Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies are such heavy favorites to win another women's national title that they've already been penciled in as the inevitable champs. So it seems all they need to do is just roll out the ball to hoist the trophy.
Don't count the Hall of Fame coach among those who believe the top-seeded Huskies are a lock to three-peat.
"The fact that everybody thinks it's a done deal, that we're going to win the whole thing," Auriemma said, "are probably people who have never coached, or haven't coached in a Final Four or have won a national championship."
Maybe, but it's hard to envision UConn not cutting down the nets on April 7 in Tampa, Florida. The top overall seed in the women's NCAA Tournament has already handily beaten No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame this season.
"They've been at the top of their game for over a decade and no one's been able to dethrone them year in and year out," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "If they're the best our game has, you do have to talk about them. But I do think there is a little bit more parity than there's been in a long time."
If UConn does win the title again this year, Auriemma will tie UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all-time in college basketball.
"The games still have to be played. But until then, they're going to talk about UConn a lot and deservedly so," Staley said.
Notre Dame and Connecticut, former Big East rivals, met in the national championship game last season as undefeated teams, with the Huskies coming away with the victory. The pair played earlier this season in South Bend, Indiana, and the Huskies won by 18 points. UConn also beat South Carolina on Feb. 9 by 25.
The Huskies, who are led by Breanna Stewart, seem to be improving and have been rolling — winning games by an average of 42 points this season.
UConn, the top team in the Albany Region, will open on Saturday in Storrs, Connecticut, against St. Francis, Brooklyn, which is making its first tournament appearance. The Terriers (15-18) are the 10th team to enter the NCAAs with a losing record.
The Irish are the top seed in the Oklahoma City Region.
Notre Dame has played in the past four Final Fours, but has come up short of a title each time. Baylor, Iowa and Stanford are the other high seeds in the region that will try to derail the Irish.
The Gamecocks will face Savannah State in the first round, a team they beat by 62 points earlier this year.
Florida State, Arizona State and North Carolina will try to stop South Carolina in the Greensboro Region. Last season the Gamecocks lost to North Carolina in the regional semifinals.
Maryland is the top seed in the Spokane Region. The Terrapins became the second team to go unbeaten in the Big Ten, the conference they just joined this year. They will open up against New Mexico State on Saturday.
Undefeated Princeton, the 15th team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten, is an 8 seed — the highest in Ivy League history. The Tigers will face Green Bay. It's the third time in five tournament appearances that the Tigers will play in the 8 vs. 9 game.
"They had a historic year," NCAA women's basketball committee chair Dru Hancock said. "When it came to where to seed them, they didn't have any wins in the Top 25. Their strength of schedule wasn't great. Twenty one of the 30 wins came with an RPI over 100.
"The committee is very excited about the Green Bay-Princeton matchup. ... They'll have a chance to show the entire country what they can do."
Other teams in Spokane include No. 2 seed Tennessee and third-seeded Oregon State.
This season the women's tournament moved its games up one day in the first two rounds and the regionals. The Final Four will still be played on Sunday (semifinals) and Tuesday (title game).
The NCAA also decided to go back to rewarding the top 16 seeds with home games in the opening two rounds for the first time since 2003.
By awarding the sites on merit, the Gamecocks were allowed to host the first two rounds despite the state flying the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds. The NCAA banned South Carolina and other schools in the state from hosting championships held at predetermined sites because of the state's decision to fly the Confederate flag. Mississippi schools also face the same NCAA rules.
Third-seeded Louisville is the only one of the top 16 teams not hosting, as the school's home arena is being used for the men's NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals will head to South Florida to face BYU in the opener.
Louisville has played some tough road games this season; it is one of eight Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the tournament. The Big Ten, led by former ACC member Maryland, has seven teams in the field. South Carolina is one of seven SEC teams in the tournament. The SEC hasn't had a team reach the Final Four since Tennessee won the title in Tampa in 2008.
The Lady Vols will be making their 34th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, getting into the field every year. Three teams will be making their first trip — American, St. Francis, Brooklyn, and Savannah State.
Monday's bracket didn't include Georgia, which saw its 20-year run of appearances end. Earlier in the day, coach Andy Landers announced his retirement.
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