NCAA Tournament 2001 - Peeking into the crystal ball

Peeking into the crystal ball

Maybe there's a reason this year's national championship will be played on April Fool's Day. Because every ESPN expert seems to have a different take on what might happen in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, the games haven't even started, but we're taking our best shot at making some postseason predictions. Some experts put it all on the line and picked a winner, while others took the safer route.

Nancy Lieberman-Cline: Tennessee to win it all
If Notre Dame plays big, as it has throughout the season, and Ruth Riley continues to play big minutes, it could be a Notre Dame-Tennessee final. The Irish are well-coached, big, physical, and believe their time has come. But Tennessee still has great depth and might have the edge. Since Tamika Catchings was injured, most of the Lady Vols team stats are up. For example, they went from averaging approximately 80 points a game to 87, and Kara Lawson's scoring average went from 9.4 points to 13.6. When you have a star, you ride that player. Without one, you get better balance and contribution. And that is what the Lady Vols have done. Notre Dame probably has better outside shooters and the country's best post player, but lack of depth will hurt. Tennessee has four bodies -- Michelle Snow, Ashley Robinson, Gwen Jackson and Shalon Pillow -- to throw at Riley. Plus, coaching experience also is in Tennessee's favor. While Muffet McGraw has been to one Final Four, Pat Summitt has reached 12 national semifinals.

Mechelle Voepel: Forecasting the Final Four
Tennessee, Duke, Notre Dame and Georgia will reach the Final Four. The Lady Vols can probably defeat anybody in their region. In the West, Duke will advance after a very close game (maybe 95-91) with Oklahoma, a matchup that could be the most entertaining game of the tournament. But Duke, with its experience -- three players (Georgia Schweitzer, Rochelle Parent and Missy West) have been to the Final Four -- gets the edge. In the Midwest, Notre Dame will edge Iowa State in a very close game. And in the East, Georgia will advance after beating UConn in the regional final on great performances from Deanna Nolan and one or both of the Miller twins.

Beth Mowins: The under-Dawgs
Georgia's road to the NCAA title game looks like a promo for the movie "Mission Impossible 3: Athens to the Arch." In order for the Lady Bulldogs to win the title, they potentially have to beat Wisconsin, Louisiana Tech, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Tennessee. The road to winning a presidential election isn't paved with that many land mines! But that is precisely why Georgia is my pre-tournament favorite. By giving Georgia a No. 2 seed in the heavily loaded East Region, the selection committee actually turned Georgia into under-Dawgs. But I love a team that has to overcome that much adversity. If they can survive the East, they can win it all with good play inside and outside, experience, shooters, defenders and the most important ingredient in the NCAA Tournament -- a little luck.

Carolyn Peck: Evaluating the Elite Eight
In the Midwest, expect a great matchup in the regional final between top-seeded Notre Dame and No. 3 seed Vanderbilt. Both teams have excellent centers (Ruth Riley vs. Chantelle Anderson) and point guards (Niele Ivey vs. Ashley McElhiney), so this should be a great matchup. Connecticut and Georgia, the top two seeds in the East, will likely meet in that regional final. That game will come down to bench contribution. The teams match up pretty well; Georgia has the size advantage while UConn is more athletic. But bench play, particularly from Georgia, will impact this game most. In the West, Duke and Florida will face off. These teams played in the regional semifinals in 1998, and Duke, playing a triangle-and-two that left Tombi Bell open, won 71-58. But Florida is much better now. Guard play will be the difference here, as Alana Beard and Georgia Schweitzer meet up with Bell and Brandi McCain. When Florida's guards play well, the Gators win ball games. Lastly, Purdue and Tennessee should be the last two teams alive in the Mideast. Both have good depth and Final Four experience. The ability of the younger players on each team to mature at the right moment will dictate the winner.

Nell Fortner: Connecticut-Tennessee, part III
They have played twice already this season, and just like in 2000, Connecticut and Tennessee will meet again with the national title on the line. Despite their injuries, these teams still have the quality players -- especially in their starting lineups -- you need to win a national championship. They also have a lot of depth and motivation. Tennessee is very motivated from its loss in last season's title game. And after UConn coach Geno Auriemma guaranteed Husky fans another national championship last year just days after winning the 2000 title, you can be sure he's pushing hard for it to happen.

Vera Jones: The Ruth is on fire
With Ruth Riley patrolling the interior and Niele Ivey and Alicia Ratay among the very best 3-point shooters in the nation, Notre Dame has the best inside-outside game in the NCAA Tournament. That will be enough to get the Irish past Connecticut and Tennessee.

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