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Region-by-region previews: Must-see players and predicted winners

The NCAA tournament tips off at noon ET Friday (ESPN2). Which teams should we expect to advance past the first two rounds? Who are the must-see players in each region? And what are the can't-miss games on the way to the regional semifinals? We break down each corner of the bracket.

Albany Regional

Anytime UConn is in a region, the Huskies are the top story. They once again bring an unbeaten record and heavy expectations as the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship. But defending national champion South Carolina is here, too. And a regional final meeting between the last two champs, teams that played earlier in the season, and coaches who have shared the national team bench for years, would be intriguing.

Three players to watch:

Gabby Williams, UConn: The 5-foot-11 senior can do anything and does whatever is needed to win. She wants another national championship in her last NCAA tournament.

A'ja Wilson, South Carolina: The 6-5 senior is also looking to add another title in her final college season. Her ability to control the lane for six games will determine that.

Shakayla Thomas, Florida State: Thomas plays much bigger than her 5-11 frame, and how she dominates will decide whether the Seminoles make it to Albany.

Best first-round game: (6) South Florida vs. (11) Buffalo (ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET Saturday)

The battle of the Bulls also represents a team in Buffalo that prides itself on its zone defense and one in South Florida that likes to shoot over one.

Best potential second-round game: (4) Georgia vs. (5) Duke

The Lady Dogs' defense will have to outdo the shooting talents of the Blue Devils' Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell.

Picks: (1) UConn, (2) South Carolina, (3) Florida State, (5) Duke
-- Charlie Creme

Kansas City Regional

Mississippi State knocked off No. 1 seeds Baylor and UConn last year to reach the NCAA championship game as a No. 2 seed. This year, the Bulldogs are a top seed, and will try to bounce back from their first loss of the season, to South Carolina in the SEC tournament final. Kansas City is the only regional in which none of the top four seeds -- the others are No. 2 Texas, No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 NC State -- won their conference tournament.

The Longhorns have made at least the Sweet 16 the past three years, but they haven't advanced to the Final Four since 2003. No. 5 seed Maryland is out of the top 16 overall seeds for the first time since 2010, when the Terps didn't make the NCAA tournament field.

Three players to watch:

Megan Gustafson, Iowa: The junior post player is leading the country in scoring (25.6 PPG) and is fifth in rebounding (12.7 RPG), and will try to get the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes to just their third Sweet 16 (1996, 2015) since their lone Final Four appearance (1993).

Kaila Charles, Maryland: The Terps lost key players to graduation and transfers, and they didn't win the Big Ten tournament for first time since they joined the league. But they're still a threat in this region thanks largely to Charles (18.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG).

Chelsea Nelson, NC State: The Wolfpack also lost a lot to graduation, but Nelson has been a senior stalwart as the leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and rebounder (9.6 RPG).

Best first-round game: (8) Syracuse vs. (9) Oklahoma State (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

It's an interesting guard matchup between the Orange's Tiana Mangakahia, who leads the nation in assists per game at 9.9, and Loryn Goodwin, who leads the Cowgirls in scoring (20.9) and assists (5.3).

Best potential second-round game: (4) NC State vs. (5) Maryland

This once was a classic ACC rivalry before the Terps left for the Big Ten in 2014-15. The Wolfpack have not been to the Sweet 16 since 2007 under the late Kay Yow.

Picks: (1) Mississippi State, (2) Texas, (3) UCLA, (5) Maryland
-- Mechelle Voepel

Lexington Regional

Louisville reached a Final Four under coach Jeff Walz before it ever encountered Brittney Griner, but the Cardinals fully made themselves part of the fabric of women's basketball when they upset Griner and defending champion Baylor in the Sweet 16 in 2013. The teams met in the same round a year ago, but Baylor cruised by 34 points (oddly enough, Louisville also beat current Lexington regional entrant Tennessee in both of those tournament runs).

Now Asia Durr and the Cardinals are the favorite, a No. 1 seed for the first time with a chance to play twice at home and then twice a little more than an hour from home. And it's Baylor, which didn't get a No. 1 seed despite winning the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles, that is out to prove a point.

Three players to watch

Kalani Brown, Baylor: A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7, she's four inches taller than anyone else in the country averaging 20 points per game except South Carolina's A'ja Wilson.

Allazia Blockton, Marquette: The Big East Player of the Year isn't as prolific a 3-point shooter as Durr, but that's the kind of player whose all-around offensive efficiency is useful as a comparison.

Brittany McPhee, Stanford: She scored 24 points against Ohio State, 27 against Tennessee, 26 against UCLA and 33 against Oregon. She's a big-game player.

Best first-round game: (5) Missouri vs. (12) Florida Gulf Coast (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

The national leader in 3-pointers attempted and made, and a team with plenty of postseason experience as an Atlantic Sun dynasty, FGCU is the quintessential tournament underdog. As an SEC program rising to prominence, on the other hand, Missouri is still somewhat new to the role of favorite. Among the most efficient offensive players in the country, Sophie Cunningham has both a test ahead and an opportunity to show that Missouri is ready to take the next step.

Best potential second-round game: (3) Tennessee vs. (6) Oregon State

This looked from afar like a gap season for Oregon State between Sydney Wiese and Maryland transfer Destiny Slocum. Marie Gulich had other ideas, and the 6-5 German has been the backbone of a team that dictates a steady pace and has been consistently competitive almost without exception. More up and down, sometimes within the same 40 minutes, Tennessee is still a tempting mix of seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell (Oregon products) and a deep and talented freshman class that includes Evina Westbrook (another Oregon product).

Picks: (1) Louisville, (2) Baylor, (3) Tennessee, (4) Stanford
-- Graham Hays

Spokane Regional

Top-seeded Notre Dame is coming into the NCAA tournament off a loss for the first time since 2012; the Irish won their league tournament in 2013-17. Notre Dame is looking for its eighth Final Four appearance. Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament for the first time, and No. 3 seed Ohio State took the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2011. The Ducks have never been to the Final Four; Ohio State's only trip was in 1993.

Teams that could upset the top-four chalk include Big East tournament champ No. 5 DePaul and No. 6 LSU, which finished in a four-way tie for fourth in the SEC that included No. 4 seed Texas A&M.

Three players to watch:

Stephanie Mavunga, Ohio State: Kelsey Mitchell will do her thing as a scorer, but the Buckeyes need the double-double ability of Mavunga (16.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG) just as much.

Ruthy Hebard, Oregon: The Ducks' second-leading scorer behind Sabrina Ionescu, Hebard (17.5 PPG) is Oregon's top rebounder (8.8 RPG) and is shooting 65.9 percent from the field.

Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M: The Aggies' freshman point guard and espnW freshman of the year has had a lot on her plate this season in directing the offense and being a big-time scorer, and she'll need to do both in the NCAA tournament.

Best first-round game: (5) DePaul vs. (12) Oklahoma (ESPN2, noon ET Friday)

Expect offense: The Blue Demons won their regular-season matchup 111-108 in overtime in November. When they last met in the NCAA tournament, in 2014, DePaul won that first-round game 104-100.

Best potential second-round game: (3) Ohio State vs. (6) LSU

The Buckeyes are trying to make a run to the Final Four in Columbus. But to get through the Spokane Regional, they might have to face a tough LSU defense that can bottle up scorers.

Picks: (1) Notre Dame, (2) Oregon, (3) Ohio State, (4) Texas A&M

-Mechelle Voepel