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Women's March Madness - 2023 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.

Here's a link to the official bracket.

South Carolina (1 seed)

The defending champions are the heavy favorites to repeat. Led by presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks are 32-0 on the season and rank first in the nation in offensive rating and second in defensive rating. The only real hole the team has comes from its three-point shooting, but that hasn't caused issues yet. SC's also been tested by a non-conference schedule that included Maryland, Stanford, UCLA and UConn. Having wins over a one-seed and a pair of two-seeds is some good evidence that this team can take down anyone.

Indiana (1 seed)

The Hoosiers are an elite offensive team, ranking fifth in Division I in offensive rating, but the defense has some issues, as they rank 53rd in defensive rating. Indiana lost three times this year, and maybe the most worrisome thing about that is two of those came in its final three games. Still, the Hoosiers showed they can score on anyone, and they also have wins over all three teams they lost to, plus victories over Tennessee and North Carolina. Mackenzie Holmes averaged 22.3 points per game this season.

Virginia Tech (1 seed)

SC and Indiana feel like they're both a step ahead of the other two No. 1 seeds, but that doesn't mean the Hokies don't have a great shot at making a Final Four appearance. They rank 13th in the country in net rating and take good care of the basketball, with the 30th-best assist-to-turnover ratio. Elizabeth Kitley is one of the best post bigs in the country, averaging 18.6 points per game on 56.3% shooting. The team ended the year with 11 wins in a row, including an ACC championship win over Louisville.

Stanford (1 seed)

The Cardinal were supposed to be the 1B to SC's 1A this year, but things just didn't come together right. Haley Jones, a presumptive lottery pick, shot under 10% from three—not a typo—and the team struggled down the stretch, losing two of their final three games. They also have the worst loss of any No. 1 seed, a five-point defeat against Washington back in February. But the Cardinal also have the eighth-best offensive rating in the country and their best effort can get them past anyone. They took South Carolina to overtime in November.

Iowa (2 seed)

Iowa's led by arguably the most exciting player in the country, Caitlin Clark. Clark's capable of scoring anywhere on the floor and helped Iowa lead Division I in scoring. Defense is an issue though, so Iowa will have to win some shootouts. Still, they're a good Final Four pick, especially since the one-seed in their region is Stanford.

Maryland (2 seed)

Maryland lost two key players to the transfer portal from last year's 23-9 team. Instead of regressing, Diamond Miller led the team to a 25-6 record. Maryland's a lot like Iowa, except not quite as a good offensively and also a little worse defensively. Of Maryland's six losses, two came to Iowa, and another came in a 25-point loss to South Carolina. This is the two-seed I'm least confident in.

UConn (2 seed)

The Huskies are always threats. They lost multiple conference games this year for the first time in seemingly forever, but that was also because of health issues. They aren't entering the tournament at 100% since they don't have Paige Bueckers, but they have Azzi Fudd back, who can score 30 on anyone...assuming she's close to 100%.

Utah (2 seed)

Probably the biggest surprise in the nation this year was the success of Utah. In the preseason AP poll, the Utes weren't ranked, though they received the most votes of any unranked team. The team went 25-4 this season; two years ago, they were 5-16. But led by Alissa Pili's 20.3 points per game, Utah ranked fourth in offensive rating and ninth in net rating. Like Iowa and Maryland, there's defensive concerns here, though.

 

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 the 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.

Texas (4 seed)

It's time to briefly talk about how the selection committee really disrespected the Big 12. The regular season champion, Texas, only got a four seed, largely because the team opened the year 1-3 as it played without its best player.

But that player—point guard Rori Harmon—has been back for a while now, and the Horns are 23-5 with Harmon in the lineup. they're 17th in defensive rating this season and while they don't really have a marquee non-conference victory, they lost by single-digits to UConn and Louisville without Harmon, and they beat USC back in December.

Iowa State (5 seed)

It seems like Ashley Joens has been at Iowa State forever, but this is going to be it. What kind of success can she achieve in her final season? The Cyclones have won four in a row, with three of those against tournament teams including a Big 12 title game victory over Texas.

UNLV (11 seed)

The Lady Rebels are my big sleeper pick here, as I have them making it to the Sweet Sixteen in my main bracket. They went 30-2 this season and ranked ninth in offensive rating and are in the top 100 in defensive rating as well. They have one big blemish on their resume, which was a 25-point loss to Oklahoma State, but non-conference wins over Illinois State and Hawaii are solid resume boosts. And I like the bracket for them: Michigan in the first round, who lost in the regular season to another strong mid-major, Toledo, and then either LSU—a good team that played a weak schedule and hasn't been tested a ton—or Hawaii—who UNLV already beat once—in the second round.

 

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, Indiana, Iowa and UConn. Two one seeds. Two two seeds. And then as a title pick, virtually everyone is going with South Carolina, which makes sense: they're undefeated and won the title last year.

And when picking your Final Four, let's not forget that the last time two teams 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. My personal pick is South Carolina, but I think Indiana could really make a game of it against them.

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