The Stockton Regional looks primed for big upsets more than any of the other three corners of the bracket. Question marks surround the top seeds in the region. As we learned Tuesday, top-seeded South Carolina will be playing without one of its All-Americans. No. 2 seed Oregon State scored just 43 points in its last game and has broken 70 just once since mid-January. Third-seeded Florida State's offense also limps into the NCAA tournament and hasn't beaten a team inside the RPI top 100 in over a month. Miami, the 4-seed, was chosen as host but hasn't beaten a tournament-worthy team since just after the New Year. Could this be the region full of upsets like Sioux Falls and Lexington were last year?
Three storylines to watch
South Carolina with no Coates: Already upset that they were placed in this regional, the Gamecocks were dealt another blow when it was determined 6-foot-4 senior post player Alaina Coates would miss the tournament because of a right ankle sprain. The injury, suffered Feb 19. against Missouri, forced Coates to miss most of South Carolina's SEC tournament championship run and means her college career is over. She led the SEC in rebounding (10.7) and averaged 12.9 points. South Carolina won all five games since the injury, but now the Gamecocks are without their huge size advantage and the absence puts more pressure on 6-5 junior A'ja Wilson to deliver and stay out of foul trouble.
Can Florida State get back on track? The Seminoles looked like a potential top seed in early February. Then came a blown 15-point lead and double-overtime loss at home to Texas the day before Valentine's Day. Florida State hasn't been the same since. The Seminoles lost to Virginia three days later, and Florida State limps into the NCAA tournament on a two-game skid (and having lost four of its past six games). The offense hit a wall. Florida State scored in the 50s twice during that stretch, something it hadn't done all season. Since the Texas loss, the Seminoles have shot just 43.7 percent overall and 30.9 percent from 3-point range.
Big East out West: Seventh-seeded Creighton and No. 5 seed Marquette, two of the three Big East teams in the field, find themselves in the western-most region. Before the Bluejays even get to Stockton they will have to fly to Corvallis, Oregon, for the opening rounds. Frequent flier miles aside, both teams come into the NCAA tournament on a hot streak. Marquette won its past eight games en route to a Big East tournament title and boasts the 12th-highest scoring offense in the nation. Creighton shared the regular-season crown with DePaul and won nine of its final 10 games, the only loss coming to the Golden Eagles in the semifinals. Marquette even had success in the West earlier this season with wins over Arizona State and Oregon State, both of which are also in the Stockton Regional.
Three players to watch
Sydney Wiese, Oregon State: Washington's Kelsey Plum is probably the only player more important to her team's success than Wiese. The senior point guard averages 15.7 points and is sixth nationally in 3-point accuracy at 45.9 percent. The ball is in the lefty's hands constantly as she dictates everything the Beavers do. Wiese is the program's all-time leader in assists.
Leticia Romero, Florida State: If anyone is going to fix the Seminoles' offense, it's senior point guard Romero. She has been handing off some of the ballhanding duties to Brittany Brown, but Romero might need to take them back. With weapons like Shakayla Thomas, Ivey Slaughter, Imani Wright and Chatrice White, Florida State needs more of a pure point guard to make sure the ball gets to the right people at the right time. That player has been Romero for the better part of three seasons.
Kaela Davis, South Carolina: With Coates out, South Carolina will need more scoring from the perimeter. Allisha Gray has been the more consistent of the two transfer wing players brought in by Dawn Staley, but it was Davis who delivered in the most important moments of the the Gamecocks' biggest game to date. In the SEC tournament title game against Mississippi State, Davis scored 23 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, far better than her 12.2-point average on the season. South Carolina won't miss Coates nearly as much if Davis is that productive.
Games to watch
Best first-round game: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Arizona State: The Spartans are built entirely around senior Tori Jankoska, the 10th-leading scorer in the country. Arizona State is built entirely around balance and a defense intended to stop superstar players. The game might not be aesthetically pleasing, but the contrast in styles makes it compelling.
Best potential second-round Game: No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 3 Florida State Sophie Cunningham, the Tigers' blossoming superstar, needs a showcase game. This could be it. Cunningham is averaging 17.7 points, and in Missouri's biggest win in years, a 62-60 upset of South Carolina, she scored 26 and had five assists. She plays big in big games.