Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Women's College Basketball [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
What to expect in Champ Week

By Michelle Smith
espnW.com

American

In the regular season: In the American's inaugural season, Connecticut did the same thing it used to do in the Big East: keep opponents at arm's length.

What to watch for: South Florida is 8-2 over its last 10 games and earned the No. 3 seed, putting Rutgers in the No. 4 spot and in the same side of the bracket as the mighty Huskies. Not great news for a Scarlet Knights team looking to stay off the NCAA bubble.

Three players to watch:
• Shoni Schimmel, Louisville: The Cardinals star hasn't had her best games against Connecticut. She will have to break that trend to win this.
• Courtney Williams, South Florida: The sophomore is coming off a 26-point, 13-rebound effort against Rutgers.
• Bria Hartley, Connecticut: The Huskies junior guard is surrounded by stars, but she's the player who makes Connecticut go.

Who will win: Connecticut takes the first American tournament title in the least suspenseful final in the country.

ACC

In the regular season: Notre Dame came into one of the nation's toughest conferences and ran through it without a loss. Duke struggled with injuries, Maryland and North Carolina had their moments, and NC State was the big surprise.

What to watch for: Can Duke rally after devastating injuries in the backcourt to come up with a good showing in the conference tournament?

Three players to watch:
• Alyssa Thomas, Maryland: One of the best players in the country, she needs 14 points to break the school scoring record.
• Diamond DeShields, North Carolina: The top choice for national freshman of the year averages 17.7 points a game.
• Tricia Liston, Duke: Can the Blue Devils' senior guard shoot her team to a title?

Who will win: Notre Dame. The Irish and Kayla McBride might be the only team in the country that can challenge Connecticut for the national title. Winning the tough ACC tournament will be a good primer.

Big 12

In the regular season: It was a season of the unexpected in the Big 12. Baylor proved it was not rebuilding by winning a share of its fourth-straight Big 12 championship. And West Virginia rode its defense to a share of the regular-season crown in its second season in the league. It was the first co-championship in the Big 12 since 2007.

What to watch for: Oklahoma began the season as a highly ranked team but is now scrambling to get off the NCAA bubble with a 3-4 record down the stretch of the Big 12 schedule. The Sooners can solidify themselves and nail down a 15th straight NCAA appearance with a long run.

Three players to watch:
• Aaryn Ellenberg, Oklahoma: The Sooners senior guard has hit 81 3-pointers this season.
• Bria Holmes, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' leading scorer averages 14.8 points a game.
• Nina Davis, Baylor: The Lady Bears' next star player leads the conference in rebounding at 9.0 per game.

Who will win: Baylor. The Lady Bears will ride the scoring of senior star Odyssey Sims to a hard-won title.

Big East

In the regular season: In a remade conference that no longer includes Connecticut, Louisville or Notre Dame, DePaul asserted itself to finish 14-3 and win its first Big East regular-season title.

What to watch for: St. John's earned the No. 2 seed but will need to rediscover its momentum after losing four of five to close the Big East schedule.

Three players to watch:
• Natalie Butler, Georgetown: The Hoyas freshman broke the Big East single-season rebounding record (235 and counting).
• Katherine Plouffe, Marquette: She put up a career-high 33 points in the final game of the regular season.
• Jasmine Penny, DePaul: She shot 57 percent from the floor this season.

Who will win: DePaul. The Blue Demons, who rank seventh in the nation in scoring offense, were the best team in the new Big East at the start, and they will be the last ones standing at the finish.

Big Ten

In the regular season: Penn State and Michigan State tied for the regular-season title with 13-3 records, but the Lady Lions earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tiebreaking win over the Spartans on Jan. 19.

What to watch for: Purdue has won the past two conference tournaments. Can the No. 4 seed shake up this tournament bracket and win for a third straight year?

Three players to watch:
• Jordan Hooper, Nebraska: The league's coaches named her the Big Ten player of the year. She averages 20 points a game.
• Rachel Banham, Minnesota: She's the first Gophers player to win the league's scoring title (23.3 ppg) since 1993.
• Samantha Logic, Iowa: The conference leader in assists, she also ranks third nationally.

Who will win: Penn State. All-Big Ten first-team honoree Maggie Lucas leads Penn State to the tournament title in her senior season.

Pac-12

In the regular season: Stanford suffered just one loss in a conference race in which four games separated the next six teams in the standings. Cal gets the No. 2 seed, despite the loss to Washington in the regular-season finale.

What to watch for: Oregon State comes into the Pac-12 tournament on a roll, having won nine straight games and a program-record 13 games in conference play. The Beavers are the dark horse team to win this tournament and could end up as an NCAA team for the first time since 1996.

Three players to watch:
• Kelsey Plum, Washington: How will one of the nation's best freshmen perform in her first postseason tournament?
• Reshanda Gray, Cal: She has produced eight straight double-doubles and scored 43 points against Washington State last weekend.
• Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford: Can she capture the Pac-12's scoring record in this tournament?

Who will win: Stanford. The Cardinal have looked vulnerable at points during the Pac-12 season, but no one can stop Ogwumike inside as she steels herself, and her team, for the NCAA tournament.

SEC

In the regular season: South Carolina was the surprise conference champion after a great run through the SEC, but it was a tight race up and down the league with five different tiebreakers employed to assemble the brackets. Tennessee earned the No. 2 seed after defeating Texas A&M, which ended up with the No. 3 seed. Kentucky finished at No. 4.

What to watch for: Total chaos. It's not difficult to see any of the top seeds in this tournament falling to the likes of LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt or any of the other talented, tough teams in this field.

Three players to watch:
• Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina: The sophomore guard turned out to be the SEC player of the year.
• Meighan Simmons, Tennessee: The heart and soul of the Lady Vols is looking for one more tourney title in her final season.
• Christina Foggie, Vanderbilt: She is the SEC's leading scorer at 19.1 points a game.

Who will win: South Carolina. The Gamecocks will defend their way to the tournament championship, as well.