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March 15, 2004|Mike Terry

Synopsis: Texas was fortunate to get a top seeding after getting rolled in the Big 12 tournament final by Oklahoma. But the Longhorns have to figure this is a good sign. They came out of the West Regional to the Final Four last year in Atlanta. Not so lucky is Arizona, which will probably face Texas in the second round if it can get past Michigan State. Villanova, seeded seventh, is laying in wait for second-seeded Purdue if both teams win their first-round games. Even in the bruising Big Ten, it's doubtful the Boilermakers have played a team like the Wildcats, who have lulled many top teams to sleep with their deliberate style. Also, keep an eye on Texas Christian. The Horned Frogs probably think their No. 6 seeding is too low and will go into their game against Temple with a Conference USA-sized chip on their shoulder.

Best first-round game: Miami vs. Maryland. The Terrapins are suspected of riding Atlantic Coast coattails to get their bid. The Hurricanes spent some time in the top 25 but don't get much recognition outside the Big East.

Impact coach: Jody Conradt, Texas. Conradt and Tennessee's Pat Summitt are the only two women to win more than 800 games. Conradt has one national championship and probably won't reach Summitt's total -- six -- before she retires. But the Longhorns have an excellent chance this year.

Impact player: Shereka Wright, Purdue. Wright is not only playing for a ring, she's playing for her WNBA future. Some pro scouts think she may not be quick enough to play guard and may not be tall enough to be a small forward.

The pick: Texas.



Synopsis: Top-seeded Tennessee has a few friends in the bracket. Southeastern Conference foes Vanderbilt and Florida are here. Stanford may feel more like the fish out of water with a surprisingly low sixth seeding. The Cardinal should get past Missouri but has a compelling second-round matchup against red-hot Oklahoma. Loyola Marymount made the NCAA field of 64 for the first time and got shipped to Albuquerque with New Mexico, Florida and Baylor. Thanks for coming. DePaul hasn't won a game since Feb. 15 and won't find it easy to get well against George Washington. The team to watch is Vanderbilt, which peaked perfectly for the SEC tournament and is well positioned to get to the regional final. And the Commodores won't be nervous or awed if they find Tennessee waiting for them.

Best first-round game: Florida at New Mexico. This has upset special written all over it. The Gators, coached by Carolyn Peck, have never been to The Pit and will find out quickly why opposing teams hate to go there. Just ask Utah, which lost the Mountain West final there by 21 points.

Impact coach: Pat Summitt, Tennessee. No active coach, male or female, has won more NCAA basketball titles than Summitt (six), But Tennessee has not won a championship since 1998, which is making Summitt's famous 1,000-yard stare work overtime. The Lady Vols will have a difficult time making it to New Orleans without injured point guard Loree Moore.

Impact player: Nicole Powell, Stanford. Powell has to be tired of the criticism -- from inside and outside of Stanford -- that she can't carry a team to great heights. This is her last chance.

The pick: Vanderbilt.



Synopsis: Among the top-seeded teams, Duke has the easiest path to the Final Four. Teams that could give the Blue Devils problems, such as Texas Tech, Minnesota, Ohio State and Boston College, have a good chance of getting knocked out in earlier rounds. Louisiana Tech, which is on a 19-game winning streak, and Kansas State have the talent to challenge Duke. But the Lady Techsters' soft conference schedule rarely prepares them for the rigors of NCAA tournament play. The Wildcats are more tournament tough thanks to their weekly Big 12 battles, but they have a history of getting bounced from the tournament early. UCLA has a brutal draw, getting Minnesota in Minneapolis. Gopher standout Lindsey Whalen, who sat out several weeks because of a broken hand, may be cleared to play. The Bruins have to hope Whalen does not return in peak condition.

Best first-round game: Ohio State vs. West Virginia. Even though the Buckeyes are seeded sixth and the Mountaineers are seeded 11th, the teams are evenly matched. The difference could be Ohio State guard Caity Matter, who is among the nation's top three-point shooters. History is a Buckeye fan as well; the Mountaineers are 0-8 all-time against Ohio State.

Impact coach: Deb Patterson, Kansas State. This could be the year Kansas State, led by seniors Nicole Ohlde and Kendra Wecker, breaks through to the Final Four. Patterson may never have a more talented team.

Impact player: Alana Beard, Duke. Beard is the total package, offense and defense, and this being her last season she is hungry for a national championship.

The pick: Duke.



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