Best player: The ascension of Odyssey Sims, the BIG 12 Player of the Year, has been astounding. The senior guard and future WNBA lottery pick improved her scoring from 12.9 to 28.4 points per game this season. She's been an adept distributor (4.5 assists) and rebounder (4.5 rebounds) as she has carried the Bears most of this season. Sims posted career highs of 48 points and 10 rebounds in a win at West Virginia, 47 points in an overtime loss to Kentucky and dropped 40 points in a victory over Kansas State.
Best go-to player: Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike, the Pac-12 player of the year, is the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in scoring (26.7), rebounds (12), field-goal percentage (62.2) and double doubles (21). She's the Pac-12's all-time leading rebounder and is only 87 points shy of setting the conference record in scoring.
Best guard/playmaker: Few guards do as much as Notre Dame's Kayla McBride. The 5-11 senior scores (17.5 ppg), passes (3.8), rebounds (5.5) and defends (1.3 steals). McBride's all-around play earned her ACC player of the year honors.
Best player you've never heard of: Army sophomore guard Kelsey Minato (21.8 ppg) can score with anyone. The 5-8 dynamo, the Patriot League player of the year, had a career-high 49 points in a 92-85 loss to Holy Cross and has scored 25 or more points 11 other times this season.
Best bet to spring an upset: Marist (27-6) won 16 of its final 17 games and earned the 11th seed. That might not be good news for No. 6 Iowa (26-8).
Best matchup: The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (29-4) have one of the nation's top players in 6-1 forward Ebony Rowe (21.7 ppg, 11.7 reb). The team proved how tough it could be in a 67-57 loss at Tennessee as the Blue Raiders led the Volunteers 34-22 at the half. The eighth seed gets No. 9 Oregon State (23-10) in a first-round game on Sunday in the Nashville regional. The Beavers, led by Jamie Weisner (13.8 ppg) and Ruth Hamblin (10.1 ppg, 8.6 reb) have one of the most balanced offenses in the tournament.
Best coaching matchup: Marist's Brian Giorgis might be the most underrated coach in the game. The Red Foxes will be making their ninth straight tournament appearance. Iowa's Lisa Bluder has been just as effective, leading Iowa to six straight NCAA Tournaments, and 11th overall in 14 years at the school.
On the Locals:
Fordham (25-7), a 10th seed, is making its second NCAA appearance in program history and will play No. 7 California on Saturday in the Nashville regional. Eighth-seeded St. John's (22-10) makes its fifth straight appearance in the tournament (the second under coach Joe Tartamella) and will face No. 9 USC in a first-round game in the Nashville regional Saturday.
Local players in the tourney
Ariel Edwards, F, Elmont, Christ the King HS (Penn State)
Bria Hartley, G, North Babylon HS (Connecticut)
Eugeneia McPherson, G, North Babylon HS (St. John's)
Emma O'Connor, F, Kellenberg HS (Marist)