Tennessee (28-2) returns with almost the entire squad that went a perfect 39-0 last season, culminating in a 93-75 trouncing of Louisiana Tech in the National Championship game. They are again led by the "Three Meeks," AP All-America first-teamers Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings, and second-teamer Semeka Randall. The three combined for 62 points and 25 rebounds in last year's title game.
Holdsclaw is one of the best college players in history and should win her third consecutive Player of the Year Award. If she scores just seven points in the tournament and grabs only 17 rebounds, she'll become the all-time NCAA tournament leader in both categories. She and teammate Kellie Jolly could become the only players in history to win four national titles.
The biggest challenges to the Vols' quest for the Final Four will be No. 2 seeded Old Dominion and No. 3 seeded Duke. Tennessee beat both of those teams once already this year without much difficulty and should easily escape from the East bracket.
Like Tennessee, UConn has had no problems in the recruiting department. The Huskies had a perfect season of their own, winning the title in 1995, and once again coach Geno Auriemma will put out one of the country's strongest teams — the odds-on favorite to come out of the Mideast. They may have the deepest bench in the tourney and have star quality as well in second-team All-American Svetlana Abrosimova, as well as the usually snake-bitten but fired-up Shea Ralph.
Abrosimova, the 6'2" Big East Player of the Year, averages over 17 points per game, pulls down 6.5 rebounds, and also isn't afraid to launch a three-pointer, succeeding over 40 percent of the time. One place she isn't so successful is at the free throw line, where she averages a Shaq-like 64 percent. Teams could take advantage of this weakness in close games down the stretch. Still, the Mideast is theirs to lose.
West & Midwest