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Keeler: Breaking down the women's tourney


By Tommy Keeler Jr.

There's always plenty of attention given to the NCAA men's basketball tournament each year, and rightfully so. However, as a women's basketball fan, I think the women's tournament sometimes gets overlooked.

I think this year's tournament could be one of the best ever.

On the surface it would be easy to look at the brackets and say it's boring, because it's obvious who the winner will be.

Baylor is the defending champion and is led by a dominant 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.

On paper, there's no question they are the heavy favorites, but they did lose to Stanford this season. Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims was injured early in the game and that clearly had an effect on things. The bottom line is Baylor lost, and everyone knows they can be beaten, even if it will take a very strong effort.

The days of Connecticut dominating the women's game are gone, and there are plenty of other teams that are title contenders.

That doesn't mean the Huskies don't have a chance. They played Baylor very tough in their only regular-season matchup.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma knows how to get the most out of his players, and he knows how to win -- seven national championships proves that.

He doesn't have a Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi or a Maya Moore to lean on, but the Huskies still have a very strong team with a lot of balanced scoring.

The one big obstacle the Huskies have is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have defeated the Huskies in all three of their meetings this season, including one in triple overtime. Every game was close and hard fought, but at the end of the day Notre Dame senior point guard Skylar Diggins was able to make the big difference at the end.

The Fighting Irish have lost in the National Championship game the last two years, and are hungry to break through and finally get another national title.

I think Notre Dame is the team with the best chance to beat Baylor, and they are my personal pick to win it all.

Another team to watch out for is Stanford. It seems like the Cardinal are in the Final Four almost every year, and they do have that win over Baylor.

Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford are the top seeds and the heavy favorites to make it to the Final Four, but I do think there are a few teams that could shock them and create some chaos in the tournament.

One of those teams is Duke, and I'm just saying that because they're my favorite team. Early in the season, the Blue Devils were considered to be a legitimate contender for the title. Then late in the regular season Duke junior point guard Chelsea Gray dislocated her knee cap, and is out for the season. Gray was the player who made the Blue Devils go, and even the so-called ESPN experts consider her the best passing guard in the country.

Despite the injury, the Blue Devils have remained strong, including winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles.

Duke freshman point guard Alexis Jones has taken Gray's place and hasn't missed a beat. The Blue Devils played UConn earlier this season, and was only trailing by two points at the half before the Huskies pulled away in the second half.

Another team to watch out for is Penn State. The Nittany Lions have one of the best backcourts in the country in Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley, and they could give a lot of other top teams plenty of trouble.

Another great thing about this year's tournament is that there is a very strong senior class out there. It will be the last college games for Griner, Diggins and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne.

Delle Donne doesn't get the attention of some of the other players, but is definitely a player worth watching, and the Blue Hens could also be a team to watch out for. Of course, one of Delle Donne's teammates is Millbrook graduate and Delaware freshman Courtni Green. The sixth-seeded Blue Hens will host first- and second-round games, and play West Virginia in the first round.

There aren't a lot of teams from the Commonwealth in the tournament. And the reality is that the ones that are there, probably won't be around for long.

Hampton, a 15 seed, plays at Duke in the opening round. Liberty, a 13 seed, plays Purdue in the first round.

There's no question the women's game isn't as exciting as the men's game, but I think this year's tournament will still be a really good one, and definitely worth watching.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com



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