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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: March 16, 7:21 PM ET
Des Moines Regional breakdown

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No. 1 overall seed Baylor did not get an easy path to Denver. EspnW's writers each take a look at what some experts have tabbed the toughest regional in the women's tournament.

Three observations

1. If seeds hold, then the two women who've had the most support as player of the year -- Baylor's Brittney Griner and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne -- will both be in the Sweet 16 in Des Moines. (That is to say, the pair who have most support from everyone outside of Pac-12/Nneka Ogwumike territory.)

Jordan Hooper
Jordan Hooper and Nebraska face former Big 12 foe Kansas in the first round.

Griner, a true center, and Delle Donne, the ultimate guard/forward, are very different types of players. But both present almost impossible challenges for whoever is trying to guard them.

No. 3 seed Delaware would have to get past second-seeded Tennessee in that scenario for Delle Donne to potentially be on the same floor at the same time as Griner. But there could be another such interesting matchup of stars in the second round in Little Rock, Ark., should Delaware and No. 6 seed Nebraska both win their openers.

Nebraska sophomore Jordan Hooper, a 6-2 forward, has made 67-of-202 3-pointers this season while averaging 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds. The 6-5 Delle Donne has made 46-of-113 treys, with averages of 27.5 ppg (which leads the nation) and 10.3 rpg.

2. This region includes one of the happiest teams in the field, Kansas, and one of the angriest, Ohio State.

Kansas made the NCAA tournament every year from 1992-2000, but then went on a very long dry spell. Some years the Jayhawks weren't good enough, other times they were just too far on the wrong side of the bubble. They appeared to be in that position again this season. But despite the loss of top player Carolyn Davis to a knee injury in February, KU caught a break from the selection committee.

As opposed to Ohio State, which was 25-6 and finished second in the Big Ten, yet ended up with a No. 8 seed that the gobbledygook "committee-speak" doesn't really explain.

Speaking of unhappy, there is also the plight of North Carolina. Behind the scenes in recent years, UNC griped about not being an early-round host site since 2005. The Heels got the bid to host for this year … but then didn't make the at-large field.

3. Ohio State isn't pleased about potentially having to face Baylor in the second round. But the Buckeyes can't overlook a tough first-round game against No. 9 Florida, either.

The Gators beat LSU -- the No. 5 seed in the Kingston Regional -- twice this season, and Raleigh No. 4 seed Georgia once. -- Mechelle Voepel

Three players to watch

Sure, all eyes will be on Delle Donne and Griner, but those two stars have plenty of company in a talent-rich regional.

Tayler Hill, Ohio State: Ohio State coach Jim Foster was more than a little perturbed about his team's seeding, but a chance to play the role of aggrieved underdog might be the best thing for a program that has regularly disappointed as a favorite. Making the selection committee regret its choice starts with Big Ten Player of the Year Samantha Prahalis, but the Buckeyes are the only team in the nation with two players averaging at least 20 points per game (there are only 16 players in that category to begin with, and only seven made the NCAA tournament). Hill adds a dimension that Ohio State teams built around bigs such as Jessica Davenport and Jantel Lavender lacked in recent seasons, a dominant scorer who can react to Prahalis but also get her own shot. Hill shoots 41.6 percent from the 3-point line and 76.8 percent from the free throw line, with team-high attempts from both spots, so there's no easy way to contain her.

Lindsey Moore, Nebraska: The first-round game between Nebraska and Kansas isn't likely to command the national spotlight, but there aren't any better individual matchups in the first two days of play than Nebraska's Moore going head-to-head with former conference rival Angel Goodrich. When the teams met last season for the final time as Big 12 foes, Moore scored 33 points on 14-of-21 shooting, but Goodrich got the last laugh with 11 assists in a win (of course, she had Carolyn Davis to feed in that one, a luxury she won't have without the injured standout in the first round). Moore was sensational early this season but lost her 3-point shooting touch in conference play. A strong run in the Big Ten tournament -- including 26 points against Iowa, 27 points against Purdue and 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc -- suggests a point guard who can put the drive-dish-shoot package together as well as anyone is primed for March.

Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson, Tennessee: Pardon the double entry here, but Stricklen and Glory Johnson are two of the more interesting characters in the entire tournament. They are gifted individual talents who are the headliners of a senior class (Johnson is technically a graduate student after earning her degree in three years) that had the incredibly unenviable task of following on the heels of Candace Parker and guiding the program through uncertain territory in the first season after Pat Summitt announced her battle with early-onset Alzheimer's. It can't be anything other than a disappointment for a class to pass through Knoxville without reaching a Final Four, but against the backdrop of their particular place in time, anything else would be a rather remarkable achievement. For all of that, the combination of Stricklen's all-around game and Johnson's explosiveness remains a pleasure to watch when working the way it did in the SEC tournament. -- Graham Hays

Best first-round game to watch

(6) Nebraska vs. (11) Kansas: This matchup of teams from powerhouse conferences will likely be one of the closer opening games and features teams familiar with one another because of Nebraska's past life in the Big 12 Conference.

Nebraska, now in the Big Ten, has flown under the radar for much of the season, but it's possible that this young-gun team will establish itself with a strong showing in the tourney. Nebraska came on strong at the Big Ten tournament, knocking off ranked Ohio State in the semifinals before taking Purdue to the wire in the final.

The Huskers (24-8) are paced by point guard Lindsey Moore and forward Jordan Hooper, both of whom are capable of dropping 25-plus points in any game. Moore and Hooper are two of the more potent, under-the-radar players in the Des Moines Regional, and Connie Yori's club will need star-like showings from both if its going to make a splash.

Kansas (19-12) is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2000. -- Kate Fagan

Upsets to watch for

Fresno State over Georgetown (first round): The Hoyas' offense struggled mightily in the second half of the season. If Sugar Rodgers isn't cashing in on her opportunities, fifth-seeded Georgetown might not be able to keep pace with the Bulldogs, who are ninth in the county in scoring. The 3-pointer in tournament play is the great equalizer, and Fresno State makes nearly 10 a game.

Nebraska over Delaware (second round): This is a matchup of stars. Nebraska has two. Delaware has one. Of course, the Blue Hen's Elena Della Donne is by far the best player on the floor in this one, but Lindsey Moore's play in the backcourt to go with Jordan Hooper inside and out could give the Huskers an advantage. -- Charlie Creme

Potential regional semifinals

(5) Georgetown vs. (1) Baylor: Considering the relative ease in which they've compiled a 34-0 record, the Lady Bears look like they should cruise through the first two rounds. That could set up a Sweet 16 matchup with Georgetown, a team that will be a significant size mismatch. But watching the guard matchup between Odyssey Sims and Hoyas guard Sugar Rodgers will be worth the price of a ticket.

Georgetown is going to have to survive a tough first-round matchup against a very capable Fresno State team and then likely fourth-seeded Georgia Tech in the second round. But the Hoyas should be in good shape, particularly on the defensive end, where they are stifling opponents to the tune of 51.9 points a game.

(3) Delaware vs. (2) Tennessee: This would be one of the most appealing games of the entire tournament and the highest-profile matchup of Elena Delle Donne's college basketball career.

First Delaware, making its first NCAA appearance since 2007 and riding a seven-game winning streak, has to get there. And getting past a Jordan Hooper-led Nebraska team that has won 25 games this season won't be easy.

The Blue Hens have won 30 games and a first-ever conference title, but the degree of difficulty goes up considerably for the Blue Hens, who have played four games all season against NCAA caliber talent (they did, however, go 3-1, beating Penn State, Princeton and St. Bonaventure in the opening two weeks of the season).

The Lady Vols open with Pat Summitt's alma mater in Tennessee-Martin, and are hoping their inspiring performance in the SEC tournament will carry over. Because the team that has struggled against some of the nation's best already this season (losses to Baylor, Stanford and Notre Dame) can't afford to show up now. -- Michelle Smith