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Jeff Eisenberg

Six storylines to watch in the women's NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Like Greivis Vasquez's trademark shimmy, John Calipari's coaching ethics or anything remotely Duke-related, women's basketball tends to have a polarizing effect on hoops fans in this country.

Some of you appreciate or respect it. Others find it painful to watch and look for any way to demean it.

Count me as a casual fan of the women's college game, especially later in the NCAA tournament when some of the top programs play each other. As a result, for those of you who also have some interest in between the men's games, here are six storylines worth paying attention to once the women's tournament tips off next week:

Can anyone give UConn a game?

Having reeled off a Division I record 72 victories in a row, all by 10 or more points, defending national champion Connecticut enters the NCAA tournament as such an overwhelming favorite that a Huskies loss would be regarded as one of the sport's most shocking upsets. Neither Florida State nor Ohio State would likely pose much of a challenge in a regional final, but looming as potential Final Four opponents are a Tennessee team that Connecticut has yet to face during its streak and a Stanford team that led the Huskies at halftime earlier this season.

Will Tennessee redeem itself?

For the first time in Tennessee women's basketball history, the Vols were ousted in the opening round last season, a loss to Ball State that was so galling to legendary coach Pat Summit that she responded by demanding that her team practice the very next day. The youthful Vols have somewhat quietly enjoyed a redemptive season this year, winning the SEC and earning the No. 1 seed in the Memphis Regional and the chance to make the Final Four without leaving the state.

Is Nebraska for real?

One year after a discouraging 15-16 season ended with a loss in the second round of the NIT, Nebraska came from nowhere to win 30 straight games to open the season before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 semifinals. In a sport typically dominated by the same teams year after year, the new-to-the-party Huskers will try to navigate a regional that includes Big East power Notre Dame and Big 12 tournament finalist Oklahoma to reach the Final Four.

How will Brittney Griner respond to scrutiny?

Although Griner returned from suspension in Baylor's Big 12 semifinal loss to Oklahoma earlier this month, the 6-foot-8 freshman will still be the most scrutinized player in this tournament as a result of throwing a haymaker of a punch in a game against Texas Tech a few weeks ago. Casual sports fans may always associate her with that incident, but she can begin rebuilding her reputation by showing good sportsmanship on a national stage and leading Baylor on a deep NCAA tournament run.

Will Stanford earn another shot at UConn?

A No. 1 seed for the first time in more than a decade, Stanford will try to ride its formidable interior duo of Jayne Appel and Nneka Ogwumike to a third consecutive Final Four berth and another shot at UConn in the national title game. The Cardinal do have a streaking No. 2 seed in its draw in Big 12 tournament champ Texas A&M, but Stanford hosts its first two games and would only have to make a short bus ride to Sacramento for the regional semis and final should it advance.

Can Oklahoma State win without its star?

If Oklahoma State star Andrea Riley is going to play in the NCAA tournament this season, the fourth-seeded Cowgirls are going to have to win their first-round game against Chattanooga without her. Riley has been one of the nation's most productive scorers this season at 26.6 points per game, but she was suspended for the Cowgirls' next NCAA tournament contest in 2008 after an altercation with an LSU player in a regional semifinal. The suspension must be served this year because Oklahoma State did not qualify for last year's tournament.

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