What are the talking points of this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament?
A heavy favorite predicted to win yet another championship. Number-1 seeds considered underdogs, even if they make the Final Four. Cinderella crashing the party and sending quality teams home early. Elite athletes who are at the top of their sport, showcasing the best basketball of the season.
We are talking about the women, by the way. While most of America seems obsessed with the men's tournament, we'll take the women's game.
The teams and players remaining in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament are amazing to watch. And no, they don't "play like men." These strong, athletic women are just fine doing their thing. Jewell Loyd (Notre Dame) "plays like a woman" and has scored 25 or more points nine times this season. So does Sam Logic (Iowa), who nears a triple double every night. Niya Johnson (Baylor) "throws like a woman" and passes for 8.6 assists a game. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (UConn) "shoots like a woman" and reached her 2,000th career point this year.
And we can't wait to watch every one of them over these next two weekends.
Sixteen of the best women's basketball teams in the country are still alive, vying for a chance to play for the 2015 National Championship in Tampa. UConn is the heavy favorite to win a third-straight championship, and 10th overall. Notre Dame is seeking to return to the Final Four, eager to not leave empty-handed this time. South Carolina is new to the group, and wants to prove that they are here to stay. Maryland feels slighted, after cruising through the Big 10 but not being seriously considered as a title contender. Tennessee's senior class is trying to avoid missing the Final Four during their careers. Baylor refuses to be anyone's underdog; Dayton has already defeated a higher seed on their home court; Arizona State clawed their way in from down double digits; Louisville earned the right to host but had to play on the road and won anyway; Stanford is peaking at the right time.
Seeds no longer matter. Everybody is on a winning streak. Tampa Bay, and history, await.
Here's our breakdown of the Sweet 16.
Who's missing? #2 seed Kentucky Wildcats. After finishing the SEC season strong, Kentucky earned the right to host the first and second rounds. The Dayton Fliers had other plans and the Wildcats suffered a 99-94 home loss and miss out on the Sweet 16.
Who's in Albany?
#1 UConn. The obvious favorite to win this region. Reigning National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart and the Huskies are trying to reach their 8th straight Final Four, and Geno Auriemma is seeking his 10th National Championship.
#5 Texas. After their most promising start in years, the Longhorns hit a tough skid when senior Nneka Enemkpali was lost to a knee injury. Texas has finally hit their stride, defeating Cal in Berkeley, and will look to use their size to challenge UConn.
#3 Lousiville. Despite having to play a true road game due to scheduling conflicts, Lousiville returns to the Sweet 16 where they have enjoyed great success in the last five years. This time they are poised to end Cinderella's run and advance to the Elite 8.
#11 Dayton. In their fourth this straight NCAA appearance, this veteran team has reached their first Sweet 16 and will look to prove that their win in Lexington was not just luck. Senior Ally Mallott will have to carry the Fliers to a win over Louisville.
Our Picks: UConn over Texas
Dayton over Louisville
Regional Champion: UConn
Who's missing? Oregon State and Princeton. Oregon State, spending most of the season ranked in the AP Top 10, stumbled at home to regional rival Gonzaga. The Princeton Tigers came into the tournament undefeated, but faced too tall of a task in upending Big Ten Champion Maryland.
Who's in Spokane?
#1 Maryland. The Terrapins went undefeated in their first Big Ten season, and used a dynamite second half shooting performance to take down Princeton. If they want to advance to their second straight Final Four, they will have to continue their hot shooting against a solid Duke zone defense.
#4 Duke. By Duke's standards, a four seed is low. The Blue Devils scraped by the preliminary rounds and sharpshooting freshman Rebecca Greenwell. They will need to play a much better all around game to have a chance against Maryland.
#11 Gonzaga. An underdog only by seed. The Zags are proof that parity has arrived in women's basketball. Flying under the radar and losing in the WCC tournament championship, the Bulldogs fell to an 11 seed but have a great chance at taking down the infamous Tennessee Lady Vols, playing just a few miles from campus.
#2 Tennessee. The UT Class of 2015 is the last group of players to ever play for the legendary Pat Summitt. One of those seniors, Isabelle Harrison, will watch from the bench as she suffered her second ACL tear in February. The Lady Vols must bring back some old Tennessee toughness and rebounding in order to make their first Final Four since their 2008 championship, which was also in Tampa.
Our Picks: Maryland over Duke
Tennessee over Gonzaga
Regional Champion: Tennessee
Who's missing? Washington Huskies. Sensational sophomore Kelsey Plum has carried the team to a handful a big wins in her career but came up short against #11 Miami. The Huskies never had a chance at another big win, as they bowed out in the first round.
Who's in Oklahoma City?
#1 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish used their NCAA tournament experience to overcome a slow start against both Montana and DePaul to advance to their sixth straight Sweet 16. EspnW Player of the Year Jewell Loyd is a prolific scorer and a matchup nightmare. In order for Notre Dame to make their fifth straight Final Four, a second scorer will need to emerge from their supporting cast.
#4 Stanford. The Cardinal is the only team in the 2014-2015 season to beat powerhouse UConn in November. They have stuttered - several times - since then, but are playing great basketball in March. They will need to return to their early season form to make it to their 10th Elite 8 in 13 years.
#3 Iowa. Do-everything guard Samantha Logic has helped rebuild the Hawkeyes into a nationally recognized program. Before she transitions to the WNBA, she will try to lead Iowa, and their band of 3-point shooters, into the regional final.
#2 Baylor. Standing in the way of Logic and Iowa are the Baylor Bears. A historically strong program is still alive in Waco, despite losing Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims in back to back seasons. The Big XII champions are hoping to reach the Final Four for the first time since their 2012 championship.
Our picks: Notre Dame over Stanford
Baylor over Iowa
Regional Champion: Notre Dame
Who's missing? The country's leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell did all she could to get #5 seed Ohio State to Greensboro. However, a buzzer beater by UNC sent the Buckeyes back to Columbus.
Who's in Greensboro?
#1 South Carolina. Dawn Staley's Gamecocks held the #1 ranking in the AP Top 25 for the majority of the season. With only two losses on their resume, the nation's strongest inside presence looks to dominate in Greensboro to send the Gamecocks to their first final four under Staley. Junior guard Tiffany Mitchell will look to repeat as an All-American and take her team to uncharted territory.
#4 North Carolina. The Tarheels look to carry their momentum from the preliminary rounds into the Sweet 16, where they meet South Carolina for the second straight year. Stephanie Mavunga, a double-double machine, scored 27 points in their last game and needs a repeat performance against South Carolina's tough post defenders.
#3 Arizona State. The Sun Devils squeaked into the Sweet 16 after an impressive Pac12 season. ASU rolls into Greensboro after a comeback victory over Arkansas Little-Rock.
#2 Florida State. Somehow, despite their seed, the Seminoles continue to be overshadowed by the "bigger names" of the women's game. Transfer Leticia Romero can fill up the scorebook and Florida State will look to impress in Greensboro, just a few weeks after their ACC championship loss to Notre Dame.
Our picks: South Carolina over North Carolina
Florida State over Arizona State
Regional Champion: South Carolina