Albany Regional breakdown

All eyes are on two-time defending champion Connecticut in the Albany Regional. But there are plenty of other storylines in this corner of the bracket.

Three observations

1. What an interesting road it's been for Seton Hall senior guard Daisha Simmons. She struggled first to obtain a release from Alabama, and then to get a waiver to play this season at Seton Hall. But it worked out, as the Pirates are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, plus has 131 assists and a team-high 80 steals.

Coach Tony Bozzella, in his second season at Seton Hall, guided the 28-5 Pirates to a No. 9 seed. Their first-round opponent is No. 8 Rutgers, the school Simmons played for in her first season of college ball before transferring to Alabama. Rutgers beat Seton Hall in the WNIT last season, and the Pirates are eager for a rematch.

2. OK, it's ancient history, but notable nonetheless: No. 5 seed Texas meets No. 12 Western Kentucky in the first round. These programs have two previous NCAA tournament matchups, and they came in back-to-back years three decades ago.

In the semifinals of the 1986 Final Four, Texas won and then beat Southern Cal for the title and a perfect season. That '86 semi was a "revenge" victory for the Longhorns, who'd lost on a buzzer-beater to Western Kentucky in the '85 Sweet 16 -- particularly painful to Texas because it was hosting the Final Four that year in Austin.

Michelle Clark-Heard surely knows all this history, because she played in the Big Dance four times for Western Kentucky (1987-90). Now in her third season at her alma mater, she is making her second NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach.

3. LSU, the No. 11 seed, is tied for the lowest number of wins of any team in the field; the Tigers are 17-13. However, they were boosted to an at-large bid by their success in SEC play, going 10-6. LSU faces American Athletic Conference runner-up South Florida (26-7) in the first round.
-- Mechelle Voepel

Three players to watch

Makayla Epps, Kentucky, G: Kentucky needs both of them at equal and full production if it is to live up to a surprise No. 2 seed, but at some point during the season, it felt like Epps slid past Jennifer O'Neill as the face of the Wildcats. Or at least the face of what they can be. A big guard who can get shots in the lane and rebound, she ably handled a lot more on-ball responsibility after Janee Thompson's season-ending injury (although it was actually O'Neill's assists that ticked up after that injury). Victoria Dunlap was special, but Epps could end up being the best Matthew Mitchell has had.

Moriah Jefferson, Connecticut, G: Breanna Stewart is going for a place in history. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is nearing 3-point records. But it's with Jefferson at her best that this team goes from merely the best in the country to unbeatable. Her contributions are tangible. She's not Mosqueda-Lewis behind the arc, but she shoots 50 percent from there because she picks her spots well. She has a nearly 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and leads a good passing team in assists by a wider margin than any player since the 2008-09 season. She averages nearly three steals a game. But what she does is also intangible. Her energy, explosiveness and speed can lift her team and demoralize opponents.

Andrea Hoover, Dayton, G: Hoover didn't do all of this by herself at Dayton. But if she wasn't first for the Flyers, making a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, she has been the best. A player whose value was far greater than her statistics early in her career, she's exactly as good as 17.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. She's the only player in the Atlantic 10 who ranked in the top 15 of all four categories (she also led the league in 3-point shooting at 44.9 percent). And it's not just the numbers: much like Jefferson, you need to see her play to truly appreciate a controlled ferocity that is reminiscent of someone like Maya Moore. -- Graham Hays

Best first-round game

(6) South Florida vs. (11) LSU (ESPN2/ESPN3, 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

The Bulls -- who have never been the higher seed in an NCAA tournament game -- have a great, and slightly unexpected, opportunity to host because Louisville can't. And having proved their mettle by playing Connecticut tough enough in the American Athletic Conference and finishing the season ranked in both Top 25 polls, they are opening the tournament against a formidable SEC foe. LSU was propelled into the tournament by a pair of wins against Texas A&M late in the SEC schedule. The Tigers, who have lost four of seven coming in, have just two seniors, and it's junior guard Danielle Ballard who leads the way after returning in January from a suspension (violation of team rules). LSU has wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State this season as well as the two victories over the Aggies, showing it can be a dangerous team. -- Michelle Smith

Upset alert

No. 12 seed Western Kentucky has some of the elements that typically constitute the anatomy of an upset, so Texas should not be looking ahead. The Lady Toppers have a star in Chastity Gooch. They have experience; top-two scorers Gooch and Alexis Govan are seniors. They are tested with games earlier this season against tournament teams Louisville, Mississippi State and Tulane. Western Kentucky made things a little tougher on itself in winning its three C-USA tournament games by a total of just six points, but that could also have the Lady Toppers even more prepared for the stresses of NCAA tournament play. The Longhorns have a definitive size advantage with 6-foot-7 Imani McGee-Stafford and 6-5 Kelsey Lang, but Texas' guard play has been uneven all season, and too many turnovers might be too much to overcome for the No. 5 seed.
-- Charlie Creme

Team with the most to prove

After Baylor, inconsistency was the norm in the Big 12 this season. In Ames, Iowa, it resulted in an 18-12 season that was below the standard at Iowa State. The NCAA tournament is a chance to hit the reset button and end a season that began with coach Bill Fennelly having to incorporate five freshmen and a week-long suspension for top player Nikki Moody on a positive note. A win over Dayton in the first round would erase some of the thoughts of a .500 conference season and an early exit from the Big 12 tournament. -- Charlie Creme

Matchup we'd most like to see

(6) South Florida vs. (3) Louisville in the second round: Just two seasons ago, the two were conference mates in the Big East. Now they could meet for the right to go to the Sweet 16, and because the Cardinals could not host, this contest will be in Tampa. It would be the biggest game in the history of the South Florida program and feature two of the most exciting players in the game: USF junior Courtney Williams and Louisville freshman Maryia Moore. A Louisville win would put the Cardinals into a possible rematch with in-state rival Kentucky. A South Florida win would easily help the Bulls forget the disappointment of missing the tournament a year ago and put the program on an even greater upward trajectory.
-- Charlie Creme