March 18, 2005 - Welcome to March, everybody… A time full of excitement. The Women's NCAA Tournament is finally here, and that will soon be followed by the WNBA Draft in a month and then the start of the 2005 WNBA season will be just around the corner. We have much to look forward to with lots of old faces in new places and lots of great kids coming out of college.

As a league, the WNBA has changed and grown so much over the past nine years. The veteran players understand how to play and for a rookie to step in is very difficult. The salary cap situation enabled a lot of rookies to make teams, but things could be different again this year.

Players to Watch

The NCAA Tournament is a wonderful opportunity for a lot of these college players to make a name for themselves and prove their value on a national stage. It also gives some more unknown players a chance to play in front of a lot of people. UC Santa Barbara has a top prospect, Kristen Mann, who could be a first or second round pick. Baylor will get to showcase Steffanie Blackmon. But I don't think the number one pick is a lock for anyone at this point. Does Charlotte keep their number one pick? Whoever has the first pick, it will change things up. Is it Minnesota's Janel McCarville? Is it T.C.U.'s Sandora Irvin? Is it Mississippi State's Tan White? Is it Penn State's Tanisha Wright? Is it Notre Dame's Jacqueline Batteast?

I still don't see a clear-cut Player of the Year either. Batteast is having a good year, as is Irvin. McCarville wasn't event the Big Ten Player of the Year. A sophomore won that honor. So there are a lot of kids whose names are out there with something to prove. And then there are the questions. Will Duke's Monique Currie come out? I don't think she has said either way yet. If Duke were to win the National Championship, she might come out, though I don't think she should.

At Kansas State, Kendra Wecker is a name that has been thrown out there for National Player of the Year. She showed how vital she is to her team, but along with Augustus at L.S.U., both were disappointing in their respective conference tournaments. They disappeared at the ends of those games. Those players really need to step up.

This was a fun year for guards. Tan White and Mississippi State are not in the Tournament, but Penn State's Tanisha Wright, Temeka Johnson and U.N.C.'s Ivory Latta could all shine over the next few weekends. Of course, I'm leaving a bunch out as well. Kelley Suminski up at Stanford has played really well and don't forget about Roneeka Hodges down at Florida State. Ashley Early and Kristin Haynie at Vanderbilt and Michigan State have both had great years.

The Bracket Racket

As far as the Tournament goes, making predictions is always so difficult for me, and even harder this year as there is no clear cut favorite. Just look at the fact that Stanford was ranked number one in the polls but did not get a top seed. It's hard to make sense of things when Baylor won the Big Twelve regular season and conference tournament, but did not get a number one seed whereas North Carolina tied with Duke in the ACC and Michigan State finished in a three-way tie in the Big Ten regular season, yet they both got number one seeds. See what I mean? Nothing is clear cut. Maybe we'll see a newcomer like Ohio State step it up or maybe Stanford could pull it out. Either way, the names and histories of some of these teams that could go up against each other will make this a memorable few weeks. That is what I am most excited about.

Here is a great tidbit: In the past six years, no one lower than a three-seed has won a championship. The 8-9 games are going to be difficult to predict, as always, as will the 4-5 games in the second round.

I think the Philadelphia bracket with Tennessee, Temple, Philadelphia Rutgers, Louisiana Tech, Maryland, Texas Tech and Ohio State is going to be so tough. Those are some big names. And there will be some good games. Even though Temple had a great season, no one has really had a chance to see them play that much. They will go up against a great program, Louisiana Tech, in the first round, and if they get by them, Temple will face Rutgers - the game to watch. I'm still going with Tennessee and Ohio State to emerge.

I like North Carolina and Baylor out of their region, but they will have a tough road. North Carolina just has some great athletes. Whoever wins that Virginia-Minnesota game could be a dark horse in that region. George Washington surprised a lot of people, but they are always right there. They have done a terrific job with that program. Virginia should get by Old Dominion, and then they'll face Minnesota. That will be a great match up. I get excited just looking ahead at a potential match up between T.C.U. and Baylor. None of these teams would surprise me if they make it to the Sweet 16.

In the Kansas City region, I like Michigan State and Stanford. I know UConn has been playing terrific of late down the stretch and Vanderbilt is strong as well. If their two big players get into foul trouble and aren't hitting their shots, Michigan State should beat them. The Spartans are a really good team. I also like Florida State as well. They are another team that could surprise some people. But running into UConn, who is tournament-savvy, will make it a long road.
The UConn-Stanford game will be a fun one if it all plays out that way. All the talk coming into the Big Ten this season was Minnesota and Penn State. No one paid much attention to Michigan State and Ohio State

Finally, I like L.S.U. and Duke out of their region. L.S.U. has as good a shot as anyone, but they could face a tough Arizona team in the second round if Arizona beats Oklahoma. Oklahoma was in the Final Four just three seasons ago with Stacey Dales-Schuman, but they have not been back since. So I am looking forward to the match up between Arizona's Shawntinice Polk and L.S.U.'s Sylvia Fowles in the middle. Can either of them get up for the game and dominate? Duke has great size and will be a handful for L.S.U. inside. Monique Currie is having a terrific year.
Notre Dame should beat Santa Barbara, who is not as strong as they were last year. Again, Batteast has also been a quiet potential Player of the Year candidate. Georgia, based on where they finished in the SEC, could be a team to look at as well.

Dark horses… it is hard to say because brackets could go four or five deep. The parity has taken over the college game as well. So many teams have a legitimate shot. They did a good job seeding these teams and setting up great games down the road. Of course, a few teams got left out, like Gonzaga, but that happens every year. It happened to Utah last year, and I am glad to see they made it in this year. I don't have a dark horse. I really don't. I just think you can throw all the names in a hat and throw it up in the air.

And The Winner Is...

I picked L.S.U. to win it all in the beginning of the season, and I still hold true to that. They are deep, but they have to come out with that intensity. They go through lulls that were evident in the losses that they suffered. They lost in overtime by like one or two points to Rutgers early on and the Tennessee just outplayed L.S.U. in that last game. But as poorly as L.S.U. played, they still only lost by a couple of points. The bottom line is that they can't afford to have any of those down moments at all in the Tournament if they want to win it.

They are very team-oriented and also have their big stars. I think point guard Temeka Johnson is having an All-American year and was probably the M.V.P. on that team all season even though Augustus will likely get Player of the Year. Without Johnson, I don't know how far this team goes.

Again, what an exciting time with so much to look forward to. Good luck with your brackets and enjoy the games. Ask me in a week again and maybe I can narrow it all down… Or I'll be even more confused.