Notre Dame (1) v. North Carolina A&T (16)
We could go through the stats, and really delve deep to see who wins this game; or we could just look a strength of schedule, using the Jeff Sagarin power rankings:
NC A&T: 334th
And call it a day.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame
University of Georgia (8) v. Indiana University (9)
This game was a tough one to pick. There are a lot of statistics that point to either team as the favorite. UGA has one of the best defenses in the country, giving up only 53.8 points per game, which ranks 18th; Indiana has a top 50 offense, scoring 71.9 points per game, which ranks 47th.
Georgia struggles with a weak offense; only 64.1 points per game, which sits at a dismal 164th. However, they beat their opponents on average by 10.3 points per game, which is 45th best in the nation. Indiana, meanwhile, outscores their opponents by only 4.2, which ranks 254th. Georgia, looking at the basic scoring stats, has the edge.
But they have three-fold problems; one, they commit 19.1 fouls per game, which ranks 263rd, and is especially worrisome against Indiana, who shoots nearly 16 free throws per contest and makes 73% of them, good for 13th in the nation. The second issue free throws again; they shoot only 11 per game, and make 69%, which puts them at 241st. To make matters worse, Indiana only gives up 15.5 fouls per game, good for 54th in women's college basketball. And finally, their strength of schedule; according to Jeff Sagarin, they played the 48th toughest schedule this year, while Indiana has played the 31st.
All of it adds out to a Hoosier victory; a minor upset, to be sure, as they are only one seed number apart.
Miami (5) v. South Dakota State (12)
On the surface level, this game matches up more closely than the seeds indicate. They have comparable offenses; the Hurricanes score 70.7 points per game, good for 63rd, while the Jackrabbits score 70.1, putting them at 72nd. The defenses are within 0.7 points of each other. The scoring margins are within 0.4 points and three places on the ranking. Even the three pointers are comparable, in percentage, takes, and makes.
However, where it all changes is in strength of schedule. Miami has played against the 60th toughest slate in the country, while South Dakota State has been up against the 140th. It's not impossible for the Jackrabbits to pull an upset, of course; but I would be very surprised if Miami didn't advance.
Stanford (4) v. San Francisco (13)
Short and sweet: San Francisco has a solid offense (72 ppg, 46th), a bad defense (44.9 ppga, 240th), and a strength of schedule that was 97th-best in the nation. Stanford, meanwhile, has a meh offense (67.5 ppt, 107th), a world-destroying defense (53.8 ppga, 17th) and survived up the 11th toughest schedule in the country.
San Francisco has had a wonderful season, but they've probably bitten off more than they can chew here.
Oklahoma (6) v. Purdue (11)
This was the toughest game for me to figure out. Like the UGA-IU matchup, there are a lot of similarities. Oklahoma is scoring 70.3 points per game (68th) and giving up 61.9 (134th); Indiana scores 68.1 (97th) and allowing 61.5 (123rd). Purdue shoots two less free throws and makes four percent more than Oklahoma. Purdue fouls two fewer times, and Oklahoma turns the ball over two fewer times; they force turnovers at similar rates as well. Even the schedules are virtually identical. Purdue has faced the 25th toughest schedule, and Oklahoma the 27th.
I thought about flipping a coin, or drawing straws, or some other random game of chance. I went back and looked at their last five games, and Purdue went 4-1, and Oklahoma went 3-2. Both lost in their conference tournament; still not enough to separate them. I even went back through Sagarin's rankings, looking for a number, but they're still so close!
But I did make a pick.
Kentucky (3) v. UNC Asheville (14)
Hey look, another short one!
Not much for me to see here; the schedule strengths are so far apart (18th to 334th) that it kind of overrides all the other statistics.
Washington (7) v. Pennsylvania (10)
Penn has had an incredible year, defensively. They have the 8th-best defense in the country, at 51.6 points per game given up, and boast the 35th-best scoring making at 11.3 points of separation. They also give up very, very few fouls; only 11.9 per game, which ranks 3rd overall.
Washington is also very, very good at not giving up free points; they commit only 13.8 fouls per game, which ranks 12th in women's college basketball. They also shot 78.4% from the charity stripe, averting 14/18 free throws made and attempted. Penn's offensive was pretty bad, coming in at 196th with 62.9 points per game, while Washington's defense was pretty bleh at 62.3 points per game.
Unfortunately, all of the good numbers that Penn has amassed came from the 151st toughest schedule in the country. And while Washington's stats may not pop out at you like Penn's defense, they put up their stats against the 22nd best schedule. Pretty simple math to me.
Maryland (2) v. Iona (15)
Another pretty simple one. Maryland has faced a schedule 198 spots tougher than Iona, with the 31st most difficult schedule versus the 229th. They are also ranked as the third best team in the country by Sagarin's rankings, just behind Baylor and substantially behind Connecticut.
Maryland should do well against Iona.
When the dust all settles, I think Notre Dame will be the team that makes it through the region. Maryland has the fourth-ranked scoring offense, scoring 84 points per game; Notre Dame is close behind at 10th, 79.2.
Maryland has the 94th best defense, giving up 60 points per game; Notre Dame is slightly behind, at 60.1, at 96th. Maryland had the third-ranked scoring margin, at 24 points per game, while Notre Dame is at 5th, outscoring other teams by 19.1 points per game.
Notre Dame's biggest advantage is that they've played the fifth-toughest schedule, compared to the 31st toughest schedule by Maryland. That's a big difference, and for me, that puts Notre Dame over the top.
My dark horse pick is Purdue. There are some stats to back it up, but it's more a gut feeling than anything else. I find it shocking that they were given the eleventh seed, considering that they played a tough schedule than many of those seeds ahead of them.