Voepel and Creme:
The 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament is finally here. And when the games tip off Sunday in San Antonio, we won't have to wait long for one of this season's biggest stars to get the ball in her hands. Freshman Caitlin Clark -- whom Sue Bird called the "most exciting player in college basketball right now" during ESPN's Instagram Live on Selection Monday -- and fifth-seeded Iowa face No. 12 seed Central Michigan (ESPN/ESPN App, noon ET) in one of the tournament's first games.
We've ranked every team in the NCAA tournament, picked the five biggest contenders, previewed each region and potential bracket busters and named the top players in the field. Now it's time to make our picks and answer some additional big questions -- including whether UConn or Baylor is the favorite to advance out of the River Walk Regional.
What should we expect from Clark in her NCAA tournament debut, and who is another exciting player you think is must-watch in the tournament?
Voepel: Clark is fun to watch because so much of what Iowa does offensively is generated by her. She can shoot from anywhere, she has great on-court connection with post player Monika Czinano and she has a panache to her game that comes naturally.
Clark is averaging 26.7 points and 7.2 assists. She is as elite a scorer as she is a playmaker, and that's not all that common. She can hit those long-range bomb 3-pointers that will make viewers jump off their couches yelling, so she stretches defenses that way, and then she can also pick them apart with her passing. Defenses have to be hyper-alert when she has the ball in her hands, which is much of the time.
Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith plays with a completely different style that is equally exciting. She can soar for the alley-oop pass and finish, and the Lady Bears look for that. Smith also just has a nose for the ball when it comes to scoring on offensive rebounds, and she and fellow junior Queen Egbo can block/alter shots and control games defensively, too.
Creme: Count me as one of those viewers jumping off my couch, Mechelle. I might have even pulled a hamstring when Clark hit a 27-footer against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. She shoots from that range so effortlessly, but the rest of her game is nothing but effort. If she's not making a long jumper or finding Czinano with a no-look post pass, Clark is probably on the ground after taking contact on a hard drive to the basket or trying to fight through a screen on defense.
I am expecting more eye-popping things Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App, noon ET) in the first round because Central Michigan is the perfect matchup. The Chippewas like to play a wide-open, fast-paced game, too, and they don't have the physical players to take Clark out of rhythm. She should have room to get anywhere she wants on the court. That should mean big points and assist numbers.
Another young Big Ten point guard has my attention, too. Sophomore Ashley Owusu of Maryland plays the same position as Clark, but in an entirely different way. Owusu doesn't shoot many 3-pointers (36 to Clark's NCAA-leading 254). Instead, she plays the position more like a power forward with a take-charge mentality and great finishing abilities. As the engine that makes Maryland's high-scoring offense go, Owusu will also be playing in her first NCAA tournament for a team with high expectations. Second-seeded Maryland opens Monday (ESPN/ESPN App, 4 p.m. ET) against No. 15 seed Mount St. Mary's.