No. 4 seeds are toughest to identify

As discussed in this space a week ago, the No. 1 seeds in women's college basketball remain unclear after South Carolina and Connecticut. Notre Dame seems to be gaining a stronger hold, but Baylor replaced Tennessee on the top line in the past seven days.

Despite the change, the same teams remain in the conversation for a top seed: Baylor, Tennessee, Maryland and Oregon State (thanks to its huge win at Arizona State this weekend).

In fact, choosing the top three seeds in each region this week was relatively easy. Though their order was tough to distinguish, teams 1-12 were fairly evident.

However, the picture got a whole lot murkier after that.

Determining the four No. 4 seeds was the most difficult task of this week's bracket -- and that's especially worth noting since these seeds will also be the most crucial selections for the committee come March. These are the last four teams chosen to host their first two tournament games under this year's NCAA tournament format.

In years past, the distinction of being No. 16 or No. 17 on the overall board didn't matter much. A No. 4 and No. 5 seed had to follow the same path to the regionals anyway. But that has changed, and a top-16 overall seed means everything.

It's the difference between playing on your own court, sleeping in your own bed and keeping to a familiar routine for two NCAA tournament games versus packing a bag, playing in a potentially unfamiliar arena and, perhaps, playing a true road game in the second round.

This is exactly where the plotting of teams came to a screeching halt. Teams 13-16 took as long as laying out the rest of the field. Once Iowa was in at No. 12 on the board, there were no additions to the page for some time.

As many as nine teams could stake a claim to those four No. 4 seeds, and the fact that so many of them lost in the previous seven days made the task even harder. Duke lost to Boston College. North Carolina then lost to Duke. Texas A&M fell to Georgia in its only game of the week, and then the Lady Dogs dropped a game at Tennessee. Texas and Minnesota each went down twice. Stanford and Michigan lost too.

Teams are easy to evaluate when they win. It's far more difficult evaluating a loss.

Ultimately, though, it still comes down to overall résumé and what we see on the court for the season, not just one week. This week's No. 4 seeds are Duke, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Mississippi State.

The Blue Devils have had their stumbles, but that was a huge road win in Chapel Hill on Sunday and Joanne P. McCallie's team still has four top-50 wins. Duke actually moved up on the board with a 1-1 week. Sometimes that is difficult to see until the comparisons to the other teams around Duke -- what they did this week and what their season-long résumé and on-court performance look like -- begin. Texas and Minnesota were ahead of Duke last week, but after two losses apiece, they aren't better today, which allowed the Blue Devils to rise.

Texas A&M lost to Georgia on Thursday, and the instinct might be to instantly drop a team like the Aggies because of that loss -- until the search for a another team to move up begins and produces no one. Nebraska, Washington and Oklahoma all made a move. It just wasn't big enough.

Without delving too deeply into the raw data, this is a little taste of the thought process and rationale for the decisions that have to be made every week and that ultimately the selection committee will face. These were all tough calls. Come March they will not only be tough but, because of the new format, monumental to some programs.