If you seek out the strongest opposition, you will prosper in the NCAA women's basketball tournament - as long as you don't get a star player hurt.
The teams that played difficult schedules were rewarded Sunday with high seeds in the 64-team field. No. 1 seeds Tennessee, Old Dominion, Stanford and Texas Tech were prime examples. So was Illinois, a surprising No. 3 seed, and Iowa and Iowa State, both surprises at No. 4.Conversely, teams that didn't tackle a tough schedule or were cursed by weak leagues were punished in the seedings.
Louisiana Tech, which has been ranked among the top four teams all season in The Associated Press poll, was only a No. 3 seed. Florida International, which is 28-1, was made a No. 7 after having designs on a No. 3 or 4.
And Liberty, which is unbeaten, was made a No. 16 seed and even worse, was sent against powerful Tennessee, winner of the last two national titles, in the first round.
When it comes to drawing up a bracket, teams are judged not solely on their wins, but who those wins were against. The more teams from the top 50 in the power ratings on your schedule, the better.
"We're giving people credit for having won those games and having played them," said Jean Lenti Ponsetto, who chairs the selection committee. "There's a significant difference when you have eight or nine and others have 13, 14, 15 and 16."
It also makes a difference if you lose a player, as Connecticut found out.
Primed to be the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, the Huskies lost leading scorer Nykesha Sales to a ruptured Achilles' tendon late in the season and ended up as the No. 2 seed in the East, behind Old Dominion.
"We beat two No. 1s," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said, referring to the Huskies' victories over Stanford and Old Dominion. "But I guess they thought without Nykesha, we're not one of the top four teams in the country."
Ponsetto said that according to NCAA by-laws, the committee had to look at how Connecticut would have done in its games against highly ranked teams if Sales had not been playing.
The conclusion was the Huskies might not have won them.
"I think we have great empathy for Connecticut's situation," said Ponsetto, the senior associate athletic director at DePaul. "They lost not only a valuable contributor to their program, but also someone who has meant a lot to the championships. It was not an easy decision and one the committee gave a great deal of consideration to."
Connecticut had been a No. 1 seed in the last four NCAA tournaments and won the national title in 1995.
"We knew a lot of people had their doubts that we deserved a No. 1," UConn guard Amy Duran said. "We think we did."
The selection committee did not take into consideration a knee injury that Stanford's Vanessa Nygaard suffered in the regular-season finale at Oregon State on Saturday night because the extent of the injury wasn't known, Ponsetto said.
It's not all bad for Connecticut, though, because if the Huskies would meet Old Dominion for the right to advance to the Final Four in Kansas City, it at least would be on a neutral court. The East semifinals and finals are at Dayton, Ohio.
The other regionals might not be so neutral. Tennessee would merely drive up the road to Nashville if it wins its first two Mideast games. Texas Tech would stay right at home in Lubbock for the Midwest Regional and Stanford would just have to move across the Bay to Oakland for the West Regional.