Norfolk Regional breakdown

Updated: March 21, 2013, 11:46 AM ET
espnW

Can Notre Dame, which has made back-to-back appearances in the national championship game, reach the Final Four in New Orleans? The Irish have a tough road ahead. What about the rest of the region?

Three observations

1. Notre Dame is the only one of the No. 1 seeds that is not hosting early-round games. Furthermore, the Irish might have to face No. 9 seed Iowa on the Hawkeyes' home court in the second round. How potentially dangerous is that?

No. 1 seeds have lost in the second round 10 times in NCAA tournament history, including twice in the past seven years. In 2006, No. 8 seed Boston College upset Ohio State on a neutral court, and in 2009, No. 9 seed Michigan State knocked off Duke on the Spartans' home floor.

For what it's worth, the Irish once upset a No. 1 seed in the second round: In 1998, as a No. 9 seed, they beat Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.

2. There's at least one former Big 12 matchup in this regional, and there might be another if seeds hold.

In the first round, longtime Big Eight/Big 12 mates Kansas and Colorado meet in Boulder, Colo. That's a trip the Jayhawks took every season from 1983 to 2011; Colorado joined the Pac-12 for 2011-12.

Kansas has a 35-33 edge against Colorado, and the Jayhawks had won the last five games of their annual series before it ended. This is No. 12 seed Kansas' second NCAA appearance in a row after an 11-year absence; No. 5 seed Colorado is back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004.

Meanwhile, the history between Texas A&M and Nebraska is not as extensive, but they were conference mates in the Big 12 from 1996-2011. Then Nebraska left for the Big Ten. This season, Texas A&M joined the SEC.

The No. 3 seed Aggies and No. 6 seed Huskers could meet again in the second round, which would be at Texas A&M. Nebraska has a 14-9 edge in that series -- which precedes their time together in the Big 12 -- but the Huskers are 5-6 in College Station, Texas.

3. Hampton, which went undefeated in the MEAC and is on a 19-game winning streak, is disappointed about being a No. 15 seed and having to play No. 2 seed Duke on its home court.

The Pirates beat two SEC teams in nonconference play -- LSU, which is in the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, and Mississippi State -- and also played the likes of South Carolina, DePaul and Florida Gulf Coast. Hampton lost those three games, and also fell to Virginia Tech. That's a very ambitious nonconference slate for a MEAC team, and the Pirates did it specifically to help their NCAA seeding chances.

Coach David Six thought the Pirates deserved something along the lines of a No. 13 seed. He's especially not happy about having to play the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium again in the first round; Hampton had to do that in 2010, and lost 72-37. -- Mechelle Voepel

Three players to watch

[+] EnlargeNatalie Achonwa
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsJunior forward Natalie Achonwa makes sure Notre Dame doesn't give up anything in the post.

Natalie Achonwa, Notre Dame: Sure, the Fighting Irish are the only No. 1 seed that has to open away from home and will trek from Iowa to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean if they handle their business. But those are quick jaunts for Achonwa, the Canadian who prepped for a breakout junior season by traveling to places such as Turkey and England with her national team. There's plenty of spotlight to go around when it comes to a team with Notre Dame's profile, but Achonwa is the closest the Fighting Irish have to an overlooked player. Until foul trouble limited her in the Big East final, she was working on a 10-game closing stretch in which she averaged 15.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone or Duke's Elizabeth Williams could await in a regional final, but Notre Dame gives up nothing in the post with Achonwa.

Jasmine Newsome, Tennessee-Martin: Among those who have scored at least 1,000 points, there are only five active players with career averages of at least 20 points per game -- and UT-Martin has two of them in Newsome and backcourt partner Heather Butler. Perhaps that explains why Newsome also ranks among the nation's active leaders in assists. In fact, the junior is one of only two players in the tournament who ranks in the top 25 in both points and assists among active players. The other? Her opponent in the first round, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins. It's going to be a short stay for the Skyhawks (barring a bigger upset than Harvard beating Stanford), but at least a team that already played Baylor, Stanford, Louisville and Purdue this season won't be awed by the surroundings.

Toni Young, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's senior forward never won espnW's national player of the week honors, but it's entirely possible she received more votes over the course of the season than any other player. That speaks to the kind of consistency in a game that has her averaging a double-double with nearly two steals and two blocks per game entering a first-round contest against No. 10 seed DePaul. Not that she can't pick up the pace when needed. She had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals opposite Brittney Griner in the Big 12 tournament and 30 points and 15 rebounds in a December tournament final against San Diego State on the Aztecs' home court. The world-class high jumper (she reached the standard necessary to be eligible for Olympic qualification) was also the WNIT MVP last season, leading the Cowgirls to the championship in that event. -- Graham Hays

Best first-round game

(5) Colorado vs. (12) Kansas: Conference realignment might tear rivals apart, but the NCAA selection committee has brought them back together. In this case, former Big 12 foes Colorado and Kansas will tangle in a familiar place: the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colo. It's impossible to think this game will be anything but a tug-of-war, given the proud history of both programs. The Buffaloes, now members of the Pac-12, advanced to the Elite Eight in 1995 and 2002. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 during last season's tourney.

Although Kansas was a bubble team, and likely one of the last squads placed into the field, the Jayhawks (18-13, 8-10) have picked up a couple of quality wins this season: over Iowa State and Oklahoma, both ranked at the time. Kansas also boasts one of the best point guards in the nation in Angel Goodrich. What hurt the Jawhawks down the stretch were some poor defensive performances, most notably when they surrendered 93 points to Texas.

Colorado (25-6, 13-5) has yet to lose to an unranked team this season, but the Buffaloes also have only one victory over a ranked opponent (an early-season triumph over Louisville). The Buffs have a balanced attack led by guard Chucky Jeffery and forward Arielle Roberson, who combine for 26.0 points and 14.3 rebounds per game.

This one will likely be back and forth, but the Buffaloes have the advantage of playing on their home floor. -- Kate Fagan

Upset to watch for

(12) Kansas over (5) Colorado (first round): Yes, the Jayhawks just sneaked into the tournament, but this is a great matchup for them. The Buffaloes haven't beaten a good team in quite some time and a good argument could be made that Kansas has the best player on the floor in Angel Goodrich. -- Charlie Creme

Projected regional semifinals

(1) Notre Dame vs. (4) South Carolina: For a No. 1 seed, the Irish don't have it easy, facing the possibility of winning a second-round game against host Iowa in Iowa City. And it will get no easier for Skylar Diggins & Co. if Notre Dame ends up in Norfolk facing off against one of the country's stingiest, most physical teams in South Carolina.

The Gamecocks, who would be making their second consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16, play some of the nation's best lockdown defense, but they need to get their momentum back to come up with a pair of wins in Boulder. The Gamecocks have allowed opponents a paltry 49 points a game, but they're only 4-4 in the past eight games.

(2) Duke vs. (3) Texas A&M: The Blue Devils are riding the experience of sophomore center Elizabeth Williams and the youthful exuberance of Alexis Jones. Even with the loss of star guard Chelsea Gray to a knee injury, Duke is playing some of the best basketball around, with three wins over top-20 teams (including two over North Carolina) in its past four games.

The Aggies, one of only four teams to be selected a No. 4 seed or higher for seven straight years, are one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament. With wins over South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, they won their first SEC tournament title in their first season in the league. Gary Blair's team, led by center Kelsey Bone (17.6 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game), also should have little trouble advancing out of their home site. -- Michelle Smith

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