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Four storylines to watch entering the women's NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
NCAA Womens Basketball: Southern Methodist at Connecticut
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UConn forward Breanna Stewart could emerge as the star of this tournament (USATSI)

UConn, Notre Dame, Tennessee and South Carolina earned No. 1 seeds on Monday night when the women's NCAA tournament bracket was unveiled. A look at the major storylines entering the tournament:

1. Will the national title game feature a matchup of unbeaten teams for the first time?

Former league rivals UConn and Notre Dame met 12 times in three seasons from 2011 to 2013 when they both were still members of the Big East. If the undefeated Huskies and unbeaten Irish meet this season, it will be in Nashville with a national championship on the line. 

Fueled by the scoring of Breanna Stewart and Bria Hartley and the all-around play of Stefanie Dolson, defending national champion UConn (34-0) is in position to join Baylor as the only programs to finish a season with 40 wins. Not only is the Huskies' average winning margin 36.2 points, they've also beaten every opponent they've faced by at least 11 points including No. 2 seeds Stanford and Baylor and No. 3 seed Louisville.

ACC champion Notre Dame has been nearly as dominant in storming to a 32-0 record behind the brilliance of guards Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd. The Irish beat fellow No. 1 seed Tennessee by 16 points, swept a trio of games against perennial power Duke by a combined 48 points and won every game but two this season by at least 10 points.

The only other time two teams entered the women's NCAA tournament unbeaten, Tennessee won an undefeated national championship in 1998 and Liberty lost as a No. 16 seed in the opening round. Expect both the Huskies and Irish to be more like the Vols than the Flames.

2. Which teams are most capable of spoiling a UConn-Notre Dame title game? 

It will take a massive upset for anyone to defeat UConn or Notre Dame besides one-another considering every other elite team besides three-loss Stanford has dropped at least four games. Nonetheless, there are a handful of other contenders who will take aim at the Huskies and Irish. 

Within their respective regions, the biggest threats are probably fourth-seeded Nebraska for UConn and second-seeded Baylor for Notre Dame. The Big Ten tournament champion Huskers haven't beate anyone remotely close to the caliber of UConn, but they'd be at home in Lincoln in front of their fans if they met the Huskies in the Sweet 16. And while Baylor lost three non-league games as it adjusted to playing without graduated star Brittney Griner and four other seniors, the Bears recovered to sweep the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles. 

Of the contenders in other regions, SEC regular season champ South Carolina, SEC tournament champ Tennessee, Pac-12 title winner Stanford and last year's runner-up Louisville have the best chance to spoil a potential UConn-Notre Dame title game. Stanford has made eight Final Fours in the last 20 years but has not won a national championship during that span, while Tennessee is seeking to end the longest Final Four drought in the history of its tradition-rich program. 

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3. Who will emerge as the new face of women's college basketball?

With Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne graduating last spring, women's college hoops lost a lot of star power. The player who could be poised to fill the void and become the sport's most recognizable face this March is UConn sophomore Breanna Stewart.

Hailed as a future star before she even arrived at UConn, Stewart endured an up-and-down freshman season before emerging in the postseason to help the Huskies win the national title. The 6-foot-4 forward has followed up on that as a sophomore, averaging 19.7 points and showing an ability to score in the post, off the dribble or from behind the arc.

Stewart's offense is a bit ahead of her defense, but she still has grabbed 8.1 rebounds per game and blocked 2.8 shots. Said UConn coach Geno Auriemma to Sports on Earth last month, "We've had some of the greatest players ever in college basketball, but never anyone who had the God-given things that Stewie has."

4. Can West Virginia overcome the tournament's least favorable draw?

There was good news and bad news for Big 12 regular season co-champion West Virginia when it sat down to watch the women's selection show on Sunday. The news that brought a smile to the Mountaineers' faces was earning a surprise No. 2 seed that most had expected to go to Louisville. The news that had to make West Virginia shudder was the draw that came with that seeding.

West Virginia will likely play seventh-seeded LSU in Baton Rouge in the Round of 32 and third-seeded Louisville on the Cardinals' home floor in the Round of 16. Louisville will surely be out to prove it deserved a higher seed too considering it followed up last year's memorable run to the national title game by going 30-4 with three of the losses coming at the hands of UConn.

If the Mountaineers somehow survive those obstacles, the gauntlet would continue with a likely Elite Eight matchup against a Tennessee team trying to get back to the Final Four for the first time without Pat Summit. Good luck, West Virginia. Even with standout center Asya Bussie and a couple of good guards, this is a very tough road.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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