March 19, 2024 

NCAA Tournament preview, storylines: Portland 3 Regional

Upset picks, top players, and more from the Portland 3 Regional

The Portland 3 Regional is a beast. From USC to UConn to Ohio State, the matchup possibilities are elite-level. So before you fill out your brackets, here are a few key storylines to watch:

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Duke, Richmond first round rematch

Duke and Richmond faced off in early November, back when neither team was fully formed and both were untested. The Blue Devils routed the Spiders in the first game of the regular season, but Richmond will surely be out for revenge.

What’s changed since November? A whole heck of a lot. 

Defensively, the Blue Devils are still one of the strongest teams in the field. Offensively? Well, you never quite know what you’re going to get from this Duke squad. Richmond can shoot the ball from deep and have the potential to earn the rematch victory, but it’ll likely be Duke who moves onto the Round of 32.

Players to watch: Siobhan Ryan (Richmond), Taina Mair (Duke)

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Ohio State, Duke have the best second round potential

They had to have done this on purpose. Over at the Albany 2 Regional, Hailey Van Lith may have to face her former teammates in Louisville; and here in the Portland 3 Regional, Ohio State’s Celeste Taylor may have to face her former team, the Blue Devils. Taylor was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season for Duke.

She’s still averaging 10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.3 steals for the Buckeyes this season, and Ohio State is loaded with talent. The Blue Devils are a bit of a wildcard, with spurts of true postseason potential flashing throughout the regular-season. 

If Duke can make it past Richmond, this is definitely a matchup I’m eyeing. 

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Buckeyes’ guard Celeste Taylor (12) may face her former team, Duke, in the second round of the Portland 3 Regional. (Photo credit: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Baylor vs. Vanderbilt/Columbia has upset potential

Baylor has been an incredibly fun and effective team to watch all season. They’re also a storied postseason team. This will be the Bears 20th-straight postseason appearance and they are 55–18 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. When they go dancing, they don’t play around.

The two teams the Bears may face come from very different backgrounds. While historically Vanderbilt has found success in March, the Commodores haven’t made a tournament appearance since 2014. Columbia has never made it to the Big Dance, until now.

These two First Four teams have a lot to prove, and Baylor, while full to the brim of talent, hasn’t shown the most consistency this season with four unranked losses. But they did close out the season on a five-game win streak.

Vanderbilt should be able to test the Bears defensively, as they’re one of the top teams nationally in steal rate. Baylor will be a tougher matchup for Columbia, but the Lions can rebound well and score at a solid rate.

If Baylor is facing Vanderbilt in the first round, I’d look out for a potential upset here. 

Players to watch in this game: Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (Baylor), Abbey Hsu (if Columbia), Sacha Washington (if Vanderbilt)

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Injuries impacting Virginia Tech

This is one of the biggest storylines of the tournament. Is Elizabeth Kitley healthy? We don’t know yet. We don’t know if or when Kitley will return to the court after injuring her knee in the final game of the regular season. 

There are a lot of unanswered questions here, but if Kitley is good to go (hopefully sooner than later), Virginia Tech is a title contender in my eyes. Kenny Brooks is an experienced postseason coach with a Final Four appearance under his belt and Georgia Amoore is an elite-level scorer and facilitator. 

Kansas vs. Michigan is anyone’s game

These 8-seed vs. 9-seed matchups are always a toss-up, but this one is particularly interesting. Kansas won the WNIT championship last season and have made it to the Big Dance this year. They finished the season off with a 9-2 record, and both losses came against ranked foes. But they’re in a tough spot here. 

Michigan is a strong, defensive-minded team with an elite scoring threat in Laila Phelia. The Wolverines earned their spot and national attention with a victory over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, where Phelia scored 30 points on 55 percent shooting. She’s the difference-maker in this matchup. 

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Michigan guard Laila Phelia (5) may be the difference maker the Wolverines need in the post-season. (Photo credit: Lily Smith/The Register/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Players to watch

JuJu Watkins is one of the best players in the country – and she’s only a freshman. She’s already being compared to Caitlin Clark. This USC squad is led by the freshman phenom. 

Elizabeth Kitley is dealing with a knee injury, but if she’s healthy, she’s dangerous. 

Georgia Amoore is the other true threat on Virginia Tech. The Australian point guard is a dynamic scorer and more-than-capable facilitator.

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Dyaisha Fair is Syracuse’s fifth-year point guard who has broken records left and right for the Orange. She’s fifth on the NCAA D-1 scoring list and is a truly special player. 

Jacy Sheldon is a projected first-round draft pick out of Ohio State. She’s one of the best two-way guards nationally on a team where defense is their key to nearly every win. 

Paige Bueckers needs no introduction. She’s struggled to stay healthy through her college career at UConn, but she’s a threat no matter where she is on the floor. She shot 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc for the Huskies.

Virginia Tech, USC lead the way

If the Hokies are healthy, they’re my pick to win the region. Through January and February, Virginia Tech pulled together a 10-0 stretch, including wins over four ranked foes. But Kitley continues to be the difference-maker on their team, and without that missing puzzle piece, I’m not confident that they’ll even make it past the first round.

Whenever Watkins is on the court for USC, you know something special is about to happen. Don’t count out their trio of Ivy League transfers as well to complement the young star. If the Hokies aren’t healthy, I’ve got the Trojans to beat out the field in that region.

More March Madness: The Next‘s Missy Heidrick previews the Albany 2 Regional.

Written by Talia Goodman

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