This time last year, Notre Dame entered the women's NCAA tournament riddled with injuries and coming off its first-ever loss in the ACC tournament. The Irish proceeded to win the national championship.
This time around, Notre Dame -- the No. 1 seed in the Chicago Regional and a top seed for the eighth straight year -- is healthy and sizzling after a 20-point win in the ACC title game against fellow No. 1 seed Louisville.
Stanford, the No. 2 seed in Chicago, is the most recent team to beat Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. In fact, the Cardinal have beaten the Irish the past two times they have met in the NCAA tournament (2016 and 2017 in Lexington).
The Irish lead the nation in scoring (89.0 PPG), but the region also boasts four other teams ranked in the top 15 in points per game: Central Michigan (80.3), DePaul (81.2), Iowa State (78.9) and Marquette (82.9). All five Notre Dame starters average at least 13.9 points, with Arike Ogunbowale leading the way at 21.0 PPG.
Three players to watch
Jackie Young, Notre Dame: Ogunbowale is the scorer. Brianna Turner is the defender. Jessica Shepard is the rebounder. Marina Mabrey is the shooter. Young (14.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 5.3 APG) does a little bit of it all as Notre Dame's Swiss Army knife. Her importance became evident when an injury forced her to miss Notre Dame's stunning loss at North Carolina in late-January. Her star power became apparent when she notched her second triple-double (22 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) of the season against Virginia on March 3.
Alanna Smith, Stanford: Perhaps the most versatile 6-foot-4 player in the country, Smith (19.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 39.5 3-point percentage) is also the only current Cardinal who was a significant part of the rotation the most recent time Stanford made the Final Four in 2017. The senior forward is coming off an MVP performance in the Pac-12 tournament.
Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M: The most talked about pinky finger in the SEC belongs to Carter. The SEC's leading scorer (22.5 PPG) missed the SEC tournament after having surgery on her fractured finger, but is back for the Aggies, who are trying to make a Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. Carter, a 5-7 sophomore guard, hit a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to lift Texas A&M past DePaul and into the Sweet 16.
Best first-round game
No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State (ESPN2/ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET Saturday): The two programs haven't met since the 2005-06 season, which means these Spartans, coached by former Central Michigan star Suzy Merchant, will be getting their first close-up of MAC player of the year Reyna Frost (21.8 PPG, 13.5 RPG).
Best potential second-round game
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 DePaul: The Blue Demons, who are in the NCAA tournament for the 17th consecutive year, are used to scoring a bunch of points in the postseason. In Iowa State, led by Big 12 player of the year Bridget Carleton, DePaul would have the perfect shootout partner.
Picks to reach the Sweet 16
(1) Notre Dame, (2) Stanford, (5) Marquette, (6) DePaul