The Lady Vols grabbed the fourth #1 seed in the tournament, earning them a potential Final Four matchup against UConn and theoretically the toughest road to the Final Four for any #1 seed. Looking over the bracket, I am not totally convinced that it's the toughest run, but it may very well be the most entertaining region to watch.
The Other Regions
We can be short and swift about the non-Dayton regionals. UConn was handed a terrific gift by the selection committee: not only do they have the easiest road as befits a #1 overall seed, but the teams placed in their bracket are poorly built to handle the Huskies. Only #2 Duke really stands a chance at them, but UConn is already familiar with the Blue Devils from their earlier meeting in Storrs. Just pencil Connecticut into the Final Four; there's no real need to turn on the television to their games before then.
In Dallas, Baylor gets the top nod, and only Texas A&M appears to have a likely shot at taking down the Bears. It's unfortunate that they may meet up for the fourth time this year, as nobody outside of the local fanbases will have any interest in the re-re-repeat, but it could be a close game. The two teams obviously know each other well, and if anybody can anticipate Baylor's offense, it's the Aggies.
Meanwhile, Spokane is (in my opinion) the most difficult road for a number one seed. I don't see Stanford losing within the region, but they may meet a #8 Texas Tech team in the opening weekend - a team that is playing far better than their seeding but was hurt by a midseason slump to open conference play. From there, it's likely the North Carolina / Kentucky winner, and either team has the ability to play well enough to beat a top seed if they're sharp. (I'd love to see Kentucky's pressure against Stanford.) The region could end with a Xavier or UCLA matchup, which are two teams that Stanford has already faced. After their opening round, Stanford should get three no-nonsense games in a row, which is not the norm for the women's bracket.
But enough of that; let's take a look at the Dayton region where the Lady Vols look to take care of business.
Tennessee will beat Stetson, so let's move on. Their next opponent will either be Marquette or Texas, and either matchup is at worst a half-step below Stanford's second draw in terms of 8/9 difficulty. Texas is probably overseeded, but they do have a fair amount of talent that probably needs one more year to really gel. Marquette is still stinging at what they perceive to be a slight by the committee. The point may be valid, so we'll see if Marquette plays inspired or deflated as a result. With Marquette the most likely winner, we should see Tennessee matched up against an 8 seed that could have been a 6 seed without much complaint by anybody.
In other pods of the bracket, the opening weekend will likely feature a 4/5 matchup of Georgia Tech and Ohio State. OSU is another team that ended below their potential thanks to a midseason slump, but are clicking well at the moment. Georgia Tech will have their hands full with Bowling Green to start the tournament (HINT: this isn't a bad upset matchup to pick if you're into women's brackets). But no matter how the Tech/Green game ends up, Ohio State is the most likely Sweet Sixteen team in the Columbus region. It's their home floor and they're honestly the best team in the group.
The #2 pod features Notre Dame playing in Salt Lake City, opening up on #15 Utah's home turf. (As an aside, the committee gave three matchups where the higher seed could play on an opponent's home court: ND @Utah, UCLA @Gonzaga, and Texas A&M @Louisiana Tech.) Notre Dame then faces the Arizona State / Temple winner, which is honestly a softer matchup than the Marquette / Texas game that Tennessee will face. Just pencil Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen, winning on #15's home floor and then winning the apology game afterwards.
Finally, the intriguing part of Dayton's opening weekend comes where #3 Miami and #6 Oklahoma face #14 Gardner-Webb and #11 James Madison, respectively. The favorites should roll, but Oklahoma is very well built to play Miami. The Hurricanes, like Kentucky, rely on defensive pressure to create turnovers, but Oklahoma has proven themselves against Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State by playing well-composed ball against three very talented and very different teams. If you're looking for an opening weekend upset in the Dayton region, this is the best one to pick.
Once in Dayton...
We should see Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma/Miami, and Notre Dame in Dayton in what is a locally loaded region. Tennessee will likely be playing a near-road game with the Ohio State campus so close to Dayton, and Notre Dame fans should outnumber anything that Oklahoma or Miami sends over. The upside is that Tennessee matches up well with Ohio State, and the ridiculous depth of the team should allow them to keep the pace and energy level of the game very high. The winner of the Notre Dame / whoever game won't have much time to prepare for Tennessee, and so long as the Lady Vols don't dig an early hole, they should be able to mix and match lineups until they find the combinations that work best. Both games have the potential to be very exciting, but Tennessee should be favored in each.
Glancing at the teams, the five-team order of likelihood for heading to the Final Four from the Dayton region should look something like this: Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, then Miami. Miami has the toughest run of these teams, but Ohio State has the toughest Sweet Sixteen matchup with Tennessee. All in all, it's a region that features about 6 really exciting games, which is as good as any other region in the bracket. (It's far better than the zero-game Philly bracket. Snoozer...)
Swish Appeal's Nate Parham projects the entire first round. He gives considerable (and justifiable) love to Bowling Green and is not yet completely sold on Tennessee's improvement over the last few weeks. I give a little more creedence to Ohio State than he does, largely due to their conference championship and 9-game win streak.