Five burning questions off the women's NCAA tournament bracket

Lawson impressed by Oklahoma City Region (1:28)

Kara Lawson says the team that comes out of the Oklahoma City Region, topped by Baylor, will be tested while Andy Landers calls it "loaded." (1:28)

The NCAA tournament provides the answers. Until the games begin, we're here to supply the questions.

1. How long will the tournament's other headliner be around?

With apologies to Baylor, Notre Dame and South Carolina, No. 1 seeds all, there are two main acts in women's basketball at the moment. One is Connecticut and its pursuit of a fifth consecutive national title, 113 consecutive wins and perhaps some viticulture awards for Geno Auriemma.

The other is whether someone who has already scored more points than any player in college basketball history can score sufficiently more points to again borrow some of the Final Four spotlight from those other Huskies. It would be one final way for Washington's Kelsey Plum to get the best of Jackie Stiles.

Stiles capped off her career, soon after setting the scoring record, by steering Southwest Missouri State through a grueling postseason in 2001. She and the Lady Bears had to win at Rutgers in the second round. Then, after upsetting top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16, they had to beat Washington in Spokane, a neutral site in name only.

That's the same path Plum and the Huskies took a year ago. They won at Maryland early, then beat Kentucky on its home-away-from-home court in Lexington and lastly beat Stanford to reach the Final Four.

Yet also like Stiles, Plum struggled to find a second wind in a semifinal defeat.

Plum gets an encore, one that starts at home in Seattle this time. In a tournament in which most will believe Connecticut can be challenged only when they see it happen, another long run would provide needed energy.

Assuming the Huskies win their first-round game against No. 14 Montana State, though the Big Sky champion at least didn't allow a 30-point scorer this season, the potential paths diverge wildly. Washington could play No. 6 Oklahoma, which doesn't rank in the top 150 in field goal defense nationally, and then No. 7 DePaul, one of the highest tempo teams in the country. Or Washington could face in-state foe No. 11 Gonzaga in the second round and No. 2 Mississippi State in the Sweet 16, two teams that are where they are in large part because of defense.

Whatever the path, it doesn't appear that the pressure is yet wearing on Plum. She said at one point this season that achieving the combination of shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line was more important to her than the scoring record. Although fractionally off that pace at the free throw line (88.8 percent), she held steady even as attention intensified around the record chase.

2. Which No. 1 seed has the most difficult road to Dallas?

The natural reaction here is to find the quadrant of the bracket that contains Connecticut, place it to one side, and then go about looking for an answer from what remains. But just because everyone filling out a bracket who didn't attend one of the other schools (and most of those who did) will pick the Huskies, it can still be a difficult road.

Put any other No. 1 seed in this region, and ask it to potentially play a second-round game against Syracuse, a team that still has much of the admittedly hot-and-cold offense that took it to the Final Four a year ago. Then have it play UCLA in the Sweet 16, tasked with defending Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. Baylor and South Carolina did that during the regular season, but neither with great ease. Finally, give this anonymous No. 1 seed a regional final against either Duke or Maryland, a team that pushed it to the wire earlier this season and enters the tournament ranked fourth in the nation in the AP Top 25.

That is a slog for any other team. Only through the lens of all those wins in a row and all those national titles in a row does it start to look like a foregone conclusion. That is Connecticut's doing -- not its fault. If the Huskies survive, perhaps with the same ease they survived the regular season, they deserve credit for the journey.

3. Why might the Final Four be a Lone Star State party?

Texas enters the tournament without a great deal of momentum, among those teams stunned by West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament after losing three of four to end the regular season. The Longhorns also enter the tournament without Connecticut on their side of the draw.

One of those things matters a great deal more than the other.

We'll forgive the third-seeded Longhorns if they double check a few times between now and Friday, just to be sure, but a bracket that doesn't place them directly in Connecticut's path should be a welcome relief after they encountered just that fate the past two seasons. Those draws effectively capped what was possible for the resurgent Longhorns, and they ran up against those limits in both instances, first in the Sweet 16 and last year in a regional final.

Now with many of the players who lived those runs, notably Ariel Atkins, Kelsey Lang and Brooke McCarty, there is an opportunity to take the next step. Their past affords them at least as much experience as Stanford, the No. 2 seed in the Lexington regional, and not all that much less than top seed Notre Dame, with few holdovers from its most recent Final Four in 2015.

Competitive in a November loss at Stanford, competitive for three quarters in a loss against Connecticut, competitive in a loss against South Carolina, Texas now has the kind of offensive efficiency to complement the defense it has played ever since Karen Aston arrived.

The disappointment of the past several weeks, losses by a combined 12 points against Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia, is real. So are the obstacles posed by Notre Dame and Stanford. Another 3-point shooter would be nice, another body in the rotation useful. But none of it outweighs the work of several seasons.

One team from Texas is expected to be in Dallas. But Baylor might just have some company.

4. Where will the drama be for the first two rounds?

Lexington: No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Belmont, No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky

For all the offseason drama of players and coaches leaving the program, Kentucky is seeded one spot worse than it was a year ago, with exactly the same opportunity to advance to the Final Four without leaving Lexington. That said, the mile between Memorial Coliseum, site of the first two rounds, and Rupp Arena, site of the next two, will be an arduous one to travel.

A potential second-round game between No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Ohio State is one of the more appealing in the bracket, with Kelsey Mitchell and the Buckeyes denied what many expected to be their opportunity to host. But neither favorite can afford to look ahead. This is the only site for the first two rounds in which all four teams received votes in the most recent AP Top 25. That tells you how well both Belmont and Western Kentucky were playing by the end of the regular season. Both double-digit seeds feature balanced offenses and experience. Both are also coached by former Louisville assistants, which won't go unnoticed by Big Blue Nation.

Louisville: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Chattanooga, No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Dayton

Mix two favorites who are difficult to figure out (this is one of only two sites for the opening week that includes two teams ranked in the top 16 in the preseason) and two underdogs entirely familiar with these surroundings. The product is a compelling weekend of basketball.

Ranked No. 5 in the preseason, Louisville barely held on to a place in the committee's top 16 and a chance to host the first two rounds. Ranked No. 13 in the preseason, Tennessee then beat Mississippi State, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Stanford -- in isolation, as good a résumé as any team this side of Connecticut. Yet the Lady Vols long ago vanished from the polls, pulled down by inconsistency and a 6-8 record away from Knoxville.

But before either can write its reclamation story, they have to get by Chattanooga, which played one of the nation's toughest schedules (including a loss at Louisville) and Dayton, still connected by a few strands to NCAA tournament wins against Kentucky and Louisville in 2015.

5. Whom should you see while you can?

Seeding says these players won't make it to the second week. They presumably disagree.

The first four days of the tournament are a 48-game binge of basketball. Don't let them pass without catching at least a few minutes of these players.

Brooke Schulte, No. 7 DePaul: If Kelsey Plum's name appeared most often in espnW deliberations over player of the week, Schulte might have been next on the list. Less a hot-and-cold player than hot and volcanic, she seemed to pile up monster games in quick succession. She was Big East player of the week on five occasions.

Jessica Lindstrom, No. 8 Green Bay: Teammate Mehryn Kraker was espnW's mid-major player of the year, but Lindstrom is next in a line of program-defining players. It's worth a ticket just to watch how she reads and attacks rebounds. But Lindstrom is also a 3-point threat. Potential second-round opponent Notre Dame saw that for itself when Lindstrom totaled 16 rebounds and four 3-pointers in a 71-67 loss.

Sabrina Ionescu, No. 10 Oregon: She isn't the only scorer or rebounder for the Ducks, sharing those distinctions with Ruthy Hebard. She isn't the sole distributor, ceding some of the assists to Maite Cazorla. She isn't the only 3-point threat on a team with Lexi Bando. But she is the only one who does everything, hence four triple-doubles and espnW freshman of the year honors.

Lizzy Wendell, No. 10 Drake: Everyone knows the nation's leading active scorer. Fewer know that Wendell follows Plum on that list and is a player who, along with classmate Caitlin Ingle, revitalized Drake's program. Equally comfortable in the post or facing up, she will test No. 7 Kansas State.

Shay Burnett, No. 11 Elon: One way or another, Burnett steers the Phoenix. More accurately, one way and also many others, she steers the Colonial champs. She leads the team in points, assists, rebounds and steals. The first of those aside, she isn't a prolific scorer; she attempted double-digit field goals just once in the final 10 games. It's the complete game that impresses.

Jill Barta, No. 11 Gonzaga: Like Courtney Vandersloot or Katelan Redmon before her in Spokane, there is nothing mid-major about Barta's athleticism or production. What she did in the West Coast Conference final, scoring 37 points on a mix of inside-outside shots, is the same thing she did in scoring 26 points on just 10 field goal attempts in a win at Stanford.

Jasmine Joyner, No. 13 Chattanooga: That she played 40 minutes in the Southern Conference title game and didn't block a shot might be a bigger surprise than if the Lady Mocs knock off No. 4 Louisville -- not that her 17 points and 15 rebounds in the SoCon final went unnoticed. She is averaging 16.6 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the past eight games.

Emily Clemens, No. 14 Western Illinois: There are 13 players in the tournament who average at least 19 points per game. Listed at 5-foot-4, Clemens gives up inches to all of them. She doesn't give up much else on the court. That small frame has absorbed enough punishment (and cagily sold enough calls) to get to the free throw line 228 times, second to Plum in the tournament.