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Parity in bracket, but familiar teams stay at top
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2000
If you're looking for a way to tell how much parity there is in women's basketball this season, closely examine the 64 teams selected for the NCAA tournament.
The SEC has six teams in the tournament, two fewer than last season. The Big 12 has six teams in for the first time in four years. The Pac-10, Big East and Big Ten -- all very strong conferences -- each had just four teams selected. And defending national champion Purdue is a No. 4 seed.
"The competition for the at-large basis was so tough this year," said Bernadette McGlade, chair of the NCAA women's basketball committee. "We really had more than 34 at-large teams that we felt could compete for the national championship."
And then there are the usual suspects: Connecticut, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana Tech, the latter two looking for a second straight trip to the Final Four.
Connecticut, with a national-best 30-1 record, is the top seed in the East Region, and Tennessee, shooting for its fourth title in five years, is No. 1 in the Mideast. Louisiana Tech is the top seed in the Midwest and Georgia in the West.
First- and second-round games will be Friday through March 20 at 16 campus sites. The regionals are March 25 and 27 with the Final Four March 31 and April 2 at the First Union Center in Philadelphia.
The four top seeds have combined to win nine of the 18 NCAA women's tournaments, with Tennessee's six titles an NCAA record. Louisiana Tech won the championship in 1982 and '88, and Connecticut captured its only crown in 1995. Georgia has reached the championship game twice, in 1985 and '96, but lost both. "I don't think things like this ever get old," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, whose team is a top seed for the third straight year. "To be a No. 1 seed feels good."
Penn State, whose coach, Rene Portland, said last week she felt the Big Ten didn't get enough respect, is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. Many believed the Nittany Lions would be among the top seeds.
McGlade said the decision between Louisiana Tech and Penn State was "very close," but Penn State's loss to Purdue in the Big Ten tournament championship apparently killed that chance.
"If Penn State had won the Big Ten championship, yes, I think it would have made a difference," McGlade said. "Winning the conference championship is significant."
Mississippi State came within a few points of beating Tennessee for the SEC title, which boosted the Bulldogs to a second straight tournament appearance and a No. 3 seed in the West Region. But they won't be able to capitalize on their reward.
MSU lost a chance at hosting the regional because it couldn't meet NCAA requirements for hotel accommodations in the Starkville area.
"Any team is going to look at its situation and be positive if they want to win," Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said of being the only top-four seed not to play the first two rounds at home.
"We would have liked to have hosted, but you can't control those things," she said. "We can't worry about that now. We just have to take care of business if we want to win. And Oregon's a beautiful place."
Coach Jody Runge of No. 6 seed Oregon couldn't hide her excitement about the strange twist of fate.
"We're thrilled to be able to host," she said. "We've had the kind of year that's deserving to play at home. ... It's huge for our kids to finish finals this week and get that out of the way. Now they can focus on the tournament and not worry about the stress of traveling."
Vanderbilt, with its 20 wins, but sub-.500 conference record, was among the six SEC teams to make the tournament.
"Vandy had 20 wins, that's how they got in," McGlade said.
The Pac-10 got just four teams in, which McGlade said could be attributed to the parity in that conference.
"They had teams that started the season in the national rankings and with very strong RPIs, then through the course of the season, slipped below those rankings," she said. "They took some significant losses outside the conference. When all of the teams take too many losses it does have a negative effect across the board."
- Information from other news organization was used in this report.
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