The No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament have the best routes and chances to make the Final Four. But there are teams below them that could still make it to Dallas.
That group is led by Iowa and UConn, two No. 2 seeds who were in contention for the seed line. Committee chair Lisa Peterson said the 12-person group leaned toward Stanford for the eventual No. 1 seed in part for their 20-5 record against teams ranked in the NET top 100. Iowa is 18-5 in the category and UConn is 19-5. That’s how close these top teams are and how competitive March Madness will be.
A notable team that is not on this list is Maryland. The Terps are a No. 2 seed, but have drawn the region with South Carolina.
Iowa (Seattle 4 | 2 seeds)
26-6, 18-3 Big Ten | NET 6 | vs. NET top 25: 6-4 | SOS: 12
Caitlin Clark is on a mission and she’s taking the roaring Hawkeyes fans with her. Clark, whose emotion and constant appeal to fan noise grew in March, is once again averaging 27 points per game (second in Division I) and leads the nation for a second year with 8.3 assists decisive. The triple-double threat leads an offense in Iowa with the production to top anyone with a Division I record 87.5 points per game.
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Questions around Iowa remain whether the guards flanking her can hit their open shots — which didn’t happen in that loss to Maryland, but did in the Big Ten title game — and if the team can play a good enough defense. They’re allowing an average of 71.3 points per game, nearly last in the nation. Iowa is also motivated after being knocked out of the 2022 tournament early by Creighton, a bad game for their defense.
The Hawkeyes could meet Duke, the best defensive team in the nation, but the Blue Devils struggled offensively heading into the tournament. Their last three games are their lowest-rated games of the season, averaging 41 points over that span. At the top of their group are two stronger defensive teams in No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Louisville.
If it’s a chalk region and Iowa comes up against Stanford in the Regional Finals, the Hawkeyes’ offense is much more powerful and operating at a higher rate. The Cardinal lacks the numbers or steal rate that often lead to wins in close games, although their blocks (7 bpg) can cause problems for Clark entering the paint. Stanford’s problems throughout the season have come offensively and it can’t happen against Clark’s unavoidable run-scoring.
UConn (Seattle 3 | 2 seeds)
28-5, 20-2 Great East | NET 2 | vs. NET top 25: 10-3 | SOS: 2
The Final Fours 14-year streak is in jeopardy, but at the same time, it’s UConn. It’s hard to pick against the Huskies when they’ve shown for more than a decade that they can go far. And it’s even harder to keep them out of the Final Four considering they were able to make it last season after being without Paige Bueckers for much of the season and missing key plays.
Big East coaches who faced UConn in the conference tournament said it was the “UConn of March” they were used to seeing. Head coach Geno Auriemma, who had been emphasizing his team’s effort and training the previous week, said the month had brought a “different vibe to our team”.
“I think what was different today is that it’s March and it’s not another month of the year,” UConn point guard Nika Mühl said after the semis win. -Big East final against Marquette, which upset UConn in the regular season. “We are a different team in March. We strongly believe in it.
The main reason to put the Huskies last weekend is Azzi Fudd, the leading scorer who returned from a knee injury to play in the conference tournament. She powered the Huskies’ first non-conference wins and dropped 32 points in back-to-back games against Texas and NC State. Without its standard production, the Huskies are in serious trouble.
The first thing that works against UConn in the bracket is the rarity of playing Regional Finals outside of their backyard. No. 3 Ohio State, which UConn would meet in the Sweet 16, is ranked eighth in points per game (80.8), averaging five more than UConn. The Huskies have the best defensive numbers — the Big Ten is one of the top-performing conferences in the nation overall — but Ohio State is ranked eighth in steals per game (11.4), slipping it nearly double in UConn’s time. The Buckeyes forced nearly 20 per game.
Virginia Tech is the No. 1 seed in that region and came out on top at the end of the season. UConn holds the advantage of experience and has the weight of what would be another broken streak on its back.
It wouldn’t be March without some surprising finishes and that seems all the more likely this season. Here are a few we like:
Creighton, seeded No. 6 against No. 11 Illinois/Mississippi State — It’s a difficult situation for Illinois to have to come out of a First Four. This Fighting Illini team went 7-20 last season and 22-10 under freshman head coach Shauna Green with a net rating move of 20 points to +10. Keep an eye out for either team to upset No. 3 Notre Dame in the second round if the Fighting Irish are without point guard Olivia Miles.
Washington State No. 5 vs. Florida Gulf Coast No. 12 – FGCU has the experience to be a tournament star and has the shooters to pull off an upset.
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 UNLV — UNLV’s Desi-Rae Young is one of the top scorers in the country. The teams line up nearly identical on paper, with Michigan having an advantage playing in a tougher conference.
No. 7 NC State vs. No. 10 Princeton “The Tigers are regulars at the Ivy Tournament, so the scene won’t bother them. NC State has had its ups and downs after losing much of its talent to the WNBA and graduation.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 St. Louis – It’s far from a fashionable upset pick, but St. Louis is led by a seasoned NCAA coach in Rebecca Tillett. Tillett is a year away from leading Longwood to its first NCAA Tournament win in program history and Saint Louis is on a hot streak, upsetting the No. 1 A-10 seed for the conference title.
Drake No. 12 vs. Louisville No. 5 — Hailey Van Lith is the key to Louisville and on cold days there are problems. Drake could be upset if that becomes the case.
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Tennessee Middle – Middle Tennessee has been ranked in the AP poll this season and has better offensive and defensive numbers than Colorado. If it’s close, the Blue Raiders are hitting free throws at a clip 78.4 percent to Colorado’s 69 percent and earning more points from beyond the arc.