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Senior Watch: 2018 NCAA Tournament Is Set

The bracket for the 2018 NCAA Tournament was revealed on Monday evening and, with no surprise, Connecticut enters as the No. 1 overall seed. Joining the Huskies as top seeds are 2017 runner-up Mississippi State, Notre Dame and Louisville.

Before the games tip off on Friday, here is a region-by-region look at the top senior prospects to watch over the next three weeks before the 2018 national champion is crowned.

Albany Region

The Albany region not only features top-seeded UConn, but some of the top prospects in the upcoming WNBA Draft (April 12, ESPN2). Here are some of the talented seniors to watch from the Albany Region:

  • Gabby Williams, No 1. Connecticut
  • Kia Nurse, No. 1 Connecticut
  • A’ja Wilson, No. 2 South Carolina
  • Shakayla Thomas, No. 3 Florida State
  • AJ Alix, No. 3 Florida State
  • Lexie Brown, No. 5 Duke
  • Rebecca Greenwell, No. 5 Duke

Wilson and the Gamecocks face a difficult path in front of them as they attempt to defend last year’s NCAA title. Any team in UConn’s bracket knows that a matchup with the perennial powerhouse could be the end of their championship dreams. Or, as Morgan William and Mississippi State proved last season, a matchup with the Huskies could be a magical moment that will be remembered long after the confetti drops.

A potential Elite Eight matchup between South Carolina and UConn would pit two of this year’s top prospects against one another. Wilson was named the espnW player of the year and was one of two seniors to earn First Team All-America honors. The other: UConn’s do-it-all forward Gabby Williams.

The other senior to land an All-America nod from this region was Duke guard Lexie Brown, who was named to the Third Team. Brown, fellow draft prospect Rebecca Greenwell and the rest of the Blue Devils have a difficult road ahead of them, including a potential Second Round matchup with No. 4 Georgia and UConn looming as a Sweet 16 opponent.

The same goes for Thomas, Alix and the No. 3 seed Seminoles, who would cross paths with Wilson’s Gamecocks in the Sweet 16.

Kansas City Region

Mississippi State nearly pulled off the Cinderella story last year after ending UConn’s 111-game win streak to advance to the national championship game, before having the glass slipper swiped away by South Carolina. The Bulldogs responded by going undefeated in the regular season and took a 32-0 mark into the SEC Tournament final, where they were dashed once again by the Gamecocks. However, their regular season SEC crown and 32-1 record earned them the top seed in the Kansas City Region. And with it, a path to the Final Four that is clear of both UConn and South Carolina.

When it comes to WNBA draft prospects, the Kansas City Region offers a quartet of teammates that have been on the Senior Watch radar this season:

  • Victoria Vivians, No. 1 Mississippi State
  • Morgan William: No. 1 Mississippi State
  • Jordin Canada, No. 3 UCLA
  • Monique Billings, No. 3 UCLA
  • Ariel Atkins, No. 2 Texas
  • Brooke McCarty, No. 2 Texas
  • Loryn Goodwin, No. 9 Oklahoma State
  • Kaylee Jensen, No. 9 Oklahoma State

Both Vivians and Canada earned Third Team All-America honors by espnW. As she did in last year’s postseason run, Vivians leads the Bulldogs in scoring, averaging career-highs of 19.6 points and 48.5% shooting. Canada offers a combination of scoring (16.8 ppg), playmaking (6.9 apg) and defense (3.2, 12th in NCAA) that few prospects can match.

Spokane Region

Notre Dame enters the tournament as the top seed in the Spokane Region, but when it comes to seniors to focus on, we begin at the bottom portion of the bracket.

  • Kelsey Mitchell, No. 3 Ohio State
  • Stephanie Mavunga, No. 3 Ohio State
  • Lexi Bando, No. 2 Oregon
  • Vionise Pierre-Louis, No. 12 Oklahoma
  • Gabbi Ortiz, No. 12 Oklahoma

No. 2 seed Oregon features sharpshooter Lexi Bando, who ranks second in the NCAA at 47.3% shooting from beyond the arc (69-146). The Ducks open the tournament at home in Eugene, and by virtue of being in the Spokane Region, could make it all the way to the Final Four without ever having to leave the Pacific Northwest.

While their path may be close to home, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Looming as a potential Sweet 16 matchup is No. 3 seed Ohio State, which features senior prospects Kelsey Mitchell and Stephanie Mavunga. Mitchell ranks 3rd in the NCAA in scoring this season (24.5 ppg) and third all-time with 3,363 career points entering the tournament. She needs just 61 points to pass Jackie Stiles for second all-time behind Kelsey Plum.

On the top end of the bracket sits No. 12 Oklahoma, which features two seniors to watch – center Vionise Pierre-Louis (15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and guard Gabbi Ortiz (12.2 ppg, 80 3pg) – as the Sooners were a surprise pick to make the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight year.

Lexington Region

Closing out the bracket is the Lexington Region, which features ACC champion Louisville as the top seed. Following the Cardinals are three teams that have won the NCAA Tournament: No. 2 seed Baylor, No. 3 seed Tennessee and No. 4 seed Stanford, with Baylor and Tennessee each hoisting the trophy twice in the past 13 years.

Not only should this region offer plenty of competitive matchups, but there will be a handful of senior prospects to watch as they close out their collegiate careers.

  • Myisha Hines-Allen, No. 1 Louisville
  • Jaime Nared, No. 3 Tennessee
  • Mercedes Russell, No. 3 Tennessee
  • Brittany McPhee, No. 4 Stanford
  • Marie Gülich, No. 6 Oregon State
  • Katelynn Flaherty, No. 7 Michigan

If the seeds hold true, the Sweet 16 would feature a Cardinals vs. Cardinal matchup as Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen (13.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) would take on Stanford’s Brittany McPhee (17.0 ppg).

The other potential Sweet 16 pairing would see the Tennessee duo of Jaime Nared (17.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.3 spg) and Mercedes Russell (15.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) taking on a young Baylor squad that will be without senior point guard Kristy Wallace, who suffered a torn ACL in her right knee less than two weeks ago.