TV / Internet: ESPN / ESPN3
After beating Kentucky in the SEC tournament, the Lady Vols have probably secured a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament - something that had seemed out of reach when they had lost to Kentucky during the regular season and were ranked around #12 in the nation. Two of the 1 seeds are spoken for: undefeated records by UConn and Notre Dame have assured as much. (Most obvious fact in the entire bracket: Notre Dame will be the 1 seed in the Notre Dame region.) The remaining two are available for Tennessee, Stanford, or Louisville, leaving one of the three as a 2 seed.
The arguments for each of the three teams follow, in abridged fashion.
- Stanford has the #4 RPI, the #3 Strength of Schedule, has only had 9 games outside the RPI top 100 (including conference play), beat Tennessee, has the fewest losses of the three teams, is 11-2 against RPI top 50, and has one of the most dominant players in the game this year. Stanford's problems are a late-season fade, including an early conference tournament loss to Southern California, and an utter reliance on one player.
- Louisville has the #8 RPI (which is a bit low for a #1 seed in most years), a #56 Strength of Schedule (again low), 4-4 against RPI top 50, although three of those losses were to UConn, and the remaining loss was a road game against Kentucky. The blemishes for Louisville are obvious as above: half of their schedule was against teams with 100+ RPI, and the three UConn games were not by choice. With the weak schedule, their best win was at home over LSU (who Tennessee also beat), and a large gap to reach to the wins over Florida State and Rutgers (who might not even make the tournament). Louisville was 0-4 against ranked teams this year (UConnx3, Kentucky). Even if you discount the three UConn games, they're 0-2 against unique top 25 opponents.
- Tennessee has the #5 RPI, #4 Strength of Schedule, only 7 games outside the RPI top 100, a 13-5 record in the RPI top 50, a 6-4 record in the RPI top 15, ten of 16 nonconference games in the RPI top 50 (with the only two losses to Notre Dame and Stanford), and a hot streak over the last ten games. The biggest detraction is the 5 losses, including the Mattingly Special against Vanderbilt (which, to be fair, the Lady Vols didn't handle well) and the loss against Stanford.
Despite the 30-win season, Louisville's resume is likely the weakest in the selection committee's eyes. It wasn't a terrible nonconference schedule (I give you exhibit A), but it was far softer than that of Tennessee or Stanford. That LSU pelt is the only high-end win on their season, and LSU's up-and-down season calls its value into question. (LSU's RPI is seriously buoyed by their strength of schedule). It's one thing to point to the three losses to UConn and note that they've only had 1 loss outside of that (and the loss to Kentucky wasn't as bad as the worst losses suffered by either UT or Stanford), but there's just nowhere to look for wins to justify a 1 seed for Louisville.
That's why Charlie Creme (ESPN Bracketologist) pegs Louisville as the odd team out. If Louisville does grab a 1 seed, it'd likely be because (a) they host a regional, which is a factor the committee has never dealt with before, and (b) whoever was lobbying on Louisville's behalf is the last guy in the world you want to be buying a used car from.
Creme also said this, so you kind have to like the guy:
.@LastHonestSport Wondering why you have Tennessee as a No. 1 over Baylor…Better in nearly every measurable utilized.— Charlie Creme (@CharlieCreme) March 10, 2014
His twitter feed is worth reading if you want to better understand the women's bracket selection and seeding.
The 1 seed is valuable for a couple of reasons. First, Tennessee hasn't had one since 2011, which is officially a drought and yes of course we're a spoiled fanbase why do you even ask? Second, a 1 seed wouldn't have to worry about Notre Dame or UConn until the Final Four, which is something that none of the current players have experienced. It would also put those potential games in Nashville, which would be far friendlier to Tennessee than the regional rounds.
If Tennessee does get the 1 as expected, Creme is anticipating that they go to Louisville. This is a sensible move, from a neutral point of view, but the other option is to send UConn to Louisville and put Tennessee in Lincoln. This is also sensible in the sense that it reduces UConn's travel and extends Tennessee's (which is a privilege the committee does give to higher seeds), and it's not like UConn fears Louisville at this point. The other upside to sending Tennessee to Lincoln is that the likely 2 seed in that region is Baylor. At this point, I'd take a Baylor / Tennessee Elite Eight game. (Pendley would probably need to be sedated.)
Other Seeding Notes
Again, I recommend Creme's prose on the seeding as he explains the funky restrictions on seeding for site hosts, conference opponents, S-curves, and procedural bumps. He won't get the field exact because the committee will inevitably value some teams differently than he does, but given a field of teams, he places their seeding optimally, and that's the real reason to read his work. For an example, he places Notre Dame in the Baton Rouge site for the opening round, and then explains why it has to work that way (shorter version: LSU as an 8 or 9 forces the committee to place ND or Stanford there, and procedural bumps to move LSU off the 8/9 cause too many other problems).
But moving on from him, here are a few notes on SEC teams:
- Likely SEC seeds, part 1: South Carolina (2), Kentucky (3), Texas A&M (3/4). These round out the top seeds for the SEC, with Carolina and Kentucky almost completely hardwired into their seeds. A&M is harder to predict exactly since they're a bit further down the cascade, but they're right on that 3 or 4 line. BONUS: it's possible to have Tennessee (1), Baylor (2), and Texas A&M (3, but not 4) in Lincoln. Just let that dance in your head: a regional round where Mulkey faces off against Blair and Warlick within three days.
- Tournament locks: LSU (8/9), Georgia (8/9). LSU will likely be above Georgia in the committee's scale, so they're probably an 8 while Georgia could be a 9.
- Bubble. Vanderbilt (10-12), Florida (11/12). Vanderbilt will most likely make the field, but they went from about a 4 seed to the bubble with their end-of-season play. The win over Tennessee will likely flop Vandy back into the tournament despite late season anemia. Florida is a bit closer to the cliff, but there aren't really many other teams who have the argument to lock the Gators out. Rutgers would normally be the problem team, but they have some bad losses and only a win over Georgia to show for themselves.
The bubble is rather tight this year. If you look at Creme's discussion on the teams to make the field, you can go through the eye test yourself and try to place 4 out of the final 8 or so. It'll come down largely to which metrics you favor, which means the SEC could place 6 teams in the field just as easily as 8. I tend to think that conference strength will get Florida and Vanderbilt in, but again, that comes down to preferred metrics.
So, yeah. 7 PM Eastern is when the show will start. If there is any sense of pettiness and chaos in the committee, that Tennessee/Baylor connection in Lincoln has to happen.