By JOHN ALTAVILLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
1:37 PM EDT, March 15, 2014
STORRS — When it comes to UConn, the questions surrounding the NCAA Tournament never deal with "what if" as much as "where from."
Such is the case again this season. The No.1 Huskies (34-0), defending national champion, champion of the first American Athletic Conference tournament and winners of 40 straight, will receive their regional assignment Monday from the NCAA Selection Committee.
As one of the nation's four No. 1 seeds, and the likely top overall seed in the field of 64, UConn will be sent to either the Louisville, Ky., or Lincoln, Neb., region.
Geno Auriemma and Louisville coach Jeff Walz have been consistently outspoken in opposing sending the Huskies to Kentucky. Why? If sent there, UConn would block the Cardinals from a possible No. 1 seed — a realistic expectation for the 30-4 team — and might be forced to play Louisville a fourth time in the Elite Eight.
The Huskies already have handed the Cardinals three of their four defeats, the last a 20-point beating in last Monday's AAC title game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Charlie Creme, ESPN's bracketologist for the women's tournament, had placed UConn in Louisville until last week. Now he has them going to Lincoln.
"The reason I changed my mind goes back to 2008, when UConn and Rutgers were placed together," Creme said. "There was strong initial outrage about it. The coaches were upset. The media was upset. It didn't seem to make a lot of sense. There was a lot of criticism. And in 2009, for whatever reason, the committee went away from the concept of grouping conference teams. Baylor and Oklahoma should have been together that year, based on geography, and it wasn't done.
"There is a precedent set for reacting to outcry. I think the outcry this time is coming pre-emptively from high profile teams with a combined four losses.
"In one way, the decision will be contradictory and inconsistent to what they have done in the last couple of years. But if they put UConn and Louisville together, I don't think it's the best common sense bracket."
The AAC Influence
There is no chance the committee will consider any other AAC teams but Louisville, South Florida (19-12) and Rutgers (22-9) as at-large entries.
Both Auriemma and Walz strongly endorsed the Bulls last week. Their point is understandable. South Florida was 13-5 in the conference this season, losing only to UConn and Louisville (twice each) and Rutgers. They also pushed the Cardinals hard in the conference tournament semifinals last week before losing, 60-56.
South Florida has lost to no other team but UConn and Louisville since Jan. 1.
Who Could Beat UConn?
That is a very good question; largely speculative, as always.
UConn came into the AAC tournament 9-0 against ranked opponents, winning those games by an average of 22.8 points. They added to it with convincing wins over Rutgers and Louisville in the semifinals and finals.
Creme's bracket has Baylor as the No. 2 seed. The Huskies beat them by 11 in Waco, Texas, on Jan. 13, their closest game of the season. UConn already has beaten other No. 2's Duke and Louisville, but has not played South Carolina, which Creme has going to South Bend as the No. 2 to Notre Dame, since 2008.
Among the projected No. 1 seeds, UConn also has defeated Stanford. That leaves Tennessee and Notre Dame, the only other unbeaten team in the nation.
The way things look, according to Creme, the Huskies would need to play either Notre Dame or Tennessee in the finals, if all make it to the Final Four. Stanford is the projected national semifinal opponent.
Could Notre Dame beat UConn? Why not? With the exception primarily of Skylar Diggins, the Irish have essentially the same personnel that played a hand in beating the Huskies in seven of the past nine meetings, dating to the Irish's win in national semifinals in 2011.
Could Tennessee beat UConn in Nashville in their first meeting since Pat Summitt pulled the plug on the series in 2007? Unlikely, but very intriguing to consider.
Remember The Big East?
To those who believed there weren't great basketball programs at the top of the old Big East, here is the proof: The AAC coach of the year was Auriemma. The ACC coach of the year is Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw. The Big 12 coach of the year is West Virginia's Mike Carey. The Big East coach of the year is DePaul's Doug Bruno, whose program won the tournament title with a win over St. John's.
Breanna Stewart, the AAC player of the year and outstanding player in the conference tournament, is on a major roll and certainly the one who most distinguishes UConn from the rest of the teams.
Despite playing in only five NCAA games last season (she missed the opening-round romp over Idaho with an injury) she set a UConn program record with 105 points on her way to being the Final four most outstanding player.
She comes enters this tournament with five straight games scoring 20 or more points.
The Last Word
"Things don't last forever. The object I think is to put yourself in a position where you can win, and at some point you will. … We're not the only team that's standing in any team's way."
— Geno Auriemma
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