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Women's NCAA Bracket 2011: Who are this year's "Bracket Busters"?

Every year, fans of the post-season look for a Cinderella.  In the women's tournament, however, Cinderella is a character out of a storybook.  Unless you're a #1 or a #2 seed, it's very difficult to get to the Final Four no matter how many glass slippers you own.  But every now and then, an impoverished princess gets to dance at the Sweet Sixteen.

But who are the contenders for the Belles of the Ball?  The idea is to determine the most likely Bracket Busters - the teams that win tournament games against the odds and catch everyone by surprise.  Borrowing an idea from another blog whose name is lost to history, we use three criteria in determining the upset-minded.

1)  They must be in the bottom range of seeds - #9 through #16.  Sorry, Wisconsin-Green Bay, but you don't qualify as a Bracket Buster.
2)  They must have won at least 10 straight games coming into the tournament.  These are teams that haven't lost a game in a month or more.  They might have forgotten how to lose, or at least are fueled by a surge of adrenaline that might be hard for a pedestrian major team to stop.
3)  They have to be unbalanced teams.  (No, not mentally unbalanced.)  Rather, the load for such teams must be distributed unevenly.  These are teams that are dominated by one or maybe two great players.  When the one good player has a hot hand in the opening round, that team might be nearly unstoppable

If you're stuck deciding which games to watch on Saturday and Sunday, you might want to give the games below a try - you might be pleasantly surprised if you like upset wins.

Bracket Buster:  Bowling Green (#12 seed)
Potential Victim:  Georgia Tech (#5 seed)
They Meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 11:20 am ET in Columbus, Ohio

Why do the basketball gods seem to hate Georgia Tech?  Last year, they faced Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round and were sent home early.  This year, they get to face 28-4 Mid-American Conference Champion Bowling Green.  I love Georgia Tech, but if MaChelle Joseph's team is napping in the first round it's going to be the world's longest trip to Atlanta, Georgia.

The Falcolns are led by senior guard/forward Lauren Prochaska, a player who scores 17.9 points per game and according to Falcon forward Jen Uhl Prochaska is given the nickname "Moses" by her teammates due to her proven ability to lead Bowling Green to the promised land - she's the career-scoring leader at Bowling Green.  Prochaska is from Plain City, Ohio, so this is not only a chance to lead the Falcolns into the second round, but a homecoming where there'll definitely be fans rooting her on in Columbus.  Jim Foster at Ohio State somehow overlooked her, but he'll get to see plenty of her - she's the opening act for the Central Florida-Ohio State game.   And speaking of that game....

Bracket Buster:  Central Florida (#13 seed)
Potential Victim:  Ohio State (#4 seed)
They Meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 1:30 pm ET in Columbus, Ohio

With Ohio State rolling through the Big Ten tournament and with the Buckeyes playing on their home court, it would be easy to overlook Central Florida. (It would also be easy to overlook that in the last four years, three of those years have ended with Ohio State getting knocked off by a lower seed.)

I already named Joi Williams as an outside prospect for Coach of the Year, and two years ago the Knights came within six points of knocking off #3 seed North Carolina in the first round.  Central Florida is not carried by one great player, but by two - senior guard/forward D'Nay Daniels and junior guard Aisha Patrick who together make up 48.90 percent of the team's box score value and can rack up a pair of double-doubles on an unwary victim.  However, the Knights have only taken on one Top 25 opponent, losing 69-51 on the road to Florida State.

Bracket Buster:  Fresno State (#12 seed)
Potential Victim:  North Carolina (#5 seed)
They meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 4:15 pm ET in Alberquerque, New Mexico

In the WAC Conference Final, two potential bracket busters met in the form of Fresno State and Louisiana Tech.  After a 90-84 overtime loss to the Lady Techsters on February 5th, they never lost again, getting revenge in Las Vegas with a 78-76 triumph.  Fresno State might be the bigger story as the #12 seed is the highest that Fresno State has ever earned.

The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Jaleesa Ross, who is scoring 16.4 points per game and 21.86 percent of Fresno State's box score value.  Ross is Fresno State's all-time leading scorer and she takes her game against North Carolina, a schizophrenic team that can either look pedestrian or outstanding depending on the mood of the moment.  Either North Carolina's four-day march to the ACC Tournament Finals will take them to new heights, or they'll fall back down to earth in New Mexico, and Fresno State is the kind of team that can nip at North Carolina's Tar Heels. (They have to, with only one real starter taller than 6-0.)

Bracket Buster:  Gonzaga (#11 seed)
Potential Victim:  Iowa (#6 seed)
They Meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 4:10 pm ET in Spokane, Washington

Monday, March 14, 2011 might be a day that the friends of the Hawkeye State might want to forget.  (Except for one team - see below.)  While Iowa State grapples with Marist, Iowa not only gets Gonzaga and senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot, but they have to travel to the West Coast to play Gonzaga in Spokane.  (Man, you lose your opening game in the Big Ten tournament to Ohio State and the selection committee sends you a message.)

For those who haven't heard of Courtney Vandersloot, let me explain - if you were to write an inspirational sports story about a player who had 327 assists and only 98 turnovers, you would be told to burn your first draft.  Those numbers don't exist in real life, but they exist for the greatest player in Gonzaga history.  Only three other players in NCAA history have 1,000 assists and the last such player was Suzie McConnell-Serio who graduated from Penn State in 1998.  Don't worry if you miss the Gonzaga-Iowa matchup, you might get a chance to see Gonzaga in the second round - and Vandersloot when the WNBA season starts.

Bracket Buster:  Hampton (#13 seed)
Potential Victim:  Kentucky (#4 seed)
They Meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 6:30 pm ET in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Hampton Pirates out of the MEAC are unlikely bracket busters, but they are two-time conference champions.  They actually managed to beat James Madison - a #11 seed - to open the season and have 25 wins this year against just six losses.  They lost big in the opening round last year to Duke, 72-37, so they'll be trying that much harder to make a decent showing this time.

The Pirates are led by 5-foor-4 junior guard Jericka Jenkins, who has 198 assists for Hampton against 67 turnovers and who makes up 24.42 percent of her team's box score value.  Jenkins made 101 out of 360 of her points so far this year at the free throw line where she's shooting 83.5 percent.  Even with the handful of hustle that is #23 for the Pirates, she'll have to play above her level in more ways than one against Victoria Dunlap and Kentucky.

Bracket Buster:  Marist (#10 seed)
Potential Victim:  Iowa State  (#7 seed)
They Meet:  Saturday, March 19th, 11:15 am ET in Durham, North Carolina

The Red Foxes come into the tournament on a 26-game win streak and are led by senior guard Erica Allenspach, who is shooting 51 percent from two-point land and 43 percent from behind the 3-point line.  She has the best A/TO ratio on her team (well, maybe Kristine Best's is better) and is Marist's second leading rebounder as well as its steals leader.  Allenspach's box score percentage is 24.20 percent, and she's broken the 30 point barrier twice this year, most recently in the MAAC tournament against Siena.  She was the MAAC Tournament MVP and its Player of the Year.

It's been a month since anyone came within ten points of Marist (54-52 win at Fairfield) and before that you have to go all the way to December, during the Duel in the Desert where they beat Louisville, Nebraska and Houston in succession.  Could Marist get to the second round?  They did it in 2007, knocking off #4 seed Ohio State 67-63 in the opener.  Marist is the opponent you really don't want to face.

Bracket Buster:  Northern Iowa (#13 seed)
Potential Victim:  Michigan State (#4 seed)
They Meet:  Sunday, March 20th, 7:50 pm ET in Wichita, Kansas

If Northern Iowa wins its first round game, and Iowa and Iowa State lose their first round games - will you be surprised?  Maybe not.  The Panthers won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament by 28 points and are coming off their 19th straight win of the year.  Like another #13 seed - Hampton, above - Northern Iowa doesn't have much in the way of big wins (unless you count South Dakota State) and lost to both the Hawkeyes and the Cyclones. 

They do have two great players in the form of junior guard Jacqui Kalin - named the MVC Player of the Year - and senior center Lizzie Boeck, either of whom could break free for a big game that could carry the Panthers past the first round.  Unfortunately, Michigan State has only lost five times this year, and those losses were to Baylor, Iowa, and Ohio State (x 3).  The Panthers should at least keep it interesting.