Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Parity makes women's NCAA selections harder

The fun's over for the NCAA women's basketball selection committee.

After an intriguing season filled with upsets, surprises and frequent shuffling in The AP poll, the 10 committee members now have to sort it all out and come up with a bracket for the NCAA tournament by Sunday.

Yes, parity finally prevails in the women's game, but it sure can complicate things.

``I will tell you that over the course of the past week I've spoken to a number of the committee members as we try to get prepared for this,'' Lynn Parkes, who chairs the committee, said Tuesday. ``And the most common response has been, `Wow! Where do we start?'''

The committee gathers in Indianapolis on Thursday to start selecting the 33 at-large entries and seeding the entire 64-team field. They'll have the expertise of the NCAA staff to call on, plus printouts, computer programs and the knowledge they've gained from watching hundreds of games on television during the season.

``I do think it's going to be much more of a challenge this year than it has been in the past, simply because of the parity in women's basketball,'' said Parkes, associate athletic director at Memphis.

``But I think that's so healthy for the game. This is what we've all been wanting for the game for a long time.''

That challenge extends to picking the No. 1 seeds in each of the four regions. Many times, those four teams have fallen neatly into place with little debate. Parkes doesn't expect her group to get off that easily this time.

Most feel that Southeastern Conference powers LSU and Tennessee both will be seeded No. 1. LSU won the SEC regular-season title, was ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks and lost to Tennessee by two in the championship game of the SEC tournament.

Tennessee lost only to LSU during the conference season and played the nation's hardest schedule.

Several others also could make a case for being a No. 1, including North Carolina, Stanford, Michigan State and Baylor, if it wins the Big 12 tournament.

``I told somebody earlier in the week that I think for the first time since I've been on the committee, the top four teams, there's probably more of a difference of opinion right now than there ever has been going into the selections,'' Parkes said.

``I think everybody could probably pick one or two teams, but where the other two come from, we're probably a little bit all over the map. Some of that is yet to be determined. There are more games to be played. We'll just have to sit back and kind of talk some of that through and see what we come up with.''

What's certain is that the bracket will have a new look. First- and second-round games will be played at eight sites, each with eight teams. Previously, four teams were sent to 16 sites for the first two rounds.

Compass points are a thing of the past, too. The four regions are named by location -- Philadelphia, Chattanooga, Kansas City and Tempe. First- and second-round sites also will be known by their locale. Those sites are Storrs, Conn.; College Park, Md.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Minneapolis, Dallas, Fresno and Seattle.

``I think we've got some wonderful sites,'' Parkes said. ``I think it's going to be a fun process.''

By Sunday, she might be using a different word to describe it.

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