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ESPN has your region breakdown:

Mechelle has 10 first-round storylines to follow

The women’s version of March Madness tips off at 11 a.m. ET Saturday at 16 sites around the country, with early rounds concluding Monday and Tuesday. Here are 10 things to look for/ponder/debate during the opening steps of the Big Dance:

1. Leagues of legends?

 Who said this: “I think we have the toughest conference in the country. We beat each other up. On any given night, anybody can win. You have to bring your A-game.”

Answer: Almost every coach, although some do add the qualifier “one of the toughest conferences” because they know that saying the toughest is over the top.

UConn’s Geno Auriemma of the new American (“We have no real geographic link, but we’re all in the United States!”) Athletic Conference isn’t going to say this about that amalgamation of orphans, castoffs, left-behinds and biding-their-times. But he doesn’t need to. He can just say, We got Breanna, and you don’t. (Hmmm … rings a bell, doesn’t it?)

So which league really was the toughest to play in this season? Hah, as if there could be a consensus on that. But the conferences that received the most NCAA bids were the SEC and ACC, with eight each. We’ll see how many live on to the Sweet 16.

She’s also thinking the Vols have jelled at the right time.

The NCAA selection committee has gone away from making the previous 10 games of a team’s season such a huge priority in regard to tournament selection/placement. That used to be something that was consistently brought up as being very important. Now, supposedly, it’s just another factor to consider, but the whole “body of work” thing is bigger.

Still, this season, it seems clear that Tennessee’s No. 1 seed was secured by the Lady Vols winning the SEC tournament. And if you are going to focus on the “last 10,” that stretch looks quite good for the Lady Vols.

Yes, I’m sure the Lady Vols are eager to end their Final Four drought (even without Massengale for the first two games), but did you know that they’re putting a 52-game streak on line vs Northwestern State?

It’s a daydream savored by anyone who ever spent so much as an afternoon with a basketball in the driveway. The imaginary clock ticks down and the phantom crowd is on its feet. The game is on the line, the ball is in your hands.

It is your chance to be the hero. You survey the options — and pass the ball to an open teammate for the game-winning assist.

Wait, what?

Interesting: Duke’s depleted lineup, turnover problems give Winthrop hope

And in the “Who would?” department: Duke coach unhappy team in same region with UConn

DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno wasn’t nearly as excited as his players after winning the Big East tournament.  Bruno, who is in his 28th year as DePaul’s head coach, said he coaches solely for the NCAA tournament.

The LSU Reveille sounds the call:

LSU does not have another chance to get back on track.

The Lady Tigers have no more media sessions to talk about what they can do to get out of their slump. The only thing left to do is act on their words.

“It’s a time for my team to actually make history or make something happen,” said freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief. “Hopefully we can just pull together and get wins.”

The Bulldog Blitz unpicks Fresno State’s strategy: 

Within minutes of learning who they would play in the Women’s NCAA Tournament, a few Fresno State players anxiously searched their cellphones for statistics and video clips of the Nebraska basketball team.

The Bulldogs received a more detailed breakdown of the Cornhuskers the following day after the coaching staff assembled a video scouting report — with two agendas in mind:

For each clip that coach Raegan Pebley showed of Nebraska excelling, she also showed one of the 13th-ranked Cornhuskers getting exposed. 

No worries: Husker Laudermill is ready to spark Nebraska. Oh, and have you Met the Nebraska women’s basketball starting five

While the Cal women begin tournament in shadow of last season’s team, they are feeling confident as they enter NCAA Tournament play against the Fordham Rams, when we’ll see if the Boyd-Rooney Matchup deserved to be The Talk of Friday’s Media Day

As Akron women’s basketball rides dynamic duo into Mackey Arena to face Purdue, the Boilermakers defense might be the key in NCAA tourney

If the UTC women want better tourney results, they’re going to have to prepare for Syracuse’s zone defense. And 10 other things.

Florida State will look to stop ISU’s Christofferson from extending career at Hilton

Sure, Taylor Greenfield might be the only Stanford player happy about traveling 1,800 miles to the middle of Iowa to open the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but the Coyotes have no issue with trying to make her and her teammates cranky.

Oh, yeah, USC, Northridge women are living the dream – but Trojans will face St. John’s

As the long wait is finished and Baylor prepares to play the NCAA opener without suspended Mulkey, the Hilltoppers are up to the challenge.

“We’re excited,” WKU sophomore guard Micah Jones said. “They’ve had a lot of success over the past few years, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to with our program. It’s a great opportunity for us to come here and play Baylor.”

Brandon Gurney from the Deseret news says the Cougars feel good about their matchup with the Wolfpack

We match up well and their team is very similar to ours,” observed BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “The way they play and how they do it (is similar).”

The starkest similarity involves the starting centers. BYU features 6-foot-7 senior Jen Hamson while North Carolina presents 6-foot-5 senior Markeisha Gatling. Both players lead their teams from the post, and Judkins believes whoever wins that specific matchup will go a long way in determining the outcome.

News from the WNIT:

Ducks dominate Pacific Tigers 90-63 in WNIT opener

Rutgers women’s basketball defeats Delaware in WNIT

If the Rutgers women’s basketball team is trying to use the WNIT as a platform to show it was worthy of receiving a NCAA Tournament berth, it will have to wait until at least the second round to begin proving its case.

Women’s Basketball Pulls Out Last-Second WNIT Victory

With seven seconds left on the clock and Harvard up by two, Iona guard Aleesha Powell drove to the basket for a hard layup, drawing the foul on captain Christine Clark and making the basket for the three-point play. Powell, an 84.9 percent free-throw shooter, completed the and-one.

One-point Gaels lead, 6.7 seconds on the clock.

But Clark was not about to let her season—and Harvard career—end with that.

Other games:

Colorado 78, TCU 71
Montana 90, Washington State 78
Minnesota 62, Green Bay 60
Villanova 74, Quinnipiac 55
George Washington 86, East Carolina 68

Michigan 86, Stony Brook 48
Duquesne 62, Mount St. Mary’s 52
St. Bonaventure 81, Charlotte 62
South Florida 56, North Carolina A&T 50
Saint Mary’s 75, CSU Bakersfield 68
UTEP 74, Arkansas State 64
Washington 67, Hawaii 50

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After upsetting the Cardinal, USC looked like they had nothing left as they faced Oregon State. But, Coop helped them “raise the roof” and earn a trip to the dance.

If there was a title to the story of the Southern California women’s basketball team over the past decade, it might be: “Promise Lost.”

The talent, the potential, the parade of All-Americans that should have made this one of the premier programs on the West Coast, seemed to dissolve into a smoldering heap every single year.

There was the cruel succession of ACL injuries that cut short the careers of Jackie Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath, who were among the most elite recruits in the country when they committed to USC. There were inexplicable late-season losses to lower-division conference teams that would leave the Trojans’ résumé lacking when it came in front of the NCAA committee. There were coaching changes and personality conflicts and, to be very honest, a whole lot of underachievement.

But USC changed the narrative on Sunday night at KeyArena.

Scott Rueck will await the Committee to see if he’s managed to shift the Pac12 paradigm. As the Oregonian asks: If Scott Rueck leads Oregon State women to NCAA Tournament, how big of an accomplishment is it?

Speaking of the Committee, Charlie tries to work through their headache predict AND explain the brackets.

Fordham took any mystery out of the Committee’s hands by upsetting Dayton to claim the A-10 crown. This accomplishment is six years removed from their 0-for season and gives New Zealander Rooney what she missed by a sliver last year: An NCAA berth.

We’ve been watching this unfold over the season: High Point v. Winthrop. In the end, Dequesha McClanahan leads Winthrop to first-ever Big South title

“What a game and what a tournament. I’m very proud of our players, this program and very thankful to our administration and all of our loyal fans and supporters that were here and suffered without a championship for over 30 years,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook. “That’s what really makes it meaningful for them and our team.”

Yes, THAT Kevin Cook.

After an up and down season on and off the court, Nebraskan sophomore Rachel Theriot took control of the Huskers future and guided them to their first Big 10 conference title.

“It was a game where we couldn’t make a shot, but we found a way to win,” Husker coach Connie Yori said. “That says a lot about our mental toughness. We did a great job on the offensive glass. Every game doesn’t come down to playing pretty, but you find a way to win.”

No surprise, the Irish claimed their first AAC title – but were you a little surprised by how close the game was (at first)?

When is two points more than two points? When it’s a basket that sends a figurative bolt of electricity through a team and its fans. And that was exactly what Jewell Loyd’s alley-oop did in the second half of the ACC tournament title game.

The Fighting Irish are champions of their new league, and they will go into the NCAA tournament undefeated at 32-0. They execute offensively, are patient even when things aren’t clicking as well (which is rare, but happens), and are very dependable on defense.

But … they are also just really darn fun to watch.

Yes, a bit of a surprise, because of the upset of South Carolina, but Kentucky falling apart at the end? Not so surprising this season. Tennessee’s SEC title might give them a #1 seed, which would be (be honest) a surprise.

Tennessee adopted the motto of “Grind for Nine” at the beginning of this season, referencing the team’s blue-collar mentality as it pursues the program’s ninth national championship. The Lady Vols haven’t been to the Final Four since 2008, which is also the last year they won a national title. Back then, Pat Summitt coached the Lady Vols, before resigning in 2012 because of health reasons. Warlick, Summitt’s longtime assistant, became the team’s head coach.

The conference tournament title won Sunday was the first for Warlick as a head coach. As she accepted the trophy afterward, she said hello to her longtime mentor, who did not make the trip. “I want to say hi to Pat Summitt,” Warlick said to the crowd. “I know she is watching this broadcast.”

The crowd erupted in cheers.

Yes, most of us had Marist v. Iona penciled in to the MAAC finals. Quinnipiac decided to erase that prediction.

“(Quinnipiac) did a great job executing,” first-year Iona coach Billi Godsey said. “When it comes down to it, we didn’t do a terribly wonderful job of stopping them in the defensive end.”

BTW, there was news in the MAAC quarters as the Rider team scored its biggest win in years — maybe ever — with a 63-56 upset of Fairfield.

Interesting games coming up:

BYU women’s basketball: Cougars will meet “scary” Pacific in WCC semifinals Monday. Of course, the other WCC semi is classic rematch: Gonzaga v. St. Mary’s.

America East: Stony Brook continues to surge under coach Beth O’Boyle — and gets a second shot at Albany for their efforts. Can they pull off the upset – again?

Quakers v. Tigers: Penn (21-6, 11-2 Ivy) and Princeton (20-7, 11-2 Ivy) are both tied atop the Ivy standings and face each other in the season finale at Jadwin Gym on Tuesday (5:30 p.m.). The winner earns the outright Ivy League title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The loser has already clinched second place and therefore, an automatic berth in the WNIT.

Davidson will try and stop Chattanooga‘s quest for the Southern Conference title.

Same old, same old in the Patriot semis: Navy v Holy Cross, Army v. American, with a little extra oomph:

However, Gibbons readily admits the greatest motivation comes from preserving history as Holy Cross wants to prevent Navy from equaling its feat of capturing four consecutive Patriot League Tournament championships. The Crusaders set that standard from 1998 through 2001 under the direction of Gibbons.

“We certainly would like to stop them from tying our record,” Gibbons said. “We’re playing for a lot of alumni who were part of that great run.”

Yup, it’s UConn (with Stewart’s block earning a SportsCenter nod) agains the Cardinals. In the classic, “Careful what you wish for,” the New York Times notes that “Louisville Confronts Elephant in Its Room”

For all the strides the Louisville women have made in becoming a perennial basketball power, the climb to the top remains daunting. Connecticut, the Cardinals’ opponent in the final of the American Athletic Conference tournament Monday night, has won 14 straight against them.

Speaking of former Big East teams: It’s the Mountaineers hunting Bears in the Big 12 title game. Remember Sims’ 48 against West Virginia in January? And the rematch in March? (TV: Fox Sports 1?)

From the Boston Globe, some nice coverage of Barb Stevens at Bentley: Barbara Stevens has Bentley women’s basketball program point toward perfection

This is where it all happens, in Barbara Stevens’s warm and inviting office on the second floor of Bentley University’s Dana Center. A large bookshelf behind her neatly arranged desk in the far left corner of the room is adorned with trophies and nets cut down from Northeast-10 title games and framed photos of the teams she has coached in 28 seasons as the head coach of Bentley’s wildly successful women’s basketball program.

“I keep telling my players if they keep winning them, then I’ll keep putting them up,’’ Stevens jokingly remarked to an office visitor Thursday afternoon.

But this is where Bentley’s unrelenting pursuit of perfection is mapped out on a daily basis. It is where Stevens doggedly prepares through exhaustive film study and advanced scouting. And, as anyone will tell you, Stevens, 58, is nothing if not a evangelical minister of the coaching gospel, “Practice makes perfect.’’

Also from the Globe, there are a couple of back-and-forth stories: Bullying accusations continue against BU coach Kelly Greenberg.

I think we may have heard this coming a few years back: K-State women’s basketball coach Deb Patterson fired after 18 seasons

Happier news out of the Sunflower state: They stumbled, but didn’t fall: Wichita State’s women’s basketball wins second consecutive MVC title. The conference tourney looms.

Coale is guaranteed $1.01 million per season, but bonuses and fringe benefits will lift her annual compensation well beyond that figure. Lot of money for the coach of an 18-13 basketball team that enters the Big 12 Tournament this weekend in the league’s lower division.

But Coale isn’t paid just for basketball. She’s paid for her ambassador skills. She’s paid for her promotional and PR skills. Coale is a virtual spokesmodel for the university, be it talking to engineering alumni or youth groups or coaches all across the country or all of America itself, courtesy of Northwestern Mutual.

When Coale talks about the importance of sport in young girls’ lives, or the importance of education, or the importance of hard work to fulfill dreams, people listen. Some of those people are impressionable. Others are influential. Coale reaches them all. I’ve said it before; Coale’s next job won’t be coaching a basketball team, it will be vice president of the university.

A little W news:

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Blizzard!

Snow day! (but not for me!) and a trip to D.C. for an Early Childhood Symposium.

Frozen doors on the Amtrak train up and back.

Leading my first “STEM” infused professional development with some amazing early childhood teachers (STEM and Storytelling – a match made for teaching!).

There was a Polar (Bear) Vortex.

I walked into a room and got a(nother) grant.

My mom called to say that the next time we have an argument, she’s going to order a traffic jam in my neighborhood. (Lucky for my neighborhood, we don’t argue much.)

Oh, and some basketball with more “TIM-BERRRRRS.”

#11 Oklahoma State lost to West Virginia, 71-67, giving the Cowgirls their first loss of the season. When the Mountaineers went up against Baylor, though, they couldn’t beat Sims.

NC State took down #20 Syracuse. That got the Wolfpack ranked 20th, but a horrible first half doomed them against #13 UNC. Even so, they’ve earned attention from  the AP and Mechelle: Wolfpack off to winning start

Florida took down then #6 Kentucky (and made the players cranky). And then #10 South Carolina added to the #9 Wildcat’s misery, defeating Kentucky 68-59.

Ignore’em at your peril: Texas A&M defeated #12 LSU, 52-48. Can I just say “Ick.” Aggies shot 34% , Tigers shot 26%.

They had a close call against Pacific, but #24 (ranked for the first time in program history) San Diego righted the ship and got a win. Not so lucky against Portland, which stomped the Toreros 72-52.

Michigan State took it to #16 Nebraska, 70-57.

Missouri defeated #25 Georgia. Yes, the Dawgs over-indulged on cupcakes.

Northwestern over #21 Purdue by a whisker.

Oh, and just a reminder… there are no upsets in women’s basketball…..

In other news, UConn continues to roll with wins over Memphis and Houston. Temple is next, but I’m sure folks are looking ahead to the Baylor game IN Waco.

The Irish are smiling. The Terps are too, probably ’cause they don’t face Notre Dame until the 27th.

Duke rolled the Orange.

Howard’s 27/18 helped Florida State escape Miami, 68-63.

Yes, that’s the Dons at 7-7.

Is anyone paying attention to the job coach Austin Parkinson is doing at IUPUI?

Hey! VCU looks to have recovered from the loss coach Cunningham. They’re at 14-2 (cause they lost to LaSalle?!?!).

Delaware hasn’t collapsed into nothing with EDD’s graduation. They’re now 10-3.

Army is putting together a nice season. As is Navy. Oh, oh…look out on January 11th!

Gosh, “my” Penguins are missing their old coach Bob Boldon. Who is, but the way, 6-7 over at Ohio. That matches their win total last year but, more importantly, they’re 3-0 at home, which is cool.

And yes, 3-9 San Diego State misses Beth Burns.

And yes, 1-14 UNC-Wilmington misses Cynthia Cooper.

How long will T-Spoon stay a Louisiana Tech?

Maine is 7-8. I’m just sayin’: Richard Barron.

Even though I’m still not sayin’ nothin’ about Fordham and Erin Rooney, the Rams did slip up v. Duquesne. But it’s lookin’ like a showdown with the Hawks is looming’.

Rutgers may have found their footing.

Ditto with Texas.

Look at that! The Quakers are atop the Ivy League. Princeton is up next. (Dum de dum, dum)

Debbie missed her game of the week: St. Francis (PA) v Central Connecticut State, 106-97.

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