Sunday was possibly the most important day on the women's college basketball calendar. It marked the unofficial kickoff to the stretch run of the season, when Selection Monday looms just three weeks away and the third top 16 reveal from the NCAA women's basketball committee arrives during Big Monday's tripleheader (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET).
Monday's final reveal will list the top 16 teams in seed order as well as their potential regional assignment. In the first two reveals, the regional placement was only unveiled for the top four teams. (The top 16 teams host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games.)
Geographical placement is always a hot topic in these final weeks leading up to the NCAA tournament, and this year is no different -- starting right near the top.
Where does Baylor go?
Since the committee's first reveal on Jan. 18, no team has spurred more discussion than Baylor. The Lady Bears were No. 9 overall on Jan. 18, then at No. 6 in the Feb. 1 reveal -- and many argued that Baylor was too low each time. On Monday, Baylor's placement has no room for debate: Anything other than No. 5 would be a shock. But in which region it ends up is the question.
If the committee hits the geography button, Baylor -- as the first No. 2 seed to get placed in the bracket -- will be put in its closest region, which would be Kansas City. That makes sense from a proximity standpoint; the Lady Bears should help increase attendance at the Sprint Center.
However, that also puts the No. 2 overall team (Mississippi State) and the No. 5 overall team in the same region. This placement wouldn't cause the regions overall to be imbalanced, but is it fair to have Baylor -- which is as close to a No. 1 seed without actually being one as there has been in some time -- and the second-best overall team (and one of only two unbeaten teams in the country) in the same region? Many will say no. Monday night we will learn how the committee views it.
Stanford in or out?
The Cardinal were not included in either of the first two reveals -- and with good reason. Stanford began the season 6-6 and was just starting to find a rhythm with Brittany McPhee back and completely healthy at the time of the second reveal 2½ weeks ago. Since Feb. 1, the Cardinal had won six in a row before a loss Saturday to California.
With teams like Ohio State, Texas A&M, Rutgers and Michigan -- teams that appeared in at least one of the earlier reveals -- losing multiple times since, Stanford looks like a good bet to finally land in the top 16. The Cardinal are a half-game out of first place in the Pac-12 and boast a top-five schedule strength rating.
But what of those nine losses? No other team in the top 16 of this week's projection has more than six.
What to make of Tennessee and Maryland?
Both are coming off consecutive losses, including one apiece that was a complete head-scratcher. On Sunday, Minnesota blew out the Maryland from the opening jump, and on Thursday, Alabama beat Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time.
The Terrapins and Lady Vols should remain in the top 16 on Monday, but the position isn't a lock for either one on Selection Monday. Maryland, which has lost as many games in the Big Ten this season as it had the previous three combined, has two challenging games to finish the regular season (against Michigan and Nebraska). Any more losing between now and the Big Ten tournament finals and the Terps will need some help to hold onto hosting the opening two rounds.
Tennessee's résumé remains a bit stronger than Maryland's, but the Lady Vols aren't safe, either. Where the committee puts Tennessee on Monday will indicate just how vulnerable the top 16's biggest enigma is -- and what another early round SEC tournament loss could do to Tennessee's chances of having NCAA tournament games in Knoxville.