Baylor is six wins from becoming the first team to win 40 games in a season. It’s hardly a foregone conclusion this year that the Lady Bears will win the national championship.
Here’s one look at the 63 games and how they might pan out. It’s guaranteed to remain unblemished until at least Saturday’s opening-round game (seedings in parentheses, winners in uppercase):
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Prairie View A&M (16) _ The Huskies looked really strong in the Big East tournament, the Lady Panthers won’t provide much of a test in the opener.
PRINCETON (9) vs. Kansas State (8) _ What a week for the Tigers. They earned the Ivy League’s first Top 25 ranking and the conference’s highest seed ever. Junior guard Niveen Rasheed will cap it off by helping them win their first NCAA game.
LSU (5) vs. San Diego State (12) _ LSU coach Nikki Caldwell welcomed a new addition to the Tigers family by giving birth to a baby girl on March 6. Staying at home for the first two rounds is one less headache for the new mom.
PENN STATE (4) vs. UTEP (13) _ The Nittany Lions had a great regular season winning the Big Ten conference. Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley are a really talented backcourt.
GONZAGA (11) vs. Rutgers (6) _ Getting to play on their home court should be enough to help the Zags pull the upset of Rutgers.
MIAMI (3) vs. Idaho State (14) _ Having good guards will help you advance in the NCAA tournament and the Hurricanes have a great pair in Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams.
IOWA STATE (10) vs. Green Bay (7) _ Green Bay coach Matt Bollant felt his team was underseeded with just one loss on the season. Having to play in Ames, Iowa, will make star Julie Wojta’s NCAA trip a short one.
KENTUCKY (2) vs. McNeese State (15) _ The Wildcats have been a little off their game the last few weeks. They should be able to right themselves against the Cowgirls.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Princeton (9) _ The Tigers’ run will come to an end against the Huskies after a competitive first half. Stefanie Dolson and Kiah Stokes will prove to be too much inside for Princeton to handle.
PENN STATE (4) vs. LSU (5) _ The Nittany Lions fell just short of making it to the regional last year losing at home to DePaul. They will get through this year.
MIAMI (3) vs. Gonzaga (11) _ The difference from Gonzaga’s run last year to the regional finals and this year is Courtney Vandersloot. Miami’s guards are just too good to lose this early.
IOWA STATE (10) vs. Kentucky (2) _ Playing in front of 11,000 screaming Cyclones fans will get coach Bill Fennelly’s squad to the regional semis.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Penn State (4) _ Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis became the first UConn rookie to win the Big East tournament outstanding player since Diana Taurasi. She’ll be the difference in this one.
MIAMI (3) vs. Iowa State (10) _ Stefanie Ydersterom gives Miami its own “Big 3.” She’ll support Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson to get the Hurricanes to the regional final.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Miami (3) _ The Huskies have the best defense in the country and will need it to shut down the talented Hurricanes offense. UConn will advance in a low-scoring affair.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Liberty (16) _ The Irish have been focused on getting back to the NCAA title game and should run past Liberty in the opener.
CALIFORNIA (8) vs. Iowa (9) _ Brittany Boyd is a talented freshmen guard who has been flying below the national radar.
FLORIDA GULF COAST (12) vs. St. Bonaventure (5) _ The battle of the NCAA newbies. Both teams may have jitters early on, but the Eagles’ 3-point shooting will carry them to the win.
MARIST (13) vs. Georgia (4) _ The Red Foxes have been one of the surprises of the NCAA tournament the last few seasons. They’ll continue the trend with an upset of Georgia.
ARKANSAS (6) vs. Dayton (11) _ SEC Coach of the Year Tom Collen has paced Arkansas to its second consecutive 20-win season, a program-best eight consecutive SEC regular-season wins, victories over four ranked teams. Dayton made a great run to get into the tournament by winning the Atlantic-10
TEXAS A&M (3) vs. Albany, N.Y. (14) _ The defending champs should have no problem knocking off the tournament newcomer.
LOUISVILLE (7) vs. Michigan State (10) _ Shoni Schimmel will be the difference for the Cardinals in this defensive battle.
MARYLAND (2) vs. Navy (15) _ Only 30 miles separate these schools. The difference on the court is a lot greater. The Terps roll over the Midshipmen.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. California (8) _ Natalie Novosel has come up big all season for the Irish. She’ll shoot them past the Golden Bears.
MARIST (13) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (12) _ Corielle Yarde is the latest star guard to play for coach Brian Giorgis. She’ll guide the Red Foxes back to the regional semifinals.
TEXAS A&M (3) vs. Arkansas (6) _ Gary Blair takes on his former school and former assistant Tom Collen. It would be something to see the defending national champs knocked out by one of his disciples. Kelsey Bone won’t let that happen to the Aggies on their home court.
MARYLAND (2) vs. Louisville (10) _ See above. Jeff Walz was an assistant for Brenda Frese when the Terps won the national championship. The two met in 2009 with the Cardinals knocking off Maryland in the regional final. The Terps are just too talented for that to happen again.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Marist (13) _ Giorgis is incredibly good at scouting opponents. He just doesn’t have enough talent to pull off this monumental upset.
MARYLAND (2) vs. Texas A&M (3) _ The Terps finally end the defending champions’ run in the postseason. Alyssa Thomas will be the difference for the Terps.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Maryland (2) _ The Irish haven’t needed much out of stellar guard Skylar Diggins until now. She’ll carry Notre Dame back to the Final Four in one of the best games of the tournament.
STANFORD (1) vs. Hampton (16) _ The Cardinal’s first NCAA trip east of the Rockies since 2001 will result in a tougher than expected win over Hampton.
WEST VIRGINIA (8) vs. Texas (9) _ The first of many future matchups between these two Big 12 schools. The Mountaineers tough-nosed defense will get them the win.
SOUTH CAROLINA (5) vs. Eastern Michigan (12) _ It’s been a season of firsts for the Gamecocks. Now with their first trip to NCAAs in nine seasons, coach Dawn Staley will make sure it lasts more than one game.
PURDUE (4) vs. South Dakota State (13) _ The Jackrabbits are making their fourth consecutive tournament appearance. The school made it to the second round in 2009, but hasn’t advanced beyond the opening round in the past two tournaments. The host Boilermakers will keep that streak going.
OKLAHOMA (6) vs. Michigan (11) _ Sherri Coale’s team has been struggling lately, but sharpshooters Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg will carry them past the Wolverines, who are making their first appearance in the NCAAs in 11 years.
ST. JOHN’S (3) vs. Creighton (14) _ The Red Storm have been sizzling since they got healthy and won 14 of their final 17 games, including ending UConn’s 99-game home winning streak.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (10) vs. Vanderbilt (7) _ Surprisingly these two schools 40 miles apart haven’t played in 20 years. The Blue Raiders have lost to SEC schools the last two seasons in the NCAA tournament. They hope the third time will be the charm.
DUKE (2) vs. Samford (15) _ The Blue Devils shockingly lost in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. They won’t slip up in the NCAAs.
STANFORD (1) vs. West Virginia (8) _ West Virginia will try and make this a slow, plodding game. The Ogwumike sisters won’t let that happen.
PURDUE (4) vs. South Carolina (5) _ The Boilermakers will defend their home court and advance to the regional semis.
ST. JOHN’S (3) vs. Oklahoma (6) _ The Red Storm are road-tested and will disappoint the Sooners faithful by finally making it out of the second round, winning on an opponent’s home court for the first time in three NCAA tries.
DUKE (2) vs. Middle Tennessee (10) _ Elizabeth Williams shows why she is one of the best freshmen in the country, asserting herself against Middle Tennessee.
STANFORD (1) vs. Purdue (4) _ Nnemkadi Ogwumike has raised her game over the last month, even hitting 3-pointers in the Pac-12 tournament. She’ll carry the Cardinal to the regional finals.
ST. JOHN’S (3) vs. Duke (2) _ Great matchup at the point guard spot with Nadirah McKenith and Chelsea Gray. Duke really will miss Richa Jackson, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Shenneika Smith hit the big shot to beat UConn, she’ll do it again to knock off the Blue Devils.
STANFORD (1) vs. St. John’s (3) _ President Obama has the Red Storm making the Final Four. The Red Storm won’t be intimidated having already played Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn this season. They just don’t match up well enough to stop the Ogwumike sisters.
DES MOINES REGIONAL
BAYLOR (1) vs. UC Santa Barbara (16) _ First year UCSB coach Carlene Mitchell learned a thing or two about defense under Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. Stopping Brittney Griner is too tall an order. Can the 6-foot-8 phenom get a triple double in limited action?
OHIO STATE (8) vs. Florida (9) _ Jim Foster feels his Buckeyes were snubbed in the seeding. Talented guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill will be way too much for the Gators.
FRESNO STATE (12) vs. Georgetown (5) _ Sugar Rodgers can flat out score. Unfortunately the Hoyas have been struggling to find consistency on offense besides her. The WAC champs have become one of the best mid-majors out West, thanks to the Bulldogs’ uptempo pace and proficient 3-point shooting.
GEORGIA TECH (4) vs. Sacred Heart (13) _ The Yellow Jackets came within a few minutes of winning the ACC championship. Senior Sasha Goodlett will be the difference for them in the opening round.
NEBRASKA (6) vs. Kansas (11) _ The Cornhuskers made the most of their move to the Big Ten by losing in the conference tournament title game to Purdue. They’ll have more than enough to beat old Big 12 rival Kansas.
DELAWARE (3) vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (14) _ Elena Delle Donne will get her first taste of the NCAA tournament and carry the Blue Hens to their first win.
DEPAUL (7) vs. BYU (10) _ The Blue Demons are in the tournament for the 10th straight season. This might be the best game of the first round as the Lady Cougars play tremendous defense. Anna Martin will carry DePaul to the second round.
TENNESSEE (2) vs. Tennessee Martin (15) _ The last time the Skyhawks beat the Lady Vols, Pat Summitt was their star player. Summitt won’t fall to her alma mater.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Ohio State (8) _ The Buckeyes backcourt is good enough to hang with the top team in the nation. They don’t, however, have an answer for Brittney Griner.
GEORGIA TECH (4) vs. Fresno State (12) _ The Yellow Jackets will end the Bulldogs’ run.
DELAWARE (3) vs. Nebraska (6) _ The Cornhuskers have a young emerging star in Jordan Hooper, who had 14 double-doubles this season. They just don’t have an answer on defense to stop Delle Donne.
TENNESSEE (2) vs. DePaul (7) _ These two teams met on Dec. 11 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden and the Lady Vols won by 23 points. The Blue Demons had star Keisha Hampton for that game. She’s out for the year with a knee injury.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Georgia Tech (4) _ Brittney Griner will get a lot of help from her supporting cast, including star guard Odyssey Sims as the Lady Bears’ march to national championship continues.
TENNESSEE (2) vs. Delaware (3) _ The Lady Vols senior class doesn’t want to be the first to not make the Final Four in their tenure. Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen will be enough to get them past Delle Donne in a battle of superstars.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Tennessee (2) _ The two teams met in Knoxville and Tennessee held an eight-point lead early in the second half. Brittney Griner then took over. She’s gotten a lot better and will end the Lady Vols season a step short of the Final Four.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Notre Dame (1)_ A rematch of last season’s Final Four that saw Notre Dame finally beat Connecticut after losing the first three times in the regular season. The Irish won the first two meetings this year before falling in the Big East tournament title game. The Huskies will even the series up.
STANFORD (1) vs. Baylor (1) _ The Cardinal have made the Final Four the past four years and come up short every time. Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Brittney Griner will put on an offensive display. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, they won’t be able to score enough points to beat the Lady Bears.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Baylor (1) _ The two teams met in December and UConn fell just short of handing Baylor its first loss of the season. No coach outside of Kim Mulkey knows more about Brittney Griner than Geno Auriemma, who coached her on the U.S. national team. He’ll figure a way to slow her down this time around and the Huskies will be celebrating their eighth title, spoiling the Lady Bears chances of becoming the first men’s or women’s team to win 40 games.
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