Tennessee leads stacked Dayton Regional

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Fresno regional is loaded with juicy story lines. The Dayton regional is just loaded.

Tennessee -- a No. 1 seed along with Duke, North Carolina and Connecticut -- headlines a NCAA women's tournament regional stuffed with defending champion Maryland and two conference winners.

The Terrapins are No. 2 in Dayton, while Big 12 champ Oklahoma is No. 3 and Big 10 power Ohio State is the fourth seed.

"This region is very, very stacked, but am I surprised? Absolutely not," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I'd have been surprised if it hadn't been. There's a lot of great teams obviously in our bracket, and yet there's no easy bracket in women's basketball these days."

Now, the four teams, all national title contenders, are competing for that one Final Four spot.

"You take a look at the bracket and what's handed you and you have to keep everything some sort of chronological order," said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale. "We could go, 'Oh my gosh! We've got to play Maryland, we've got to play Tennessee, we've got to play Ohio State.' No, you don't. Some of those guys have to play each other."

The 64-team tournament begins Saturday.

Although all four rank in the top 10 in the RPI standings, committee chair Judy Southard defended putting them in the same region.

"One of the things we have to remind everyone of is that the RPI is just one of the tools we use," she said. "The RPI is a quantitative measure that doesn't reflect the quality of a team."

Surely, being the defending champion does.

Maryland has a very simple, very difficult mission -- trying to become the first repeat champions since Connecticut won three straight from 2002-04.

The Terrapins will face Ivy League champion Harvard on Sunday afternoon in Hartford. Maryland, which returned all five starters from last season's team, was 0-5 against Duke and North Carolina this season.

"The only team that's going into the tournament knowing they can win it is Maryland, cause they've won it, and they've got a lot of the players back from the team that won it," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.

While competitive balance is the hot topic in Dayton, the Fresno region is bursting with subplots off the court.

LSU, the No. 3 seed, is without coach Pokey Chatman, who abruptly resigned last week.

A school official with direct knowledge said that Chatman was not allowed to be alone with her players after assistant Carla Berry reported alleged improper conduct to the university in February. The official requested anonymity because it was a personnel matter.

Chatman, who told her team last Thursday that she would not coach them in the NCAA tournament, has not been available for comment.

"The kids have done a wonderful job," said acting head coach Bob Starkey. "They are a very resilient bunch. They have been through difficult times with Sue Gunter's death and Hurricane Katrina."

The Tigers will play UNC Asheville on Friday night in Austin, Texas.

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