NCAA Women’s Bracket: Top matchups, Final Four picks, more

After a wild year and an exciting start to March, the NCAA Women’s Tournament is here. And we have some questions:

Can South Carolina defend its title? Will Caitlin Clark get her March Madness moment and lead Iowa to the Final Four? Can UConn rally now that Azzi Fudd is back in the lineup? Who will be this year’s Cinderella team?

Action begins on Wednesday with two top-four games. Then the complete madness begins with 16 games on Friday and 16 more the next day.

Here’s what you need to know:

[2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket revealed]

Main stories

Will South Carolina defend your title?

South Carolina’s quest for a perfect season and becoming just the fourth team in history to repeat as national champions is well within reach.

The Gamecocks (32-0) are the No. 1 seed and the top team in the country. They also, most importantly, have the best player in the country in Aliyah Boston, who is expected to be the first pick in the WNBA Draft. They haven’t lost a game since being upset by Kentucky in last year’s SEC Tournament championship game, and they’re the most imposing defensive team in the country. Led by Boston, the reigning National Player of the Year, the Gamecocks are holding opponents to 51.1 points per game on 31.4% shooting while averaging over nine blocks per game.

Dawn Staley’s team is long, deep and in some ways even better than last year on both ends of the court, which is scary for any team they face in the coming weeks.

“The biggest difference [between this year’s team and last year’s team] it’s that they are hugging each other [having a target on their back] in a different and more balanced and calm way,” Staley said on ESPN’s Selection Show.

It also helps to have so many returning stars from the 2022 championship team. In addition to Boston, the Gamecocks have Brea Beal, Zia Cooke and Victaria Saxton, as well as Raven Johnson. Off the bench they have Kamilla Cardoso, Bree Hall and Laeticia Amihere.

“We know what it takes to win a national championship and be in tight games,” Boston said on the Selection Show. “We’ve done a great job educating the underclassmen, and they’re ready to rock and roll.”

How far can Caitlin Clark go in Iowa?

Last year, Iowa was upset by NCAA tournament Cinderella Creighton, barring Caitlin Clark from a Final Four run.

As a junior, the National Player of the Year semifinalist has put on a show nearly every game. From her amazing 3-pointers to her off-balance buzzers to being so confident that she often knows her shot is “money” once it leaves her hands, basketball fans deserve to see her play deep in the tournament this time. .

So how far can Clark, who is averaging 27 points per game and leads the nation with 8.3 assists per game, take the Hawkeyes? Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament title, but has not reached a Final Four since 1993.

Caitlin Clark hits a deep triple

Caitlin Clark hits a deep triple

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark hits a deep 3-pointer in a win over Ohio State.

The Hawkeyes earned a No. 2 seed in the Seattle Region 4, which is arguably one of the toughest parts of the bracket. Iowa faces Southeastern Louisiana in its opener, and if the Hawkeyes keep winning, they could face Duke in the Sweet 16 and either Texas or Stanford in the Elite Eight.

There was much debate over whether Stanford or Iowa would get the No. 1 seed — the selection committee awarded it to the Cardinal. Being a #2 seed will piss Clark off and give him even more of an edge? That’s something some teams are about to discover.

Coach with more pressure

If there was an EGOT award in sports, Dawn Staley would win it. She was a two-time National Player of the Year at Virginia and a six-time WNBA All-Star. She’s also a four-time Olympic gold medalist (three as a player, one as the head coach of Team USA), and in South Carolina, she’s won two national championships (2017, 2022) and is on track to -the third (and second in a row).

During the selection show, Staley joked about his gray hair as he talked about the stress of the moment and trying to guide his team to another title. Sitting next to him was Boston, who laughed and confidently told his coach, “Speak it into existence.”

Staley coaches a close-knit team full of veterans who know exactly what this tournament is about. It’s theirs to lose.

Three players to watch (not named Aliyah Boston or Caitlin Clark)

Maddy Siegrist, Villanova

While a wild guess might suggest that Clark is the leading scorer in the country, she is not. This title belongs to Siegrist, senior forward of Vilanova. Siegrist has averaged 28.9 points per game this season and once exploded for 50 on 20-of-26 shooting from the field in a 99-65 win over Seton Hall in February. She is also the Big East’s all-time leading scorer with 1,550 career points.

Vilanova’s Maddy Siegrist drains a three-point jumper

Vilanova's Maddy Siegrist drains a three-point jumper

Vilanova’s Maddy Siegrist drains a 3-point jumper in the second quarter of the Big East Championship.

Angel Reese, LSU

The star sophomore forward made history this season when she surpassed legend Sylvia Fowles’ record of 20 consecutive double-doubles. His streak didn’t end there though, as he eventually posted 23 straight games and 27 in 28 games. That tied another Fowles record for most double-doubles in a season by an LSU player. With the NCAA Tournament about to begin, expect Reese to break that record as the Tigers roll through their region as the No. 3 seed.

Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is one of the most interesting teams heading into the NCAA Tournament and one of the most dangerous, earning the top seed in the Seattle Region 3. The Hokies are led by Elizabeth Kitley, the player of the year in the Two-time ACC who is also a semi-finalist for National Player of the Year. Kitley has averaged 18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor. He has scored 20 or more points in 17 games and has recorded 19 double-doubles this season.

The easiest draw

Greenville 1 is the easiest draw…for South Carolina to make a run and repeat as national champions, that is. It’s not that easy for anyone to stand in their way.

This region features potential rematches for the Gamecocks, as they played (and beat) No. 2 seed Maryland and No. 4 seed UCLA during the regular season. The fact that Staley can game plan teams she’s already seen and easily beat isn’t good news for these opponents.

“I like it,” Staley said of South Carolina’s support. “There’s a familiarity. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but sometimes when you’re in a tournament setting like this, it’s good to have played a couple of teams that we’ve played this year. [But we] it won’t change listening, that’s for sure.”

The Gamecocks appear to be in pretty good shape with a favorable path to the Final Four.

The toughest tie

Any region with UConn is automatically considered the toughest. In this case, it’s Seattle 3, where the Huskies are the No. 2 seed.

Geno Auriemma’s team has had a very strange year. After losing to South Carolina in last year’s national championship game, the Huskies return Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, so of course they would be the team to beat. Then both players were injured: Bueckers tore her ACL and was ruled out for the season, while Fudd injured her knee and missed 14 games. UConn’s depth was further depleted by more injuries and it operated part of the year with an eight-man rotation.

Add to that the fact that Auriemma also missed games while mourning the death of her mother and feeling “under the weather and run over.”

After a rough stretch, UConn ended up winning the regular season and Big East tournament titles. The Huskies also nearly beat South Carolina in early February with seven healthy players.

Players like Lou Lopez Senechal, Aaliyah Edwards, Aubrey Griffin and Nika Muhl have stepped up, and now Fudd is back, which instantly gives UConn a shot at advancing to its 15th straight Final Four.

Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies’ lead

Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies' lead

UConn’s Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies’ lead with an assist from teammate Nika Muhl.

Cinderella to watch

Last year, No. 10-seeded Creighton surprised everyone when it knocked off Iowa in the second round and went on to beat Iowa State in the Sweet 16. The Bluejays’ run ended in the Elite Eight, but by that time they had already made their way. mark in the tournament.

Who could be a potential Cinderella team this year?

No. 9 seed South Dakota State finished its season 28-5 and won the Summit League. The Jackrabbits beat NCAA tournament-bound teams Mississippi State and Louisville and had single-digit losses to Creighton and UCLA. They’re also no strangers to thriving as Cinderellas, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2019. Myah Selland was then a sophomore and scored 12.5 points per game. Now in his sixth season, he is averaging 15.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, including a 25-point effort in a win against Louisville (which is the No. 5 seed).

SDSU faces No. 8 seed USC in the first round. The Trojans are 21-9 and went 11-7 in the Pac-12 this season. Win that and a date with Virginia Tech in the second round is set.

He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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