What's the most the teams playing in Oklahoma City can hope for, and what's the way they don't want the season to end?
Best case: Whitney Hand gets her form back after her finger injury, Danielle Robinson shows why she might be the next great point guard in the game and Courtney Paris gets six straight double-doubles as Oklahoma wins the championship. Bucking tradition, though, Paris forgoes the usual ladder-climbing, net-cutting ceremony and instead stands on her father's shoulders and tears up a check for $64,000.
Worst case: Robinson and Paris get in foul trouble in a regional final against Auburn. The Sooners have a tough time scoring as a result and fall short of the Final Four once again. Ashley Paris asks her sister whether she can use the money for grad school, and head coach Sherri Coale asks never to play another game in Oklahoma City.
(16) PRAIRIE VIEW
Best case: Used to playing in the Big 12, the Sooners end up in Ames instead of Iowa City and miss the game.
Worst case: Panthers coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke's request to make this a one-on-one game between the coaches is squashed. Oklahoma shows up in the right city and on time. Prairie View loses the opening tip, and that's the best thing that happens all night.
Best case: Hawkeyes seniors Kristi Smith, Wendy Ausdemore and Megan Skouby make a pact not to let their careers end on their home floor. It works, and Iowa stuns Oklahoma in Round 2. Smith then shoots the Hawkeyes into the regional semis, where former Iowa coach C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers await.
Worst case: Smith goes cold, and Iowa can't handle the Georgia Tech pressure defense. The Yellow Jackets turn the game into a turnover fest, and the Hawkeyes can't stay in it. But the three senior starters are able to walk off the court together to a standing ovation from the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd.
(9) GEORGIA TECH
Best case: Coach MaChelle Joseph packs the good Georgia Tech for the trip to Iowa City, the Georgia Tech that beat North Carolina early in the ACC season and Virginia late. This is the ball-hawking, offensively opportunistic Georgia Tech, and Iowa is no match. The Yellow Jackets put a huge scare in Oklahoma, signaling the true arrival of the program on the national scene.
Worst case: Joseph ignores that warning at the airport about not letting your luggage out of your sight, and someone switches her suitcase to the bad Georgia Tech -- the version that scored 34 points in a game at Duke and lost to Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament. Iowa passes and shoots the Yellow Jackets right back to the airport.
Best case: Trailing Gonzaga in the opening round by one with six seconds left, coach Kevin McGuff inserts injured star Amber Harris into the game for her first action of the season. But she's in only as a decoy. The distraction works, and Special Jennings passes to Jerri Taylor for the game winner. Harris does play more in the second round, and Xavier bounces Pittsburgh easily. In another dramatic finish, the Musketeers stun Oklahoma, becoming the story of the tournament.
Worst case: In an attempt at inspiration, junior forward April Phillips vows to change her name to March if the Musketeers don't make it to April and the Final Four. It backfires. Xavier's 6-foot-6 center, Ta'Shia Phillips, gets in early foul trouble, Gonzaga shoots the lights out, Xavier continues to have trouble scoring and it never stops raining in Seattle. April's parents spend the next week scrambling to find her birth certificate.
Best case: Courtney Vandersloot is able to show the country her terrific floor game, and Heather Bowman outmaneuvers Phillips for shots inside. Gonzaga beats Xavier rather comfortably. Folks walking the streets of Seattle on Sunday just can't stop saying "Vandersloot" because it sounds cool.
Worst case: The Zags spend the week telling the media that they don't normally play in Seattle, the campus is in Spokane, they don't even drink coffee and grunge died with Kurt Cobain. Vandersloot plays tight, Xavier takes advantage and Gonzaga fans walking the streets in Seattle can't say "Vandersloot" without shaking their heads in disbelief.
Best case: Upset that she wasn't able to crack most All-American lists, Shavonte Zellous doesn't miss a single shot in Seattle. Xenia Stewart becomes Robin to Zellous' Batman in the regionals, and the Panthers shoot their way to St. Louis, where the basketball world gets an overdue taste of Pitt coach Agnus Berenato's genuine enthusiasm.
Worst case: Despite last year's success in Albuquerque, Pittsburgh doesn't react well to a second straight trip out west. Zellous labors all night, and Montana sticks around long enough to steal the game in the final minutes.
Best case: Busloads of Lady Griz faithful make the trip to Seattle. The Gonzaga fans jump on board as well, and Montana has what amounts to a "home-court" advantage. Everyone in the building (except the Pitt defenders) fall in love with Montana senior guard Mandy Morales, who leads the Lady Griz to the biggest upset of the tournament.
Worst case: Those buses get stuck in traffic. The Montana fans don't get to Bank of America Arena until halftime, when the Lady Griz are already down by 15. No amount of noise can help make up that deficit. Montana is eliminated.
Best case: Freshman Brittany Rayburn plays like the superstar Boilermakers fans figure she will be, and senior frontcourters Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Danielle Campbell and Lakisha Freeman aren't ready to say goodbye yet. The Boilermakers make a run to the Elite Eight.
Worst case: Rayburn isn't ready for prime time, and Purdue's talented and veteran frontcourt isn't much of a factor against North Carolina's running game in the second round as the Boilermakers go quietly.
Best case: Traci Ray keeps firing away and connecting, and the 49ers ride the wave of momentum from the Atlantic 10 tournament title to an upset of Purdue, the school's first NCAA tournament win.
Worst case: The two-week layoff was too much to keep the flame burning. Leading scorer Aysha Jones is hounded all night by Purdue's FahKara Malone, and the 49ers don't put up much of a fight.
(3) NORTH CAROLINA
Best case: Carolina cleansed itself with that extra game against South Dakota and remembers it is now playing for something. The turnover problem mysteriously disappears, and Cetera DeGraffenreid is the most dynamic player in the regional as the Tar Heels make it back to the Final Four.
Worst case: The Tar Heels can't shake their case of the oopsies. They drop forks at team meals, iPods fall out of gym bags, shoes come untied. Once they take the court, it's more of the same. North Carolina has more turnovers than field goals in the first half against Auburn in the Sweet 16, and despite a typical Carolina burst, the Heels can't overcome themselves and lose.
Best case: North Carolina takes UCF as lightly as it took South Dakota, and the Knights hang around for a while. They are just close enough, just deep enough into the second half for some interest to grow. Then Carolina goes on a 12-2 run right when ESPN switches viewers to the game, and the rest is anticlimactic.
Worst case: Most of the Knights' fans decide they'd rather stay behind and enjoy a Saturday at Disney World instead of traveling to Chattanooga. With virtually no support, North Carolina puts on a track meet and runs the C-USA tournament champs out of the gym. The good news is that with an early game, UCF is one of the first teams to be eliminated and still has time to get home and ride Space Mountain before Disney World closes for the evening.
Best case: The Scarlet Knights take full advantage of playing in Piscataway, N.J., making second-round foe Auburn look more like Providence. Epiphanny Prince takes 70 percent of Rutgers' shots, almost all of them with the shot clock down to less than five seconds. A punch-counterpunch affair against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 results in a narrow loss, but C. Vivian Stringer is pleased her young team grew up in the past two months.
Worst case: After Rutgers loses to Auburn 45-41, the rims and backboards at the RAC have to be replaced immediately after being hit so many times.The nets are fine.
Best case: The Rams decide they are playing for more than just themselves, their families and the love of the game. They decide they also are playing for mid-majors everywhere. That kind of inspiration propels VCU to a shocking win in Piscataway, rendering the argument of home-court disadvantage for a higher-seeded team moot. Before Doris Burke can even get a question out for VCU's Quanitra Hollingsworth, the senior center grabs the mic and issues a shout-out to Bowling Green and Illinois State.
Worst case: The Rams actually start to believe all the you-don't-belong talk and play like it. Rutgers' defense and crowd swallow up VCU in a game so unpleasing to the eye that a message comes over the PA system instructing fans to stare away from the court.
Best case: Auburn coach Nell Fortner doesn't get asked to be one of those guest coach analysts at the Final Four this go-round because she's coaching in it. DeWanna Bonner scores from the wing, in the post, on the break and every other way possible, but it's Whitney Boddie's big buckets down the stretch that move Auburn toward St. Louis following an epic win over Oklahoma.
Worst case: Alli Smalley goes cold. The Tigers manage to survive Rutgers anyway, but they can't outscore North Carolina without her. Bonner gets a bunch of points but is exhausted by the pace and having Rashanda McCants in her face all night. She has nothing at the end when Auburn needs her most, fouling out to end her career.
Best case: The Mountain Hawks slow the pace and shock the world with an upset of Auburn. This gives them the opportunity to wonder publicly what the big deal is about Courtney Paris giving back her athletic scholarship to Oklahoma because their players work without them all the time.
Worst case: Auburn is up by so much in the second half that before the game even ends, players on the Lehigh bench start crafting thank-you notes to the selection committee: "At least we didn't have to go all the way to Albuquerque for this."
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.