Regional finalists truly elite group

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The two undefeated top seeds remain alive. The SEC's two No. 1 seeds are gone, including the Women's Final Four's home-state school. And the players expected to be atop the WNBA's draft board on April 14 are still in action.

So here we go to the Elite Eight.

Monday on ESPN (Elite Eight coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET), unbeaten Notre Dame and Connecticut will try to secure their tickets to Nashville. The Irish are seeking their fourth consecutive Final Four berth, UConn its seventh in a row.

Their challengers are both recent champions. At Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish take on No. 2 seed Baylor (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET) in the only regional where the top two seeds made it to the final. The Lady Bears won the 2012 national championship, and were a good pick to repeat last year before being upset by Louisville.

The Huskies meet No. 3 seed Texas A&M (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) in Lincoln, Neb. The Aggies won the 2011 title, but like Baylor the subsequent year, they did not beat UConn in the Final Four. In both 2011 and '12, Notre Dame took out the Huskies in the national semifinals before falling in the final.

Last year, UConn beat Notre Dame in the national semifinals before ending Louisville's upset run in earning the Huskies' eighth NCAA title.

Louisville is the only school remaining in the tournament that hasn't won an NCAA women's basketball title. The No. 3 seed Cardinals will be on their home court trying to make it to the program's third Final Four; they face 2006 NCAA champion Maryland on Tuesday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

The two programs whose national championships came the longest time ago meet in the last of the Elite Eight finals Tuesday. Regional host Stanford, the No. 2 seed, takes on No. 4 seed North Carolina (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). Stanford has been in the Final Four 11 times, including five of the past six years. But the Cardinal's two titles were in 1990 and '92.

North Carolina, a team led this season by freshmen and an assistant coach who has filled in admirably at the helm, most recently made the Final Four in 2007. The Tar Heels' title came in 1994.

The ACC has three schools in the Elite Eight; Louisville will be joining that league next season while Maryland exits for the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Sweet 16 didn't go as well for the SEC, which like the ACC got eight teams into the NCAA tournament field.

Sunday, Maryland upset top-seeded Tennessee in the Louisville Regional, while fellow No. 1 seed South Carolina lost to North Carolina in the Stanford regional. Still, the SEC has Texas A&M carrying its banner -- even if the Aggies were members of the Big 12 when they won their NCAA title three years ago.

One school that has not been involved in all the conference-swapping mayhem is Stanford, the longtime gem of Pac-12 women's basketball. The Cardinal were a bit surprised they didn't get a No. 1 seed, but they didn't make a big fuss over it. Stanford has taken care of business so far with decisive victories over South Dakota, Florida State and Penn State.

Stanford, led by senior and likely No. 1 WNBA draft pick Chiney Ogwumike, will probably see a tougher challenge from an athletic North Carolina squad, led by freshman sensation Diamond DeShields. Assistant coach Andrew Calder has guided the Tar Heels all this season while head coach Sylvia Hatchell has been treated for leukemia. Hatchell has said if North Carolina makes the Final Four, she expects to be cleared by her doctors to be back on the sideline in Nashville.

But for that to happen, the Tar Heels must find a way to slow Ogwumike -- which no one has really done all season -- and also defend Stanford's disciplined offense.

Speaking of great offenses, no two teams are better in that regard this season than UConn and Notre Dame. The Huskies and Irish both have multiple scoring threats and terrific execution. What can stop them in continuing on the road to a potential national final between unbeatens?

The Big 12's champion is in Notre Dame's path. Baylor actually has a fairly recent victory at Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion, as the Lady Bears won in December 2012 there. But that was a different Baylor team, led by center Brittney Griner.

This group of Lady Bears has steadily progressed behind its senior point guard Odyssey Sims, who will be a high WNBA draft pick. Sims is still Baylor's biggest weapon, but freshmen Nina Davis and Khadijah Cave combined for 38 points and 17 rebounds in Baylor's regional semifinal victory over Kentucky.

Notre Dame's senior standouts Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will be headed to the WNBA, and hope they'll get the Irish's second national title. Notre Dame previously won the championship in 2001.

Meanwhile, sophomores lead the way for Texas A&M as it faces UConn. Courtney Walker, Courtney Williams and Jordan Jones are all second-year players for Gary Blair's Aggies. And even if they don't get the upset Monday, making the Elite Eight is a great experience for Blair's core group of young players.

UConn has its own super sophomore, too, in national player of the year candidate Breanna Stewart. UConn's regional semifinal with BYU was closer for a half than most expected, but the Huskies still won by 19 points. UConn's two senior starters, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, will hear their names called in the WNBA draft's first round next month, and they'd like to take their second NCAA title with them into the pro league.

As for having a home-state favorite in Nashville for the Final Four, that prospect ended Sunday when Tennessee fell to Maryland. The Terps' Alyssa Thomas already was expected to be a top WNBA draft pick, and she did nothing but up her stock with a fantastic 33-point, 13-rebound performance against Tennessee.

But to beat Louisville, led by WNBA prospect Shoni Schimmel, Maryland likely will need to shoot better as a team than it did against Tennessee (38.6 percent) and avoid careless turnovers. Louisville is a on a roll, having motored through its first three NCAA opponents -- Idaho, Iowa and LSU -- by an average of 34 points.

The Cardinals will have the advantage on their home court, plus they've been fueled by the feeling that they were underestimated when the selection committee gave them a No. 3 seed. Suffice to say, no one is underestimating the Cardinals now.