This is going to shock some folks, but the Connecticut Huskies will enter 2017's NCAA women's basketball tournament as heavy favorites.
Shocking, right? The Huskies can extend their title count to 12 by capturing their fifth consecutive national championship and seventh in nine years. It seems safe to say the squad with a 107-game winning streak dating back to 2014 has a good chance of once again running the gauntlet.
Yet the Huskies are not the only titan still at the top. Baylor, Notre Dame and North Carolina could all net No. 1 tournament seeds for the second year in a row. One of last year's surprise Final Four participants, Washington, is once again a threat behind espnW Player of the Year Kelsey Plum.
The laws of March Madness dictate anything can happen at any time. One bad day can boot a juggernaut and immortalize an underdog tale for the ages. Bubble teams will eagerly watch Monday's selection show in hopes of receiving an opportunity to defy the seemingly insurmountable giant.
These rules probably don't apply to a tournament starring UConn, but one can dream.
Selection Show Schedule
Date: Monday, March 13
Time (ET): 7 p.m.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Can Anyone Beat UConn?
Someone desperate for parity could point out the Huskies getting tested three times this season. They experienced a scare earlier in the season, escaping Tucker Center with a 78-76 victory over Florida State on Nov. 14. On Dec. 29, Maryland took them to the limit in a hard-earned 87-81 road triumph. Tulane lost by three, 63-60, on Feb. 18.
Now here's the bad news: UConn attained its 34 victories by a combined 1,050 points, amounting to an average win margin of 30.9 points per game.
According to NCAA.com's Anthony Chiusano, the infallible dynasty has accrued 60 victories by at least 40 points during its ongoing winning streak. It collected 14 of those blowouts during the calendar year.
"We have been good enough to win every game and every time they have needed to be better than good, they have been better than good," head coach Geno Auriemma told Hartford Courant's Paul Doyle.
Losing Breanna Stewart—who won four national titles in four years before earning All-WNBA Second Team honors as a rookie—would debilitate most programs. That's not the case for Auriemma's program, now led by sophomore sensations Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.
Collier has averaged 20.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game with an absurdly efficient 68.9 field-goal percentage. Samuelson, meanwhile, gives opponents fits from behind the arc, where she has converted 110 of 252 three-point attempts.
Samuelson nearly outscored USF by herself in UConn's 100-44 AAC final win. Per ESPN Stats & Info, she tied an NCAA record by draining all 10 of her three-point attempts during a 40-point effort:
Good luck stopping that dominant duo. The Huskies have already bested both Baylor and Notre Dame by the score of 72-61 this season. It speaks volumes of their stranglehold over everyone that two of the nation's top-five teams could conceivably view an 11-point loss as a promising outcome.
Neither of those schools reached the Final Four last year, as the Bears and Fighting Irish respectively lost to Oregon State and Stanford. After settling the Pac-12 in a 48-43 defensive grind won by the Cardinal, both teams could ride a tenacious style to another fruitful run.
Then there are the other Huskies from 2016's Final Four. Seeded No. 7, Washington rode Plum to the national semifinals with four double-digit victories. The senior has not let up in 2017, recording a nation-high 31.7 points per game.
On Feb. 25, as memorialized by the Pac-12 Network, she set the mark for most career college points:
Recent losses to UCLA and Oregon, however, may dampen the school's seeding and buzz for another lengthy tournament stay. Yet the NCAA would probably love to see Plum take on the more prolific Huskies in a star-studded showdown.
Although currently projected as a No. 7 seed by ESPN.com's Charlie Creme, Tennessee is capable of outplaying its 19-11 record. The Lady Vols boast wins over Notre Dame, South Carolina and an SEC tournament upset over Stanford, giving them four victories over top-10 adversaries.
Of course, that doesn't include UConn.