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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Four storylines to watch in this year’s women’s NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Brittney Griner and Baylor are the favorites to repeat as national champs (Getty Images)

Baylor, Stanford, UConn and Notre Dame earned No. 1 seeds Monday evening when the women's NCAA tournament draw was released. Here are four storylines worth paying attention to once the tournament tips off:

1. Will Baylor repeat as national champions?

In 2012, Baylor capped off a 40-0 season by winning its six NCAA tournament games by an average of 20.8 points per game and defeating fellow No. 1 seed Notre Dame 80-61 in the national title game. The Bears actually dropped one game during the regular season against Stanford in Honolulu on Nov. 16, but they're still the runaway favorite to repeat as national champs again this season.

[Related: Play women's NCAA Tourney Pick'em]

What makes Baylor the nation's best team is a combination of Brittney Griner, the most dominant post player women's college basketball has ever seen, and a gifted supporting cast capable of making opponents pay for leaving them free. The 6-foot-8 Griner has increased her season averages to 23.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.2 blocks, while guard Odyssey Sims has averaged 12.5 points, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals.

2. Who has the best chance to dethrone Baylor?

It would be a huge surprise if anyone beat Baylor, but it would be even more shocking if the team that did it wasn't a fellow No. 1 seed. UConn Notre Dame and Stanford proved during the regular season they're really the only three teams in the nation with the talent, experience and belief it would take to put a scare into the Bears.

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Skylar Diggins (Getty Images)

Of those three, Notre Dame may be the best team, but it also may be the least dangerous matchup to Baylor. Not only did the Irish lack the size needed to keep Griner in check during a 73-61 loss to the Bears in South Bend earlier this season, Sims' defensive pressure frustrated Notre Dame standout point guard Skylar Diggins into 4 of 19 shooting.

That leaves UConn, which pushed Baylor until the closing minutes in February, and Stanford, which upset the Bears when they were playing without Sims. The combination of Chiney Ogwumike and a stingy defense gives Stanford a chance if its outside shots are falling that day, but UConn is probably best equipped thanks to the trio of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart.

3. Will the Elite Eight feature a Cal-Stanford rubber match?

Rather than separate the two best teams in the Pac-12 the way the men's selection committee would have, the women's committee instead opted to place Stanford and Cal in the same region. If top-seeded Stanford can survive a section of the draw that includes SEC power Georgia and second-seeded Cal can survive a potentially difficult regional semifinal against Penn State, the Cardinal and Bears could meet for a third time on April 1 in Spokane.

[Also: College basketball's most valuable teams]

Stanford and Cal split their regular season series this year, the Bears' ending their rival's 81-game conference winning streak with a victory in Palo Alto and the Cardinal getting revenge in Berkeley. The two Bay Area schools appeared to be on track for a rubber match in the Pac-12 title game before UCLA upset the Bears in the semifinals.

4. Can Elena Delle Donne and Delaware make a run?

If Griner is the best player in women's basketball, Delle Donne may be the second best. The 6-foot-5 Delaware senior is the most complete offensive player in women's college basketball, averaging 25.3 points per game this season by posting up, spotting up or beating defenders off the dribble.

[Photo gallery: NCAA mascots in action]

Delle Donne led Delaware to a 30-3 overall record and an undefeated season in the CAA, a record reminiscent of a year ago when the Blue Hens went 30-1 in the regular season but lost to 11th-seeded Kansas in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament. Perhaps that loss made the committee hesitant to reward Delaware with a high seed this year because the Blue Hens were given a No. 6 seed in the loaded bottom half of the Bridgeport Region.

To get to a potential regional final against UConn, Delle Donne and the Blue Hens would have to potentially defeat West Virginia, perennial ACC power North Carolina and either talented No. 2 seed Kentucky or underseeded Dayton. In a sport in which upsets are rare, that's going to be a tough road.

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