Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Well, that could have gone better

The women's bracket is out: Auburn didn't fare particularly well. They're the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City region and will face 15th-seeded Lehigh in the second round. First, the bad news:

1. Barring a huge upset from 10th-seeded VCU, Auburn will have to play Rutgers on the Scarlet Knights' home court in the second round. Rutgers only went 18-12 but have long had one of the strongest programs in the Big East under Vivian Stringer--the fact that I didn't need need to look up their coach's name should tell you something about how much success they've enjoyed over the years.

According to Jeff Sagarin's "predictor" ratings--the closest thing we've got to a women's Pomeroy system--Rutgers is 18th in the country, only three spots behind what it sees as an overrated Auburn team. It's going to be tough, tough sledding in that second round.

2. Even if Auburn escapes Piscataway, the road to the Final Four is treacherous to say the least. It would most likely go through first ACC power North Carolina and then through heavy, heavy regional favorite Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. I'll just come right out and say this: if Auburn makes the Regional final out of this bracket, it will have been an incredible performance. (Auburn's region seems to me to be the most loaded of the four: 7 of Sagarin's top 21 teams are in it.)

3. Lehigh really shouldn't pose a problem, but the Mountain Hawks are the strongest 15 seed on the board, again according to Sagarin. They played two Big East teams, Villanova (Sagarin No. 49) and Syracuse (No. 66), and were competitive with both. If Lehigh pushes Auburn into the second half, it won't help matters for the Rutgers game.

Now, the good news:

1. It could have been worse. Texas A&M also drew a 2-seed and not only got the booby prize of landing in UConn's region, they'll also have to play a 7-seed--Notre Dame--that's even better than Rutgers on the 7-seed's home court. UNC looks like the second-strongest 3 seed, but Auburn also could have been in the same region with Louisville, who was in contention for a 1 seed not too long ago.

2. If Lehigh's good for a 15 seed, that doesn't mean they're good. Auburn shouldn't have any real problems there.

3. Rutgers isn't unbeatable at home. In back-to-back home games in late January/early February, they lost to No. 32 South Florida and got taken to overtime by No. 76 Georgetown. And here's one to file under "common opponents": back on Jan. 3 they lost at home to Tennessee. So it's far from impossible, even though the Scarlet Knights did seem to come on at the end of the year (UConn's 10-point win in Piscataway tied for the Huskies' smallest margin or victory this season.)

4. This Auburn team may be at their best during the NCAAs. Because TV timeouts are a little bit longer, depth isn't quite as much of an issue and starters can play a few more minutes--or, in Auburn's case, won't be so completely exhausted by having to play all the minutes they play already.

So there's reasons to hope ... though there are also some big, big reasons to worry about Auburn even getting out of the first weekend. Could have been worse. But when two of the other 7 seeds out there are mid-major wannabe South Dakota St. and Big east also-ran DePaul, it could have been a lot better, too.

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