Six Fill Dance Card

By Jeff Lippman - March 09, 2008

Six teams will join East Tennessee State and Murray State with automatic bids for the Big Dance.

Major conferences, the ACC and the SEC, crown their champs, as does the Big Ten, Conference USA, the MAAC and the West Coast Conference.

Obviously, the ACC and the SEC take center stage. On Saturday, Duke was able to throw a wrench in Maryland's ACC title plans by upsetting the No. 2 Terrapins as they advanced to Sunday's final to meet hated rival No. 1 North Carolina.

The SEC's title game, however, is the showcase. It doesn't get much better than this.

In the AP, Tennessee is ranked No. 3 and LSU No. 7. In the SEC, however, where LSU completed an undefeated 14-0 conference season, including a Valentines Day beating of the Lady Vols in Knoxville, the Lady Tigers are No. 1 and the Vols No. 2.

The Tigers are the defending SEC Champs. The Lady Vols are the defending NCAA Champs. Tennessee is coached by the winningest collegiate coach of all time in Pat Summitt, the Lady Tigers are coached by Hall of Famer and three-time WNBA champion Van Chancellor.

And the No. 1 reason that LSU-Tennessee is the game to watch Sunday...Candace Parker vs. Sylvia Fowles.

The two centers - well, Parker plays every position - are perhaps two of the most storied players in the history of each of their storied programs. Fowles, the senior, was recently named the SEC's Player of the Year. Parker, the junior who has decided to become the first-ever woman to leave college early, will most likely grab national Player of the Year honors.

These two teams couldn't be any better matched. So who has the advantage?

In my estimation, Tennessee is the slightly better team as a whole with other All-American candidates in Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike contributing. But LSU's Quianna Chaney is no slouch from the guard spot for LSU and point guard Erica White is lightning quick.

The Tigers have the size advantage because of the 6-foot-6 Fowles, but Tennessee has the crowd as the game is played in Nashville.

Both teams need this win to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee might possibly still grab one even in defeat, but for LSU, a win today could be the difference between a two and a three seed.

Come 6:30 p.m. Music City will be rocking with the sweet sounds of LSU-Tennessee.

ACC Championship
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Duke (1 p.m.)

The ACC has been the dominant women's basketball conference over the past several seasons and it has been North Carolina and Duke at the top. This season, Maryland took Duke's spot as the second-best ACC school, but Duke proved they have what it takes to stop the Terps Saturday.

With that said, North Carolina will make the Blue Devils hurt Sunday. Joanne P. McCallie's team must be exhausted after their win over Maryland and the Tar Heels haven't exactly had to exert themselves on their run to the ACC title game.

UNC has locked up a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, but the Blue Devils are playing for a two seed. Another major upset today and they earn that No. 2, otherwise, there is no shame in a thee seed.

Big Ten Championship
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 9 Illinois (5:30 p.m.)

When the Big Ten season began, it looked like there would be only two solid programs in Ohio State and Michigan State. As the season comes to an infinite end Sunday, the Big Ten concludes its action with a championship game that doesn't include the Buckeyes or the Spartans.

No, try the No. 3 seed who is in the first year of probation after NCAA sanctions were brought against them after last season in Purdue against the No. 9 seed who finished the regular season with a Big Ten record of 8-10.

Regardless of winner - Illinois has the better overall record, mind you - the Big Ten will most likely pull four NCAA Tournament teams. Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota all look like they will earn at-large bids with the fourth going to either Illinois or Purdue.

Prediction: There will be no remaining Big Ten schools alive after the first weekend of the Big Dance.

Conference USA Championship
No. 2 SMU vs. No. 1 UTEP (3:30 p.m.)

C-USA only deserves one NCAA Tournament bid.

At 27-2, UTEP belongs firmly implanted in the field of 64. At 23-8 and 11-5 in conference, No. 2 SMU simply does not. If the Mustangs somehow pull the incredible upset today, some major conference team hoping for an at-large bid is going to be very unhappy. UTEP is in regardless, but for the sake of the Florida's and Georgia Tech's of the world, they better win C-USA.

MAAC Championship

Marist was the class of the MAAC last year and the Cinderellas of the Big Dance. Well, they were the class of the MAAC this year and now they will be crowned MAAC Tournament champs. March Madness welcomes the Red Foxes back.

West Coast Championship
No. 3 San Diego vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (4:30 p.m.)

Amber Sprague and Amanda Rego look to lead San Diego past top-seeded Gonzaga and into the Big Dance. At 18-12 overall, nothing but a win Sunday will help the Toreros get to dance. Gonzaga might be in trouble if they don't win today at 24-7 and playing in low RPI conference.

Big East Quarterfinals
No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh (noon)
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 9 DePaul (2 p.m.)
No. 2 Rutgers vs. No. 7 Louisville (6 p.m.)
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 11 USF (8 p.m.)

I would be shocked - and the women's basketball world would be done a disservice - if Rutgers and Connecticut didn't end up in the Big East final. But the Big East is more than just the Scarlet Knights and Huskies.

No. 1 UConn gets No. 9 DePaul, who, after a win yesterday over Marquette may have secured themselves an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. A win of UConn would certainly go a long way to doing that as well. Fat chance.

The Scarlet Knights draw Angel McCoughtry and No. 7 Louisville. No worries for C. Vivian Stringer there. Look for McCoughtry to go off, but the Cardinals to get spanked.

USF pulled the upset of No. 6 Syracuse. With the loss, the Orange may have trouble getting an at-large bid at 22-8. Their best win came March 3 against West Virginia. The Bulls play the Mountaineers today.

The best matchup of the day is between two teams who are probably locks for the NCAA Tournament in No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Pitt.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 11:58 AM on March 09, 2008

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