The Top 3
Fresno is the least top-heavy of the regions. Arguments could be made for more than three teams to be placed in its top three but I’ll go with the top three seeds, Stanford, Duke and St. John’s. The Stanford Cardinal has only lost one game this season, and it was to fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut. They are led by the owner of the best name in basketball, 6-2 F Nnemkadi Ogwumike (21.8 points per game), and she’s the type of player that can carry a team. The only knock on Stanford is they’ve only defeated two ranked teams this season and come from a very weak Pac-12 conference. Still, their RPI is second in the NCAA. Duke doesn’t have a star, but they just don’t lost very often. With a plus-19.6 scoring margin in the regular season (7th in the NCAA), the Blue Devils can ball; the question is how far they can go without a star player. Meanwhile, St. John’s has quite an accomplishment under their belt this season. On Feb. 18, the Red Storm defeated Connecticut in Bridgeport, snapping the Huskies’ 99-game home winning streak. With six ranked wins to boast, this Big East team could be a major sleeper. After all, President Obama has them in his Elite Eight.
In the Big Ten
No. 4 Purdue and No. 11 Michigan represent the Big Ten in the Fresno region. Purdue, who won the Big Ten Tournament, has a very solid defense and has shown that they can hang with the best of them. They defeated Texas A&M when they were ranked No. 4 in the country and knocked off the Lady Lions in the Big Ten Championship when they were No. 9. Michigan, on the other hand, hand their fingers crossed on Selection Monday. They snuck into the tournament as a No. 11 seed, and get a tough draw with No. 6 seed Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Purdue makes it to the finals of this region, but Michigan is probably going to lose in the first round.
A No. 4 seed making a run probably wouldn’t qualify as a Cinderella story, so let’s talk surprises here. Purdue, which only allows 58.5 points per game, has shown that they can handle the better teams in the league. Their possible Sweet Sixteen matchup would be a game against Stanford, who hasn’t really shown that. In this region, there are several teams that could make a run, but I think Purdue has a good shot.
I won’t go with Stanford, mainly because the chances of four No. 1 seeds making the Final Four are slim and they have the worst chance of the four. I’m following the lead of Obama and picking St. John’s. They’re a hot team, having won nine of their last ten. They match up well with Duke and Stanford. Maybe there’s a little Big East bias involved but there’s just a good chance of this happening as Stanford or Duke winning the region.