Five teams opponents won’t want to face in the women’s NCAA tournament

Five teams opponents won’t want to face in the women’s NCAA tournament

Women’s college basketball fans are familiar with the dominance of the defending NCAA champion South Carolinaled by the reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston. And it’s almost impossible to miss the junior tears Caitlin Clark is on, driving Iowa to back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles.

But March is a whole new ballgame, and other teams are waiting in the wings to make statements once the NCAA tournament gets underway.

The Gamecocks and Indiana looks like a lock as the 1-seeds and more likely to make it to Dallas and the women’s Final Four. But from there, there is great uncertainty as to who will join them. Many teams are inconsistent in regular season or conference play. Some programs look poised for deep runs, but there isn’t much past tournament success to fall back on. Damages can greatly increase in scale, with some programs such as Notre Dame and Texas depending on the health of Olivia Miles and Sonya Morris in the coming weeks.

Ahead of the 68-team bracket that will be revealed Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), here’s a look at some squads that are fresh off impressive runs or may be poised to step up in time, teams that you may not want to see. corner of your team’s bracket.

Virginia Tech: The new kids on the block

Records: 27-4 (ACC’s automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projections: No. 1 seed in the Seattle 3 Region

It might seem odd to have a projected 1-seed included here, but unlike others vying for this spot, the Hokies are in truly unchartered waters: They last made it to the tournament’s second weekend in 1999, before coach Kenny Brooks took over, and never made it past the Sweet 16. They still haven’t had a “we arrived” moment in March. Not completely healthy and up against an uphill battle Florida Gulf Coast in last year’s NCAA tournament, Virginia Tech was bounced in the first round.

Brooks held up his group — one, he points out, is not full of McDonald’s All Americans — for maturity, camaraderie, unselfishness and understanding of the moment and opportunity in front of the team. That was reflected in the Hokies’ current 11-game win streak that culminated in the program’s first-ever ACC tournament crown, the first time a 3-seed or lower has won the event since 2012.

Two-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley and tournament MVP Georgia Amoore was arguably the strongest one-two punch of the last few weeks of the season, while That’s right Traylor, Cayla King, Taylor Soule and D’asia Gregg are full players. If the Hokies can continue to get that kind of interior production, and stay tough on the defensive end, their ACC run might not be the only history they make in March.

UConn: Down but not out



UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards protects the rim with a big block

UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards protects the rim with a big block

Records: 29-5 (Big East’s automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projection: No. 2 seed in the Greenville 2 Region

For most of February, the Huskies looked like a shell of the team that took South Carolina to the wire in Feb. 5, and even coach Geno Auriemma is no longer buying fatigue as an excuse. Loss to Marquette and St. John’s was one thing, but UConn had trouble getting away Xavierwinless in conference play, in the regular-season finale.

A week later, the Huskies were dancing in confetti at Mohegan Sun Arena, winners of the Big East tournament after a convincing weekend that featured a comfortable, UConn-esque win. GeorgetownMarquette and No. 10 Villanova by an average margin of 24 points. Sophomore guard Azzi Fudd has returned to him, and even though his numbers are weak (8.3 points on 32.1% shooting in 23 minutes per game), it’s reasonable to expect him to become more influential as the month goes on. Auriemma said he only has two team practices under his belt for the Big East tournament.

While Fudd’s shooting and offensive prowess can’t be overstated, Auriemma has maintained throughout the season that his team’s fortunes rest primarily in the posts. Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz. Both have had stretches of inconsistency this season (Edwards most recently in February), but the duo wreaked havoc when it mattered in Uncasville, and life should be easier for them if Fudd serves as a floor spacer.

The Huskies’ February struggles seem like a distant memory now. It’s March, and they know what that means at a place like UConn.

Tennessee: How far can talent take you?



Tennessee stunned LSU with a massive 17-point comeback win

Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston became the first Lady Vols duo to record a double-double in a conference tournament game since 2014, eliminating the Tigers, 69-67.

Records: 23-11 (at-large bid; SEC tournament runner-up)
Bracketology projection: No. 5 seed in the Seattle 3 Region

Despite high preseason expectations, Tennessee has had well-documented struggles this year, failing to pick up a ranked win amid its frustrating nonconference schedule until last weekend’s upset against LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals. The Lady Vols won’t break out of the play like they did in the first half against the Tigers, but the way they rallied to erase a 17-point deficit in the final 20 minutes and hold off LSU showed growth since their close losses to the likes of Virginia Tech and Stanford.

Tennessee hasn’t always played to its potential this season, but the Lady Vols are a team few would be happy to see on their side of the bracket considering the talent they boast with potential first-round WNBA draft picks Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston. Despite the 74-58 loss to South Carolina, the players said their SEC tournament run bolstered their confidence in what they can do the rest of March, with coach Kellie Harper saying her team is playing with more grit and toughness than ever before. Could Greenville mark the beginning of Tennessee finally fulfilling its promise? If so, expect the X factor Jillian Hollingshead and Tess Darby to increase sharply downwards at the bottom and at the perimeter, respectively.



Paige Meyer made a nice move for the layup

Paige Meyer made a nice move for the layup

Records: 28-5 (Summit League automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projection: 11 seed in the Greenville 2 Region

Last year, 10-seed South Dakota was one of the Cinderellas of the NCAA tournament, as the Coyotes defeated 7-seed Ole Miss and 2-seed Baylor to advance to the Sweet 16 (and also pulled off an upset over third-seeded Michigan in that run) . Who’s to say their Summit League rival won’t make a similar run this year? The Jackrabbits went perfect in conference play this season as well as 4-4 against Power 5 or Big East programs, with wins against tournament teams. State of Mississippi and Louisville and a narrow loss in a pretty tight game against South Carolina.

Additionally, the Jackrabbits are the reigning 2022 WNIT champions, which has historically led to NCAA tournament success. The program made it past the first weekend as recently as 2019, so maybe this is the year to take the next step. Sixth-year senior and two-time Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland is part of running and can certainly be gained from that experience. South Dakota State also enters March Madness with great momentum, as winners of 21 straight games and officially clinched its NCAA tournament bid with a 93-51 rout of Omahathe fourth-largest winning margin of any conference tournament final since 2000 and largest since UConn’s 56-point win South Florida in 2017.

State of Ohio: Most intriguing wild card



Rikki Harris got the go-ahead bucket to cap Ohio State’s comeback win

Ohio State completed a 24-point comeback against top-seeded Indiana in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Records: 24-7 (at-large bid; Big Ten tournament runner-up)
Bracketology projection:

A 105-72 blowout loss to Iowa in the Big Ten championship game showed that the Buckeyes are infallible. But in a tournament where most teams are unfamiliar with their opponents, you probably don’t want your first chance to go up against Ohio State’s trademark press to be in a win-or-go-home situation. Sharpshooter Taylor Mikesell may be their most notable player, but Cotie McMahon made a statement as one of the best freshmen in the country, and after missing most of the season with an injury, Jacy Sheldon is back and ready to make an impact on both ends.

Even last year, coach Kevin McGuff nearly guided his team to an Elite Eight bid after falling to LSU, and plenty of experience from that team returns to the tournament. After starting the season 19-0, Ohio State lost six of its final 10 regular-season games, leading to a drop in the rankings and outside expectations. But their semifinal win over Indiana, in which they rallied from 24 down to advance to the final (one of the few big comebacks they’ve had this season), indicated they’re not a team to be underestimated. If the Buckeyes can achieve the strength and resilience they showed in the second half against Indiana, they will be tough no matter the competition.