As the NCAA Women's Tournament gets set to tip off, here's a breakdown of what to watch for:
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Last season's Associated Press Player of the Year and Naismith Trophy winner Breanna Stewart may have had the advantage of a cushy conference in the American Athletic Conference, but there's no denying that Connecticut's 6-4 forward is a formidable all-around player and an absolute menace to opponents. They've often had to double- and triple-team her, opening up scoring opportunities for her teammates.2014 NCAA Women's Tournament printable bracket
All of UConn's starters averaged in double digits, and Stewart led the way, with 17.4 ppg. Her 7.3 rebounds per game also led the Huskies to a 32-1 record and a No. 1 seed. When challenged, like UConn was against Notre Dame, the AAC player of the year shined, dealing the Fighting Irish one of only two losses this season.
Best go-to player
Named player of the year by ESPNW, Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd is one of the front-runners for this season's Naismith Trophy, and it's no surprise: Loyd, a junior guard, averaged a career-high 20.5 points per game, along with 5.4 rebounds and a career-high 3.1 assists.
The ACC player of the year led her team to its second straight conference title, and she performed when it matters most, averaging 24.9 points and 3.1 assists in 11 games against ranked teams.
South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, the two-time SEC player of the year, is also a finalist for the Dawn Stanley Award, given to the best D-I guard in the country. The award is named after the South Carolina coach, a former star player. Mitchell averaged a team-high 14.4 points per game. She also played a team-high 29.4 minutes per game and hit 43 percent of her three-point attempts.
Best bet for an upset
Western Kentucky takes on Texas in what could very well be a classic 12-5 upset, with Western Kentucky (30-4) having just won its second straight Conference USA championship game behind Alexis Govan's 22 points. Texas, meanwhile, is 22-10 and received six votes for The Associated Press' top-25 teams, compared to Western Kentucky's 19.
Best player you've never heard of
Ohio State freshman Kelsey Mitchell burst on to the scene this season after the Buckeyes lost four players before the season even started. She became a scoring threat to be reckoned with, averaging an NCAA-high 25 points per game and earning her co-Big Ten player of the year, as well as rookie of the year honors, and, perhaps most importantly, she helped send No. 5 Ohio State to its first dance in three years.
Undefeated Princeton -- the only such women's team in the country -- racked together 30 wins this season, but was bumped down to an eight seed due to strength of schedule. But after winning 28 games by 10 or more points, the Tigers are up for a real challenge against No. 9 Green Bay (28-4), which enters the tournament having won 11 straight, including an overtime thriller in the Horizon League Championship game.
Best coaching matchup
Chattanooga's Jim Foster has taken four different teams to the NCAA Tournament and has led this team to a tournament berth every year since taking the helm in 2013. The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee is pitted up against Pittsburgh's Suzie McConnell-Serio, who, in her second year, erased the embarrassment of the 36-game conference losing streak that marked the program two years ago. This is the Panthers' first NCAA bid since 2009.
St. Francis (N.Y.) went 15-18 and earned its first tournament berth in program history, but, as the 16 seed, has the unenviable task of taking on Connecticut in the first round. No. 8 Syracuse takes on No. 9 Nebraska, and No. 13 Albany draws No. 3 Duke. In a battle of the New Jersey powerhouses, No. 8 Rutgers plays No. 9 Seton Hall in the Albany region.
Local players in the tourney
Massapequa's Bria Smith (Christ the King) will play for No. 3 Louisville, and Lynbrook's Jennifer Fay (Nazareth Regional) plays for No. 12 Quinnipiac.
Final Four prediction
UConn (1), Notre Dame (1), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (1)