (Big 12)
||Penn State (Big 10)
|Purdue (Big 10)
||Texas (Big 12)
|Texas Christian (Conference USA)
||Texas Tech (Big 12)
||Wisconsin (Big 10)
| Is the Big 12 the biggest and best?
In the heartland, they like to think their league is the nation's top conference. Maybe it is, and seven teams reached last year's NCAAs -- the top number in America. But someone will have to reach the Final Four to prove Big 12 supremacy.
Purdue tries to do it again
Katie Douglas and Camille Cooper are gone, and the NCAA runnerup Boilermakers find Michigan hot on their heels. And don't forget Iowa, last year's tournament champion. But Purdue bring an awful lot of talent back, too.
Mid-majors aren't that minor
Toledo is the favorite in the Mid-American Conference, but not the only good team with Kent State and Ball State also solid, and perhaps underrated. Southwest Missouri State and Drake gave the Missouri Valley Conference two NCAA spots last year, and SWMS made the Final Four. Either conference would like to think it has a shot at multiple berths this year.
|Teams On The Rise|
The Bearcats reached the WNIT and bring all five starters back from that 22-10 team, along with a quality recruiting class. A run at the Conference USA championship seems inevitable.
If you haven't been checking out the Missouri Valley Conference, you may not know that this team tied Southwest Missouri State (a Final Four team) for last year's title, has a premier player in junior center Carla Bennett, and this year became the MVC's first unanimous preseason favorite in 14 years.
The Wolverines have never won a Big 10 title, and it won't be easy this year with Purdue the logical pick. But Michigan has four returning starters, a fine freshman class and real momentum in the program.
The Blue Jays won 17 games a year ago, but lost their starting backcourt and will have to struggle to reach the Missouri Valley's first division.
There isn't a lot of proven talent in the frontcourt, but that doesn't mean the Cyclones will be down for the count. It just means they're counting on a few people to do a lot in a conference that offers little time to rest.
Southwest Missouri State
The Lady Bears were 29-6 last year and reached the Final Four, but that was with Jackie Stiles, who captured America's imagination. Stiles and three other starters are gone, leaving coach Cheryl Burnett with a major challenge this year.
|Five Familiar Faces To Watch|
| Stacey Dales, Oklahoma, G
The 6-foot senior from Canada was the Big 12 assist leader (7.3 apg.) and eighth in scoring (16.0) and steals (2.4). As she goes, so go the Sooners, maybe to the Final Four.
Kelly Mazzante, Penn State, G
With 18.2 ppg. and 19.7 in Big 10 play, she became the first freshman to lead the league in scoring. The future looks even better.
Plenette Pierson, Texas Tech, C
A junior who led her team to the Sweet 16, she's Tech's best scorer and rebounder.
Jessie Stomski, Wisconsin, F
A senior power forward who averaged 16.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, she led Wisconsin to a second-place Big 10 finish, its best in 17 years. She'll challenge Mazzante as the Big 10's best player.
Angie Welle, Iowa State, C
The 6-4 senior is one of the dominant inside players in the country, and will carry a team in transition.
|Five New Faces To Watch|
| Keasha Cannon, Nebraska, G
A 5-10 juco transfer from Penn Valley (Mo.) Community College, she'll make an immediate impact in a Cornhuskers lineup with a future.
Jenni Dant, DePaul, G
A high school All-American who stayed home to attend college, she scored 1,577 points with 916 rebounds in high school.
Tiffanie Guthrie, Illinois, G
Talented veteran Shavonna Hunter could use some help in the Illini backcourt, and this freshman, a former All-Ohio player and MVP for a national champion AAU team, should get a chance to contribute.
Katie Robinette, Nebraska, F
The Nebraska player of the year and the preseason Big 12 Best Freshman pick, she scored 1,944 points at South Sioux City High.
Jess Strom, Penn State, G
At 5-7, she's expected to step right into the point-guard spot for a team with Top 20 hopes.
|Coach To Watch|
| Brenda Oldfield, Minnesota
The Gophers have hardly been golden, winning nine Big 10 games in six years before Cheryl Littlejohn was fired for NCAA violations. Oldfield comes from Ball State with a reputation for program-building, but this is a real test.
It's tempting to think about Michigan, which opens with nine of its first 10 away from home, including roadies at Louisiana Tech, Washington, Toledo and LSU, plus a date with Notre Dame in Grand Rapids. But the nod goes to DePaul, whose December schedule includes Iowa State, Maryland or Mississippi State, Toledo (a team that can snag almost anybody), Illinois, George Washington, Purdue, Tennessee and Notre Dame. That doesn't count a Feb. 22 date with TCU.
|Toughest Place To Play|
| State College, Pa.
Not only does Penn State draw (6,091 a game last year, 10th in the U.S.) and field a good team, but getting there is a bear for Big 10 clubs. Purdue, which draws better (7,590) and has a superior team, could get a vote but is more centrally located.
|Things You Didn't Know|
|Oklahoma's rise coincides with the career of Stacey Dales, the Sooners' first All-America. Oklahoma won five games the year before she arrived, and eight after she was lost for her freshman season after a knee injury in her first game. The Sooners have won 15, 25 and 28 games in succeeding years but will have to do it this year without center Jennifer Cunningham, who has suffered two severe injuries to each knee and called it quits after a preseason ACL to her right knee.
|Mark Your Calendar|
| Purdue vs. Oklahoma at Durham, N.C., Nov 11
The State Farm Classic will provide an early test for the powers of powerful conferences.
Purdue at Iowa, Jan. 6
Last year's Big 10 finalists meet again.
Colorado at Iowa State, Feb. 9
Two teams that want to be peaking by tournament time.
Texas at Baylor, Feb. 16
Possible showcase for a very fine Baylor team and its two megastars, Sheila Lambert and Danielle Crockram.
Ron Chimelis covers college basketball for the Springfield (Mass.) Union-News.