With fifth-seeded Texas and seventh-seeded Dayton reaching the Sweet 16, the Albany Regional has the most unpredictable group of teams. But at the same time, the region has the nation's most predictable team.
The New York state lottery has better odds than a bet that Connecticut wouldn't reach the state capital. The Albany Regional, however, also includes three teams that had to win second-round games in enemy territory to advance. Joining the top-seeded Huskies are the Longhorns and Flyers, who each upset a better-seeded team (Cal and Kentucky, respectively) in a true road game in the last round. And third-seeded Louisville, which couldn't host because of a venue conflict, won on the road at 6-seed South Florida.
While No. 1 overall seed and two-time defending champion UConn is the overwhelming favorite to emerge from these three games and get to Tampa, the region's other three teams at least know they are battle tested.
Here are three X factors from each Sweet 16 game in Albany.
No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 5 seed Texas
• ESPN/WatchESPN, noon ET Saturday
Texas size: The Longhorns have something Connecticut saw just once this season: some length along the front line to match its own. Of course, South Carolina's three regulars of 6-foot-4 or taller did little to slow down Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Kiah Stokes, but it's a start. Coach Karen Aston has just begun to play 6-7 Imani McGee-Stafford and 6-5 Kelsey Lang together more often and it has paid off. In particular, McGee-Stafford has been playing the best basketball of her career lately, with four straight double-doubles and averages of 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Longhorns' two tournament games. If nothing else, maybe the two Texas bigs can slow down Tuck, who has probably been UConn's best player through two games.
Moriah Jefferson: UConn's fast-as-electricity point guard is an X factor in every game she plays because her combination of speed and smarts is something no one else has. (Of course, the Huskies have a lot that no one else has.) Texas' guards have played well in the tournament, but have been an inconsistent bunch for much of the season. Jefferson and her 12 points and 4.8 assists per game could be the nation's steadiest player. If you can't slow down Jefferson, you can't slow down UConn. The Longhorns have some depth to try to keep up, but Empress Davenport, Brooke McCarty, Celina Rodrigo and Ariel Atkins will have their hands -- and feet -- full.
Exceeding expectations?: When Texas leading scorer and senior leader Nneka Enemkpali went down with a knee injury in January, a promising season took a major hit. Texas lost five of its next six games. Still, the Longhorns recovered enough to earn a No. 5 seed and get to their first Sweet 16 since 2004.
But the job is far from done. Yes, Texas has a lot of players coming back next season, and it's easy to feel like even bigger things await. But if the Longhorns enter the Times Union Center content and self-satisfied, they will suffer a fate far worse than a loss of 21 points, the average margin of victory in UConn's past three regional semifinal games.
No. 3 seed Louisville vs. No. 7 seed Dayton
• ESPN/WatchESPN, 2 p.m. ET
Seniors vs. freshmen: Dayton's top two scorers are seniors: Ally Malott and Andrea Hoover. Louisville's leading scorers are freshmen: Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen. Malott and Hoover have been together for 101 career wins. The number is 27 for Moore and Hines-Allen.
Malott has been extraordinary so far in the tournament with games of 18 points and 12 rebounds and 28 and 13. Although she shot 5-for-9 for 20 points in the first round, Hoover wasn't quite herself against Kentucky, suffering through foul trouble and scoring just five points.
The Cardinals know the feeling. In two wins in Tampa, Moore didn't quite live up to her regular-season performance, while Hines-Allen exceeded her usual output.
Each team needs offense from both. The one with the most productive pair is far more likely to advance.
Cleaning the glass: Three of Dayton's six losses this season were against George Washington. The Flyers couldn't handle the Colonials' size. While Louisville isn't GW's equivalent in front-line height or rebounding prowess (the Colonials led the nation in rebounding margin), the Cardinals outdo Dayton in both areas.
The Flyers more than held their own against Kentucky, which played without suspended forward Azia Bishop in the second round. But Louisville, which outrebounds its opponents by more than seven boards per game, won't be missing any pieces. Sara Hammond, Shawntá Dyer and Hines-Allen will give the Flyers plenty to handle in the paint. Some nights Dayton can shoot and execute its way around deficiencies. This likely won't be one of them without adequate work on the boards.
The coach with the basketball tattoo: Friday's coaches news conferences in Albany might be the most highly anticipated of the entire tournament (that is, unless UConn and Notre Dame reach the Final Four). That could be the day that Dayton coach Jim Jabir reveals the tattoo he promised to get should his team reach the Sweet 16. After six straight NCAA tournament appearances, the coach who built the Flyer program from three wins his first year in 2004 finally has his trip to the regionals -- and the basketball world is waiting to see the ink-on-skin proof.
Now with that elusive goal reached, the Flyers and their coach are playing with house money. A loose, nothing-to-lose approach could be just what Dayton needs against a program that has reached the Elite Eight and the title game the past two years.