Baylor is six wins from a second straight national championship. But, it’s hardly a foregone conclusion this year that the Lady Bears will repeat.
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 games (seedings in parentheses, winners in uppercase):
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Idaho (16) — The Huskies will make the Vandals’ first trip to the NCAAs in 28 years a short one. UConn isn’t about to see its 20-plus year streak of losing back-to-back games end.
VANDERBILT (8) Saint Joseph’s (9) — Saint Joseph’s plays tenacious defense, as was evident with their run to the Atlantic 10 tournament title. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt, which is just one of eight schools to make the NCAA field every year since 2000, can shoot the ball well.
MARIST (12) vs Michigan State (5) — There may not be that one star player on Brian Giorgis’ team this season, but the Red Foxes play great defense and anyone can step up on a given day. The Spartans had a great run through the Big Ten tournament before falling just short. This will be a low-scoring affair with the underdog coming away with the win.
MARYLAND (4) vs. Quinnipiac (13) — The Bobcats are making their first trip to the NCAAs and riding a 22-game winning streak. Coach Tricia Fabbri loves to play a hockey-style game subbing five in at a time, hoping to wear down an opponent. It won’t be enough to upset Alyssa Thomas and the Terps.
DELAWARE (6) vs. West Virginia (11) — Getting to play on their home court will be enough to help Elena Delle Donne and the Blue Hens overcome the physical Mountaineers. Akeema Richards transferred from West Virginia and will definitely have added incentive to send the Mountaineers home early.
NORTH CAROLINA (3) vs. Albany, NY (14) — The Tar Heels are back in the tournament after a rare one-year absence, and with ACC rookie of the year Xylina McDaniel — the daughter of former NBA star Xavier McDaniel will get through the first round. The Great Danes are making their second straight NCAA appearance after running through the America East. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough offense to stay with the Tar Heels.
ST. JOHN’S (10) vs. Dayton (7) — The Red Storm are hosting for the first time and don’t plan on losing in the opening round. The balanced Flyers have only lost twice this season, but lack of tournament experience will do them in.
KENTUCKY (2) vs. Navy (15) — The Wildcats have too much on offense and have a strong pressure defense to not sink the young Midshipmen. Navy is making its third straight trip to the NCAAS.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Vanderbilt (9) — The Commodores won’t be able to keep up with UConn and the Huskies will advance to the regional semifinals for the 20th straight season.
MARYLAND (4) vs. Marist (12) — The Terrapins are tough to beat at home and the Red Foxes will challenge them, but Thomas and Tianna Hawkins will prove to be too much.
DELAWARE (6) vs. North Carolina (3) — There’s just no way that Elena Delle Donne will lose her final game at home. She’ll have a huge game to lift the Blue Hens to the regional semifinals and a trip to Connecticut.
KENTUCKY (2) vs. St. John’s (10) — Nadirah McKenith will be able to handle the Wildcats’ 40 minutes of dread. Unfortunately, the Red Storm don’t have an answer for Samarie Walker.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Maryland (4) — The Terrapins gave UConn a tough game in the Jimmy V Classic back in December. Maryland is still short-handed and the Huskies are too strong.
KENTUCKY (2) vs. Delaware (6) — Delle Donne and Samarie Walker could have been teammates at UConn. Instead, they will be facing each other in the regional semifinals. Delle Donne’s career will end one step short of the matchup that everyone would have loved to see.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Kentucky (2) — Tiffany Hayes was the difference last year when these two met in the regional final and UConn came away with a 15-point win. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis will be the one this time to get the Huskies back to their sixth straight Final Four.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Tennessee-Martin (16) — The Irish aren’t thrilled they are playing in Iowa. They’ll take it out on the Skyhawks. Tennessee-Martin has won eight straight and already played three Top 10 teams this season back in November. They lost those on average by 23 points.
IOWA (9) vs Miami (8) — For the second straight season, the Hurricanes will have to play an opponent on its home court in the NCAA tournament. For the second time in a row, they’ll fall. Iowa has lost in four of their past five opening-round NCAA games.
COLORADO (5) vs Kansas (12) — The Jayhawks were somewhat of a surprise to make the field. Angel Goodrich and Chucky Jeffrey will be an awesome matchup of two talented senior guards. The Buffaloes have enough of a supporting cast and home-court advantage to win this matchup of teams familiar with each other from their Big 12 days.
SOUTH CAROLINA (4) vs South Dakota State (13) — The Jackrabbits have made the NCAA tournament all five years since they moved up from NCAA Division II, winning once. They won’t be able to get that second victory in the matchup of “south” schools. The Gamecocks set a school record with their 11 SEC wins this season and matched a 33-year-old school record with 23 regular-season wins.
NEBRASKA (6) vs. Chattanooga (11) — Jordan Hooper and Lindsay Moore were a combined 9 for 39 in last season’s opening round loss to Kansas in NCAA tournament. They won’t repeat that against the Lady Mocs, who have won 19 straight games.
TEXAS A&M (3) vs. Wichita State (14) — The Shockers are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament and it will be a short one against a strong Texas A&M squad which is peaking at the right time. The Aggies had three straight wins over No. 14 South Carolina, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 7 Kentucky to win the SEC tournament.
DEPAUL (10) vs. Oklahoma State (7) — The Blue Demons are a very different team when Anna Martin plays. The senior guard will get them out of the first round against the Cowgirls.
DUKE (2) vs. Hampton (15) — The Lady Pirates have won 19 straight games and lead the nation in scoring defense (47.2 ppg). They definitely could make noise in the tournament if they didn’t have to travel to Durham for the first round. The Blue Devils will pull out a close victory at home.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Iowa (9) — The Irish have beaten UConn twice in Connecticut. Really, how much more hostile could the Hawkeyes fans be? Notre Dame rolls to regional semifinals.
SOUTH CAROLINA (4) vs. Colorado (5) — Aleighsa Welch will get the Gamecocks back to the regional semifinals for the second straight season.
TEXAS A&M (3) vs. Nebraska (6) — Kelsey Bone is going to be too much for the Cornhuskers’ front line as the Aggies move on.
DUKE (2) vs. DePaul (10) — After a defensive struggle in the first game, the Blue Devils will be happy to open it up against the Blue Demons. Duke has just too much offense for DePaul to keep up with.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. South Carolina (4) — Natalie Achonwa has stepped up her game this season after playing for Canada in the Olympics this past summer. She’ll be the difference against the Gamecocks.
DUKE (2) vs. Texas A&M (3) — It’s going to be a great battle inside between Elizabeth Williams and Kelsey Bone. Duke’s got too much of a supporting cast including freshman Alexis Jones who has helped the Blue Devils survive the season-ending injury to Chelsea Grey.
NOTRE DAME (1) vs. Duke (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. It’s just too bad that Duke isn’t at 100 percent or else this would have been a great day to be a Blue Devil.
STANFORD (1) vs. Tulsa (16) — Tulsa is 10-3 in its last 13 games. The Golden Hurricanes didn’t play anyone the caliber of the Cardinal. Tulsa’s first NCAA trip in seven years will be done in one game.
VILLANOVA (9) vs. Michigan (8) — Kim Barnes Arico knows all about Harry Perretta’s system having spent years coaching at St. John’s. Her new team just doesn’t have enough offensive weapons to beat the Wildcats.
GONZAGA (12) vs. Iowa State (5) — The Zags have made a living the last few years winning NCAA tournament games at home. The Cyclones will be the latest higher seed to fall to Kelly Graves’ team.
GEORGIA (4) vs. Montana (13) — Andy Landers and Robin Selvig have combined for over 1,600 wins in their stellar careers, yet have only played once. That game was in the 2000 NCAA tournament played in Athens. Georgia won by 28. This meeting might not end much differently.
LSU (6) vs. Green Bay (11) — Green Bay has won at least one game in the NCAAs in the past three years, including a trip to the regional semifinals in 2011. Kevin Borseth is back in charge after spending a few years at Michigan. The Phoenix just don’t have enough to knock off the Lady Tigers at home.
PENN STATE (3) vs. Cal Poly (14) — The Mustangs earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament with all-around team contributions. They just don’t have nearly enough to hang with the talented Nittany Lions backcourt of Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley.
SOUTH FLORIDA (10) vs. Texas Tech (7) — The Red Raiders are tough to beat at home going 14-3 this season, but the Bulls have the Smith sisters — Andrea and Andrell — who can put points on the board in a hurry. Throw in Inga Orekhova, who can get hot from the outside at anytime, and coach Jose Fernandez’s team will advance to the second round for the first time.
CALIFORNIA (2) vs. Fresno State (15) — These two Northern California schools are traveling 1,400 miles to meet in the first round. The Bulldogs will have a long trip home as they have no one who can match with Layshia Clarendon.
STANFORD (1) vs. Villanova (9) — There could be a lot of 3s taken in this game. Amber Orrange carried the Cardinal to the Pac-12 tournament title. She’ll be the difference against the Wildcats.
GONZAGA (12) vs. Georgia (4) — The Zags are missing the star power they’ve had in the past, but they still have the home-court advantage and send the Lady Bulldogs home early again. Georgia hasn’t made it past the regional semifinals since 2004.
PENN STATE (3) vs. LSU (6) — These teams will play for the second year in a row in Baton Rouge. Last season, the Nittany Lions won by 10. It will be another high-scoring matchup, but the Lady Tigers just don’t have enough to pull off the upset.
CALIFORNIA (2) vs. South Florida (10) — This could be an entertaining matchup with lots of points put up if South Florida is hitting its shots. Unfortunately, the Bulls have also struggled at times on offense — see a 42-39 win over Rutgers in Big East tournament second round. The Golden Bears will advance.
STANFORD (1) vs. Gonzaga (4) — A rematch of the 2011 regional final played in the same arena. A much better Gonzaga team lost by 23 to the Cardinal. This Stanford team isn’t as good, either, but still has enough to end another Bulldogs season.
PENN STATE (3) vs. California (2) — President Barack Obama has California advancing to the Final Four. The Golden Bears just don’t have a way to stop the Nittany Lions’ backcourt of Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley. Brittany Boyd will do the best she can, but it won’t be enough.
STANFORD (1) vs. Penn State (3) — Big players lead teams to the Final Four and Chiney Ogwumike will get the Cardinal there for the sixth straight year. The Nittany Lions make it a step farther than last season, but still fall short of their first Final Four since 2000.
OKLAHOMA CITY REGIONAL
BAYLOR (1) vs. Prairie View A&M (16) — These teams played in the first round of the NCAA tournament two years ago and the Lady Bears came away with a 36-point win. Brittney Griner and Co. are much better, and it will be a much wider margin.
PRINCETON (9) vs. Florida State (8) — The only thing missing from Niveen Rasheed’s career at Princeton is an NCAA tournament victory. That will change after the Tigers beat the Seminoles giving an Ivy League school a win for the first time since the Harvard-Stanford upset in 1998.
LOUISVILLE (4) vs. Middle Tennessee (13) — If the Blue Raiders were playing this game on a neutral court they’d have a really good shot at pulling off the upset behind star Ebony Rowe. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, the game is being played at Louisville. The home court will be the difference.
PURDUE (5) vs. Liberty (12) — The Flames enter the NCAA tournament on a 14-game winning streak despite losing starting point guard Emily Frazier to a knee injury on Feb. 16. They’re running against a Boilermakers squad that peaked at the right time with a Big Ten tournament title.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (11) vs. Oklahoma (6) — The Chippewas have size, depth and athleticism, and in Crystal Bradford, a rising star. A demanding non-conference schedule with games against Notre Dame and Purdue prepared them for tournament play. It will be too much for an injury-plagued Oklahoma team that lost four players, including three starters, to season-ending injuries by the start of December.
UCLA (3) vs. Stetson (14) — Fresh off a finals appearance in the Pac-12 tournament, Cori Close’s team is peaking at the right time. The Hatters rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to win the Atlantic Sun Championship over top-seed FGCU. They won’t have the same success against the Bruins.
SYRACUSE (7) vs. Creighton (10) — Star center Kayla Alexander will cap off her stellar career by helping the Orange win their first NCAA tournament game. She’ll be too much for Bluejays center Sarah Nelson, who is the leading post player in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.91).
TENNESSEE (2) vs. Oral Roberts (15) — Holly Warlick will get her first NCAA tournament victory, ending the college career of talented Oral Roberts guard Kevi Luper.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Princeton (9) — Rasheed has had a great career at Princeton, but the Tigers don’t have enough to contain Griner and the defending national champions.
LOUISVILLE (4) vs. Purdue (5) — The Boilermakers have been a Jekyll and Hyde team, and looked great to end the season winning Big Ten tournament. Don’t think they have enough to beat the Schimmel sisters and Louisville.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (11) vs. UCLA (6) — The Bruins have made great strides this year under Close. Unfortunately, they are running into a surging Central Michigan team. The Chippewas in a squeaker.
TENNESSEE (2) vs. Syracuse (7) — The Lady Vols never lose at home in the NCAA tournament. Kayla Alexander and Carmen Tyson-Thomas give the Orange a talented inside-outside duo, but just don’t have enough to beat Meighan Simmons and Tennessee.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Louisville (4) — Jeff Walz’s team has no real answer for Brittney Griner — then again no one really in the country does. Griner will find open teammates with her stellar passing and the Lady Bears will continue their quest for a second straight title.
TENNESSEE (2) vs. Central Michigan (11) — Only one No. 11 seed has made it to the regional final and that was Gonzaga in 2011. That streak will continue as the Chippewas’ season will end against the Lady Vols.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Tennessee (2) — A rematch of last season’s regional final game will end the same way with Baylor moving on and Tennessee failing to make the Final Four for a fifth straight season. There’s no way that the Lady Bears wouldn’t send coach Kim Mulkey back home to Louisiana for the Final Four.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Notre Dame (1) — The Irish have found a way to win the three meetings this season and have dominated the Huskies over the last few years like no other team ever has. The two Big East powers will have one final clash this season and UConn will find a way to finally pull one out ending the brilliant college career of Diggins.
BAYLOR (1) vs. Stanford (1) — The Cardinal handed Baylor its only loss of the past two seasons in Hawaii on Nov. 16. Odyssey Sims pulled her hamstring early in the first half and the Lady Bears weren’t the same. Sims is healthy and help the Lady Bears avenge the only blemish on their season.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Baylor (1) — The teams met in February and UConn couldn’t hold onto a halftime lead as Griner took over in the second half, including scoring her 3,000th career point. This will be one of the all-time great championship games, but Griner’s career will end just short of a second straight national championship and the Huskies will win their eighth.