The Favorite: Tennessee. After being bounced from the tournament in the first round by No. 12 seed Ball State last season (the Vols had never lost in the opening round), Tennessee is back on top and the dominant team in this region. The Vols have solid guard and forward play in Angie Bjorklund, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, and a dominant inside presence in center Kelley Cain. Most of all, they have something to prove.
Other contenders: Duke, Baylor, LSU, Texas. The Blue Devils won 27 games, led by Jasmine Thomas (15.8 ppg), and outscored their opponents by +15. LSU suffered through an uncharacteristic up-and-down season, losing four of seven midway through, but with veteran coach Van Chancellor, it can't be counted out. Baylor's Kim Mulkey always has her teams ready at tournament time. And Texas continues to work on its road back to prominence but is playing well enough to be a Cinderella.
Best Player: Baylor's Brittney Griner. Unfortunately, she may be most well-known for her punch to an opponent's face that landed her a two-game suspension at the end of the season, but the 6-foot-8 freshman has dominated the Big 12, averaging 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.1 blocks.
Dream matchup: Tennessee vs. Baylor. The Bears like to play a fast-tempo style, while the Vols pride themselves on defense. The matchup between Cain and Griner could be a classic.
Brian Landman, Times staff writer