20-12 (14-7 SEC)
31-2 (16-0 SEC)
The first tipoff of the NCAA women's tournament happens here in Knoxville, with the #1-seeded Lady Vols hosting #16 Stetson. Stetson made the tournament by virtue of winning the Atlantic Sun conference, which they were very lucky to win thanks to a half-court buzzer beater in the semifinals against Belmont.. They posted a 14-7 conference record and a 3-5 nonconference record before capturing the A-Sun's automatic bid with a win in the final round versus Jacksonville. Their most notable win was a 70-52 homestand against the A-Sun regular season champion Florida Gulf Coast. Against major-conference competition, their lone game was against Florida State - a 92-44 road loss on December 30th.
Now let's look at the rosters and the matchup.
For a 16 seed, Stetson brings more height to the table than would be expected; along with three 6-foot and above players in the starting lineup, the Hatters have two 6'-0" players off the bench: sophomores G/F Simone Taylor and G Ashley Dennis. They're still seriously outclassed in the height and length department by the Lady Vols, who seem to platoon giants in at every media timeout, but it's better than what South Carolina brought to the table this year.
As is the case with most mid-major teams, Stetson's offense keys entirely off one player: point guard Victoria McGowan. The 5'-4" sophomore leads the team in scoring and assists, and is second on the team in rebounds per game (hey! block this gal out!). If Tennessee runs a man defense (other than their normal man-switch), she'll most likely be guarded by Meighan Simmons and could be a terrific workout for Tennessee's freshman and could be the most interesting matchup of the game.
Stetson runs a 10-player rotation with 7 players averaging 20 or more minutes per game. Only McGowan averaged 30 minutes a game this year (30.1, despite starting all games), so there is no real expectation that Stetson will leave somebody out on the court for 40 minutes against Tennessee.
How is a 20-win team a 16 seed?
Despite 20 wins, they wouldn't be in the tournament at all, thanks to their #191 RPI and #316 Strength of Schedule. They are the lowest-RPI team in the field, with second belonging to #150 RPI team Prairie View. Of those 20 wins, 14 wins came in a 21-game conference rotation, and they got the autobid in part by beating the conference's #8 team by a miracle in the semifinals. Take a look:
So that's how they got a #16 instead of something a little higher.
What we're looking for:
16 seeds just don't beat 1 seeds, so we aren't really entertaining the idea hear. What we want to see is Tennessee's focus. Do they end the game in the opening minutes, or do they play sloppy and let it be a contest for a while? Most importantly: do they take care of the ball? Tennessee's ball-handling and turnover issues are almost legendary for a 1 seed. It won't matter for this game, but if they plan on making the Final Four, they'll need better ball security than what they exhibited for most of their season.
The rotation itself is worth watching. I totally guessed on the starting lineups because there are about 8 Lady Vols who could reasonably start. The post players are the biggest focus, however. Are Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh rested and healthy? Has Brewer found her scoring touch? Volunteer minds want to know.
No score prediction or BassWatch™ for this game. Enjoy the show. Also, since I'll be at the game, we'll likely use this thread for the Texas / Marquette matchup as well, and postgame will come sometime after I get back.
GO LADY VOLS!