The Texas A&M Aggies certainly looked the part of a potential Final Four team in their 67-58 loss to the Baylor Lady Bears.
To that point, nobody other than the Connecticut Huskies had beaten the Lady Bears and although the Aggies lost that game, they essentially laid the blueprint for beating Baylor: attack the rim hard, defend center Brittney Griner physically, and pressure the guards to stifle passing into the post.
Texas Tech executed that plan five days later and won. Oklahoma did something similar, but fell short due to 37 points from freshman phenom Odyssey Sims.
But what made TAMU's performance unique, and perhaps encouraging in their quest to beat Baylor, is that freshman Karla Gilbert was very successful in single coverage on Griner and they did it on the road. In fact, it hasn't seemed to matter where these two teams meet: home, road, or neutral, TAMU has proven they have what it takes to compete consistently with Baylor, perhaps moreso that any team outside of the other #1 seeds.
You can thank Jessica Lantz for thinking up this one because theme music from Dallas native Vanilla Ice was tempting.
Most entertaining potential matchup: Texas A&M vs. Baylor (Elite Eight)
Despite TAMU's ability to compete with Baylor, the moment they were announced as the #2 seed in Dallas with #1 Baylor there was an outcry about placing the conference rivals in the same bracket. Although the UCLA Bruins might have an even stronger gripe than TAMU, it doesn't change the fact that ideally we'd want to see new matchups in a national tournament rather than those that are predictable or have a disproportionate level of familiarity that influences the outcome.
Nevertheless, the potential for this fourth meeting is exciting because we can't really say that Baylor has established a decisive or insurmountable edge over TAMU. And what it comes down to more than anything is TAMU's ability to force turnovers and pressure Baylor guards into poor decisions, such as not getting the ball to Griner in position to score. The two teams are similar in their offensive rebounding ability, but that's a battle TAMU would also have to win. But the bottom line is that between TAMU's well-rounded defensive unit, Griner and Sims, this could easily be the best game of the tournament, all griping aside.
But perhaps it's fitting that a potentially predictable Elite Eight would occur in a region that might not hold many fireworks in terms of upsets.
Upset watch: #10 Louisiana Tech vs. #7 Rutgers
One thing you learn about predicting these brackets over time is that if you think a bracket will go without an upset, you're probably wrong. So If it has to come from somewhere, this game is a good start.
James listed Rutgers as the team with the 12th most momentum heading into the tournament, but Louisiana Tech might present a troublesome matchup for a number of reasons. First they like to push the pace. Second they can force opponents into turnovers more often than they commit them. Third, Rutgers has been beaten on the offensive boards by opponents this season while La Tech has a positive differential. Rutgers has done better on the boards lately, but given that neither of these teams are offensive powerhouses, if it turns into a sloppy uptempo game it could swing against Rutgers.
Potential Cinderella: Samford
Sagarin rank: 105
Points per possession: 1.03
Opponents points per possession: 0.88
Statistical strength: scoring efficiency (+11% effective field goal percentage relative to opponents)
In a bracket without glaring upsets, Samford stands out as the team that might have the best chance to advance to the Sweet 16.
They match up surprisingly well with #3 Florida State Seminoles, except for one significant factor: offensive rebounding. FSU is rather adept at offensive rebounds while Samford tends to get beaten on the offensive boards. Moreover, with 6'4" All-ACC center Cierra Bravard in the paint in addition to Natasha Howard they have post players that can go get rebounds. Then again, a team like Yale was able to upset FSU early in the season despite getting beat on the offensive glass by simply outshooting them and, most importantly, forcing them into turnovers. FSU has turned the ball over more than their opponents this season and Samford can force teams into turnovers. So with a a solid defense and shooting ability it's not impossible to imagine an upset in the first round.
After that, Samford would likely draw Georgia who would hold a significant offensive rebounding advantage. However, there is hope.
A brief look at the "other" SEC teams in the Women's NCAA Tournament. - Swish Appeal
This year, however, has been a roller coaster for Georgia. Once in the driver's seat for second place in the conference, Georgia went on a three-game slide to end the regular season, ending in 4th overall. Part of Georgia's decline was fatigue, but the more important reason was their one-dimensional nature on offense. Georgia's prime weakness is the lack of a true outside threat; though Khaalidah Miller shoots a respectable 33% from the perimeter, the team as a whole shoots 28% and takes about 12% fewer threes than their opponents. Georgia must win by consistency and ball control.
A lot would have to come together for Samford to break through to the Sweet 16, but it's not exactly improbable if they get hot and can depend on their defense to rattle their opponents.
Competitive first round game: Michigan State vs. Northern Iowa
Yes, there might another interesting candidate for an upset, although this one might be less likely to happen than the other two.
A gritty Michigan State team should be able to beat Northern Iowa on the offensive boards, but Northern Iowa has an advantage in that they can create turnovers a bit more often MSU while controlling the ball well. Ultimately, MSU probably has too much for UNI to pull off the upset, but a Sagarin rating of 37 isn't exactly indicative of a slouch either.
Points per possession: 1.17
Opponents points per possession: 0.79
Statistical strength: scoring efficiency (+15% effective field goal percentage relative to opponents)
Baylor actually got a favorable bracket, TAMU notwithstanding. However, moreso than the other top teams in the tournament, they have a dangerous combination of lacking balance and youth. Sims has developed into one of the nation's most dynamic scorers, but this team is still heavily dependent on Brittney Griner and if their guards struggle to get the ball into her, they lose that advantage on offense. That's a fatal flaw that has now been exposed by Oklahoma, TAMU, and Texas Tech: inexperienced guard play can neutralize Griner's impact on offense and result in a loss.
On the other hand, a season with a few close games might be the best thing for a team relying heavily on young players - nobody can say that they don't know how to win under pressure while also knowing how easily it is to let one slip away.
#1 Baylor def. #16 Prairie View
#9 West Virginia def. #8 Houston (WVA is just a better all-around team in key ares like rebounding, shooting and turnovers. So...yeah.)
#5 Green Bay def. #12 University of Arkansas - Little Rock (Green Bay's rebounding advantage should win this one)
#4 Michigan State def. #13 Northern Iowa
#6 Georgia def. #11 MTSU
#3 Florida State def. #14 Samford (Having an All-ACC post player anchoring a dominant strength is an important factor)
#10 Louisiana Tech def. #7 Rutgers
#2 TAMU def. McNeese State
#1 Baylor def. #9 WVA
#5 Green Bay def. #4 Michigan State (What stands out about this one is GB's ability to create turnovers and allowing only 75.24 points per possession)
#3 FSU def #6 Georgia
#2 TAMU def. #10 La Tech
#1 Baylor def. #5 Green Bay
#2 TAMU def. #3 FSU (If turnovers caused problems for FSU throughout this season, TAMU will cause problems)
#1 Baylor def. #2 TAMU (This all comes down to how well Baylor's guards handle TAMU's pressure)