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Women's March Madness - 2022 Tournament Preview

NCAA Tournament - March Madness College Basketball

The NCAA Tournament is finally upon us, which means it's time to get your brackets ready. We've got some great pieces up on the site about preparing your bracket for the men's side, so today I want to talk about the women's tournament.

There's this idea that's been tossed around for years that the women's tournament is too predictable, and while it's true that we see the top seeds upset less, that doesn't mean there's not a lot of good basketball being played and a lot of chances to leverage your knowledge in the games that don't involve the number one seeds. (And it's also worth noting that 2012, 2015, and 2018 were the only times this century where all four top seeds made the Final Four, so things aren't nearly as predictable as you might think.)

In this article, I'll be providing an in-depth overview of this year's field. I'll break down the favorites, look at some of the sleeper teams who could make an impact, and offer some thoughts on the bracket itself and who I'm picking in some of the games. Once you're done here, be sure to also check out the rest of our NCAA Tournament articles and analysis including previews, predictions, sleepers, busts and guides on how to fill out your brackets. Good luck RotoBallers! Hopefully more than a few of you win your office pool!

 

The Women's NCAA Tournament Favorites

Since 2010, just seven teams have made the Final Four without being a one or a two seed, and none of those seven won the championship. In fact, in tournament history, only two teams -- North Carolina in 1994 and Tennessee in 1997 -- have won the tournament without being a one or two seed. Essentially, when filling out your bracket, you want one of these eight teams to be your champion, and you probably would be safest having at least three of them in your Final Four, if not having all four come from this group.

Stanford (1 seed)

The defending champions face a tough path to the Final Four, including a potential rematch with Texas, one of the Cardinal's three losses. But this team is just so talented. Haley Jones is an All-American. Cameron Brink is one of the brighest young stars in basketball. Lexie Hull, Anna Wilson and Lacie Hull all do various things at a high-level. It's hard to not pick this team to make the Final Four.

South Carolina (1 seed)

The Gamecocks are the best team in college basketball. Aliyah Boston is the best player in college basketball. This team was second in average margin and net rating.

SC plays some, methodical basketball that leads to points. While ranking just 50th in points per game, the team was 21st in points per 100 possessions. And South Carolina's track record this year was full of wins: they beat NC State, Oregon, UConn, Maryland, Stanford, and then the whole SEC, losing just one conference game in the regular season and then the conference title game.

NC State (1 seed)

The Wolfpack have one of the best offenses in the country, ranking third in offensive rating behind the play of Elissa Cunane and Diamond Johnson. This is a deep team — thosse two rank fourth and fifth on the team in minutes — that notably has wins over Maryland, Indiana and Louisville.

Louisville (1 seed)

The Cardinals lost to Arizona to open the year, then didn't lose again until Jan. 20th against NC State. All four losses this year were by single digits. Emily Engstler doesn't get talked about enough when discussing bigs around the country. Louisville was sixth in net rating. This team might be the shakiest No. 1 seed, but they have the talent to make a run.

Iowa (2 seed)

Iowa has a generational talent in Caitlin Clark, who averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. For context, that's first in points per game and in assists per game. Clark is someone who could have A Tournament.

But there is an issue, which is what happens to Iowa when they inevitably face South Carolina in the Elite Eight. Monika Czinano is a really good center, but can she slow down Aliyah Boston?

Baylor (2 seed)

Under new head coach Nicki Collen, the Bears are taking threes now, something they didn't do in the past. They're shooting a really good 35% on those shots. And they have NaLyssa Smith, who is one of the best players in basketball. My concern is the depth, as this team really just plays seven players. Can everyone stay out of foul trouble?

Texas (2 seed)

Defensively, Texas can beat anyone up. It's how this team beat Stanford. Its how the team weathered a three-game losing streak at the end of January/beginning of February and then hasn't lost since, winning 11 in a row and holding its opponent to 60 points or fewer in eight of those games.

Freshman point guard Rori Harmon has been a revelation for the Longhorns. But there is one concern: scoring. The team was 32nd in offensive rating and was 339th in the country in three-point rate. The team made shots when it took them, but if that has to scale up, will the 35.8% mark from deep hold?

UConn (2 seed)

UConn? A two-seed? If you weren't paying attention this season, Paige Bueckers missed much of the season with a knee injury. Even with her out, the team went 25-5 and led the nation in average margin and net rating. The Huskies faced an easier schedule than other top teams though, as the Big East is no SEC or Pac-12. The team lost to South Carolina, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Oregon...and Villanova, which is the real surprise of those.

Still, the numbers show that when healthy, this team can beat anyone. The health is just the big question.

 

Women's March Madness Sleeper Teams

Teams ranked third or lower. A third seed might not sound like a Cinderella, but the nature of the women's tournament is that top two seeds are dominant early in the tournament, so picking a three seed or below to keep advancing is bucking some of the trends. Let's look at a few of the teams who have a chance of making noise, even if they're unlikely to win the whole thing.

Oregon (5 seed)

The Ducks weren't as good as expected, but a big part of that was injuries, as the team seemed to never have their full lineup. But per CBB Analytics, the 160 minutes when Te-Hina Paopao, Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince all played together had a net rating of 24.3 in 160 minutes. If Oregon can get all those players together for large stretches in the tournament, there's some really good upside for this team.

Oklahoma (4 seed)

The Sooners finished second in the country on pace and third in points per game. This is a team that can really wear out its opponents. We saw the Sooners beat Baylor twice this season. We saw them beat Texas. We saw them beat Mississippi State by 31.

LSU (3 seed)

Kim Mulkey knows how to win in March. LSU has a bit of a tough path, but Mulkey completely transformed this program in her first year as the head coach. This team could make an Elite Eight run.

 

So, Who Should We Pick?

Like I said above, three of your four Final Four teams should be one or two seeds, because that's traditionally been about how things have looked.

Here are my picks to make the Final Four: South Carolina, Baylor, Stanford and UConn. Of those teams, I think South Carolina is the one I'd ultimately go with to win the title.

And when picking your Final Four, let's not forget that the last time two that weren't a one or two seed even made the Final Four was 2016, when four seed Syracuse and seven seed Washington got there, facing each other in one semifinal that Syracuse won. And what happened next? UConn beat them 82-51 in the final.

The last champion to win without being a top-two seed was Tennessee. So yeah, pick a one or two seed to win it all.

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