- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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One dark, Midwestern winter evening I was driving home from a basketball game OK, we could be talking about a lot of nights here. They're all pretty much the same, add or subtract the dangerous elements of snow and freezing rain.
I know there wasn't either of those, though. Instead, the "scary" element of the drive was a CD of Stephen King short stories.
One of which was called, "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French." A couple is driving on vacation, except they gradually begin to realize things are a little too familiar, with the wife anticipating everything they are about to see. Haven't we been here before? Wasn't it exactly like this?
We're talking déjà vu, of course. And perhaps it's fitting with the Women's Final Four in New Orleans, that we'd find ourselves saying that thing you can only say what it is in French.
In Stephen King's story of déjà vu, the couple realizes that they are not really going on vacation. They are actually in well, I don't want to ruin it for you. Then again, it's Stephen King. You can guess their realization isn't a pleasant one.
Things aren't as dire for this bracket -- we are talking about just an NCAA tournament, not anyone's immortal soul -- but still, the feeling that we've all been here before and seen this already might prevail -- with Baylor doing the last dance in New Orleans.
Déjà vu, could you be the ending we once knew? Is it you?
Check out the bracket: Are some things looking familiar? Baylor and Tennessee are the top two seeds in the same region. So are Connecticut and Kentucky. Just like last year.
And if the four No. 1 seeds make it to the Big Easy -- which will not necessarily be so easy for all of them -- then the national semifinal matchups will be the same as they were in Denver in 2012: UConn versus Notre Dame and Baylor versus Stanford.
Meet the new bracket. Same as the old bracket. OK, not really. There are some differences.
Let's start in the Norfolk Regional. Last season, Duke was the top Eastern team that got shipped out west to try to stop Stanford. This year, though, Duke stays closer to home as the No. 2 seed in Norfolk, Va. The top seed the Blue Devils might have to oust in 2013 -- if seeds hold -- is Notre Dame.
Well, any bracket that doesn't have Connecticut in Duke's path before the Final Four has to be a relief for the Blue Devils. Because there is a déjà vu they experience when facing the Huskies -- to whom they've lost their past six meetings by an average of 26 points -- and it is definitely of the Stephen King variety.
Plus, consider this "we've already been here" for the Blue Devils: Duke lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 to Baylor, in 2011 to UConn and in 2012 to Stanford. Heck, if they make the regional final once again, the Blue Devils might as well try their odds against the Irish.
Speaking of a familiar feeling you don't want to have again, folks might be saying, "Well, excuse my French, but what the blankety-blank?" in Knoxville, Tenn. That's because Tennessee once again has Baylor in its region -- for the third time in the past four years. As in, Tennessee seniors Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams are 3-for-4 in potentially having to face Brittney Griner just to get to the Final Four.
In Griner's freshman season, 2010, the Lady Bears upset the Lady Vols in the Sweet 16. Last year, Baylor beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight in the last game for coach Pat Summitt.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey wasn't thrilled with having to essentially end the career of her dear friend Summitt, but so it went. Tennessee, now under coach Holly Warlick, probably wouldn't have minded being shipped west in order to avoid the Green Machine before the Final Four.
Instead, the Lady Vols might need to channel a positive kind of déjà vu: The last time they were in the Oklahoma City Regional was 2008, when Candace Parker's shoulder popped out of place a couple of times in their Elite Eight game, but Tennessee still won. (That said, unfortunately for Tennessee, there's no such thing as a déjà vu that can make CP3 actually regain eligibility and be back in an orange uniform again.)
Another team that is making a déjà vu journey is Penn State, the No. 3 seed in the Spokane Regional. The Big Ten regular-season champs are heading to Baton Rouge, La., for the second year in a row for early-round games.
In 2012, the Lady Lions spoiled the locals' gumbo by beating LSU in the second round. This year's Geaux Tigers are one seed lower (6, as opposed to 5 in 2012) but just might be more dangerous than last season. They won seven in a row before falling to Georgia in the SEC quarterfinals.
Stanford has had a déjà vu feeling for the past five years -- one that starts out great and then gradually ends up, well, pretty miserable. It goes like this: Stanford wins a regional out West -- Spokane '08, Berkeley '09, Sacramento '10, Spokane '11, Fresno '12 -- makes it to the Women's Final Four and then doesn't win the championship.
The Cardinal won two of the first three Final Fours in which they participated, in 1990 and '92. Since then, Stanford is 0-for-8 on its Final Four trips.
This year, Stanford is back in the regional in Spokane. Um, how do you say "Groundhog Day" in French?
Finally we look at the Bridgeport Regional in Connecticut, where -- as mentioned -- No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Kentucky could face off in the Elite Eight, as they did in 2012. That was in Kingston, R.I. But, you know, if you're from Kentucky, Bridgeport and Kingston are pretty much the same thing: UConn territory. If the Wildcats get that far, they'll need to overcome that UConn advantage, as well as the Huskies themselves.
Delaware repeated as Colonial Athletic Association champion but this year is a No. 6 seed compared to a No. 3 last year. One thing that is the same is the Blue Hens might have a tough time making the Sweet 16.
Last year, Delaware was knocked out by Kansas, which was one of the last teams to make it into the field. This year, Delaware opens with another tough Big 12 team -- league newcomer West Virginia -- and then might have to face No. 3 seed North Carolina. The Blue Hens will be on their own court in Newark, Del., though, with a chance to send Elena Delle Donne off to the Sweet 16 in Bridgeport, which will be
Well, not necessarily déjà vu, but Delle Donne did make the trip up to Connecticut -- to Storrs -- in the summer of 2008, having committed to play with the Huskies. But she almost immediately turned around and came home.
That all worked out for the best for Delle Donne, and definitely for Delaware. And you'd have to say the Huskies have done OK, too.
Ultimately, though, will UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford or anybody be able to stop the final déjà vu: Baylor repeating as national champion?
Baylor and Tennessee are together again. If chalk holds, the Final Four could be a repeat of 2012. And of course, Baylor could again be doing the last dance in New Orleans. Yes, this year's bracket looks awfully familiar.