It's been a very successful season for the Iowa State women's basketball team, and that success was rewarded on Monday with a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a chance to host the first two rounds in Ames.
Because of that home court advantage, Iowa State will undoubtedly be the odds-on favorite to advance from the region. However, three other teams, the New Mexico State Aggies, DePaul Blue Demons and Missouri State Lady Bears, will all be vying to pull off an upset and advance to the Sweet 16 in Chicago.
One of the neat things about tournament play is that it gives teams and fans the chance to see high quality opponents that they may not know much about. In fact, all of the teams in the Ames regional, minus the host Iowa State, each won their respective conference tournaments.
This means the quality of play will likely be very high for the Ames regional. If you're a March Madness fan looking to take in a game, here's what you should the non-Iowa State teams in the Ames regional.
DePaul Blue Demons
Record: 26-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big East Conference
Location: Chicago, Illinois
There isn't a team in the Ames regional that you'd consider a perennial national powerhouse, but DePaul might be the team closest to "blue blood" status of the four teams.
The Blue Demons have been a beacon of consistency for over a decade now, making the NCAA Tournament each of the past 17 seasons. The first three of those tournament appearances came while the team was a member of Conference USA, meaning that DePaul has made the tournament every year since moving to the Big East in 2005.
Even more impressive, the Blue Demons have either finished first in the Big East or won the Big East Conference Tournament every year since the 2013-14 season.
This year, DePaul finished second in the Big East, but won 11 straight games en route to a Big East championship game win over top-seeded Marquette. That game was won on a go-ahead and-one completion from Chante Stonewall with five seconds remaining.
Needless to say, the Blue Demons are used to winning, and they have arguably just as much big-game experience as Iowa State playing in the Big East Conference. Oh, and they'll also have plenty of motivation to get back to Chicago and play in the Sweet 16 in front of their home fans.
In terms of players to watch, DePaul has three players who average double figures in scoring in Stonewall, Mart'e Grays and Ashton Millender. The Blue Demons also have a coach in Doug Bruno who's nearing the 700 career win mark.
Of all the teams in the Ames regional, DePaul appears to be the biggest threat to take out the Cyclones.
Missouri State Bears
Record: 23-9 overall, 16-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference
Location: Springfield, Missouri
While DePaul may be the most consistently successful of all of Iowa State's potential foes, it's actually DePaul's first round opponent, the Missouri State Lady Bears, who boast the only Final Four appearance of any team in the Ames regional.
In fact Missouri State has two Final Four appearances, with the most recent coming in 2001. Things have been kind of hit or miss since for the Lady Bears since then, however, as the team has only made the NCAA Tournament twice in the past 12 years (though the team has made plenty of WNITs in that timespan).
This year, the Missouri State could certainly pose a threat as an 11 seed. The Lady Bears most notable victories are the two that the team had over a ranked Drake team during conference play.
And although they didn't win, Missouri State also played some tough competition outside of the MVC and showed they could keep pace. Minus a 24-point loss against Indiana, games against tournament teams Missouri, Gonzaga and South Dakota tended to be quite close.
Players to watch for Missouri State include Danielle Gitzen, Alexa Willard and Brice Calip, who each average double figures in scoring per game. Jasmine Franklin also averages 9.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The Lady Bears are coached by Kellie Harper, who boasts an all-time record of 283-207.
New Mexico State Aggies
Record: 26-6 overall, 15-1 in the Western Athletic Conference
Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico
Finally, we get to the lowest seed in the Ames regional and Iowa State's first round opponent, the New Mexico State Aggies.
The Aggies don't have the history that DePaul and Missouri State have, but they do have a considerable amount of recent success on their side. New Mexico State has made the NCAA tournament in four of the last five seasons, and come into Saturday's game against Iowa State on 17-game win streak.
Despite the win streak, the Aggies' low seed stems from a relatively poor strength of schedule. New Mexico State only played one game against a team in this year's NCAA Tournament field, which was a 58-46 loss to 16th-seeded Abilene Christian.
Still, New Mexico State is certainly worth paying attention to, and it's primarily because of guards Brooke Salas and Gia Pack. Iowa State guard Bridget Carleton is the leading scorer in the regional, but Salas and Pack are second and third, respectively, in scoring average with 19.1 and 17 points per contest.
Additionally, Salas averages 11.1 rebounds per game as a 5-foot-11 guard, making her somewhat similar to Carleton, who also rebounds very well despite being a bit undersized. Unsurprisingly, those statistics earned Salas WAC Player of the Year for the second time in as many years.
The Aggies are led by head coach Brooke Atkinson, who's in her second season at the helm in Las Cruces after three years at Colorado State. In her time with the Aggies, Atkinson has compiled a 44-19 record as head coach.
The games will begin on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. when No. 6 DePaul faces No. 11 Missouri State. Following the completion of that game, No. 3 Iowa State will face No. 14 New Mexico State. The winners of Saturday's games will then play on Monday with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.