For the second consecutive day and for the third time in five days, a projected No. 1 seed in women's college basketball lost. If parity was knocking at the door two weeks ago, she has officially entered the party and is helping herself to the buffet. This is the most balanced the sport has been at the very top in 15 years.
Losses from Louisville on Sunday and Oregon on Monday didn't shake up the 1-line in the updated bracketology through Monday's games. Their résumés are both solid enough to withstand a loss. However, the margin of error the rest of the way for both teams closed dramatically.
Mississippi State's loss to Missouri this past Thursday cost the Bulldogs their spot as a No. 1 seed and created a dilemma, one that will be a talking point through Selection Monday (and was already a focal point after the committee's first top 16 reveal a week ago): regional geographical placement.
After Mississippi State's loss and Notre Dame's impressive Monday night win at NC State, the Irish have supplanted the Bulldogs as the No. 5 overall team.
If the committee plots the teams in the bracket strictly by geography -- as it did in the Feb. 11 reveal -- then Notre Dame would join No. 1 overall seed Baylor in Greensboro. Greensboro is 665 miles from South Bend. Albany is 729. Yet that would result in having the best No. 1 seed and the best No. 2 seed in the same region. If imbalance was the common refrain after last week, this would be even worse.
Would the committee really create that kind of regional strength discrepancy again over 64 miles? Ultimately, I don't think so, and that's why the Irish are in Albany, behind No. 4 overall seed UConn, in this week's projection, and Mississippi State is paired with the Lady Bears in Greensboro.
Some of this geography and the resulting bracket imbalance could work itself out in the next four weeks. But if it doesn't, let's hope the committee is able to find that balance between geographical priorities and competitive fairness.
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Tennessee continues to be the most discussed team in the country that's not in the mix for a No. 1 seed. Sunday's win at Missouri was its biggest of the season, and pushed Tennessee out of the Last Four In/First Four Out mix and safely into the field. With many of the competitors for the final few spots in the field losing far more than they are winning, the Lady Vols look like a solid bet to stay there. If they can win one of their next two -- at Texas A&M and home against South Carolina -- the streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments will hit 38.
Even if Tennessee fails to win either of those games, but takes care of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and wins a game in the SEC tournament, a bid is still likely. The clutch play of Mimi Collins and Rennia Davis down the stretch on Sunday and the strong second half against Auburn on Thursday were that important.
The Lady Vols' six-game losing streak is in the rearview mirror, but a number of other teams at the end of the at-large pool are suffering through their own difficult times now. Indiana has lost four games in a row and six of its past seven. Utah is 0-for-February (six consecutive losses; the last win was Jan. 27). Those two fell out of the field this week.
Cal (five losses in a row) and Michigan State (three losses in four games) have slid way back into bubble conversation. Purdue (2-5 in the past seven games) and Buffalo (2-3 in the past five) have both fallen well behind teams such as Tennessee. West Virginia (6-1 in the past seven), Michigan (six wins in a row) and BYU (a second win over Gonzaga) are teams that have been able to capitalize.
Still, the news isn't all bad for struggling teams. Missouri State, as the current leader of the Missouri Valley thanks to its upset of Drake on Feb. 1, holds down the MVC's automatic bid. The Bulldogs are an at-large lock. Should Drake regain its dominance of the league and ultimately win the conference tournament, another bid will open up to the likes of Indiana, Utah, TCU, Kansas State, Buffalo and Purdue.
Bubble season has officially begun.