March 13, 2005

Michigan St., LSU Among Top Women's Seeds

Michigan State first muscled its way through the Big Ten Conference. Then the Spartans pushed aside some of the nation's biggest names to get the program's first No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

Southeastern Conference powers LSU and Tennessee also received No. 1 seeds, as did ACC champion North Carolina on Sunday. Despite jumping to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll in the last week of the season, Stanford was only a No. 2 seed in the Kansas City Regional opposite Michigan State.

Never before seeded higher than fourth, Michigan State was placed at the top of the bracket in Kansas City and will take a 12-game winning streak into a first-round game against Alcorn State at Minneapolis next Saturday.

The Spartans (28-3) can't wait.

"We're just kind of ready to play a game, to be honest," said Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, wearing a wide grin with her jubilant team behind her. "We've had a week off and these girls are getting grumpy."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer looked defiant when she saw the bracket. The Cardinal, who climbed to the top of the poll just last week, are the first No. 1-ranked team not to earn a top tournament seed since Texas in 1984.

"The numbers are irrelevant," VanDerveer said. "I believe in our team. I love coaching this team and I want to play six more games. There's no sense overanalyzing this thing."

LSU (29-2) received the top seed overall and was placed in the Chattanooga Regional. The other No. 1s in order were Tennessee (Philadelphia), Michigan State and North Carolina (Tempe).

The women's tournament scrapped the East, Mideast, Midwest and West designations for regionals this year and replaced them with the name of the city hosting the regional semifinals and finals.

Baylor was the top No. 2 seed and was put in the Tempe Regional opposite North Carolina. Stanford was ranked as just the sixth team overall despite winning the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament championships. The Cardinal (29-2) have won 20 straight since a 62-58 loss at Oregon on Dec. 29. Their only other loss was by three points at Tennessee.

Picking those final two No. 1 seeds from among North Carolina, Michigan State, Stanford and Baylor wasn't easy, said Lynn Parkes, who chairs the selection committee.

"There was just not much that really separated them, other than the fact that Stanford and Baylor both had losses out of the Top 50," said Parkes, associate athletic director at Memphis.

"We just felt like Michigan State and North Carolina, given the fact both won conference tournaments and the regular season and the success they had in the Top 25, that they were worth those (last) two seeds."

With its powerful front line of 6-4 Kelli Roehrig and 6-1 Liz Shimek, Michigan State built an impressive resume.

The Spartans shared the Big Ten regular-season title with Ohio State and won the conference tournament. They went 10-2 on the road, with victories at Notre Dame and Connecticut, and their schedule also helped — eight victories over teams now ranked in the Top 25.

Connecticut, which has won the last three national championships, was seeded third in the Kansas City Regional and Kansas State, runner-up in the Big 12 tournament, was the No. 4, making for a tough bracket.

There was little debate of the top two No. 1s.

LSU, which was No. 1 in the poll longer than anyone this season, won the SEC regular-season championship, then dropped a two-point game to Tennessee in the finals of the conference tournament. Tennessee (26-4) was the regular-season runner-up, losing only to LSU in league play.

Two teams from the same conference have been No. 1 seeds 10 times previously, most recently in 2003. Tennessee and LSU also were the two that year.

Interestingly, LSU and Tennessee both will start the tournament on the Lady Vols' court in Knoxville. There are eight teams at the first- and second-round sites, twice as many as before. Each site has four teams from one regional and four from another.

Among teams thought to be sitting on the "bubble" — Virginia Tech, Purdue, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Houston, Arizona, Oregon and Richmond all got in. Iowa, Villanova and Xavier did not.

Three teams with glossy records that won regular-season conference titles but lost in their league tournaments also weren't among the select 64 — Delaware (25-5), Gonzaga (27-3) and Chattanooga (24-4).

LSU and Tennessee both play on Sunday, LSU meeting Stetson and Tennessee taking on Western Carolina. That game will send Tennessee coach Pat Summitt against one of her former point guards, Western Carolina coach Kellie Harper, who helped the Lady Vols win three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98.

Tennessee's expected victory in that game would be No. 879 for Summitt, tying her with Dean Smith for the most wins in NCAA history.

North Carolina is hosting the first two rounds in Chapel Hill and will play Coppin State on Sunday. The Tar Heels shared the ACC regular-season title with Duke and won the conference tournament.

For just the third time, a team with a losing overall record got in. Illinois State (13-17) earned an automatic bid by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The 15th-seeded Redbirds play Baylor in Seattle on Saturday.

The ACC led all leagues with seven selections — North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Big 12 had six, while the Pac-10, in a bit of surprise, matched the SEC and Big Ten with five teams. The Big East had only four after getting eight last year.

It all leads to the Final Four, which is April 3 and 5 in Indianapolis.

Illini Overall No. 1 Seed in NCAA Tourney

INDIANAPOLIS - Top-ranked Illinois heads into the NCAA tournament with one loss and the overall No. 1 seed, while Washington was this year's surprise at the top of the bracket. Joining the Big Ten champion Illini as No. 1s on Sunday were North Carolina and Duke from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Huskies of the Pac-10.

Illinois (32-1) was assigned to the Chicago regional. North Carolina (27-4) will be at Syracuse, Duke (25-5) will be in Austin and Washington (27-5) in Albuquerque.

The Huskies, the surprise of the No. 1s considering they were ranked 14th in the latest Associated Press poll, took advantage of Kentucky's loss Sunday in the Southeastern Conference championship game to move onto the top line. Tournament officials said the Wildcats would've been a No. 1 seed had they won that game.

It's the sixth time in eight years two teams from the same conference were seeded No. 1. The last time was 2003, when Oklahoma and Texas of the Big 12 were No. 1 seeds.

The Illini won't get any frequent flyer miles in this tournament as they will play the first and second rounds in Indianapolis with the regional in Chicago and the Final Four is April 2 and 4 in St. Louis.

Illinois, which opens play Thursday against Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson, was followed in the Chicago regional by second-seeded Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12 tournament; No. 3 Arizona, the regular season Pac-10 champion, and fourth-seeded Boston College, co-champions of the Big East.

Two teams went into last year's tournament with just one loss. Saint Joseph's lost in the regional finals to Oklahoma State, while Stanford lost to Alabama in the second round.

Washington opens play Thursday in Boise against Montana, the Big Sky champions.

The No. 2 seed in the Albuquerque regional was Wake Forest, which was considered a sure No. 1 seed candidate; but the Demon Deacons lost in the ACC tournament quarterfinals to North Carolina State. Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion, was seeded third and Louisville, which swept the Conference USA titles, was No. 4.

North Carolina, which lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament semifinals, has defending national champion Connecticut as its No. 2 seed with Kansas at No. 3. Florida, which beat Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference title game, is at No. 4.

The Tar Heels will face the winner of Tuesday's play-in game in Charlotte on Friday. Oakland (12-18), which won the Mid-Continent Conference tournament, will play Alabama A&M, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion, on Tuesday night in Dayton. Oakland is the only team in the field with a losing record.

Duke, which won the ACC tournament Sunday for the sixth time in seven years, has Kentucky as its No. 2 seed with Oklahoma the third seed and Syracuse, the Big East tournament champions, the fourth seed. Duke will open Friday in Charlotte against Delaware State.

The Big East and Big 12 each has six teams in the field, one short of the record seven, while the Big Ten, the SEC and the ACC each has five. The other multiple bids leagues were Conference USA and the Pac-10 with four each, the Missouri Valley with three and the Big West, Mountain West, West Coast and Western Athletic Conference with two each.

The last of the at-large teams were all No. 11 seeds: Alabama-Birmingham (21-10), Northern Iowa (21-10) and UCLA (18-10).

Among the bubble teams that were not invited were: DePaul (19-10), Maryland (16-12), Saint Joseph's (19-11) and Notre Dame (17-11).

The pod system, which tried to keep schools as close to home as possible for the first and second rounds, will have North Carolina and Duke both in Charlotte, while Illinois and Kentucky both head to Indianapolis. Oklahoma State was sent to Oklahoma City, while Connecticut and Syracuse are in Worcester, Mass.

Arizona extended the longest consecutive NCAA streak with its 21st straight appearance while Kansas has the second-longest run at 16 straight years.

Niagara, the 14th seed in the Austin regional, had the longest run between appearances. The Purple Eagles were last in the tournament in 1970 when Calvin Murphy was their star.

Delaware State, Oakland, Southeastern Louisiana and Alabama A&M are all making their first NCAA tournament appearances.

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