Women's bracket preview: Can anyone stop UConn? Will Temple get the call?

031217_uconn_1200
Connecticut Huskies guard Crystal Dangerfield (5) turns the corner against UCF Knights guard Aliyah Gregory (22) in a semifinal game of the AAC Women's Basketball Tournament on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. UConn won the game 78-56 to advance to the conference championship game.

In a year that started with women's basketball pundits declaring the race for the NCAA championship to be wide open, the revelation of the 64-team bracket on ESPN at 7 p.m. Monday will offer the business-as-usual placement of four-time defending champion Connecticut on top of the Bridgeport (Conn.) regional and No. 1 over the entire field.

Temple seems ready to end its NCAA drought and return for the first time since 2011. The Owls have an RPI of 18 as of the weekend, one of the best ever in the program's history.

"Let's put it this way, I'll be very disappointed if we're not there," Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said at the American Athletic Conference tournament after being bounced in the semifinals.

Penn earned a bid for the third time in the last four years after winning the first Ivy tournament title Sunday at the Palestra.

Poll

Will Villanova win it all again?

UConn's having a No. 1 seed is expected. But what has people shaking their heads is the way coach Geno Auriemma's charges have made it this far.

Three superstars departed through graduation, including multi-MVP Breanna Stewart; no UConn stars were on the preseason all-American watch lists; and the Huskies had a brutal nonconference schedule that was likely to nick them up.

That notion certainly loomed on the road in the season opener, when UConn, no longer holding an Associated Press No. 1 ranking, escaped nationally ranked Florida State, 78-76, at the last second.

Next up was No. 2 Baylor in the home opener on campus. Sure enough, the first half was competitive, but then freshman Crystal Dangerfield led UConn to a 72-61 upset victory, and the Huskies again asserted their dominance in women's basketball.

They have knocked aside all the potential impediments - the South Carolina squad of newly named Olympic coach Dawn Staley; the Notre Dame bunch under Naismith Hall of Fame coaching candidate and St. Joseph's graduate Muffet McGraw; the Big Ten leaders Maryland and Ohio State; the Big East regular-season champion DePaul; and the ranked trio of Baylor, Texas, and Kansas State out of the Big 12.

The question is not can the Huskies do it again to extend the national trophy monopoly to 12, but rather who can stop them from doing it in the title game in Dallas on April 2.

UConn enters Selection Monday with a fourth-straight American Conference championship and no losses to league rivals ever, a 32-0 record on the season, and an NCAA record winning streak for men and women of 107 games and counting.

Three players - Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, and Gabby Williams - are on the all-American watch lists, some of which also include Kia Nurse. Baylor and Maryland are given the best bets to stop the Huskies if they collide, but neither is guaranteed to advance to a meeting with UConn.

When the field is released, look for the national teams in the draw to be clustered among the Power 5 representatives - particularly the Atlantic Coast and Pac-12, the latter of which contains the new all-time NCAA scoring sensation in Washington's Kelsey Plum.

Villanova, Rider, and Princeton earned automatic qualifiers to the WNIT, while Drexel and St. Joseph's are under strong consideration, and La Salle has a long shot to get an at-large.

The WNIT field will be released at 9 p.m., after the NCAA women's field is known.