NCAA Women's Bracket 2011: Sweet Sixteen Preview & Predictions


Managing emotions might be the key between Ohio State and Tennessee (via OhioStateBuckeyes.com).

With three upsets occurring on the last day of sub-regional play, the 2011 NCAA women's basketball tournament bracket looks at least a little bit different than most people assumed it would.

Of course, that probably starts with the absence of the #2 Xavier Musketeers who were ousted by the #7 Louisville Cardinals in the the Cincinnati sub-regional in arguably the most surprising upset of the three that occurred on Tuesday. The implications of that upset for the Spokane region are already covered at SBN Seattle, so now let's take a closer look at the remaining 3/4 of the Sweet Sixteen.

Upset watch: How well are the enigmatic Ohio State Buckeyes playing right now?

It's really hard to consider the possibility of Gonzaga beating Louisville as an upset and after that it seems like major upsets are going to be hard to come by.

But the Ohio State Buckeyes are showing signs of life and could pose a threat to the remaining teams in Dayton.

From the moment the tournament field was announced, I've felt that Ohio State could finish anywhere from going home after the first round to heading to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Right now, they're obviously closer to the latter and a primary reason for that is that they're one of the hottest teams in the nation right now.

They're riding an 11-game winning streak and Swish Appeal's M. Robinson, who has seen them more than most of us, has said that it seemed that since beating the Michigan State Spartans back in late February the Buckeyes have simply looked like a newly-motivated basketball team.

However, Ohio State's chances in advancing to the Elite Eight might have more to do with Tennessee's focus than their opponents' performance.

Sweet 16: Assessing the Dayton Region - Tennessee Lady Vols and Ohio State Buckeyes - Rocky Top Talk
Tennessee's weakness is their focus. Against Marquette, they shot out to an 8-0 lead more due to their offense than their defense. With the sudden lead, they appeared to relax a bit on the floor and Marquette eventually closed to a tie at 30-30. After a 12-point lead in the second half, they again allowed Marquette to close to a one-point game before Tennessee finally ran out in front for good. Could a team "rope-a-dope" Tennessee into a false sense of security? The answer is unknown to that question, but the possibility is greater than any Lady Vols fan would like.

For all the somewhat misleading talk about Gonzaga-UCLA being a clash of styles in the Spokane sub-regional, this matchup might be a truer example of that - if Tennessee is focused on defense and creates transition opportunities for themselves to push the tempo, it's their game. But if Tennessee comes out flat, turns the ball over and allows Ohio State to make it a half-court game, Ohio State could ride their momentum to the Elite Eight where both Notre Dame and Oklahoma would have a more difficult time contending with center Jantel Lavender.

Potentially more competitive than expected: #2 Duke vs. #3 DePaul

Had #10 Marist not lost senior guard Erica Allenspach in their second round loss against Duke, the Blue Devils might have been watching the Sweet Sixteen from the comfort of their own homes.

Marist did it essentially as expected - 10 turnovers in the first half with Allenspach and then 10 in the second half without her made it difficult for Duke to get out in transition, which is where they thrive. When that has happened this season, they've struggled.

NCAA Women's Bracket 2011 Predictions: UConn Shall Proceed Through Philadelphia To Final Four - Swish Appeal
Marist hasn't been much of a turnover prone team this season, even in loss. Coincidentally, in Duke's losses and close wins (NC State, Xavier) they weren't able to rattle their opponents in turnovers and score transition points - although the final box scores of their narrow wins don't show it, they were down at half in both games when their opponents didn't turn the ball over that often, then won the second halves when their opponents did turn the ball over. Meanwhile, what we saw exposed at UConn was an undeniable truth about Duke that was on display previously against NC State - if they're not scoring in transition, they really struggle to score in half court sets.

As written previously, DePaul is also a very disciplined team capable of minimizing turnovers while also being a statistically similar team to Marist, except a bit more efficient as a scoring team. If Duke was only capable of beating Marist by 6 without their lead scorer, DePaul could give them fits.

Although that might feel like an upset to people who hold Duke in high regard, right now it's clear that they have some things working against them.

Potentially most entertaining game to watch: #1 Baylor vs. #2 Texas A&M

The time to complain about Texas A&M's seeding has passed - they're in the thick of the tournament and all that matters is what's right in front of them.

Texas A&M notebook: Georgia first, but Baylor looms | Men's College Basketball | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle
"Until we prove (otherwise), we're still just a trendy team," Blair said. "I want this to be the team that gets us to that next level. We need to find a way to get the Final Four. We've worked hard for this. … But right now we're not saying the word 'Baylor.'

"Georgia is on our mind."

But while fans might not have wanted a Baylor-TAMU matchup to come before the Final Four, you'd have to be crazy to believe it really makes a difference to a coach like Gary Blair who would more than likely embrace the opportunity to play Baylor a fourth time and end the 2010-11 hex sooner than later.

With #6 Georgia figuring to struggle with TAMU's pressure, one might figure the Aggies will get their shot at the Baylor again. And we should already know that they have what it takes to advance. One major advantage that could finally put them over the top against Baylor is their depth, as described on WSTR's Dishin' and Swishin' show (click the link below to hear Blair and star forward Danielle Adams discuss their team).

NCAA Women's Tournament 2011: Gary Blair & Danielle Adams Lead Texas A&M Toward an Elusive Goal - Swish Appeal
They like to run, and their defense sets the tempo for them. Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter are dynamic, ball-hawking guards, and they have wings in Tyra White and Adaora Elonu that love to get out on the break with them. The leading scorer though, is post Danielle Adams. A skilled and and talented player with great hands, a soft touch from inside and out and an eye for the passing lanes, Adams, the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game on the team, led the conference with 22.5 ppg to go with 8.5 rpg. It's the combination of Adams and White that teams have to control according to Blair.

You simply cannot count them out.

Potentially highest quality game: #1 Tennessee vs. #2 Notre Dame

I've already described why I want to see this one: whereas a UCLA-Tennessee matchup is still the most desirable, Notre Dame's defense can be the more controlled version of the Bruins' organized chaos. They have players who know their roles extremely well, they know each others' strengths well, and they force turnovers at a rate of about 1 in every 3 possessions. While everyone focuses on dynamic sophomore Skylar Diggins, junior guard Natalie Scorer is a far more efficient scorer while seniors Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters quietly anchor their defense.They played at a slightly higher pace than Tennessee this season and are built to run with multiple players on the floor comfortable with handling the ball.

Beating Notre Dame is not about individual matchups and taking players away - it's about playing a game as a cohesive unit. And again, if Tennessee were to come out unfocused, they could find themselves buried underneath the weight of their own turnovers.

But it's hard to ignore this game as one that will give Tennessee one of their strongest tests in a while as to how far their guard play has come. While the Lady Vols will have their own challenge against Ohio State, getting past #6 Oklahoma won't be easy for Notre Dame. However in addition to their versatility that influences the game on both ends of the floor for Notre Dame, it's hard to ignore that Oklahoma can be turnover prone that could spell disaster for them, especially if Notre Dame figures out how to force other players to make plays.

For full predictions and a look at the Spokane region, check out the Sweet Sixteen storystream at SBN Seatlle.

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