Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

NCAA Women: Some top seeds will travel this year

March 16, 2003

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Ah, tournament time. Three weeks filled with excitement and tension-filled games, a time when a 16th-seeded team can dream.

And for some of the nation's top women's teams, the NCAA Tournament will bring a new wrinkle this year.

Traveling.

No longer are the highest-seeded teams assured of playing at home in the first two rounds. The 16 arenas for those games were chosen last summer -- "predetermined sites," the NCAA calls them -- and many of the tournament's top contenders aren't part of that mix.

Two likely No. 1-seeded teams, Duke and LSU, will travel for the opening round. So will Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Rutgers and Villanova.

But top-ranked Connecticut will start the tournament at home, which the Huskies should find particularly comforting after their 70-game winning streak was broken by Villanova in the Big East tournament final.

Tennessee also will be at home, along with Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Stanford, Purdue and Texas Tech.

"Wherever they'll send us, we'll go," said LSU coach Sue Gunter, whose team won the Southeastern Conference tournament.

"That's the way we've approached it with the kids. We don't want them worrying about who we're playing or where we're going. Just get ready to go and be ready to play."

That's not to say Gunter likes this new arrangement. If Duke and LSU are top-seeded teams, it would be the first time since the NCAA started the women's tournament in 1982 that a No. 1 played its first game on the road.

"I think as coaches we're all singing the same song. I don't think any of us like predetermined sites, period," Gunter said. "We must start thinking about all of women's basketball. We've got to level the playing field and to level the playing field, you've got to go to neutral sites.

"This way doesn't seem quite right. I said that two years ago when they first started talking about it and I'll say it now."

Previously, the sites for first- and second-round games weren't known until Selection Sunday. The NCAA feels picking those sites in advance gave organizers several months instead of a few days to sell tickets.

It's also easier for ESPN, which for the first time will show all 63 games in the tournament. The network has known well in advance where it will have to send its announcing teams.

"No doubt television has played a part in this," said Cheryl Marra, who chairs the Division One Women's Basketball Committee. "I'd be remiss if I did not acknowledge this. But I believe this was in the works before ESPN had done the contract that we could televise all 63 games."

Her point: It wasn't done just for television.

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