One of essentially the most tumultuous seasons in girls’s basketball historical past is rolling towards a conclusion with the NCAA Tournament, starting with a quartet of play-in video games Wednesday and Thursday, after which the match correct on Friday. Get your brackets prepared, put together these notes, and dive into what ought to be a dramatic construct to the Final Four in Dallas.
With the required caveat that my spouse — who chooses solely based mostly on mascots and vibes — often outpaces my bracket picks every year, listed here are the methods March Madness must play out if, after all, it wasn’t a month that produced sensational surprises.
Best matchups to look at
Both Friday and Saturday supply treats aplenty within the realm of intently contested video games. The must-see sport on Friday, when you solely choose one — and when you try this, study your life selections — is within the Greenville 2 area, the place seventh-seeded NC State takes on the No. 10 seed, the Princeton Tigers. For these of you who haven’t been immersed within the Ivy League all season, the Tigers are largely the identical group who beat Kentucky and misplaced to Indiana by some extent in final yr’s NCAA Tournament, minus Abby Meyers (now at Maryland) however with the spectacular freshman Madison St. Rose. NC State was anticipated to contend for an ACC title, however a mixture of underperforming and accidents (notably to Diamond Johnson) left them at 20-11 this season. Had I been seeding, I’d have flipped these two.
NC State-Princeton is the sport to watch
Best matchups within the spherical of 64 of the 2023 girls’s NCAA Tournament, in accordance with the harmonic imply of FiveThirtyEight’s group scores
|Greenville 2||7||NC State||89.4||10||Princeton||83.7||86.4|
|Seattle 4||7||Florida St.||86.2||10||Georgia||85.4||85.8|
|Seattle 3||8||USC||84.5||9||SD State||85.7||85.1|
|Seattle 3||5||Iowa State||91.0||12||Toledo||80.0||85.1|
|Seattle 3||6||North Carolina||89.7||11||Play-in||80.4||84.8|
Also on Friday, you’re not going to wish to miss Ta’Niya Latson (the most effective freshman within the nation) and seventh seed Florida State tackle the fightin’ Katie Abrahamson-Hendersons of Georgia. Coach Abe’s groups — at Albany, Central Florida and now in Athens — are an extension of herself, endlessly combating for each possession and rebound. Meanwhile, FSU, beneath Brooke Wyckoff, performs on the seventh-fastest tempo within the nation with out sacrificing protection within the course of. This will probably be a battle of philosophies as a lot as baskets. And the winner right here, regardless, is all of us: both a Latson-versus-Caitlin Clark second-round matchup with Iowa, or an opportunity to see how Coach Abe schemes towards Clark, assuming the second-seeded Hawkeyes defeat 15 seed Southeastern Louisiana. (No assure — SE LA almost took down LSU earlier this season.)
Likeliest first-round upsets
It’s on Saturday after we begin to see the closest video games and largest alternatives for double-digit seeds begin to converge. And as soon as we transfer previous the 8-versus-9 and 7-versus-10 video games, we see No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast University, led by Karl Smesko, with an opportunity to as soon as once more trigger heartache for the next seed in March. All the Eagles did after final season’s 30-3 marketing campaign (which included an upset over fifth-seeded Virginia Tech within the NCAA Tournament) was to enhance to 32-3 this season, with a extra environment friendly offense and protection, all regardless of shedding Kierstan Bell to the WNBA. The FiveThirtyEight mannequin has FGCU because the seventh-likeliest lower-seeded group to win in Round 1, and effectively above some other group seeded eleventh or decrease.
SD State leads the record of potential first-round upsets
Highest likelihood of a first-round upset for groups seeded ninth or worse within the 2023 girls’s NCAA Tournament, in accordance with the FiveThirtyEight mannequin
|Seattle 3||9||S. Dakota State||8||USC||59.9%|
|Greenville 2||9||Miami (FL)||8||Oklahoma State||48.5|
|Seattle 4||10||Georgia||7||Florida State||48.2|
|Greenville 1||9||Marquette||8||South Florida||42.7|
|Greenville 1||10||West Virginia||7||Arizona||42.7|
|Greenville 2||12||Florida Gulf Coast||5||Washington State||41.6|
|Seattle 4||11||Middle Tennessee||6||Colorado||40.6|
|Greenville 2||10||Princeton||7||NC State||29.4|
Looking barely deeper into the record of upset prospects, it additionally gained’t be a straightforward activity for Villanova, the No. 4 seed (in its first-ever internet hosting of an NCAA pod), going through 13-seed Cleveland State in a battle of former Rollie Massimino employers. The Vikings completed 30-4, enjoying a powerful model of protection (thirteenth within the nation in factors per 100 possessions allowed), and guard Destiny Leo, the Horizon League Player of the Year, can go off (4 30-plus level video games this season). But as ever with Villanova, who can guard Maddy Siegrist is the query … and the reply, to date in her faculty profession, has been: nobody.
Most weak prime seed
The prime seeds this yr look fairly secure till they run right into a extra highly effective juggernaut on the trail to the Final Four. That’s the case with Maryland and Notre Dame, seeds No. 2 and three within the Greenville 1 area, respectively — each are on a collision course with not simply one another, but in addition South Carolina in the event that they make the Elite Eight. Seattle 4 area No. 3 seed Duke faces an analogous destiny with Clark and Iowa looming, and UConn might be standing in the way in which of Seattle 3 area No. 3 seed Ohio State. But OSU has an actual danger to get picked off earlier than it even goes that far; we give the Buckeyes a 32 p.c likelihood of failing to make the Sweet Sixteen, highest amongst all top-three seeds.
Notre Dame, Maryland and Duke have powerful paths
Lowest likelihood to make the Final Four amongst top-3 seeds within the 2023 girls’s NCAA Tournament, in accordance with the FiveThirtyEight mannequin
|Region||Seed||Team||Final Four %|
|Greenville 1||3||Notre Dame||3.9%|
|Seattle 3||3||Ohio State||7.8|
|Greenville 2||3||Louisiana State||25.2|
|Seattle 3||1||Virginia Tech||25.7|
It’s onerous to argue any No. 1 seed is in a lot hazard till at the very least the regionals, however subjectively talking, the group with the obvious pathway to an early exit is Stanford. The Cardinal are 28-5 this season, however noticed their Pac-12 match hopes dashed early by UCLA. They’ve misplaced two of their final three. They don’t shoot the three-ball effectively in any respect (with the massive exception of Hannah Jump) and they’re merely good, not sometimes Tara VanDerveer-esque on the defensive finish, forty fifth within the nation in factors allowed per possession. Mississippi, the No. 8 seed, can defend with anybody and may simply pull off an upset at Maples. Otherwise, it’s straightforward to ascertain fourth-seeded Texas successful a Vic Schaefer-type 62-60 sport within the Sweet 16, with Rori Harmon flattening the sport winner.
Friskiest double-digit seed
As we talked about above, Florida Gulf Coast has a robust likelihood to win within the spherical of 64 as a 12-seed, and that may additionally propel the Eagles to even better heights. According to the FiveThirtyEight mannequin, they’ve almost a ten p.c likelihood to make the Sweet Sixteen, tops amongst any group seeded tenth or decrease.
FGCU might go on a Cinderella run
Highest likelihood to make the Sweet 16 amongst groups seeded tenth or worse within the 2023 girls’s NCAA Tournament, in accordance with the FiveThirtyEight mannequin
|Region||Seed||Team||Sweet 16 %|
|Greenville 2||12||Florida Gulf Coast||9.8%|
|Seattle 4||11||Middle Tennessee||7.9|
|Greenville 1||10||West Virginia||5.3|
|Greenville 2||13||Cleveland State||3.4|
|Greenville 2||11||Nevada-Las Vegas||3.3|
I’m additionally bringing this again to Princeton. The Tigers might effectively topple Utah in Round 2 as effectively, with human rebound Ellie Mitchell accessible to protect the Utes’ Alissa Pili. Princeton performs sluggish and environment friendly basketball; the Tigers are deep, with a go-to scorer in Ivy Player of the Year Kaitlyn Chen; they rebound exceptionally effectively; they deal with the basketball; they’ve NCAA expertise; they’re snug coming from behind — they’ll do all of it.
Beating Utah merely isn’t a straightforward activity, not with the way in which Lynne Roberts’s crew scores the basketball. But if the Tigers do win in Salt Lake City? They may simply make all of it the way in which to an Elite Eight rematch with Indiana, the group that knocked them out final season by a single level, in a choose ‘em sport with an opportunity to go to Dallas driving on the road.