At first glance, South Carolina's draw in the NCAA women's basketball tournament looks like the script for another goofy reality show. "The Amazing So You Think You Can Dance Survivor Race Halfway to Alaska."
Insulting: A No. 1 seed with a 27-4 record must travel to Seattle for its first two games.
Preposterous: Then it's on to Stanford for the Sweet 16 round, and a probable collision course with ... No. 2 seed Stanford.
No wonder President Obama picked Stanford to reach the Final Four.
Such March Madness bracket badness on the men's side would have made Dick Vitale's head explode. Even without returning to Columbia between the games in Seattle and Stanford, head coach Dawn Staley's Gamecocks will be in the air long enough to watch every "Rocky" movie plus the underrated fourth season of "Full House."
It looks like the NCAA forgot to attach an asterisk to that No. 1 seed.
But please. Give Debbie Antonelli a few minutes.
Allow the busy Mount Pleasant mother of three - who just happens to be one of the best and smartest college basketball television analysts in the business - to calm fears and debunk conspiracy myths.
Antonelli has South Carolina in her Final Four.
"I think they're in a great position, and with a team that I had thought was a year away because they don't have any senior starters," said Antonelli, who will work the Stanford regional for ESPN.
Among the reasons to like the Gamecocks:
Home isn't always so sweet.
First, South Carolina must defeat Cal State Northridge on Sunday in Seattle, and then get past the Middle Tennessee-Oregon State winner. And North Carolina. But Stanford might not be so scary.
"The regional final game is the most difficult game to play in, and (longtime Stanford head coach) Tara VanDerveer told me that years ago," Antonelli said. "And sometimes playing at home can add pressure."
'Big-time gamer' Staley
Balance and depth.
Shot blocking and rebounding from the likes of Alaina Coates and Elem Ibiam gives guards Aleighsa Welch (Goose Creek High School) and Tiffany Mitchell more room.
"Dawn has a complete basketball team," Antonelli said. "The front line has added another dimension to both their defense and their offense. Each year Dawn's teams have gotten better and a little deeper, and more dynamic."
Staley's big-game experience.
"With Dawn having played so many big games from college at Virginia to professional to the Olympics, she is a big-time gamer," Antonelli said. "She is big-time in recruiting, she is big-time on the sidelines and she has a terrific staff."
Stanford has its own bracket problems.
The Cardinal must advance back home via the Ames regional, and a likely second-round game with No. 7 seed Iowa State on its homecourt.
"Stanford's not really protected as a No. 2 seed," Antonelli said. "Going to Iowa State could be a little dicey for them."
Tar Heels 'revenge factor'
Baton Rouge isn't better.
Isn't a No. 2 seed in the South better than No. 1 in the West? No. 2 West Virginia gets to play two games in Baton Rouge and then on to Louisville, probably vs. No. 4 Maryland and No. 1 Tennessee.
The West is best, Antonelli said.
"This is perfect for South Carolina," she said. "Being out West gives them a chance to bring this group together. I think this is a great path for them."
But beware of North Carolina.
The likely West regional semifinal is South Carolina vs. North Carolina in a rematch of a Dec. 18 game in Myrtle Beach. The Tar Heels won, 74-66. Gamecocks point guard Khadijah Sessions suffered an ankle injury in that loss and missed five games.
North Carolina has three freshmen starters, including star guard Diamond DeShields, daughter of former Major League baseball player Delino DeShields.
"The revenge factor would come into play," Antonelli said.
Antonelli's Final Four: Three No. 1 seeds - undefeated Connecticut, undefeated Notre Dame and South Carolina - and No. 3 seed Louisville.
President Obama likes Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford and Louisville.
On all things basketball, trust the former N.C. State player with more than 25 years of TV analyst experience.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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