Can Notre Dame reach a fifth consecutive Final Four? Here are the top storylines in this corner of the bracket.
1. It's time for the annual Sherri Coale appreciation salute. She took over at Oklahoma for the 1996-97 season, which was also the first year of the Big 12. At that point, the Sooners had made just two NCAA tournament appearances, and the school had infamously shut down the program for roughly a week in 1990 before sanity prevailed.
After going 13-41 -- including 5-27 in Big 12 play -- her first two seasons, Coale guided the Sooners to the WNIT in 1999 when they finished 15-14 and 8-8. Oklahoma then made the NCAA tournament in 2000 and has never looked back. The Sooners, the No. 5 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional this season, now have made 16 consecutive NCAA appearances, advancing to the Final Four three times.
They are on the road for the early rounds, and will have to face Quinnipiac and then likely Stanford. But if the Sooners could get two wins out in California, they'll return as the "home" team for the regional.
2. To No. 6 seed Washington (last appeared in 2007) and No. 8 seed Minnesota (2009), we say, "Good to see you back. It's been a little while." The Gophers are in their first season under Marlene Stollings, while the Huskies are in their second season with Mike Neighbors as head coach.
3. Then there's American, which is making its first appearance in the Big Dance after winning the Patriot League's automatic bid. The Eagles' program dates back to the 1979-80 season.
From 1984 to 2001, American played in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Eagles switched to the Patriot League for the 2001-02 season, and they've come close a few times in the past decade to making their NCAA debut. They won or shared the Patriot League regular-season title in 2008, '10, '11 and '12, going 14-0 the latter year in conference play. Each time, they lost in the league tournament.
Now in its second season under former Marist assistant Megan Gebbia, American went 16-2 in winning the league regular-season title, and then beat Lafayette, Navy and Lehigh to earn their first bid. The No. 14 seed, they'll face No. 3 Iowa.
-- Mechelle Voepel
Three players to watch
Nina Davis, Baylor, F: Sure, Baylor's first-team All-American forward and leading scorer isn't exactly sneaking under any radars. We all know her well by now. But really, it's just about impossible to overstate the marvel that is Davis. You don't need both hands to count the number of players in major conferences who had more offensive rebounds than she did this season, and we're talking about someone who would be a small post player in the Horizon League, let alone the Big 12. Undersized and unorthodox in much of what she does with the ball in her hands, she represented 26 percent of Baylor's offense. She scored 11 points more per game than any teammate. Next closest among teams on the top two seeds line was Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, a mere 6.7 points per game ahead of any teammate.
Brittany Hrynko, DePaul, G: DePaul enters the tournament with 26 wins and a Big East tournament championship after a 15-3 record in the league during the regular season, and yet the team that began the season ranked No. 18 sort of fell off the radar after a November double-overtime loss against Northwestern that looks a heck of a lot better in hindsight. All of which is a way to say that while Minnesota's Amanda Zahui B. will be the biggest name when her team plays DePaul in the first round. DePaul and its best player shouldn't be overlooked. Hrynko averages around eight 3-point attempts and six assists per game this season and proved herself in postseason wins against Oklahoma and Duke a season ago.
Sam Logic, Iowa, G: The difference between Iowa's leading scorer and its fourth-leading scorer in Big Ten games this season was the difference between 276 points and 265 points. To a greater degree than ever before, both in and out of conference, Logic was responsible for some of those points. Maybe the most comfortable post-up point guard this side of former NBA standout Mark Jackson, she can score in the paint, in the midrange game, in transition and even from the 3-point line. But the magic of Logic will always be the way she conducts an offense. Amid disparate parts -- spot-up shooter Melissa Dixon, post presence Bethany Doolittle and driver Ally Disterhoft -- she gets the ball to the right person.
-- Graham Hays
Best first-round game
(8) Minnesota vs. (9) DePaul (ESPN2/ESPN3, 5 p.m. ET Friday)
One of the most compelling matchups of the first round, the Gophers will be making the first tournament appearance in six years thanks largely to the stellar play of forward Amanda Zahui B. After a season-ending injury to Rachel Banham, Zahui B stepped up in a big way and turned into a national star, averaging 18.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Expect her to be the focus of DePaul's defensive effort.
DePaul, the second-highest scoring offense in the country (behind Connecticut), has also overcome an injury to Megan Rogowski, the team's top 3-point shooter, and finished the season with 13 wins in 14 games. Big East Player of the Year Brittany Hrynko led them to a second straight conference title.
-- Michelle Smith
Quinnipiac is 11th in the country in scoring and fifth in 3-pointers made per game. If those shots are going in, as they did most of the season for the 31-3 Bobcats, it could negate any size advantage fifth-seeded Oklahoma might have in their first-round matchup. No. 12 seed Quinnipiac does not have to get near the basket to be dangerous. Oklahoma had some trouble with consistency this season. The Bobcats are good enough offensively to take advantage of another off night.
-- Charlie Creme
Team with the most to prove
DePaul. With all of the conference realignment, the Big East has lost some national attention. And it has perhaps hurt the perennial tournament participant Blue Demons more than any team. Making some noise in the tournament would help that cause. DePaul still plays a fun, difficult-to-guard offensive style of basketball, led by the underrated Brittany Hrynko. Beating Minnesota and getting a shot at Notre Dame would reacquaint fans to that and the Big East.
-- Charlie Creme
Matchup we'd most like to see
(2) Baylor vs. (3) Iowa in the regional semifinals. The Lady Bears are a team built largely on the inside abilities of Nina Davis and dominating inside the 3-point circle. Baylor is fifth in the country in rebound margin. The Hawkeyes are a fast-paced, perimeter-oriented, veteran team that averages 80 points and 8 3-pointers per game. Styles make great fights, right? The intrigue of which team could impose its strength on a greater level could be fascinating.
-- Charlie Creme