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March Madness: What to know about the NCAA women's tournament Albany 2 region

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

This region has everything, including Caitlin Clark.

Though Iowa earned the No. 2 overall seed, the bracket sure doesn’t seem like it. It is inarguably the toughest region of any with No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 LSU, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Colorado looming.

The group is so tough that many of those squads were ranked top five in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. When AP All-Americans are announced, don’t be surprised if most of them reside in Albany 2. It’s going to be a gauntlet.

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

Five things to know

Caitlin Clark mania heads to Upstate New York

Clark and Co. are the headliners in Albany, even though South Carolina will also be in town in the second year of the super-regional format. That is, if Iowa gets out of the first weekend. The Hawkeyes have a tough second-round draw against either No. 8 West Virginia or No. 9 Princeton, both of which are standout defensive squads.

Iowa sold out 34 of its 36 games this season, including tickets for the games in Iowa City this weekend. The only two it didn’t sell out were two Thanksgiving week tournament games in Florida. Given how well fans traveled to both Portland and Dallas last season, expect a lot of black and gold in New York’s capital city.

LSU, Angel Reese have been here before

Kim Mulkey’s LSU team is well equipped to take the region by storm despite being a No. 3 seed. They used motivation from the SEC tournament loss to Tennessee last year to barge into the Final Four and win it all. And they certainly have some to feed off of this year with a second close loss to South Carolina that featured a large dust-up in the final two minutes. That there are so many good teams and so many legitimate upsets available will only help their repeat push.

Angel Reese (19 ppg, 13.1 rpg) and Aneesah Morrow (16.5 ppg, 10 rpg) lead the way for the Tigers with senior Hailey Van Lith, sophomore Flau’jae Johnson and freshman Mikaylah Williams averaging double-digits each in the backcourt. Their 86.7 ppg rank second behind Iowa.

Will we see a rematch of last season's epic title game between Iowa and LSU in the Albany 2 region? (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Will we see a rematch of last season's epic title game between Iowa and LSU in the Albany 2 region? (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) (Maddie Meyer via Getty Images)

Season’s best teams grouped together

Just how stacked is this region? It has three teams that were ranked in the top three of the AP Top 25 poll over the season. The poll does not have any bearing on the bracket, but it does indicate which teams are viewed as the best in the country.

No. 3 seed LSU, the reigning national champions who won as that seed last season, began the year ranked No. 1 until an opening-day upset by Colorado, which is also in this region at No. 5. The Buffaloes peaked at No. 3 in the poll for one week in November and two weeks in January.

No. 1 seed Iowa ranked No. 2 for a total of four weeks, including that spot in the latest rankings the morning after the bracket reveal. UCLA sat at No. 2 for most of the season. The Bruins were the clear second-best team during that eight-week stretch before center Lauren Betts missed time. And Kansas State peaked at No. 2 in the poll on Jan. 29.

The selection committee seeds teams 1-68, then uses an S-curve to place teams in brackets. But there is a key principle that came into play.

“Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regional pods if they are seeded on the first four lines.”

The top Pac-12 teams, as per their seed line (the committee did not release a 1-67 list): No. 1 USC, No. 2 Stanford, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Oregon State. That forced the committee to make changes and spread them all out, which impacted everyone in the top 16.

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Familiarity rules

It’s not only how stacked this region is, it’s how well the teams know each other already. Iowa could meet up with No. 4 Kansas State in the regional semifinal if the bracket goes chalk. They’ve already met twice this season, beginning with a win by K-State on Iowa’s floor and again in a tournament final in which Iowa exacted revenge. The sides played a non-conference regular season game last year as well.

The most intriguing and likely one is LSU and No. 6 Louisville in the second round, who should both win their first games. Guard Hailey Van Lith led the Cardinals deep into March each of the past three years, but now looks to do it with LSU as a graduate transfer. Sign us up to see Van Lith and Louisville head coach Jeff Walz up against each other.

If there are upsets, Colorado and LSU could meet in the regional final as a full-circle moment for one team beginning and ending its season against the same squad. Not to mention all the other connections around the bracket.

Iowa is well versed on No. 12 Drake, an in-state foe that used to be led by Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder. Creighton is on the other side of the bracket, but was the team to upset Iowa in Clark’s sophomore year. UCLA and Colorado could also meet up in the regional final, if Colorado pulls off upsets.

Rice’s magical run to an automatic bid

Rice will make its fourth NCAA tournament appearance and only its second since 2005 (it last played in 2019). To do it, the Owls went on quite a run through their first AAC tournament to earn the automatic bid. It previously played in C-USA.

Rice (19-14) finished 10th of 14 teams in the AAC with a 9-9 record. Tulsa, North Texas and Temple each finished 13-5 atop the conference. But tournaments are an entirely new season, and the Owls toppled No. 7 UAB (71-56), No. 2 North Texas (61-59), No. 3 Temple (60-57) and No. 9 East Carolina (61-41) to win their first AAC tournament championship.

They are the highest seed to win the title in conference history. The previous was No. 3 East Carolina last year. Malia Fisher was named Most Outstanding Player, averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds over the tournament for a team that plays a deep rotation.

Rice’s reward is the reigning champs. LSU is 4-1 against Rice, whose only win was at home during the 1998-99 regular season. The Owls’ signature game was an eight-point loss to Gonzaga, which is a No. 4 seed in the field.

Potential rematches

Second round: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Louisville — LSU guard Hailey Van Lith gets a go at her former team. Her commitment to the Tigers was one of the biggest splashes in the transfer portal and, though it started out rocky, she’s put together some of her best games of late.

Sweet 16: No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 4 Kansas State — Kansas State knows how to beat Iowa, both with and without Ayoka Lee. The Wildcats are 2-1 against the Hawkeyes over the past two seasons.

Elite Eight: No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 3 LSU — It could be a title game rematch with a Final Four berth on the line. LSU bested Iowa with a standout showing from its guards.

Players to watch

Clark can push her NCAA all-time scoring record higher with up to six games remaining in her collegiate career. She’s averaging 31.9 points per game, which could mean adding another 190 points to her 3,771.

Kaitlyn Chen heads a Princeton squad that could cause problems for Iowa, should it advance from a solid 8-9 matchup with West Virginia. The Ivy League does not grant an extra year of COVID-19 eligibility, so the conference’s top stars often enter the transfer portal for one more year. Chen has already been linked to UConn. She averages 15.8 points and five assists per game.

Drake junior forward Anna Miller (55 FG%) and junior guard Katie Dinnebier (53.6 FG%) are two of the most efficient shooters in the nation. The Bulldogs rank seventh overall, shooting 48.7%.