The 2011 Women's NCAA tournament bracket was released over the weekend and once again raises questions about the process for seeding teams. It seems the dependence on RPI (Rating Percentage Index) instead of national rankings has foiled some top teams as it seems to every year.
USC got the worst of it. The Trojans did everything right this season and finished strong as the No. 1 team in the nation according to the AVCA. However, the NCAA does not consider the Coaches Poll when deciding the seeding. Though they claim the decisions are made on several factors and not just the RPI, the choices do seem to be much more in line with that ranking than the national ranking of folks that were actually watching these teams play. Tournament Selection Committee Chair Diane Turnham offers an explanation of the decision making process on the NCAA website. It doesn't help much. ESPN.com wrote an accurately scathing piece on the whole thing that is right on the money.
In the end, the proof is in the pudding and USC was seeded seventh and placed in what looks to me like the toughest possible region of the four. Nebraska seems to not have been penalized at all for their final match loss against Northwestern in four sets because they earned a No. 2 seed. The current top three teams in the nation on the Coaches Poll all somehow landed in the West Regional. That means that USC will have to fight it out with Hawaii and Nebraska to even make it to the Final Four.
How Nebraska got shipped out to the West Regional in Hawaii is certainly beyond me, as are most of the placements here. Frankly, having to beat Hawaii in Hawaii is a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Because of that, I'm predicting that whoever wins this region wins the title. That is, if they're not completely exhausted.
I'd have to give the award for the second toughest region to the East where UCLA, Texas and Penn State will fight it out. Next is the South region which has Illinois, Stanford and Northern Iowa among the top ranked squads. The weakest region this year in my opinion is the Midwest with Purdue, Washington, Iowa State and Minnesota amongst the leaders.
It's puzzling how Texas got the No. 1 seed, how Stanford fell to No. 11 and why Cal isn't seeded at all amongst other things. But this is what we've got this year and these teams will all just have to make the best of it.
With that in mind, I give you my Final Four picks for 2011: USC, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. I'm going with USC to win it all as they've really come on well in the latter half of the season. It pains me to say this, but I think Illinois will take down Stanford in the Gainesville regional.
Penn State has so much on the line considering what their university has gone through in the last month. I think that will motivate them to win the Lexington regional over UCLA and Texas and try to extend their title streak to five. Finally, I think Purdue has a great shot at winning the Minneapolis regional and they deserve an easier ride after what they went through last year.
So those are my picks though I won't put too much confidence in them. Like I've said before, this year is a bit of a toss up and lots of teams will have a chance at the title. There could be some serious surprises in store for us this year, folks. Let's play ball.