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Sacramento Bracket Preview: Could Texas A&M Pressure Stop Stanford?

The notion that Stanford University will make it to the Final Four seems almost as destined as the University of Connecticut winning it all.

To the ears of many, any other outcome would almost sound insane.

Except, of course, to the Texas A&M University players.

"I think [President Barack Obama] had us losing to Stanford in the Elite Eight," said Sydney Colson. "So hopefully Barack has it correct up to there but I think we might upset him a little bit getting to that point. So that would be good."

The idea of Texas A&M upsetting Stanford - and President Obama - is not necessarily that far-fetched. There's a reason why both Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays identified Texas A&M as the top #2 seed in the field and Charlie Creme suggested that a Texas A&M-Stanford Elite Eight matchup would be "one of the most anticipated games of the entire tournament".

Women's NCAA tournament: Experts' Final Four picks - ESPN
Stanford: The Cardinal have the scariest No. 2 seed; Texas A&M has so much good guard play that this really is not a good matchup for the Cardinal. However, Stanford will be near home and should prevail on the interior.

The fact is that anybody who has really paid attention to Stanford knows that they don't respond well to aggressive pressure on their guards. It just so happens that Texas A&M's success is predicated on aggressive pressure on opponents' guards.

"When you inherit a bad program like I did with Texas A&M a number of years ago the first thing you start with is your defense," said TAMU coach Gary Blair. "We had to develop that defensive mentality first. We have to play pressure defense no matter if we are playing half-court man, in a full-court press, or even in a zone. We want to attack...That's what our system is all about - it's about pressure. Our entire system is about pressure."

No team - aside from UConn -- is going to stop Stanford's three headed monster of Jayne Appel, Nneka Ogwumike, and Kayla Pedersen. So with Stanford guards JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy sitting out practices for much of the season due to injuries, the most obvious point of attack is their guard play. Although people like to say that Stanford has not been tested, guard pressure is part of what helped UCLA come within 4 points of them in January and absolutely what helped UConn pull away from them in December.

Of course, the first step is getting there and there's no guarantees of that in these type of tournaments.

"When tournament play comes - I don't know if you're watched a lot of the men's - but the seeding doesn't really matter at this point," said North Carolina guard Italee Lucas.

With that, who might be the sleepers in the Sacramento region?

Sleepers: DePaul

Although #11 DePaul is seeded lower than #6 Vanderbilt, they are within two spots of each other in the RPI rankings. The two teams set up an interesting statistical battle: while Vanderbilt's biggest strength is their shooting with an effective field goal percentage of 50.59%, their biggest weakness is arguably DePaul's biggest strength - offensive rebounding. Offensive rebounding does not of course mean DePaul will win, especially if Vanderbilt continues to shoot well, but it does lead to second chance points and in a tournament situation that could decide a game.

Darkhorse: ...?

#12 Tulane has as good a chance as any double-digit seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. After beating Tennessee in January, #5 Georgia followed a streak in which they lost 5 of 6 and finished the season by going 5-7. Although Georgia doesn't have any glaring statistical weaknesses, Tulane shoots the ball well and has a stronger turnover percentage differential that could frustrate a sputtering Georgia team.

If for any reason Oklahoma State loses as a result of Andrea Riley's one game suspension - one reason that could happen is that Riley has a uses almost 40% of the plays when she's on the court and the next closest (Tegan Cunningham) is at just over 20%, meaning someone else will have to create shots - Tulane could very well handle a Chattanooga team that didn't perform quite as well against a weaker strength of schedule.

It's seems more likely that Tulane pulls off a first round upset against Georgia and then falls to Oklahoma State in the second round. However, it will be interesting to see how well Oklahoma State plays without Riley.

The Winner: Stanford

As the ESPN experts said, Texas A&M and their pressure defense should give Stanford a challenge and it's not inconceivable that Stanford falls in such a matchup. However even Blair admits that this year's team is not quite as strong defensively as past years. Instead, they make up for it with one of the most well-rounded offensive teams he's ever coached.

"I've never had it as a coach, even back when I was an assistant at La Tech and we had Kim Mulkey and Jennifer White running the show," said Blair of his trio of players that have over 100 assists. "To have three kids over 100 assists during the season on one team -- and we share the basketball and I've got a lot of options - I can put a lot of people at the point guard position. When you're not a true motion coach - and I'm not a true motion coach because I've never had a lot of post players who were great passers and everything until Danielle Adams comes around - I run a lot of sets, I run a lot of quick hitters, and I do run a couple of motion offenses that has continuity into it."

So against a methodical team like Stanford, the combination of ball movement and ball pressure seems to bode well for Texas A&M. But ultimately, Stanford is so disciplined in their offense, so well coached, and so strong inside that it's hard to imagine them losing to anyone short of UConn.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see them against Texas A&M.

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