Sunday, March 13, 2005

LSU, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State Top Women's Seeds

Michigan State first muscled its way through the Big Ten Conference. Then the Spartans pushed aside some of the nation's biggest names to get the program's first No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

Southeastern Conference powers LSU and Tennessee also received No. 1 seeds, as did ACC champion North Carolina on Sunday. Despite jumping to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll in the last week of the season, Stanford was only a No. 2 seed in the Kansas City Regional opposite Michigan State.

Never before seeded higher than fourth, Michigan State was placed at the top of the bracket in Kansas City and will take a 12-game winning streak into a first-round game against Alcorn State at Minneapolis next Saturday.

The Spartans (28-3) can't wait.

"We're just kind of ready to play a game, to be honest," said Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, wearing a wide grin with her jubilant team behind her. "We've had a week off and these girls are getting grumpy."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer looked defiant when she saw the bracket. The Cardinal, who climbed to the top of the poll just last week, are the first No. 1-ranked team not to earn a top tournament seed since Texas in 1984.

"The numbers are irrelevant," VanDerveer said. "I believe in our team. I love coaching this team and I want to play six more games. There's no sense overanalyzing this thing."

LSU (29-2) received the top seed overall and was placed in the Chattanooga Regional. The other No. 1s in order were Tennessee (Philadelphia), Michigan State and North Carolina (Tempe).

The women's tournament scrapped the East, Mideast, Midwest and West designations for regionals this year and replaced them with the name of the city hosting the regional semifinals and finals.

Baylor was the top No. 2 seed and was put in the Tempe Regional opposite North Carolina. Stanford was ranked as just the sixth team overall despite winning the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament championships. The Cardinal (29-2) have won 20 straight since a 62-58 loss at Oregon on Dec. 29. Their only other loss was by three points at Tennessee.

Picking those final two No. 1 seeds from among North Carolina, Michigan State, Stanford and Baylor wasn't easy, said Lynn Parkes, who chairs the selection committee.

"There was just not much that really separated them, other than the fact that Stanford and Baylor both had losses out of the Top 50," said Parkes, associate athletic director at Memphis.

"We just felt like Michigan State and North Carolina, given the fact both won conference tournaments and the regular season and the success they had in the Top 25, that they were worth those (last) two seeds."

With its powerful front line of 6-4 Kelli Roehrig and 6-1 Liz Shimek, Michigan State built an impressive resume.

The Spartans shared the Big Ten regular-season title with Ohio State and won the conference tournament. They went 10-2 on the road, with victories at Notre Dame and Connecticut, and their schedule also helped — eight victories over teams now ranked in the Top 25.

Connecticut, which has won the last three national championships, was seeded third in the Kansas City Regional and Kansas State, runner-up in the Big 12 tournament, was the No. 4, making for a tough bracket.

There was little debate of the top two No. 1s.

LSU, which was No. 1 in the poll longer than anyone this season, won the SEC regular-season championship, then dropped a two-point game to Tennessee in the finals of the conference tournament. Tennessee (26-4) was the regular-season runner-up, losing only to LSU in league play.

Two teams from the same conference have been No. 1 seeds 10 times previously, most recently in 2003. Tennessee and LSU also were the two that year.

Interestingly, LSU and Tennessee both will start the tournament on the Lady Vols' court in Knoxville. There are eight teams at the first- and second-round sites, twice as many as before. Each site has four teams from one regional and four from another.

Among teams thought to be sitting on the "bubble" — Virginia Tech, Purdue, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Houston, Arizona, Oregon and Richmond all got in. Iowa, Villanova and Xavier did not.

Three teams with glossy records that won regular-season conference titles but lost in their league tournaments also weren't among the select 64 — Delaware (25-5), Gonzaga (27-3) and Chattanooga (24-4).

LSU and Tennessee both play on Sunday, LSU meeting Stetson and Tennessee taking on Western Carolina. That game will send Tennessee coach Pat Summitt against one of her former point guards, Western Carolina coach Kellie Harper, who helped the Lady Vols win three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98.

Tennessee's expected victory in that game would be No. 879 for Summitt, tying her with Dean Smith for the most wins in NCAA history.

North Carolina is hosting the first two rounds in Chapel Hill and will play Coppin State on Sunday. The Tar Heels shared the ACC regular-season title with Duke and won the conference tournament.

For just the third time, a team with a losing overall record got in. Illinois State (13-17) earned an automatic bid by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The 15th-seeded Redbirds play Baylor in Seattle on Saturday.

The ACC led all leagues with seven selections — North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Big 12 had six, while the Pac-10, in a bit of surprise, matched the SEC and Big Ten with five teams. The Big East had only four after getting eight last year.

It all leads to the Final Four, which is April 3 and 5 in Indianapolis.

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