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March Madness: What to know about the NCAA women's tournament Albany 1 region

[Regional Breakdowns: Albany 1 | Albany 2 | Portland 3 | Portland 4]

The road to a championship again goes through South Carolina, which secured its second consecutive No. 1 overall seed. The Gamecocks are going for the 10th-ever undefeated national championship season in NCAA women’s history.

As the top seed, the committee rewarded them with an easier go than others (looking at you, Albany 2). The Gamecocks are joined on the top lines by No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 4 Indiana.

Here's what to know, potential rematches to circle and three players to watch.

Five things to know

South Carolina, Fairfield hold longest winning streaks

South Carolina (32-0) hasn’t lost a game since the 2023 Final Four matchup with Iowa. The Gamecocks are better offensively and defensively despite an entirely new starting lineup. Joining them in the region is the team with the second-longest active winning streak.

Fairfield is on a 29-game winning streak dating back to a 73-70 loss to Vanderbilt in the third game of the regular season. It’s the Stags' lone loss (31-1) en route to the MAAC title last week that earned them an automatic bid. Fairfield is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, but bracketologists believed they wouldn’t make the field unless they earned the automatic bid. They rank 89th in NET with a strength of schedule near dead-last in the country.

The Stags’ winning streak is the most in jeopardy going up against No. 4 Indiana and All-American forward Mackenzie Holmes, should she be healthy, in the first round. It won’t get easier from there for Fairfield, so a meeting of the two on one side of the Albany 1 regional isn’t likely.

Notre Dame again impacted by late injury

Notre Dame secured a No. 2 overall seed by winning the ACC tournament title, but this isn’t the best version of the Fighting Irish. They will go without forward Kylee Watson, who announced on Sunday night she sustained a torn ACL. Senior Natalija Marshall stepped in for her in the ACC title game. They average similar numbers, though Watson averages 25.9 minutes per game and Marshall averages 18.7 coming off the bench.

The Irish played the season without All-ACC point guard Olivia Miles, who injured her knee in the regular season finale last year. Notre Dame earned a No. 3 seed and went on to the Sweet 16, where it fell to Maryland. It was also in South Carolina’s region last year.

The Irish still feature one of the best guard trios of Hannah Hidalgo, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld. The three leading scorers average a combined 54.1 points per game, accounting for 63% of the Fighting Irish’s top-20 scoring offense.

Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo has been one of the most exciting freshmen this college basketball season. (Lance King/Getty Images)
Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo has been one of the most exciting freshmen this college basketball season. (Lance King/Getty Images) (Lance King via Getty Images)

Nebraska in the spotlight

There’s a trickle-down effect from Caitlin Clark mania and the Cornhuskers are one of the beneficiaries. They drew national attention by upsetting Iowa at home in February and kept Clark to zero points in the final quarter. She remained eight points away from Kelsey Plum’s NCAA DI women’s scoring record by game’s end. Then they nearly did it again in the Big Ten championship game, forcing Iowa to overtime before falling.

The Cornhuskers are a strong 3-point shooting team that could get hot quick, led by fifth-year senior Jaz Shelley. They rank ninth in 3s made (282) and 12th in attempts (836). Texas A&M, their first-round opponent, is one of the best at limiting the damage from deep, keeping opponents to 29.4% from 3.

Oklahoma renewed

Oklahoma ranked top-five in scoring offense the last two seasons, but lost its key playmakers to graduation in the offseason. The Sooners struggled early, going 6-5 in their non-conference schedule. They took double-digit losses to mid-majors Princeton and UNLV (both of which are in the field), and fell to Tennessee, North Carolina and Southern.

They came alive in Big 12 play though. A win over Texas in the regular season finale gave them the sweep and the conference title. They dropped 91 on the defensively fueled Longhorns in their first meeting. They aren’t scoring as many points as previous years, but still rank top 25 and average 76.8 ppg. They also have the best assisted shot rate (70.5%) and second-most assists (20.3) in Division I. Yes, their assist rate is better than that of Iowa.

Expect a barrage of 3s from Oklahoma and Florida Gulf Coast — the team that lists all of its players as “S” for “Shooter” — in the first-round contest. Oklahoma averages 8.2 makes per game and FGCU averages 9.5.

Oklahoma and Texas are moving from the Big 12 to the SEC this offseason. The Sooners could have their first taste of the competition if they pull off upsets and meet South Carolina in the Elite Eight.

[Fill out your Yahoo bracket | Printable women's bracket | Men's]

Remember Ole Miss

After a year of dubbing the SEC as down, Ole Miss made noise last season with a second-round upset of No. 1 seed Stanford that opened up the bracket. No. 2 seed Iowa came out of the region in an Elite Eight matchup with No. 5 Louisville.

The Rebels secured a No. 7 seed this time, though they could have been higher, and will meet No. 10 Marquette in the opener, followed by potentially No. 2 Notre Dame. No one is going to dare overlook head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s squad. It’s their third consecutive appearance, a streak they haven’t had since the ’90s, and they finished third in the SEC behind South Carolina and LSU. The Rebels clean up on the boards and are one of the better defensive squads, though it didn’t show up for games against LSU and South Carolina.

Potential rematches

Second round: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 8 North Carolina — North Carolina was one of the few teams to give South Carolina a scare this season and the two would meet in the second round, should both win their openers. The Tar Heels lost, 65-58, in November as one of only two teams outside the SEC to keep it within single digits with South Carolina. That’s a tough draw for the Gamecocks early.

Elite Eight: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 2 Notre Dame — If it’s a chalk regional final, South Carolina and Notre Dame will meet in one team’s final game of the season after they started against each other in Paris. Notre Dame struggled in that one with Miles’ status still unsure and Hidalgo playing in her first collegiate contest. Both teams are better than their first meeting, a 29-point South Carolina win.

Players to watch

Te-Hina Paopao, South Carolina: The Gamecocks have so many weapons who can take over a game, but it all runs through their transfer guard. Paopao turned the Gamecocks into a legitimate threat from 3-point range, which was their weakness this time last year. Guard Raven Johnson is on a revenge tour from that Final Four loss.

Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame: It’s the freshman’s first NCAA tournament, but Hidalgo hasn’t played like a freshman at all. If you like exciting defense, Notre Dame is the one to watch.

Raegan Beers, Oregon State: It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re in a jampacked Pac-12 of superstars. Beers (17.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 66 FG%) is the leading character in the Beavers’ overachieving season. They were projected to finish 10th and instead were fourth behind Stanford, USC and UCLA. Sophomore forward Timea Gardiner earned conference Sixth Player honors.