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Surprises rare in women's tournament

The two dunks by Tennessee's Candace Parker in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was a big moment in women's basketball, for it showed how much the game has grown. The players are better, certainly more athletic, and it's exciting to see how much the level of play has risen.

Yes, women's basketball has changed for the better. Except on the scoreboard.

It may be March, but there is no Madness in the women's tournament. The first two rounds yield very few surprises. The higher-seeded teams still trounce their opponents, often by ridiculous margins.

The allure of the early rounds for the men's tournament is the idea that anything can happen in any game. You can always count on a David slaying a Goliath. The men's tourney this year produced nine wins by lower seeds in the first round and sent four teams seeded seventh or lower to the Sweet 16.

The women's tournament, on the other hand, had just five wins by lower seeded teams in the first round. One of those victories was No. 9 seed Washington over No. 8 Minnesota, which can hardly be described as an upset. Only two fifth or lower seeds reached the round of 16.

The men's tournament annually has its share of Cinderellas. But for the lower seeds in the women's tourney, the slipper rarely fits.

Although eighth-seeded Boston College knocked off Ohio State, the first No. 1 seed to lose a second round game since Texas Tech in 1998, such outcomes are few and far between.

Proponents of women's basketball would like us to believe that parity actually does exist. They point to last year when Baylor, which hadn't been to a tournament since 2000, came out of nowhere to capture the national championship. They point to powerhouse Tennessee, which hasn't won a title since 1998.

But in the 12 years of the 64-team brackets, the top four women's seeds are 202-6 in first-round games. The top three seeds are 154-2. Top-four seeds were 16-0 in the first round this year and are 30-2 heading into this weekend. Three of the four regional sites will feature each of the top four seeds.

Tennessee may be in a seven-year championship drought, but Pat Summit's Lady Vols are always -- always -- in contention. The NCAA has run the women's tournament for 25 years, and the Lady Vols have reached at least the Sweet 16 in all of them. This weekend, they attempt to reach the Final Four for the fifth consecutive year and the 17th time overall.

You call that parity?

The women's tourney also is devoid of a mid-major presence. Where are the Bradleys and George Masons of women's basketball? At home watching the games on television, like the rest of us.

The women's tourney belongs to the major conferences. Always has, always will. In my opinion, Boston College's win over Ohio State isn't that big a shocker because BC plays in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference, which put seven teams in the tournament, including two No. 1 seeds. Ohio State losing to Bowling Green is my idea of a tournament upset.

One reason the best women's teams dominate the postseason is the NCAA's antiquated system of giving top seeds home sites, especially during the regionals. Connecticut, a No. 2 seed, gets to play this weekend in Bridgeport, a crosscourt pass from its Storrs campus.

Another reason is the talent discrepancy. There are more good players to go around, but the top tier teams still have a monopoly on the McDonald's All-Americans.

With more TV coverage, increased Final Four ticket sales and exciting new stars like Parker, women's basketball is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity. And if you haven't watched women's tournament games, give it a try. You might be surprised by what you see.

Just don't expect any surprise outcomes.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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