In The Paint

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UConn women
Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery should probably book plane tickets to the Final Four/Icon SMI

By Tracy Schultz

The Final Four has become a regular occurence for a few high-profile programs in recent years. LSU, Tennessee and North Carolina have all enjoyed back-to-back trips over the past few seasons. Only one of last year's Final Four teams seems ready to return.

Connecticut – It's hard to believe that Connecticut had a three-year drought before returning to the Final Four last season. The Huskies are poised to get there again, too. The question isn't whether they'll make it to St. Louis, but who they'll face in the title game.

Tennessee – There is no question that defending national champion Tennessee has the talent it takes to reach a third straight Final Four. They even have the potential to stay close to home for the first two rounds, which are in Chattanooga. Still, the young Lady Vols just haven't found the consistency needed to make a long tournament run. They've lost their last three games against ranked teams, and haven't strung together two wins since a weaker part of the schedule in mid-January.

LSU – The Tigers might not have won the title, but they do have an impressive streak. They're coming off five straight trips to the Final Four. LSU, which is hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, may not even make the bracket this season. A win over Florida on Sunday may help their cause. Still, the Tigers have just 13 wins and are 1-5 against the Top 25. With four games left, including Georgia and Tennessee, they can certainly improve both of those numbers -- wins in both of those games would go a long way in helping their chances at a bid.

Stanford – If any team other than Connecticut has reason to expect another trip to the Final Four, it would have been Stanford. The Cardinal brought back most of the lineup that took it to the title game last season, including All-Pac-10 Jayne Appel and Freshman of the Year Kayla Pedersen. The returning stars are among four players averaging double digits on a balanced offense. The Cardinal's hopes could come down to experience at the point and placement in the tournament. Jeannette Pohlen has improved at the point, where she replaced an injured JJ Hones. She'll face tougher pressure in the postseason. Saturday's home win against California was the Cardinal's most impressive victory since an 83-45 pounding of Iowa State on a neutral court in November.

UNC – The Tar Heels may not have made the 2008 Final Four, but they were there in 2006 and 2007. With a strong start to the season, they made replacing first-round draft picks Erlana Larkins and Latoya Pringle look easy. You can't help but notice what those two contributed when you look UNC's losses, though. The Tar Heels were outrebounded 196-155 in their four losses this season. When it comes to win-or-go-home tournament, you can't afford to give second chances.

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