Sweetness Engulfs NCAA Tournament

By Jeff Lippman - March 25, 2008


By the end of today there will only be 16 remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament. And boy will that be sweet.

Monday saw the 2-seeds and most of the 3-seeds in action. While the 2-seeds - Rutgers, Stanford, Texas A&M and LSU - had little trouble advancing, the 3-seeds weren't as fortunate.

Both Cal and Baylor dropped their matchups with George Washington and Pitt, respectively. And 11-seeded Florida State took Oklahoma State to overtime before losing by a single point to the 3-seeded Cowgirls.

There is only one more 3-seed left to play, and if Monday's games are any indication, it won't be an easy night for Duke.

The Blue Devils meet the 6-seed Arizona State out of the Oklahoma City region in College Park, Md.

While I picked Arizona State to drop their first round game against Temple, the Sun Devils survived a strong showing from the Owls to win a hard-fought contest, 61-54. Junior Lauren Lacey led the way for ASU with 14 points in that one, but Jill Noe and Briann January - scored 12 and 10 points, respectively - need to step up their games to take down the mightier Blue Devils.

January is the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year and she will need all of her skills to hold down Duke's scoring threat of Chante Black, Abby Waner and Wanisha Smith. Smith is a senior and has been here before and Waner is looking to make good on a season in which often times she underachieved.

Duke is coming off a 21-point win over 14-seeded Murray State. Waner scored just 5 points in that one, but Smith dropped 16 and freshman Krystal Thomas and Black combined for 27 points and 16 rebounds.

The key for Duke, like ASU, is defense. And when two defensive teams take the court, the one with better talent usually wins. And unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Duke has the better talent. Waner steps up and the Blue Devils win, but this will definitely be a close one.
PICK: Duke

Oklahoma City Regional

Notre Dame (5) vs. Oklahoma (4) - West Lafayette, Ind. - 9 p.m.
Sure, Oklahoma is the higher seeded team, but where is there advantage?

If I were a betting man, my money would be on Notre Dame today. First of all, the Irish are basically playing a home game in West Lafayette, Ind. The crowd will definitely be on the side of Notre Dame. And if we're going by the way the teams looked in their first round games, it should be no contest.

The Irish got all the scare they needed out of SMU in the opening round. Despite leading by as many as 17 points, the Mustangs came all the way back to tie the game with less than five minutes left. That's when Notre Dame regrouped and got the job done, winning easily, 75-62, to advance.

The Sooners won but looked shaky doing it. One of the biggest problems for Oklahoma this season has been the emergence of speedier guards. A problem, you ask? Well, with a player like Courtney Paris clogging the middle - and believe me, with 91 consecutive double-doubles, she's allowed to clog - the guys who like to run don't get that opportunity. And if they do, then Paris isn't getting her looks.

"We have a lot of guys that can score," said OU coach Sherri Coale. "Sometimes when you have a player like Courtney Paris, a player that the game of college women's basketball has never seen. When you have her on the floor with you, sometimes, as a player, you can lose your identity. You can forget that there are lots of things that you are really good at, too."

Oklahoma will have to find that equilibrium against the Irish if they hope to advance to the Sweet 16, where Tennessee will be waiting patiently.
PICK: Notre Dame

Purdue (9) vs. Tennessee (1) - West Lafayette, Ind. - 7 p.m.
The Big Ten is hanging on by a very thin thread. The 9th-seeded Boilermakers are the only school from the conference remaining and they will have a 90-degree uphill climb to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Boilermakers won the national championship in 1999 and in today's matchup with defending champ Tennessee but did you know that this isn't the only second round matchup featuring two teams with national titles to their credit?

The other?

Oh, and by the way...
PICK: Tennessee...BIG

Greensboro Regional

Texas (8) vs. UConn (1) - Bridgeport, Ct. - 9 p.m.
That's right, the other matchup featuring two teams who have national titles to their credit is this 8 vs. 1 matchup between the Longhorns and Huskies.

Connecticut has five national titles and the Longhorns won one way back in 1986.

Coach Gail Goestenkors and the 'Horns won in impressive fashion in their first game back in the NCAA Tournament since 2005 as they defeated Minnesota in the opening round. Texas wants to make a statement because they feel they are a new program with a new coach who wants to re-emerge on the national scene.

Keeping it close today against the Huskies should go a long way towards that end, even if the 'Horns ultimately drop the contest with the top overall seed.

Is Texas intimidated by playing UConn in Bridgeport, just 90 minutes from the Huskies' campus in Storrs? What do you think?

"Coach G has had success against UConn," said senior guard Erneisha Bailey. "We heard from the media in the press conference that Coach G and her Duke team beat Connecticut the last time she was here in Bridgeport. So that's good luck for us!"

Texas is going to need it.
PICK: UConn

Old Dominion (5) vs. Virginia (4) - Norfolk, Va. - 7 p.m.
By far, the most intriguing battle of the day. Virginia is the state university, but Old Dominion is the host. The game is to be played on ODU's campus in Norfolk, but the Wahoos had more than their fair share of fans for their opening round game.

With the fans possibly canceling each other out, let's just worry about X's and O's to determine a pick in this one. Old Dominion is ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll and won their first round game against Liberty, 82-62. Although they won by 20 points, this game was a lot closer than the final score would indicate.

Virginia destroyed UC Santa Barbara Saturday, 86-52.

Old Dominion holds the all-time series edge over their in-state rivals, 16-14, however, the Cavs have won the last five meetings. And the Cavs hold a 2-0 advantage when the teams meet in the NCAA Tournament.

Neither team's star stepped up in the first round. Virginia's Monica Wright finished with just six points on 0-for-10 shooting from the field and ODU's T.J. Jordan also had six on 1-for-11. And both teams won handily despite their stars poor performances.

Center Lyndra Littles stepped up for Virginia and for ODU it was Shahida Williams. Today, it will be Wright and Jordan. And it will be Wright who is victorious.
PICK: Virginia

New Orleans Regional

Kansas State (5) vs. Louisville (4) - Bridgeport, Ct. - 7 p.m.
Without its leading scorer - Kim Dietz who is out for the season with a knee injury - Kansas State got 20 points from seldom-used Kelsey Nelson to defeat Chattanooga and move to the second round. How seldom-used? Try she only scored 26 points...the ENTIRE SEASON.

I'm guessing lightning won't strike twice for K-State and they will have to rely on Shalee Lehning, who scored 12 points in the opener, if they hope to win versus today's opponent, 4th-seeded Louisville.

The Cardinals have been on a tear to finish the season and its because of their superstar junior guard Angel McCoughtry. Leading the Big East in the scoring the past two seasons, McCoughtry averaged 23.5 points and almost 9 boards per game this season. In the Cardinals first-round victory over Miami of Ohio Sunday, her line read 20 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals. Oh yeah, she's one of the countries best defenders off the dribble, too.

But ask Angel how she thought she did in that first game? And keep in mind, she had been held to single digits in two of her previous three NCAA Tournament games.

"I felt like I played one of my worst games of my career tonight," McCoughtry said after the game. If she plays any better against K-State, the Cardinals will run them out of the building.
PICK: Louisville

Georgia (8) vs. North Carolina (1) - Norfolk, Va. - 9 p.m.
The history is there. North Carolina is trying for its third consecutive Final Four. But Georgia is no slouch, they're going for their sixth consecutive Sweet 16. Something's gotta give.

And you would think it would be Georgia, after all, they are the 8-seed after a disappointing senior season for Tasha Humphrey and company.

But history would sway us differently. The fact is, North Carolina has NEVER beaten Georgia. And the last time the two teams met, in the 2000 NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs pasted the Tar Heels, 83-57.

And then there is the fact that after opening with leads of 16-0 and 20-2, the Tar Heels got sloppy in their opening round win over Bucknell.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, the score will be closer against Georgia. But in reality, I don't know how much closer.

No, the Tar Heels should take this one easily. The past is the past and in the past Georgia was a much tougher team than they seem to be this season. There will be no upset of the top seed in this one.
PICK: North Carolina

Spokane Regional

Nebraska (8) vs. Maryland (1) - College Park, Md. - 9 p.m.
The Terps can either regroup after their first round win in which they struggled mightily against Coppin State, or they can falter in the second round for the second straight year after winning the national title just two seasons ago.

But Crystal Langhorne won't let that happen. Not at the Comcast Center, where her jersey already hangs from the rafters.

The Terps 6-foot-2 senior center will be playing her last game in College Park and if her second to last was any indication, Langhorne will make it special.

Just as Candice Wiggins exploded in her final game in Palo Alto for Stanford, Langhorne scored 25 points and grabbed 11 boards in Maryland's opening round win. The four-time All-American will have another big night to finish out her career. And Maryland will advance to the Sweet 16.
PICK: Maryland

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 09:46 AM on March 25, 2008
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