2013 NCAA Tournament bracket: Surprises, games to watch, and key questions

USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament brackets have been released (click here) and now we have a better idea of what to watch for. The following are just a few brief notes on some of my first impressions.

Surprises

Kansas

I'm mildly surprised that Kansas got a bid as they didn't have a particularly strong resume prior to Natalie Knight's season-ending ACL injury and things didn't go that much better for them after that point.

Creighton

I thought they were questionable as a bubble team; getting in as a 10 seed surprises me.

Ohio State?

I'm not surprised Ohio State missed the tournament, but they compared favorably to Kansas in most ratings.

Nebraska

I felt they deserved a higher seed and they got a particularly tough hand having to face Texas A&M in College Station.


Games to watch for

#2 Cal vs. #3 Penn State

Honestly, this is one I've been waiting/hoping for this season: I did think a #3 seed was about right for Penn State, but this would be an amazing guard matchup with Brittany Boyd and Layshia Clarendon going against Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas. Advantage has to go to Cal on the interior - which is one reason why I've felt PSU was a step behind the other candidates for two seeds - but that would be a good one.

#7 Syracuse vs. #2 Tennessee

First, kudos to the Lady Vols on the #2 seed - there was some question about that, I thought they deserved it, and it's well-deserved compared to the field. But Syracuse is a tough matchup for them, particularly if Isabelle Harrison isn't healthy. 6-foot-4 center Kayla Alexander is a WNBA prospect and can dominate the interior of any team that can't get a body on her going to the offensive boards. If the Orange make a point to get her the ball and their guards can hit shots from the perimeter, Tennessee could have a tough game in front of them.

Then again, if Taber Spani goes off like she did in the SEC semifinal game, anything could happen.

#12 Marist vs. #5 Michigan State

Michigan State did finish the season strong, but has had an up and down season overall. They only shot 40.4% from the field this season; if Marist can make them a jump shooting team and keep them off the boards - no small task against a team that rebounds well across the roster - they can pull off the upset.

Questions

Is Gonzaga headed to another Sweet 16?

Gonzaga is a deep, tall, and perhaps even more balanced than usual team this year (in terms of relying less on one big star) and once again they'll be playing at home in Spokane as a 12th seed, drawing the Iowa State Cyclones first and then getting the winner of Georgia-Montana.

And it's hard to count them out as they've managed to ride that powerful home court advantage to wins over very good teams over the last two seasons. More magic this year? Iowa State will be a tough matchup as they have the size to negate the post advantage that Gonzaga had over the WCC, but Gonzaga's guard play has been solid all year and they might even have an advantage there. The x-factor in that game: 6-foot-3 Cyclones forward Hallie Christopherson, a tough guard who could be tough for the Zags to matchup with.

How much will home court advantage help St. John's?

I really like the Dayton matchup for St. John's: Red Storm seniors Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith will be difficult for Dayton to handle. Kentucky would be a tough matchup for them should get by Navy, but of the two seeds that's the best situation for St. John's.

How far can Texas A&M go?

Texas A&M probably got a good situation: playing the first two rounds at home and then a matchup with Duke, who has a Elizabeth Williams to contend with Kelsey Bone but also lacks Chelsea Gray to navigate their pressure. That's not a knock against freshman point guard Alexis Jones, who has performed admirably, but that's a tough game for any point guard.

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