NCAA Women's Tournament preview
THREE STORY LINES
Home-court advantage to the extreme?
Many teams will be playing first-round games in their home states. Notre Dame and Maryland are among several squads that will be playing on their home court. The NCAA has made an effort to increase attendance, but should Maryland, a No. 2 seed, get to play in College Park? Texas A & M, a third seed, plays Albany in College Station, but St. John's, also a No. 3, has to play Creighton in Norman, Okla.
How far can Elena Delle Donne take Delaware?
The 6-5 junior led the nation in scoring (27.5) and averaged 10.5 rebounds. Junior guard Lauren Carra was the only other Delaware player to average double figures in scoring. Delle Donne's dominance should be enough to get the third-seeded Blue Hens past Arkansas-Little Rock and the winner of Nebraska-Kansas and into the Sweet 16. Anything past that will require a team effort.
The major-conference teams have dominated women's college basketball all season. Delaware (CAA) and Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon) are the only schools in the top 10 not from one of the power six conferences. Is there a mid-major capable of making a miracle run to the Final Four? Watch out for Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders have a great inside-out combo with guard Kortni Jones (17 ppg, 4.8 apg) and forwards Ebony Rowe (16.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Icelyn Ellie (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg).
FIVE TEAMS THAT CAN WIN IT ALL
BAYLOR (34-0): It's not all about Brittney Griner. The 6-8 junior is at the center of everything Baylor does, but she'll need help from the backcourt if the Bears expect to win their first championship since 2005. Sophomore guard Odyssey Sims has been a fine complement to Griner. If Sims continues her torrid play, Baylor should have no problems advancing to the Final Four.
STANFORD (31-1): The Cardinal might be the most underrated great team in the country. With the sister act of Nnemkadi (21.8 ppg, 10.5 reb) and Chiney Ogwumike (15.8 ppg, 10.3 reb) roaming the paint, Stanford is a favorite to make a return trip to the Final Four. But the Ogwumike sisters are going to need help from their backcourt mates to bring home the hardware. Toni Koken (9.5 ppg) is Stanford's highest-scoring guard. No other Cardinal guard is averaging more than 4.1 points.
CONNECTICUT (29-4): The Huskies took a bit of a hit on the national stage after losing twice to Notre Dame and once to St. John's during conference play. Connecticut avenged those losses, outscoring the Red Storm and the Fighting Irish a combined 137-97 in the Big East Tournament en route to the conference title. Connecticut's backcourt of Tiffany Hayes and North Babylon graduate Bria Hartley is as versatile as any in the country.
NOTRE DAME (30-3): Any team with a player like Skylar Diggins (17 ppg, 5.7 apg) has a chance to win a championship. Arguably the most talented guard in the game, Diggins plays her best on the biggest stage. The 5-9 junior has help in Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters and Kayla McBride. Notre Dame has one of the nation's most balanced attacks.
MARYLAND (28-4): The Terrapins have everything it takes to advance. Maryland is strongest in the paint, where Alyssa Thomas (17.4 ppg, 8.1 reb) and Tianna Hawkins (12.2 ppg, 9.3 reb) reside. Maryland has the advantage of playing on its home court in the first two rounds and should cruise into the Sweet 16.
LOCAL PLAYERS IN TOURNEY
Kristine Best, Marist (Commack, St. Anthony's HS)
Julie Forster, Albany (Huntington, Huntington HS)
Emma O'Connor, Marist (Lynbrook, Kellenberg HS)
Ieashia Walker, South Carolina (Amityville, Copiague HS)