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Who will reach the women's Final Four and win it all? A March Madness bracket analysis

The women’s NCAA Tournament field is set and now the fun begins with 68 teams vying for the national championship and cutting down the nets in Cleveland.

The stars are out with Caitlin Clark trying to get Iowa its first national championship and Angel Reese looking to help LSU repeat as champion. The third-seeded Tigers ended a 10-year run of No. 1-seeded teams winning the title.

Look for that to be a one-year thing. Here is a look at what could happen over the next few weeks and remember: This guidance will be 100% accurate until the first round tips off on Friday.

CHALK RULES

It's foolish to pick against top seeds, which have won the title in 14 of the past 16 seasons.

The only other time before last year it has happened in that span was in 2011, when coach Gary Blair led Texas A&M to the title as a No. 2 seed. At least two No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four every season since since 2005 with the exception of 2016. South Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed, is a huge favorite to win the title.

BRACKET-BUSTING UPSETS

Watch for some mid-level seeds to cause some headaches.

Last year, ninth-seeded Miami and eighth-seeded Mississippi made runs to the second weekend by knocking off No. 1 teams. Ole Miss is back in the field as a 7-seed and Notre Dame better prepare for coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin's squad in the second round.

Princeton is an experienced team behind guard Kaitlyn Chen and took UCLA down to the wire in Los Angeles early in the season before losing a close one. If the Tigers win their opener, they could face Iowa in a game that would feature a Kaitlyn-Caitlin matchup.

SAFE BETS

No 14- or 15-seed has ever won a game in the women's tournament and that trend is likely to continue. None came within single digits of pulling off upsets last year and this season's group will be hard-pressed to do it. Jackson State has a chance if they can figure out a way to contain UConn.

BEWARE THE 12

As with the men's bracket, It's a nearly annual thing that a 12-seeds knocks off a 5 in the opening round. At least one 12-seed has made it out of the first round in five of the last six women's tournaments, including the two the past two seasons.

INJURY BUG

Virginia Tech made the Final Four last season for the first time behind the strong play of Elizabeth Kitley, who won the ACC player of the year for the third time. She injured her knee in the regular-season finale this year and missed the ACC Tournament. Her status is still unclear for the NCAAs.

Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes also hurt her knee in the regular-season finale, but appears to be ready to go. UConn's Aaliyah Edwards broke her nose in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. She sat out the final two games but is ready for the NCAAs.

ALBANY REGION 1

Analysis: What Dawn Staley has done has been amazing. A whole new starting lineup and South Carolina (32-0) is back in the same spot it was last season, undefeated heading into the NCAA Tournament. The young Gamecocks have been tested a few times this season, but passed every one, including using a last-second 3-pointer from Kamilla Cardoso to beat Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. South Carolina could see some familiar foes on its way back to the Final Four with No. 2 Notre Dame and eighth-seeded North Carolina potentially in the way. The Gamecocks beat both of them this season.

Players to watch: Meghan Andersen, Fairfield; Cardoso and MiLaysia Fulwiley, South Carolina; Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame; Deja Kelly, North Carolina; Skylar Vann, Oklahoma.

Bracket Buster: Seventh-seeded Ole Miss made it to the Sweet 16 last year, knocking off Stanford. Notre Dame better be on high alert if the two teams meet in the second round. North Carolina led South Carolina at the half in November before losing 65-58. Florida Gulf Coast is always a threat to pull off an upset with its spectacular 3-point shooting.

Best Potential Game: Oregon State vs Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. Two really good defensive teams that have dynamic guards. The Beavers are led by Talia von Oelhoffen while the Irish have Hidalgo. First team to 50 wins.

First-round picks: South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida Gulf Coast, Indiana, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Ole Miss, Notre Dame.

Second-round picks: South Carolina, Indiana, Oregon State, Notre Dame.

Regional semifinal picks: South Carolina, Notre Dame.

Regional champion pick: South Carolina.

ALBANY REGION 2

Analysis: The committee did Clark and Iowa no favors if they were hoping to see the Hawkeyes return to the championship game. The NCAA's all-time leading scorer and the Hawkeyes have a potential tough second-round matchup at home against either Princeton or West Virginia. Win that and the Big Ten champions could face Kansas State for a third time; K-State handed Iowa one of its four losses this year. Make it to the regional final and a rematch against defending champion LSU or a stellar UCLA team awaits. Five teams that spent time in the top three spots in the AP Top 25 poll are in this region.

Players to watch: Clark; Lauren Betts, UCLA; Kaitlyn Chen, Princeton; Katie Dinnebier, Drake; Ayoka Lee, Kansas State; Angel Reese, LSU; Jaylen Sherrod, Colorado.

Bracket Buster: Fifth-seeded Colorado knocked off LSU to start the season and played through a difficult Pac-12 schedule, beating Stanford and USC. The Buffaloes did struggle dropping five of their last six in the regular season.

Best Potential Game: It would be easy to go with the potential Louisville-LSU game in the second round, which would see Tigers transfer Hailey Van Lith going up against her former team. Louisville probably doesn't have enough offensive firepower to handle the Tigers on the road. The better matchup could be LSU-UCLA in the Sweet 16. There are plenty of stars in that matchup with Betts, Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice on the Bruins side matching up against Reese, Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow.

First-round picks: Iowa, Princeton, Colorado, Kansas State, Louisville, LSU, Creighton, UCLA.

Second-round picks: Iowa, Colorado, LSU, UCLA.

Regional semifinal picks: Iowa, UCLA.

Regional champion pick: UCLA.

PORTLAND REGION 3

Analysis: For the second straight year, the UConn Huskies had high expectations coming into the season only to have them dashed by a string of injuries that sidelined five players for the season, including star guard Azzi Fudd. Geno Auriemma's team still has Paige Bueckers, who missed last year with an ACL tear. The 2021 AP player of the year is back in top form. This year's freshmen class is incredible and USC's JuJu Watkins is the best of the group. She led the Trojans to a Pac-12 Tournament title and should have the team going far in the NCAA Tournament.

Players to watch: Watson; Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech; Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse; Abbey Hsu, Columbia; Cotie McMahon, Ohio State; Bueckers and Nika Muhl, UConn.

Bracket Buster: Columbia is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and it would be nice to say the underdog will be one of the 12 seeds to knock off a 5. They need to get past Vanderbilt in the play-in game first. Either way, Columbia or Vanderbilt could cause some problems for fifth-seeded Baylor. The team to really watch out for could be Marshall, a 13 seed. The Herd play a fun system with coach Kim Stephens subbing five players out at a time. If the Hokies have to play without Kitley, the Herd could pull off the monumental upset.

Best Potential Game: Celeste Taylor left Duke last spring a few weeks after announcing she was returning to the school. It happened because one of the assistant coaches she was tight with left for South Carolina. The stalwart defender might get a chance to play against her former team if they both can make it to the second round.

First-round picks: USC, Michigan, Baylor, Marshall, Syracuse, UConn, Duke, Ohio State.

Second-round picks: USC, Baylor, UConn, Ohio State.

Regional semifinal picks: USC, Ohio State.

Regional champion pick: Ohio State.

PORTLAND REGION 4

Analysis: Texas had to reinvent itself after an early season injury to star guard Rori Harmon. Coach Vic Schaefer turned to freshman Madison Booker, who helped carry the team to a Big 12 title. That earned the Longhorns the No. 1 seed over second-seeded Stanford. The two teams could meet with a trip to the Final Four on the line if neither is tripped up by a talented field that includes a surprising N.C. State team.

Players to watch: Cameron Brink, Stanford; Yvonne Ejim, Gonzaga; Rickea Jackson, Tennessee; Ta'Niya Latson, Florida State; Alissa Pili, Utah.

Bracket Buster: No. 6 seed Tennessee was one defensive stop away from snapping South Carolina's undefeated run in the SEC Tournament. Jackson will be a lottery pick in the WNBA draft next month and she can potentially get the Lady Vols a trip to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

Best Potential Game: The first-round matchup between No. 7 Iowa State and No. 10 Maryland could be a thriller. The Terrapins haven't lost an opening-round game since 2001 and none under coach Brenda Frese, who was an assistant under Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly in the late 1990s.

First-round picks: Texas, Florida State, Utah, Gonzaga, Tennessee, N.C. State, Maryland, Stanford.

Second-round picks: Texas, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Stanford.

Regional final picks: Gonzaga, Stanford.

Regional champion pick: Stanford.

THE FINAL FOUR

Analysis: The Pac-12 has been the best conference all season long and in its final year we believe two teams will reach the national semifinals. South Carolina will face Stanford and UCLA will play Ohio State. The Gamecocks beat the Cardinal in the 2017 Final Four en route to their first national championship. Stanford returned the favor four years later. Ohio State made it this far one other time, back in 1993 when Katie Smith led the team to the title game. UCLA has never reached this grand a stage before in women's basketball. The talented trio of Betts, Rice and Osborne will get them there.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Pick: South Carolina vs. UCLA. They played in the Sweet 16 last season and the Gamecocks came away with an easy win. It will be much closer this time.

Analysis: Staley has pushed all the right buttons this season to help a new Gamecocks squad reach the tournament unbeaten for the second consecutive year. This time, the Gamecocks will finish the job with a national championship..

___ AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness