On Selection Monday, espnW's writers picked a lot of chalk to reach the Final Four. The one team that wasn't a No. 1 seed tabbed to reach Denver by at least one expert? Second-seeded Maryland. Bottom line? No. 1 seed Notre Dame -- and the rest of the region -- has a tough road ahead.
1. The College Station and College Park sites could both end up being a case of, "So we meet again."
No. 2 seed Maryland could end up facing seventh-seeded Louisville in the second round, a matchup of Terps coach Brenda Frese against former assistant Jeff Walz of the Cardinals. When those teams met in the 2009 regional final in Raleigh, Walz's Cardinals won 77-60 on the way to the national championship game against UConn.
This year, first the Cardinals will have to get past No. 10 seed Michigan State, which is no guarantee. We would call Louisville a little hard to figure this season, but you could really say that about a lot of the Big East. Maryland, on the other hand, seems to be playing its best basketball of the season and is coming off the ACC tournament title. Does No. 15 seed Navy stand a chance of sinking the Terps? Not likely. Maryland already had its bizarre, inexplicable loss of the season when it fell to Virginia Tech in January.
The other meeting of familiars could happen at Texas A&M, where Gary Blair's host Aggies are the No. 3 seed and might play sixth-seeded Arkansas in the second round. Blair coached at Arkansas for 10 years until 2003, when the administration there essentially held the door open for him to go to Texas A&M and said they would go in a different direction.
It didn't turn out to be a good direction; the Razorbacks didn't get to the NCAA tournament after Blair left until this season under Tom Collen. Meanwhile, Blair won last season's NCAA title with A&M.
2. The No. 9 spot in the bracket is not such a comfortable one for any team -- with No. 1 potentially looming in the second round -- but Iowa should be pretty happy to have it this year. Being in the tournament is a notable accomplishment for the Hawkeyes.
They lost guard Kachine Alexander to graduation from last year's NCAA tournament team. Then on Feb. 2, they lost leading scorer Jaime Printy, a junior guard, to an ACL injury in an overtime win at Wisconsin. Freshman guard Samantha Logic is one of the Hawkeyes who has done a lot to help pick up the slack (more on her in a minute).
3. Does No. 4 seed Georgia feel just a little out of place in Tallahassee, Fla., with the so-called "littler guys" there? The Bulldogs of the SEC are grouped with No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure of the Atlantic 10, No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun, and 13-seed Marist of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
St. Bonaventure and FGCU are both playing in their first NCAA tournament. Marist is in the field for the eighth time. Georgia, though, is making its 29th appearance, all under coach Andy Landers. -- Mechelle Voepel
Three players to watch
Samantha Logic, Iowa: The season-ending injury that felled Iowa standout Jaime Printy left the Hawkeyes hobbled and makes them anything but a lock to get through a first-round encounter with California. But that injury also pulled back the curtain on a freshman worth watching now and absolutely worth knowing in the future. Averaging just 7.3 points on 38.8 percent shooting in 27 minutes per game through her first 22 college games, Logic closed the season averaging 15 points on 46.7 percent shooting in 36 minutes per game in her team's final eight games, all but one of which the Hawkeyes played without Printy. A former high school All-American who plays even bigger than a 5-foot-9 frame suggests, Logic also averaged 11.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game in that closing stretch, including a triple-double against Michigan. However long Iowa sticks around, Logic is here to stay.
Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame: Nobody needs a reminder to keep their eyes on Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins in the NCAA tournament, but it was Diggins who joked on the eve of the Big East tournament that she had her eyes on Peters in an effort to find out just what the fifth-year player is eating for breakfast these days. Long a cornerstone of what the Fighting Irish do, particularly on the defensive end, Peters is playing the best basketball of her career right now. In the final 10 games of the regular season, she had five double-doubles and averaged 14.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. No player in the country is better on the offensive glass than Peters, and while she gives up pounds to a lot of opponents, she's right there with Duke's Elizabeth Williams as a game-changing presence on the defensive end, trailing only Baylor's Brittney Griner in that respect.
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland: Miami's Shenise Johnson deservedly gets a lot of credit for being one of the most versatile players in the country, but she had to fight just to hold on to that label in the ACC this season. Only halfway through her college career, Thomas is already a Swiss Army Knife of assets for the Terrapins. The ACC's leading scorer also ranked fifth in the league in rebounding and was one of just 11 players in the conference with at least 100 assists. Her mother, who coached her growing up, made sure Thomas got experience playing multiple positions, so while she's listed as a 6-foot-2 forward, she can be anything from a back-to-the-basket post to a perimeter distributor within the span of a single possession. She made one of the plays of the season to seal a win against Duke, coming from the other side of the court to block a late 3-pointer, and it's only a matter of when, not if, she gains recognition as a full-fledged superstar. -- Graham Hays
Best first-round game
(4) Georgia vs. (13) Marist: It would be foolish to ignore the Red Foxes, given their history in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Marist has won four NCAA tourney games since 2007, including a victory over Iowa State in the opening round last season.
Marist (25-7) will struggle containing Georgia's athleticism, but both teams possess balanced scoring and strong, steady coaching. Although the seeding suggests this game shouldn't be close, the Red Foxes don't seem to play according to their seed -- ever.
Georgia (22-8) has four players in double-digit scoring: Jasmine Hassell (13.2 points per game), Khaalidah Miller (12.1), Anne Marie Armstrong (11.6) and Jasmine James (10.5).
Marist has two players in double-figures, Corielle Yarde at 14.1 and Brandy Gang at 12.3. But coach Brian Giorgis plays nine players at least 11 minutes a game and has made a habit of defeating more talented teams when it counts most.
This is a rematch of a 2006 tournament opener, a game the Bulldogs won handily. -- Kate Fagan
Upsets to watch for
(12) Florida Gulf Coast over (5) St. Bonaventure (first round): Both teams are perimeter-oriented and take care of the ball (the Bonnies rank first in the country in turnovers per game; FGCU is 10th). The Eagles lead the country in 3-pointers per game; hitting a couple more than their 10 per-game average could make this one interesting.
Arkansas over (3) Texas A&M (second round): An Aggies loss at home doesn't seem likely, but the Razorbacks have the kind of athletes and can compete defensively enough to make the defending champs really sweat. -- Charlie Creme
Projected regional semifinals
(4) Georgia vs. (1) Notre Dame: Playing at home in South Bend, the top-seeded Irish have the upper hand in moving on to the regional site. But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. The second-round game between either California or Iowa could be a tough test for the Irish, who still have the experience, talent and home-court advantage.
Georgia, meanwhile, has the best chance from its foursome to advance, thanks to some balanced offense. Jasmine Hassell, Khaalidah Miller, Anne Marie Armstrong and Jasmine James each averaged double figures through the regular season. The Lady Bulldogs also have history on their side, with 19 trips to the Sweet 16 in 29 trips to the NCAA tournament.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Maryland:
The Terrapins will play the first two games at home, and that certainly bodes well. In addition, Maryland is also coming into the tournament on a roll, winning seven straight games and 10 of its past 11, a run that includes victories over Virginia (twice), Duke, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Alyssa Thomas is coming off a career-high 29-point performance against Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament title game.
The defending national champion Aggies are hosting the first two rounds for the first time. Texas A&M might be a rare No. 3 seed with double-digit losses, but this is an experienced team capable of a long tournament run because the Aggies will always play defense. A&M has four players averaging in double figures and is holding opponents to fewer than 60 points a game. And the Aggies look like they will be at full strength, playing with senior Tyra White, who missed the Big 12 tournament with a sore ankle. -- Michelle Smith