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NCAA Tournament: LSU, UConn and more teams on upset watch

Kim Mulkey and LSU finished with a 28-2 record but did not face many strong opponents. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

The NCAA Tournament begins Wednesday with the First Four, and the first round tips off Friday.

Yet while select teams rose to the top during the regular season, some of these will lose out in the tournament. Upsets happen, in spite of high seeding and home-court advantage. It be March Madness otherwise.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at which top-4 teams are the most vulnerable.

No. 3 LSU

LSU may have finished their season at 28-2. But while the Tigers ran  amok in the SEC during the regular season, they have weaknesses.

For one, they couldn’t manage to hang with the No. 1 team in the nation in their February matchup against South Carolina. The game proved a failed test for an LSU team with a nonconference schedule chock-full of tough opponents such as… (checks notes) Bellarmine and Mississippi Valley.

Then Tigers ran into a roadblock in the SEC Tournament semifinals in Tennessee, which exposed LSU’s vulnerabilities and mounted an improbable comeback to advance to the title game. LSU faces Hawai’i in the first-round, and the Rainbow Warriors could be a tough test. And if LSU advances to the second round, it could face No. 6 seed Michigan, a battle-tested team coming out of the Big Ten.

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No. 4 Tennessee

In all likelihood, Tennessee will advance past No. 13 seed Saint Louis in the first round. But after that, the Vols could run up against No. 5 seed Iowa State. The Cyclones are not only Big 12 tournament champions, but they also boast star player Ashley Joens – who any team in this tournament will find difficult to contain.

Tennessee has its own star in Rickea Jackson, making the possibility of this second-round matchup very enticing. Still, it makes Tennessee susceptible to an early exit.

No. 3 Duke

There’s no telling what kind of run Duke will have in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Some thought that December’s win over NC State was the Blue Devils’ coming out party. But the ACC remained chaotic throughout the season, and Duke received its share of bumps and bruises – in particular, their 58-37 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament might leave sour taste in the Blue Devils’ mouths as they prepare to face Iona in the first round.

But they’re also the team that put 68 points on Boston College while only allowing the Eagles to score 27. And they also beat Notre Dame back on Feb. 5. Their season-ending loss to UNC was redeemed by a win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, which showcases how hot and cold this team can be – particularly as they approached the end of the season.

If the Blue Devils can bring their best in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be hard to beat. But there’s no guaranteeing that an Iona or a Colorado won’t send Duke packing.

Celeste Taylor and Duke lead the ACC, one of the most competitive conferences in the country. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of the biggest question marks in this year’s NCAA Tournament, as there’s no telling when they’ll get star player Olivia Miles back from injury – if they do at all.

And if Irish advance past Southern Utah in the first round, they’ll likely face Creighton in the second round. Yes, that Creighton, the same team that upended Iowa in the Sweet 16 last year. The same Creighton who almost beat UConn in February and battled against other top-tier Big East teams like Villanova and Marquette. A Notre Dame team with Olivia Miles going up against Creighton could be one of the best second-round matchups of the tournament. Without Miles, though, the Irish could head home early.

No. 2 UConn

Can UConn stay healthy? That’s the biggest question facing the Huskies in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If they can, then a run to the Final Four isn’t improbable, even in a tough region. Baylor could prove more difficult than anticipated, and Ohio State is a battle-tested No. 3 seed who has also faced injury issues this season but is also once again healthy.

Having Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme back in the lineup helps the Huskies’ chances, and both looked good during the team’s Big East tournament title run. But as the story has been all season, there’s no telling what type of injury this team could face next.