By Brandon Eastman Posted March 15, 2012
Des Moines Region:
This is the region of major headlines. Will anyone be able to stop Baylor and Brittney Griner? How will Elena Delle Donne fare in her first tournament appearance? Will the Tennessee Lady Vols be able to give Pat Summitt her ninth National Championship?
Baylor should cruise to the Elite Eight. Nobody on their side of the bracket matches up with their athleticism and size until that round. On the other side of the region, expect a match-up featuring Delle Donne and the Lady Vols for a chance to play Baylor. Delle Donne could very well go off for 40 points in that Sweet Sixteen game, but Tennessee has the talent, balance, and experience to offset her scoring. Plus, having Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson doesn’t hurt the Lady Vols either.
This would leave Tennessee and Baylor to battle for a spot in the Final Four. Vicki Baugh and Johnson have the ability to contain Griner, but the X-factor in this game will be the guard play. The Vols experienced backcourt in Stricklen, Alicia Manning, Taber Spani, and freshman Ariel Massengale are ready to break through to their first Final Four in a Tennessee uniform.
Final Four pick: No. 2 Tennessee Lady Volunteers
In what is probably the weakest region in the tournament, Stanford and Duke will quietly roll through the bracket into a clash in the Elite Eight with a Final Four berth on the line. The Stanford Cardinal has been to four straight Final Fours, while the Duke Blue Devils are looking to return for the first time since 2006. Duke is led by fab-freshman Elizabeth Williams in the post and sophomore Chelsea Gray running the point, but they are not a very deep team and struggle offensively at times. Stanford is led by All-American sisters Nnemkadi (Nneka) and Chiney Ogwumike and Joslyn Tinkle in the post, plus the duo of point guards Toni Kokenis and Amber Orrange are knocking down perimeter shots consistently now. This game will come down to who can score from the perimeter on a consistent basis for 40 minutes. I think the Cardinal are on a mission to go all the way this time.
Final Four pick: No. 1 Stanford Cardinal
With defending National Champs Texas A&M in this region as the three-seed, you would think this region would be a very tough road. However, that’s not the case. Nobody, not even A&M, will get in the way of either Notre Dame or Maryland on their path to the Elite Eight. The Fighting Irish are led by the talented perimeter four-some in Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel, Brittany Mallory, and Kayla McBride with All-American candidate Devereaux Peters in the middle. It just so happens that the Terrapins have just as much talent stepping on the court with Alyssa Thomas, Lynetta Kizer, and Tiana Hawkins in the post, and Lauren Mincy and Anjale Barrett taking care of the ball and knocking down shots. The talent in this game will cancel each other out and whichever team is willing to play defense will be booking a flight to Denver for the Final Four. Notre Dame, who played in the Final Four last year, is the more experienced team and knows what it will take to get back.
Final Four pick: No. 1 Notre Dame
Perennial power UConn is in charge of this region, which is probably the most difficult region. Other contenders in Kingston include Kentucky, Miami, and Penn State. All four of these teams should advance to the regional round where the fans in Kingston would be treated to something special. I’m going with a couple of upsets, however. I expect the Penn State Nittany Lions, led by Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley, to rally past the inexperienced and inconsistent UConn Huskies, who struggle on both ends of the floor at times. In the other game, the Miami Hurricanes and their talented perimeter duo of Shenise Johnson and Riquana Williams will wreak havoc on the Wildcats and lead the Hurricanes to the Elite Eight. In the regional final the backcourts for each team (Lucas and Bentley for the Lions/Johnson and Williams for the Hurricanes) will cancel each other out. Penn State holds the advantage in the post and will be able to frustrate an inconsistent and one-dimensional Hurricanes squad.
Final Four pick: No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions
Final Four in Denver:
Stanford def. Tennessee
Notre Dame def. Penn State
Notre Dame def. Stanford