Fans in Oklahoma City are used to watching some of the best individual talent basketball has to offer, albeit one fewer of those stars than they would like at the moment when it comes to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the regular NBA tenants of Chesapeake Energy Arena. So this is as good a place as any to assemble the most competitive collection of star power in the Sweet 16.
Both the regional in Albany, New York, and this one in Oklahoma City feature three of espnW's 2014-15 All-Americans, but only in Oklahoma's capital do those players have to compete against each other for a place in the Final Four (Connecticut claiming all three of the representatives in New York's capital). And in Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, Baylor's Nina Davis and Iowa's Samantha Logic, Friday's semifinals offer not only three of the best players in the country but three players unique in style among their peers -- Loyd's commanding athleticism, Davis' undersized ferocity and Logic's triple-double smoothness.
Plus, if there is going to be an odd team out in terms of individual star power, you could do worse than Stanford, one of the sport's all-time giants and already its biggest giant killer this season.
Chalk can be boring in March, but the four top seeds advancing means the weekend in Oklahoma City should be anything but dull.
Let's look at three X factors for each game.
No. 1 seed Notre Dame vs. No. 4 seed Stanford
• ESPN/WatchESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET Friday
Echoes of November: Only three teams that remain in this year's tournament have experience beating one of the No. 1 seeds. One, of course, is Connecticut, which beat both Notre Dame and South Carolina during the regular season. Notre Dame is no surprise, either, with its win against Maryland. But the third is Stanford, which got the season off to a rollicking start with its 88-86 win against Connecticut on Nov. 17.
It is a small component of a larger upset checklist that includes more tangible elements such rebounding, defensive rotation and ball control, but when the Cardinal players take the court in Oklahoma City, they will know, not just believe, that they can win a game like this. At this time of year, when nerves rattle, that's not insignificant for an underdog.
Battle of the boards: At times this season, especially early, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw lamented her team's loss of rebounding supremacy. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer wishes she had such problems. This version of the Fighting Irish might not rebound quite as prolifically as some of its predecessors, but with Brianna Turner -- who far from hitting the wall improved her board numbers in ACC play -- Taya Reimer -- more aggressive since returning from a brief time away from the team -- and Loyd at the forefront, they rank 14th in the nation in rebound margin.
Stanford didn't even make the top three in its own conference. The Cardinal ranked in the top 20 nationally in rebounding in each of the past eight seasons, a remarkable run of consistency that partly came to define the character of the teams we expected to see in March. They currently rank No. 102, wedged between Georgia State and Radford. Kaylee Johnson and Erica McCall need to hold their own with Turner and Reimer, but Stanford needs boards from across the roster.
Jewell of OKC: Last we saw Loyd at this stage of the tournament she was putting up 20 points and 12 rebounds in a Sweet 16 win against Oklahoma State and 30 points in a regional final against Baylor a season ago. Time and again she has demonstrated that she doesn't shrink from big moments, instead saving her biggest lines for Notre Dame's biggest games.
At the same time, be it Connecticut's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (3 of 11 field goals in 45 minutes), North Carolina's Allisha Gray (2 of 5 field goals in 34 minutes), Washington's Kelsey Plum (6 of 16 field goals in one game, 3 of 14 field goals in 40 minutes in another) or Oregon State's Sydney Wiese (3 of 14 field goals in 39 minutes), win or lose Stanford has had success limiting outstanding perimeter players to quiet games this season.
Pick: Notre Dame
No. 2 seed Baylor vs. No. 3 seed Iowa
• ESPN2/WatchESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET Friday
Points for point guards: It would be difficult to find two players in the Sweet 16 able to have greater effect on games without scoring points than Iowa's Logic and Baylor's Niya Johnson. Both point guards are capable of putting points on the board, and Logic does to a greater degree than ever before in her career and a much more regular basis than her counterpart, but they are true conductors. And in both cases, whether it's Johnson getting the ball to Davis in a place where she has room to maneuver or Logic finding Melissa Dixon spotted up from the 3-point line or Bethany Doolittle on the block, the best scorers for these teams depend on that service. Johnson accounts for 40.4 percent of Baylor's assists, Logic 43.7 percent of Iowa's assists.
Battle of the boards, part II: If the game between Notre Dame and Stanford is a statistical mismatch on the boards, this is David boxing out Goliath. Baylor is fifth in the nation in rebound margin. It has the one-woman wonder that is Davis, shorter than nine Iowa players but one of the most relentless offensive rebounders we've seen in some time. It has Sune Agbuke and Khadijiah Cave, more conventional big bodies in the post. And it has guards and wings who get to the boards or risk incurring Kim Mulkey's wrath (which is much less fun than an elbow to the ribs).
Iowa, by contrast, is one of only two teams in the Sweet 16 running a rebound deficit -- and it's a big deficit. The other team in negative territory, North Carolina, has seven fewer rebounds than its opponents in 34 games. As for Iowa? Try 145 fewer rebounds than the opposition, nearly five fewer per game.
Pace of play: Iowa wants to run. It wants to run early in the game, in the middle of the game and late in the game. Not recklessly but relentlessly. Some of its best results, a win against Dayton early in the season and a down-to-the-wire loss at Maryland late in the season, came when quality opponents were likewise inclined and the pace stayed high throughout. Baylor can theoretically match that pace. Johnson is terrific leading transition, Davis is great running the court and the pieces fit. But it's difficult to envision Mulkey wanting to give Iowa what it wants in pace of play.