By Jeffrey Newholm
Monday’s NCAA Reveal of the top 16 women’s basketball teams left many fans rather upset. Charlie Creme’s expert analysis details all of those complaints. But this article will focus just on what’s at stake for the top seeds as they battle in a field that’s never been more competitive. Only four will break through to Tampa, so there’s little margin for error.
The difference between Mississippi State and UConn, despite the vast superiority of the SEC to the American, is quite small. But the Bulldogs, who won in friendlier Dallas in the 2017 streak-buster, probably secretly vent. When South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was told her team could win in Connecticut on a Husky “down year”, the coach could only quietly gasp incredulously. Granted, UConn’s January 31st loss in Louisville was ugly, as was its subsequent ten point squeaker in Cincinnati. But a completely revamped, and almost equally talented, 2019 State may have to slay the beast in the den to return to the finals.
Sabrina Ionescu and the Ducks must have quacked in delight at how soft this region appears. The Wolfpack have crashed after an undefeated start with injuries. However, Gonzaga represents the best mid-major team seen in years and could bring a loyal fanbase for the regional semifinals. Still, with PAC-12 rival Stanford rightly shipped to Chicago, Oregon has never had a better shot at the Final Four.
Louisville, led by sure lottery pick Asia Durr, has never played better. But the Cardinal, while not having its best year, is usually a difficult out. Marquette is also a sleeper who is trying to build a reputation independent of the long-dominant men’s program. Louisville is verging on a breakthrough to excellence but can’t afford a step-back slip-up in the Windy City.
The #1 overall seed Bears are in by far the toughest regional. Don’t be fooled by Notre Dame’s #6 label: the defending national champion Irish are a loaded, elite team who will be better tested. Maryland and USC have had better years but have a strong record of success as well. If the situation doesn’t change, Baylor will again need to battle uphill to return to its first semifinal since 2012.
It’s easy to dismiss the NCAA Reveal as not mattering with three weeks remaining. However, that would be foolish. The war engines of the top program are starting to shift to high gear, with nervous conference opponents sounding alarms. Get your shredders ready, because the beauty of the big dance will again shine through the fog of pretenders’ uncertainty.