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Orioles, Indians, Angels to Take Home AL Pennants

By Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

Hello, all you folks in sports-section land. Hope your Final Four picks haven't been eliminated yet. Not to inundate you with more college basketball, but with all the talk about the men's tournament lately, the women's basketball tournament has been completely overlooked (at least in this column). That's not fair, so here is a brief overview of the 1996 women's basketball tournament.

The women's field was expanded to 64 teams this year. It's nice to see that women's basketball is rapidly advancing to the level of men's basketball, at least in terms of competitiveness. The expanded field means extra bids for a lot of conferences and regions. Six teams from the New England area were invited to this year's tournament, but that doesn't compare to the mighty Southeastern Conference, which sent seven.

In the East, perennial powerhouse Tennessee is the top seed, and has a fairly easy run to the regional finals, but will have trouble getting into the Final Four. Why? Unlike the men's tournament, there is no rule against a team playing on its home floor; in fact, first- and second-round games are played at the home sites of the top four regional seeds. Amazingly enough, third seed Virginia will play all of its regional games on its own home floor, and the home-court advantage will send them to Charlotte for the finals.

For the second year in a row, Connecticut has a no. 1 seed in both tournaments. The Lady Huskies are tops in the Mideast, and should roll to the Final Four. Along the way, they will probably face UMass (about time; people have been clamoring for a UMass-UConn game all year) and Big Ten power Iowa.

Over in the Midwest, the top seed is Louisiana Tech, which sports a 28-1 record and the no. 1 ranking in the country. Texas Tech and SEC power Georgia will be tough, but Tech should have no trouble advancing through the region. Just imagine; a tech school in the Final Four!

Last but not least, Stanford is once again top seed in the West. Is Stanford ever not the top seed in the West? There isn't a whole lot of competition in this region, except perhaps for Penn State; Stanford to the Final Four.

In the Final Four, UConn should get past Virginia, and Louisiana Tech will send the Cardinal home. The final will be a tough match, with Connecticut eager to repeat as national champs. In the end, though, Louisiana Tech will prevail (hey, you just can't argue with 28-1).

Well, that was painless. Let's move on.

EAS goes inside the batter's box

As promised, EA Sports begins the countdown to Opening Day with its American League preview. This should be quick because, let's face it, who can be that interested in baseball this early in March?

First, the AL East. Last year, Baltimore, New York, and Toronto made huge improvements to their rosters in the off-season. If you recall, at the All-Star break, Boston had a three-game lead on Detroit for first place. This year, however, big free agent signings by the Orioles should bring them a pennant.

The Red Sox have also made some moves, improving both their pitching staff and their hitting. Of course, with all the potential designated hitters, you know Jose Canseco will be in right field. The horror. Still, the Sox should get the wild card.

The Yankees, on the other hand, unloaded a lot of their high-priced free agents. It makes good business sense, but the Yanks won't be in the playoffs this year. The Blue Jays, still trying to recapture the magic that made them world champs in '93, will finish poorly, but they won't finish last, because Detroit is in the East. Yes, the Tigers will finish in the basement, but they will lead the league in home runs (and strikeouts).

In a stupendous freak occurrence, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minnesota, and Kansas City will all finish in a tie for second place with 82-80 records in the ALCentral, but no one will care. Why? Because the Cleveland Indians, who strengthened an already lethal pitching staff with the addition of Jack McDowell, will win the division by forty games on their way to the World Series. Any questions? No? Good.

Moving on, then, Seattle has a good shot at repeating as West champs, but the Angels came too close last year to be denied, and their free agent signings make them the favorites for the pennant. The Rangers won't be in the hunt like they were last year, but take heart, Texas fans; your team isn't as bad as the A's. Meanwhile, Oakland fans can console themselves with the fact that their team isn't as bad as, oh, say, the Padres.

Next week: the just-as-brief National League preview.

As for the trivia question

Can't think of one this week. Wait for next week's issue.

Answer to last week's question: The last Big East team to win the NCAA basketball championship was Villanova, which upset Georgetown in the 1985 tournament. Correct answers were sent in by Jaime Sarabia '98, Matt Congo '97, Thomas Epps '97, Frank Greer '97, Stephen Vetere '97, Howard Cheng '96, and Walter Sun G.