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Women's NCAA tournament is wide open

Baylor center Kalani Brown (21) reacts after scoring

Baylor center Kalani Brown (21) reacts after scoring against Iowa State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 women's conference tournament championship in Oklahoma City, Monday, March 11, 2019. Credit: AP/Alonzo Adams

The women’s NCAA tournament is wide open for the first time in years. There is no shortage of teams that could make a run to the Final Four in Tampa next month.

ESPN mistakenly posted the brackets on ESPNU earlier on Monday and decided to reveal the 64-team field two hours earlier than planned, which caused some teams planning watch parties to change their plans.

When the brackets were revealed, Louisville (Albany Region), Baylor (Greensboro Region), Notre Dame (Chicago Region) and Mississippi State (Portland Region) were awarded No. 1 seeds and are all capable of winning it all. Baylor is the overall No. 1 seed.

Connecticut is surprisingly a No. 2 seed in Albany. Iowa (Greensboro), Stanford (Chicago) and Oregon (Portland) are the other No. 2 seeds.

Key storylines
Plenty of parity 
Parity has finally arrived in women’s college basketball. There is no clear-cut favorite to win the national title. Defending national champion Notre Dame (30-3) looked very impressive in winning the ACC title. Big 12 champion Baylor (31-1) has a 23-game winning streak and has been the No. 1 team in the country since late January. SEC champion Mississippi State (30-2) has played in the last two national title games and has the roster to make it back again. Louisville (29-3) lost to Notre Dame in the ACC title game, but Asia Durr can get the Cardinals back to the Final Four for the second straight season. Connecticut (31-2) is not a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006 and hasn’t had its typical dominant regular season but rolled to the AAC title without Katie Lou Samuelson. Pac-12 champion Stanford (28-4) is fresh off a win over Oregon in the conference title game and handed Baylor its only loss. Oregon (29-4) stumbled a bit down the stretch with three losses in its final eight games, but it has the players to get to its first Final Four. Big Ten champion Iowa (26-6) has arguably the nation’s best player in center Megan Gustafson and surrounds her with multiple shooters.

Tennessee’s streak continues The Lady Vols have played in every NCAA Tournament since it started in 1982 and will extend the streak to 38 seasons. Tennessee was on the bubble with a 19-12 overall record and 7-9 SEC record, but the Lady Vols are in as the No. 11 seed in Albany and will face No. 6 UCLA in what should be an intriguing first-round game.

The health of Samuelson Connecticut has been to 11 straight Final Fours and will need their 6-3 senior guard/forward to be healthy to make it 12. Samuelson, who is averaging 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, injured her back in the final game of the regular season and missed the AAC Tournament. She is expected back for the NCAA Tournament, but will she be 100 percent?

Five players to watch

Kristine Anigwe, California: The senior center/forward had 32 points and 30 rebounds in a game this season and is averaging 22.9 points and a nation-leading 16.3 rebounds per game.

Cierra Dillard, Buffalo: The senior guard is averaging 25.3 point per game – second in the nation – for the Bulls, who made it to the Sweet 16 last season.

Megan Gustafson, Iowa: The senior, fresh off a 45-point performance in the Big Ten title game win over Maryland, leads the nation in scoring at 28 points per game and is averaging 13.3 rebounds.

Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon: The do-everything junior guard has an NCAA-record 17 triple-doubles in her career and leads arguably the nation’s best offense.

Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame: The senior guard was the star of the last year’s Final Four with two buzzer-beaters and is averaging 21 points heading into the tournament.

Top matchups

Best first-round game
Greensboro Region – No. 11 Princeton vs. No. 6 Kentucky:
Kentucky went 11-5 in the very tough SEC. Princeton has 6-4 two-way star Bella Alarie, who is averaging 23 points and 10.4 rebounds.

Best potential second-round game
Chicago Region -- No. 6 DePaul vs. No. 3 Iowa State:
Both teams rely on three-point shooting, which could lead to a high-scoring game. But Iowa State star Bridget Carleton could be the difference.

Best potential Sweet 16 game
Portland Region – No. 4 Miami vs. No. 1 Mississippi State:
Mississippi State 6-7 center Teaira McCowan has dominated this season, but Miami can counter with 6-4 Beatrice Mompremier and 6-3 Emese Hof.

Best potential Elite Eight game
Albany Region – No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 1 Louisville:
Louisville beat Connecticut earlier this season, but the Huskies could have a chance for revenge in what would be an epic regional final.

Toughest region
The Albany Region is deep with Louisville, Connecticut, Maryland and Oregon State as the top four seeds. Oregon State is a dangerous No. 4 seed with its size and ability to shoot the three, while No. 5 seed Gonzaga has a win over Stanford. The rest of the region is tough with UCLA-Tennessee, Rutgers-Buffalo and Michigan-Kansas State as first-round matchups.

Final Four predictions
Baylor over Mississippi State
Notre Dame over Connecticut
National title game: Notre Dame over Baylor

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