March Madness is here!
Here’s what to know about the Women’s NCAA Tournament, including the favorites and underdogs, as well as key games and how to watch them:
The tournament’s top four seeds are South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia Tech and Stanford. Each is in a region, some harder than others (on paper).
We break them down for you:
South Carolina (32-0): The defending national champions are the No. 1 overall seed and the Greenville I Region breaks down favorably. It includes two teams in No. 2 Maryland (25-6) and No. 4 UCLA (23-9) that the Gamecocks beat earlier this season. South Carolina is loaded, with two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Aliyah Boston and leading scorer Zia Cooke.
Indiana (27-3): After a loss to Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, some wondered if the Hoosiers might miss out on a top seed. They landed him in the Greenville II regional and start against either Tennessee Tech or Monmouth. Mackenzie Holmes leads Indiana with 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Top challengers include No. 2 seed Utah, No. 3 seed LSU and No. 4 seed Villanova, which is led by scoring sensation Maddy Siegrist.
Virginia Tech (27-5): The Hokies won their first ACC Tournament championship and will lead the Seattle Region 3. Elizabeth Kitley has stepped things up down the stretch as Virginia Tech has won its last eight games. Virginia Tech might have to navigate No. 4 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed UConn or No. 3 seed Ohio State after that.
Stanford (28-5): The committee looked to Stanford’s toughness for much of the season to give it the top seed in the Seattle Region 4. The Cardinal are led by Cameron Brink and Haley Jones, who have combined to score over 28 points per game this season. Look for a potential high-powered Final Four battle against No. 2 seed Iowa, led by National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark.
Games to watch
No. 3 seed Notre Dame (25-5) at No. 14 seed Southern Utah (23-6) on Friday. The Fighting Irish’s chances of a deep run will be hurt by an injury to Olivia Miles, who will miss the tournament.
Monmouth (18-13) vs. Tennessee Tech (22-9), Thursday, ESPNU. Monmouth, the surprise winner of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, has not played in the NCAA tournament since 1983 and has a chance to extend its stay in a first-four contest on Wednesday. Both the Hawks and Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion Tennessee Tech, both 16 seeds, will face Indiana on Friday.
No. 5 seed Louisville (23-11) vs. No. 12 seed Drake (22-9) Saturday. The Cardinals were a Final Four team a season ago and begin their comeback journey as a No. 5 seed. They will open things up against Drake (22-9), which was a fourth seed in the Tournament of the Missouri Valley Conference, but defeated Belmont to take the league’s automatic bid. Louisville is led by Hailey Van Lith, who has averaged 19.2 points per game this season.
No. 4 seed Villanova (28-6) at No. 13 seed Cleveland State (30-4) on Saturday. Villanova boasts one of the best players in the country in Maddy Siegrist, a two-time Big East Player of the Year. The Wildcats are in a stacked region with top seed Indiana, No. 2 seed Utah and No. 3 seed LSU in front. Cleveland State won the Horizon League and made the NCAAs for the first time since 2010.
Players to watch
The women’s tournament field is loaded with stars, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, last season’s AP Player of the Year who is back with hopes of winning a second straight national title. She will have plenty of competition for the honor this year, including Iowa star Caitlin Clark.
There’s also top-seeded center Mackenzie Holmes from Indiana, and the AP All-America team is also a good place to see some of the game’s best players. The Cavinder twins, gym rats who are very popular on social media, have made their first tournament after transferring from Fresno State to Miami.
The field is also notable for the high number of international players, a growing trend in women’s basketball. Unfortunately, some of the top programs also deal with injuries to key players.
Gun violence has claimed lives and disrupted college sports all season long, impacting some of college basketball’s best programs. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the issue as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
How to look
All games in the women’s tournament will be available on the ESPN networks or streaming, and fans are encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN sites. The NCAA will have a women’s basketball-specific March Madness app from AT&T.
There are several sites that list game times and other details, including the NCAA site.
BETTING GUIDE Who will win the national championship? The betting favorites as of this week to reach the Final Four are (in order): South Carolina, Indiana, Stanford, UConn, LSU and Iowa, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Gamecocks are a heavy favorite to become the first repeat champion in the women’s tournament since UConn won the last of four in 2016.
MARCH MAD SCHEDULE Selection Sunday set the brackets for top-four games (March 15-16) and first- and second-round games (March 17-20) at various locations around the country .
Sweet 16 weekend brings a twist this year for women’s teams: There will be two regional sites instead of four, with Greenville, South Carolina and Seattle each hosting eight teams.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31 and the championship game is April 2. By the way, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive away in Houston this very weekend.
Report from The Associated Press.
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