- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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1. Maya Moore is not doing this by herself. Perhaps you've heard of Connecticut's leading scorer, but the presumptive and deserving player of the year (again) has more help than conventional wisdom might suggest.
It was reasonable to expect Moore to shoulder a substantially greater share of the scoring load this season without Tina Charles and Kalana Greene around and with Caroline Doty sidelined by an injury. And in absolute terms, Moore is doing just that, averaging 22.1 points and 16.4 field goal attempts per game this season, up from 18.9 points and 13.9 field goal attempts per game in 2009-10. But the scoring increase is more a function of extra time on the court than her changing the way the Huskies play on offense. A season ago, Moore averaged 19.7 field goal attempts per 40 minutes. That number climbed this season, but only as far as 20.1 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes.
Admittedly, no one else on the Huskies is close to duplicating the volume of offense Charles produced alongside Moore, but freshmen Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson are carrying a share of the offensive workload as the third and fourth leading scorers this season that is essentially equivalent to what Greene and Hayes did a season ago in the same roles. There are times Connecticut needs Moore to be a one-woman show. That it's not often is part of the reason the Huskies are right back at the top of the bracket.
2. Beltway basketball is a good thing. It's not Tennessee versus Connecticut, but fifth-seeded Georgetown versus No. 4 seed Maryland in the second round would be interesting and could be good for the game. The two teams have played less frequently than Georgetown has faced Loyola (although at least that's only true for the one in Maryland), but a second meeting this season, especially in light of the Hoyas earning their first win in nine tries against the Terrapins back in November, could only help what would be a healthy rivalry in a basketball-rich area. Throw in the fact that the two stars, Georgetown sophomore Sugar Rodgers and Maryland freshman Alyssa Thomas, will be around a while.
The first game at Georgetown drew a crowd of just 1,953, but that was almost double the normal home gate for the Hoyas. And with the Maryland men's team out of the NCAA tournament mix and plenty of longstanding support for Brenda Frese's team, a second-round meeting in College Park might make for a solid postseason atmosphere in a round in whic such things can be hit or miss.
Of course, Princeton, which faces Georgetown and held up remarkably well after losing star Niveen Rasheed to a knee injury earlier this season, and St. Francis (Pa.), which faces Maryland, might have something to say first.
3. DePaul needs Felicia Chester. When DePaul scored its biggest win of the season, pulling away from Stanford for a 20-point victory in December, Chester had 24 points, seven rebounds, four steals and missed one shot in 34 minutes. After a game earlier this season between DePaul and Connecticut in Storrs, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said his team didn't have an answer for Chester, who had 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a game in which the rest of her team shot 35 percent from the field. She scored the winner against Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. And when it came time to vote for the player of the year in the Big East, Auriemma said he cast his vote for the DePaul senior.
She is not the whole team in Chicago -- part of DePaul's success this season stemmed from having so many pieces to the puzzle, including an emerging star in Keisha Hampton. But Chester does change the picture for the Blue Demons, giving them inside-outside balance. When Notre Dame successfully neutralized her in the Big East semifinals (with some help from some horrendous luck with the ball on the rim), not even a career night from Hampton saved the day.
Three players to watch
Jasmine Thomas: In the games that ended Duke's seasons the past three seasons, Thomas shot a combined 9-of-36 from the field (3-of-14 from the 3-point line), including 4-of-18 in last year's regional final against Baylor, a game the Blue Devils seemed to have in hand late. That record is not entirely on the shoulders of the sensational combo guard. The All-American has at times been Duke's offense when it couldn't get points out of its defense, as tends to happen in later postseason rounds, forcing her to take a volume of shots beyond what would be best for any measure of efficiency. But one of the best defensive playmakers in the game during her time in Durham, and one of its most entertaining backcourt players, will not want to go out with another rough shooting night.
Erica Allenspach: The first-round game between Marist and Iowa State actually offers a pair of seniors who deserve attention in Allenspach and Cyclones star Kelsey Bolte. Few players do as much with the basketball as Allenspach, who leads her team in field goals, free throws, 3-pointers and steals, while ranking second in assists and rebounds. And yet for all of that, she has turned over the ball just 37 times in 984 minutes this season. She isn't going to force her shot, but when the need arises, like when she went for 34 points in a big win against Houston on a neutral court earlier this season, she can become the kind of player who takes over a game.
Kristin Daugherty: Teammate Justine Raterman is Dayton's star, and the surprise at-large entry isn't going to spring an upset on the road against Penn State without another big game from her (she scored 32 when the teams opened the regular season with a double-overtime thriller). But Daugherty is the Flyer best equipped to take pressure off Raterman, or at least punish opponents who are slow to rotate off her. A good rebounder and fearless player who leads the Flyers in free-throw attempts, she also enters the NCAA tournament shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line. That long-range accuracy tailed off a little during conference play, but one key to Dayton's run to the Atlantic-10 tournament final was the senior hitting 8 of 12 3-pointers in wins against George Washington, Duquesne and Temple. She shot 27 percent (6-of-22) from behind the line in Dayton's losses and 58 percent (38-of-66) in its wins.
No. 8 Kansas State versus No. 9 Purdue
The Boilermakers have six wins against NCAA tournament teams, including third-seeded DePaul, No. 6 Iowa and two against sixth-seeded Penn State, in addition to a one-point loss against No. 4 Maryland and a two-point loss against 4-seed Ohio State. On their best day, they can play above their seeding in this game. One potential problem is that only two of those results came away from home. Kansas State doesn't have quite the volume of quality wins, but it has some momentum with two big victories late in the season, one at home against Texas A&M and another on a neutral court against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament.
This might come down to a battle of the Brittanys, with Kansas State's Brittany Chambers averaging 16 points and seven 3-point attempts per game and Purdue's Brittany Rayburn averaging 14.4 points and nearly six free-throw attempts per game, although the status of Jalana Childs' hip will also be a factor for the Wildcats.
With no neutral-court sites for the first two rounds in this part of the bracket, midnight might come early for potential Cinderella teams hoping to get to Philadelphia. But the carriage doesn't have to get very far for Penn State to make the trek across the state. The Lady Lions aren't even really a Cinderella as a No. 6 seed playing at home, but knocking off a good Dayton team and presumably DePaul would rate as at least a mild surprise.
Freshman Maggie Lucas seems to have dealt quite well with all the Kelly Mazzante comparisons that come with shooting almost 44 percent from the 3-point line on an astounding number of attempts (251 in 33 games), although her age automatically means people will be watching to see how she bounces back from a 1-of-10 shooting day against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. Sophomore Alex Bentley's assist-to-turnover ratio slipped from great to merely good during conference play, but a play-making guard who can distribute and score is virtually a must for an upset-minded team -- especially one that would likely have to go against two teams that push tempo as much as Dayton and DePaul do to get to the Sweet 16, should the Blue Demons get past Navy.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.