UConn had no trouble in the Albany Regional last season. The Huskies were undefeated going into the 2018 tournament and, as a No. 1 seed, routed St. Francis 140-52 in the first round.
As they enter this year's women's NCAA tournament, they have two losses and a No. 2 seed. Plus Louisville, this year's top seed in Albany, beat UConn during the regular season.
But the Huskies' Napheesa Collier has had a great season, and fellow senior star Katie Lou Samuelson is scheduled to return for Saturday's first-round game against Towson (ESPN2/ESPN App, 6;30 p.m. ET) after missing four games, including the AAC tournament, with a back injury.
Asia Durr (21.3 PPG), the two-time ACC player of the year, leads Louisville. But the Cardinals won't have coach Jeff Walz for the first-round game against Robert Morris; he's suspended after language used toward NCAA committee members and staff during last year's national semifinals.
The Cardinals, who tip off the tournament Friday against Robert Morris (ESPN2/ESPN App, noon ET), expect to be at full health, good news after guard Arica Carter missed all of the ACC final and forward Sam Fuehring suffered an injury during that game.
That, unfortunately, is not the case for No. 5 seed Gonzaga, which will be without injured guards Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend, as it meets No. 12 Little Rock on Saturday (ESPN2/ESPN App, 3:30 p.m. ET).
No. 4 seed Oregon State will be eager to get back to action after a stunning upset loss to Washington in the Pac-12 tournament. The Beavers play one of the last games of the first round, tipping off against Boise State at 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN2/ESPN App).
The Albany Regional was unanimously tabbed the hardest region in a vote of espnW experts when the bracket was released on Monday.
Three players to watch
Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA: The 6-foot forward showed promise as a freshman, but has become one of the Pac-12's most dynamic players as a sophomore, averaging 18.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Cierra Dillard, Buffalo: The 5-9 senior guard led the Bulls to the Sweet 16 last year. That will be a tougher task this season, as 10th-seeded Buffalo faces No. 7 seed Rutgers in the first round and then almost certainly would meet UConn in the second. Dillard is second in Division I in scoring (25.2 PPG) and helped Buffalo win the Mid-American Conference tournament title this season.
Kayla Goth, Kansas State: A 6-1 senior guard, she is sixth in Division I in assists per game (6.9) while also averaging 12.6 points. The No. 9 seed Wildcats won eight of their past 11 games, with the only losses to top overall NCAA seed Baylor (twice) and another NCAA tournament team, Iowa State.
Best first-round game
No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Tennessee (ESPN2/ESPN App, 1 p.m. ET Saturday): The Lady Vols barely made it into the field, yet no one would be shocked to see them play well in the NCAA tournament. There's no lack of talent for Tennessee, but the Lady Vols have been inconsistent. By contrast, the Bruins took a while to jell after graduation losses, but they played well down the stretch, including an overtime loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals. Tennessee lost in the NCAA second round last year, while UCLA fell in the Elite Eight.
Best potential second-round game
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 6 UCLA: If the Bruins get past Tennessee, they'll face Big Ten regular-season champion Maryland. The Terps lost in the league tournament final to Iowa, but they have one of the top juniors in the country in Kaila Charles, plus standout freshmen Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell.
Picks to reach the Sweet 16
(1) Louisville, (2) UConn, (3) Maryland, (4) Oregon State