In a normal year, the selection between the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament is relatively inconvenient. A few top candidates are ready to dominate the areas they are geographically closest to, leading to familiar faces in familiar terrain. Albany, for example, has long served as another home court for UConn, a permanent competitor.
This is, as we all know, not a normal year. It also extends to women’s college basketball, where the field is more competitive and chaotic than ever before. The extension of parity is one reason, and this is especially evident among the teams that are expected to be the number 1 and 2 seed, one of which has the legal chance of winning the championship. Another reason, grimly, is the coronavirus pandemic, which has shaped the season of each team in such a way that it will be challenging for the selection committee to compare and rank the teams in the field. Just below the top 25 teams in the Associated Press poll, CVs range from 18 games (Rutgers) to 27 games (Stanford and Baylor).
The logistics of the tournament make the bracket even harder to predict. For the first time, the tournament will be held in a single region, the San Antonio area, making the geographic considerations that usually play an important role in hook construction irrelevant. Instead, the bracket that comes out of it will be a true S-curve, which determines the scene for matches, based only on the relative strength of each team. If the selection committee gets its rankings right, fans can see some of the best competitions in tournament history.
Who will be the best seed?
The top two seeds in regions are likely to include Stanford, UConn, South Carolina, Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Baylor, Maryland and Louisville or Georgia. Stanford, UConn and South Carolina are almost final as number 1 seed after transferring to conference tournament titles. Texas A&M will probably also be on the no. Be 1-line after winning the tough Southeastern Conference regular season title with a win over South Carolina.
In addition, the top rankings are harder to predict. North Carolina State has played far fewer games than most of its peers in the top 10, but has won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament for a second consecutive time. The 2019 NCAA champion, Baylor, has many of the same players from his 2019 title team, now with two more seasons of experience. Maryland has the best offense in the country, on average more than 91 points per game, thanks to sophomores Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, who averaged more than 35 points per game. Louisville and Georgia both lost tight conference games and have veteran talent.
Who else should come in?
In addition to the 31 automatic qualifiers, there are two extra places for big offers after the Ivy League canceled its basketball season due to the pandemic and the state of Ohio – which would otherwise otherwise be a tournament team – completed a self-imposed post-season ban. This means that programs with the loss of conference records in tough leagues, such as Mississippi State and Wake Forest, as well as some stronger programs in weak conferences, such as the University of Central Florida and DePaul, are expected to be the 11th seed will sneak into the bracket.
The teams on the bubble are there though. Notre Dame, a powerhouse rediscovering itself after Muffet McGraw, his longtime head coach, retired at the end of the 2019-20 season, did not win and was upset by Clemson in the second round of the ACC tournament. If Notre Dame does not take the bracket, it will be the first time out of the competition since 1995.
Ole Miss, who upset Arkansas in the SEC tournament, has for the first time since 2007 a huge chance of a place in the series, thanks to the dominance of the Shakira Austin, Maryland transfer, but can five points further end. the margin of his tournament loss against Tennessee.
At the center of the pack are the germs of analytics darling Stephen F. Austin (the thirdbest effective field goal percentage) and the Gulf Coast of Florida (seventh, according to Her Hoop Stats), will provide insight into how much the selection committee has bought into their number-driven strategies. Similarly, the talented defense of Jackson State should not only take it to the tournament for the first time since 2008, but also to a number 15 or even no. 14 and an outside chance at his first NCAA tournament.
When will we need popcorn?
Regardless of the rankings, there will not be an easy match in the 8th round. If there’s a Baylor UConn face in this round, as predicted, it’s perhaps the most heated. Baylor het won his last two matches against UConn, recently with 16 points on UConn’s home field in January 2020. Their match during the normal season of 2021 was canceled after Baylor coach Kim Mulkey tested positive for the coronavirus. If Baylor now wants to expand its winning streak, he may have to do so through a stir in the tournament.
Without geography, however, it is a difficult guess to guess the total order. When the selection committee preliminary top 16 teams on February 28, four of the teams on the list lost the same day. It was not because the committee members were not good at what they were doing – it was because the field was as competitive as it had ever been. With any luck, the surprises on Monday will leave just as much room for a few brackets as for the dynasties on a collision course.