NCAA Women's Tournament 2014: Biggest Threats to Connecticut and Notre Dame

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NCAA Women's Tournament 2014: Biggest Threats to Connecticut and Notre Dame
Tony Avelar/Associated Press

While the men had their fun on Sunday, the women of college basketball took center stage on Monday to figure out where they would be traveling to when the 2014 NCAA women's tournament tips off on Saturday. 

Of course, there really was no drama at the top of the brackets. Connecticut and Notre Dame each finished the season undefeated and appear to be on a crash course for the championship game in Nashville. 

But that doesn't mean the Huskies and Irish are the only teams worth watching. We have seen a No. 16 take out a No. 1 on the women's side before, so anything can happen when these games get going. 

Even though it would be a surprise if we didn't get a UConn-Notre Dame title game, these are the teams that can put a monkey wrench in the plan. 

 

Lincoln Region: No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers (25-6)

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

It seems strange to predict anyone beating Connecticut before the Final Four, especially given how thoroughly dominant Geno Auriemma's team has been all year, but the committee didn't help the Huskies by putting them in the Lincoln Region with Nebraska. 

The fourth-seeded Cornhuskers, who won the Big Ten tournament, will have the benefit of playing in front of a raucous hometown crowd if they can get to a matchup against Connecticut in the Sweet 16.

Nebraska went 17-1 in true home games this season. When the NCAA made the decision to switch these games to sites that might be a disadvantage for higher-ranked teams, it was met with hostility. 

According to a report from Steve Megargee of The Associated Press (via SI.com), Auriemma didn't want Connecticut to bid on hosting a regional because he didn't "think it's fair." 

Whether Auriemma is right or wrong, he might be regretting that decision if the 'Huskers take out his Huskies. 

 

Notre Dame Region: No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears (29-4)

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

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Unlike Connecticut, which had no desire to bid on a tournament regional, Notre Dame made the smart play to get a home regional final should it get that far. 

It also serves another purpose, as the Fighting Irish will get to host No. 2 Baylor in the Elite Eight if both teams make it. The Bears haven't been the same team without Brittney Griner, but they did give Connecticut its toughest test of the year in an 11-point loss on January 13. 

Of course, the game against the Huskies was at Baylor, a luxury the Bears won't have if/when they play Notre Dame. 

Baylor did hit a rough patch in the middle of the year, losing consecutive games to Connecticut and Kansas, but went on to win 15 of its final 16 games entering the tournament. Head coach Kim Mulkey told reporters after the team won the Big 12 tournament title that their schedule was designed to make them better late in the year, (via ESPN.com).

I knew that we had a bunch of hungry players that wanted their opportunity to play and they patiently waited their turn. And then, as the season progressed and we scheduled the right games and the right teams in non-conference to let them grow, I had an opportunity to see a team that's good, and I think that everybody now sees that as good as Odyssey is, we're pretty good when she's not on that floor, too.

That strategy has paid off beautifully and will be put to the test one more time with the dangerous Fighting Irish standing between Baylor and another trip to the Final Four. 

 

Louisville Region: No. 1 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (27-5)

Jason Getz/Associated Press

It's hard to predict Tennessee as a threat to Notre Dame and Connecticut because the Volunteers face a loaded region they have to get out of just to make it to a matchup with the Irish in the Final Four and Connecticut in the title game. 

Graham Hays of ESPNW.com broke down the teams in the Volunteers' bracket by illustrating how high they were ranked in polls and/or how they fared in conference tournaments. 

One team that won the SEC tournament, another that shared the Big 12 regular-season title and came within a 3-pointer of adding the conference tournament crown. A third team that would be playing on its home court, where it draws some of the biggest crowds in the sport, and which lost one game all season to a team that wasn't Connecticut.

And we haven't even gotten to the team with Alyssa Thomas yet.

For the record, those teams are West Virginia (co-Big 12 regular-season champs), Louisville (playing on its home court) and Maryland (Alyssa Thomas' team). 

That's all Tennessee has to get through in order to play what would amount to home games in Nashville for the Final Four. 

Notre Dame did defeat Tennessee in Knoxville on January 20, defeating the Volunteers by 16 points. But that clouds the fact that Tennessee was in control of the first half, taking a 45-41 lead at the break. 

The Volunteers know how to play Notre Dame and can exploit that information to their advantage. They will then have the advantage of a partisan crowd against Connecticut in the title game. 

 

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