Maryland is the top seed, but the Terps have plenty of competition in the Spokane Regional. A look at the top storylines in this corner of the bracket.
1. Kudos to New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh, who has the Aggies in the NCAA field for the first time since 1988. Trakh, in his fourth season in Las Cruces, also has taken Pepperdine and Southern Cal to the Big Dance. His Aggies, the Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion, are the No. 16 seed and take on No. 1 Maryland in the opening round.
Incidentally, who was coach of New Mexico State back in 1988? That was Joe McKeown, who also led the school to a tournament appearance in 1987. New Mexico State was his first head-coaching job; he left for George Washington in 1989 and made the NCAA field in 16 of his 19 seasons there. Like Trakh, McKeown also has led his third program into the NCAA tournament; Northwestern is the No. 7 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
In all, there are 11 coaches who've gotten at least three schools into the NCAA tournament, and three of them got their third school in this season: Trakh, McKeown and Tennessee State's Larry Joe Inman, who previously went with Middle Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky. Tennessee State is the No. 15 seed in the Albany Regional.
2. The Spokane Regional also has Chattanooga, coached by Jim Foster, who has led four teams to NCAA berths. Previously, he took St. Joseph's, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. This is Foster's second consecutive season getting the Mocs into the Big Dance.
No. 7 seed Chattanooga, which went unbeaten in the Southern Conference, could have a potential rematch looming with Tennessee in the second round in Knoxville. The Mocs beat the Lady Vols 67-63 on Nov. 26 in Chattanooga.
3. Gonzaga has a new head coach this season in Lisa Fortier, but once again is going to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs are making their seventh consecutive appearance in the Big Dance, and Fortier was also a big part of the previous six as a Gonzaga assistant. She took over the top spot when Kelly Graves left for Oregon.
The No. 11 seed Bulldogs won the West Coast Conference regular-season title but then fell in the tournament semifinals to BYU, which ended up winning the championship and automatic bid.
-- Mechelle Voepel
Three players to watch
Lexie Brown, Maryland, G: Maryland's four leading scorers are statistically arrayed between 12.1 and 13.7 points per game and cover just about all parts of the court, from Brionna Jones in the post to Laurin Mincy and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough on the wings. There isn't just one player who fuels the Big Ten champions. All of which means that Brown's greatest talent might be the ability to stand out without standing out, a point guard who can keep things smoothly running through others for 35 minutes each game, and then just when needed, transform into a scorer who wants the big shot and can either knock it down from outside or get to the basket (or the free throw line) off the dribble.
Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State, C: There just aren't a lot of back-to-the-basket, shot-blocking, center-of-gravity post players in the bracket, which means there aren't a lot of teams that have experience dealing with them. There weren't a lot last year, either, when BYU's Jennifer Hamson got her team to the Sweet 16. Nor when Liberty's Katie Feenstra got her team to the Sweet 16. Hamblin has a lot more help around her with the third-seeded Beavers than either of those players, but the premise is the same. Seventh in the nation in blocks, she changes the geometry of the court on defense. And she's no slouch on the offensive end, where she gets good position and shows off good footwork and a soft touch.
Shereesha Richards, Albany, F: She won't have the element of surprise on her side when 13th-seeded Albany plays No. 4 seed Duke, not after she went for 24 points and seven rebounds against Duke a season ago and left coach Joanne P. McCallie wondering how the forward slipped away from the major conferences. She'll also be going up against the biggest team in the country, a wounded bunch but one that still has Elizabeth Williams. But Richards proves time and again (34 points against North Carolina this season) that she is more than a big fish in a small conference pond. She's a 6-foot-1 force down low who is all the more difficult to defend because she has turned free throw shooting from a liability into an asset.
-- Graham Hays
Best first-round game
(8) Princeton vs. (9) Green Bay (ESPN2/ESPN3, 11 a.m. ET Saturday)
Saddled with a No. 8 seed after a 30-0 season and a No. 12 RPI, Princeton wants to become the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA tournament game since Harvard defeated Stanford back in 1998. Standing in the way? Only one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Green Bay has won 11 in a row coming into the tournament, including an overtime victory over Wright State in the Horizon League championship game. Princeton is one of the best defensive teams in the country, giving up an average of 50.9 points a game. Green Bay isn't far behind, allowing 55.3. This could be a low-scoring affair. -- Michelle Smith
With wins over Stanford and Tennessee this season, No. 7 seed Chattanooga won't be underestimated, so 10th-seeded Pittsburgh comes into this meeting as the underdog. That the game is in Knoxville gives the Lady Mocs an even bigger advantage. However, the Panthers have an experienced guard in Brianna Kiesel and are battle-tested after climbing into the tournament through the ACC. Chattanooga, with its balance and giant-killer pedigree, is certainly the favorite, but the Lady Mocs should be wary of an opponent some felt should have been seeded higher.
-- Charlie Creme
Team with the most to prove
No team in the entire tournament has more to prove than Princeton. The 30-0 season translating into a No. 8 seed did not sit well with (seemingly) anyone. A win over Green Bay and then at least challenging Maryland in the second round (using the small assumption the Terps beat New Mexico State) would validate the complaints. An opening-round loss would diffuse some -- although certainly not all -- of the argument around what an undefeated season coming out of the Ivy League means.
-- Charlie Creme
Matchup we'd most like to see
(6) George Washington vs. (3) Oregon State in the second round: Both appear to be programs on the rise, and who wouldn't want to a see the Colonials' 6-4 Jonquel Jones (15.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG) face off against the Beavers' 6-6 junior Ruth Hamblin (12.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG). It could be an epic, somewhat under-the-radar matchup of size and skill around the rim found nowhere else in the tournament.
-- Charlie Creme